Spectacular Desert Plant Life


(images via r-z, netstate, organpipecactus)

Desert topography seems especially alien.  Rugged, seemingly lifeless, terrain and plants that share very few traits with their temperate or tropical cousins dominate most arid landscapes.  It is no surprise that some of the world’s most unusual and spectacular flowers, shrubs and trees are found in desert regions.

Joshua Tree and Beavertail Cactus


(images via mason bryant and kretyen)

The Joshua Tree is a member of the Yucca family found in the Southwestern US.  It is a fast growing desert tree and an iconic symbol of the deserts of the US.  There is concern that this particular species is especially at risk because of climate change.

Another icon of the Southwest is the Beavertail Cactus.  It consists of many flat pads with small, sharp barbs.  These plants are also known for their intensely purple flowers, which bloom in the spring.

Dragon’s Blood Tree


(image via growler)

This tree is native to the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Morocco.  It is easily recognized because of its umbrella shape.  Some of Dragon’s Blood Trees on the Canaries are thought to be more than 600 years old.  The bark produces a deeply red resin when it is scratched, hence its unusual name.

Barrel Cactus and Chain Fruit Cholla


(images via flakeparadigm, DominusVobiscum and Dave Pape)

Barrel Cactus are stocky plants found in Mexico and the US.  Their sharp spikes make them unmistakable.  This cactus grows quickly but doesn’t produce flowers or fruit until it reaches full size.

Chain Fruit Cholla, found in the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahua Desert, is a cactus that resembles a small hardwood tree.  This is because it grows in thin sections that hang down like branches.  The sharp, cactus-like spines are still evident.  Bright flowers hang from the end of the branches during the summer months.

Saguaro Cactus


(images via laszlo-photo and kevindooley)

Saguaro is arguably the most unusual looking growth in the cactus family.   This tree-sized plant has thick branches that grow upwards towards the sky.  Actually, the trademark branches take time to develop, only appearing after the tree reaches the ripe age of 70.

Opuntia, Agave, and Desert Hyacinth


(images via pizzodisevo, raelb and °Florian)

Opuntia is the name of a species of cactus that include the edible Prickly Pear.  These plants are eaten in Mexico, where they were first used as food by Native Americans.

Though they are most known for as the main ingredient in tequila, many parts of Northern Mexico’s agave plant are edible.  The sap, flowers, leaves and stalks find their way to the table.

The Desert Hyacinth is desert plant that boasts colorful flowers.  It is a parasite plant.  Because it is unable to produce its own chlorophyll, it must leach sustenance from the roots of other desert plants.

Date Palm


(image via CairoCarol)

This Middle Eastern icon is known for the sweet fruit it produces.  It first grew naturally near desert water sources, but has been heavily cultivated and is now found across North Africa and West Asia.  Several trees can grow from one root system.

Peyote Cactus


(image via Sandahl)

This round, spineless cactus is known in the US for its hallucinogenic properties.  However, it is protected and only allowed to be harvested for Native American religious ceremonies.



(images via mauroguanandi, mason bryant and respres)

This species of cactus is known for its sharp, knife-shaped leaves.  The Joshua Tree (see above) is the most recognizable species, but there are more than 30 other plants in the family as well.  Many of these bear edible fruits.

Saxaul Tree and Camelthorn Tree


(images via Tiarescott and Jeppestown)

The Saxaul Tree is found in Central Asia.  In many parts of the Gobi Desert, it is the only type of tree found.   It retains water well and its bark can be pressed to obtain drinkable liquid.

The Camelthorn Tree is found in the Kalahari Desert.  It is seen throughout Namibia and is used for everything from shade to firewood.

Quiver Tree


(image via Sara&Joachim)

The Quiver Tree is native to South Africa and Namibia.  Its well shaped trunk and branches make it seem like a gigantic bonsai tree.  Historically, native hunters used the hollow branches as quivers for their arrows.