List of desert plants names and pictures

The list of desert plants, names, and pictures will be examined to easily help identify them. This list will highlight the types of desert plants with pictures and their common and scientific names.

This desert plants list will feature plants commonly found in the Sahara, Arizona, Kalahari, and Australian deserts.

Table of Contents

List of desert plants names and pictures

  1. Laperrine’s olive tree
  2. Doum palm tree
  3. Wild desert gourd
  4. Date palm tree
  5. Golden wattle
  6. Sturt’s desert pea
  7. Antarctic hair grass
  8. Antarctic pearlwort
  9. Hoodia cactus
  10. Camelthorn tree
  11. Shepherds tree
  12. Tsamma melon
  13. Pancake prickly pear cactus
  14. Barrel cactus
  15. Saguaro cactus
  16. Lace or Hedgehog cactus
  17. Organ pipe cactus
  18. Agave (Agave chrysantha)
  19. Banana yucca
  20. Datura
  21. Agave (Agave americana)
  22. Mexican tarragon
  23. Penstemon
  24. Salvia
  25. Tarbush
  26. Pricky pear
  27. Western columbine
  28. Four o’clock
  29. Desert evening primrose
  30. Ocotillo
  31. Desert sage
  32. Desert marigold
  33. Desert lily
  34. Desert sand verbena
  35. Desert paintbrush
  36. Mojave aster
  37. Ironwood
  38. Teddy bear cholla
  39. The Joshua Tree
  40. Creosote Bush
  41. Ghost Plant
  42. Candelilla

Laperrine’s olive tree

desert plants names and pictures
Laperrine’s olive tree / Credit: USTHB / D. Baali Cherif/

This is a drought-resistant Sahara desert plant that grows in mountainous regions. Because Laperrine’s olive trees are so drought-resistant, some farmers have crossed their cultivated olive trees with Laperrine’s olive trees in order to improve the hardiness of their own trees.

Doum palm tree

doum palm is an example of a Sahara desert plant
Doum palm tree

The doum palm is another Sahara desert plant that produces fruits that are safe for animals to eat. Humans living in or near the Sahara make molasses from the rinds of the doum palm’s fruit. This Palm tree has thick trunks that store water for long periods of time, as well as wide leaves called fronds that convert massive amounts of desert sunlight into stored sugars to keep the palm alive.

Sahara lovegrass

This plant is a common edible desert plant in the Sahara desert. The lovegrass forms tough clusters and bears small white flowers with edible seeds. This desert plant can survive in harsh desert conditions because it can regenerate as long as its water-storing roots remain intact. The tangled roots also help to keep the soil from diminishing.

Wild desert gourd

The wild desert gourd is another example of a desert plant
Wild desert gourd

Wild desert gourds, also known as creeping plants, are watermelon family members that grow abundantly in the Sahara desert. The plants simply do not require much water to survive because their roots, leaves, and fruits store a lot of water all year. Desert gourds grow in the form of vines with thin, green leaves and large yellow fruits that are round and edible to desert animals. The wild desert gourd is also an edible desert plant because its yellow flowers are eaten.

Date palm tree

Date palm is a Sahara desert plant
Date palm tree

Date palm trees are the most useful of all the trees in the Sahara desert. This tree’s fruits are used to sweeten beverages or dried and eaten on their own. The leaves are sometimes used for food as well, and when cooked, they can be tender and nutritious. Date palms, like the doum palm, store water in their thick trunks, allowing them to survive the Sahara’s lack of rain.

Golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha)

The golden wattle is a desert plant that grows in Australia
Golden wattle desert plant

The Golden Wattle is a desert plant native to Australia that is extremely resistant to drought, bushfires, and other harsh conditions.

Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa)

The sturt's desert pea is another example of an Australian desert plant
Sturt’s desert pea

The Sturt’s Desert Pea is a stunning red Australian desert plant. Because of its distinctive petal shape, it is instantly recognizable as the state flower of Southern Australia.

Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica)

The Antarctic hair grass is an example of a cold desert plant
Antarctic hair grass

The Antarctic hair grass is one of two flowering plants native to Antarctica. This cold desert plant can be found primarily on the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, and the western Antarctic Peninsula. 

Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis)

The Antarctic pearlwort is another cold desert plant
Antarctic pearlwort

This cold desert plant has yellow flowers and grows to a height of about 5 cm (two inches), with a cushion-like growth habit that gives it a moss-like appearance.

Hoodia cactus (Hoodia gordonni)

Hoodia Gordonii is the botanical name for the plant that is sometimes referred to as Hoodia cactus. Though it has many similarities to the cactus, it is not a member of the cactus family. This leafless barbed succulent is well adapted to dry climates and is widely used for medicinal purposes in southern Africa.

Camelthorn tree

Camelthorn tree (Acacia erioloba) is endemic to southern Africa and belongs to the genus Acacia. This spiny tree can reach a height of 17 meters, making it a favorite of giraffes, which are plentiful in the Kalahari.

Shepherds tree

Shepherd’s Tree (Boscia albitrunca), also known as matoppie and witgatboom, can grow to be 8 meters tall. This slow-growing tree is common in southern Africa’s Bushveld and Lowveld regions, where it thrives in dry, salty, low-lying areas. The trunk is strong and white, with patches of gray or black bark.

Tsamma melon

The tsamma melon tree, also known as gemsbok cucumber, African horned cucumber, hedged gourd, and kiwano, is a member of the cucumber and melon families. This tree is native to southern Africa and is well-known for its fruit, the kiwano, which resembles a spiny, oval melon. The plant is an annual creeper that grows well in warm climates.

Pancake prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii)

The pancake prickly pear is an example of a desert plant
Pancake prickly pear

This spiky desert plant is a well-known species of cactus that grows along the border between the United States and Mexico. Their “pancake” flat arms can reach a height of 7 feet. It has a thick, round trunk with circular pads that sprout from it. The spines cover the pads (plant adaptations), which are four to six inches long, nine inches wide, and 75 inches thick.

Barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)

Barrel cactus is a Mojave desert plant
Barrel cactus

While the Prickly Pear is larger, the Barrel Cactus is one of the most popular cactus variants that is used as succulents. It is also one of the most common spiky desert plants found worldwide. An extra level of carefulness needs to be exerted when picking this flowering desert plant which is low to the ground and has a lovely center flower. Because the spines of the Barrel can be toxic.

The Mojave, Sonora, and Chihuahua deserts are home to the Barrel cactus. These plants are very attractive, but one must exercise extreme caution when dealing with the barrel spines, as they can be dangerous.

Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

Saguaro cactus is an Arizona desert plant
Saguaro cactus

This tall desert plant has the appearance of a tree and can grow arms up to 40 feet tall. This cactus desert plant lives for extremely long periods of time and is well adapted to desert life due to its ability to collect and store rainwater.

The Sonoran Desert of southeastern California, southern Arizona, and northwestern Mexico is home to the Saguaro Cactus. The flowers of the Saguaro Cactus bloom at night and are closed during the midday heat. White and yellow flowers adorn this flowering desert plant.

Lace or Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii)

These lovely small edible desert plants are also popular as succulents because they stay a few inches tall and produce lovely flowers in the summer. It is common to see them grouped together in the desert.

The stems of these succulent desert plants are cylindrical in shape, up to one foot long, and one to two and a half inches thick. Hedgehog Cactus flowers are a beautiful deep red, with many petals forming the shape of a cup. This desert cactus plant produces fruits that are red and edible.

Organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)

The organ pipe cactus is an example of a desert plant that grows in the Mexican desert
Organ pipe cactus

Another desert plant that can be found in the rockier deserts of the United States and Mexico is the organ pipe cactus. The organ pipe’s arms grow upwards from a base, creating a silhouette reminiscent of a pipe organ. They have small, narrow stems that do not branch. The flowers are purple or light pink in color and bloom at night, closing during the midday heat.

Agave (Agave chrysantha)

This is another edible desert plant that is characterized by its grayish-green leaves that have been adapted to funnel water from rainfall or dew to the center of the plant. The agave plant stores energy and produces a flower stalk at the end of its life. The plant’s leaves and flower stalks are both edible.

Banana yucca (Yucca baccata)

Banana yucca desert plant is a Chihuahuan desert plant
Banana yucca desert plant

This is a Chihuahuan desert plant that has green, pointy leaves that sprout from the stem’s base in a spiral pattern. This succulent gets its name from its white, bell-shaped flowers that produce fruits that resemble bananas. This desert plant’s flower stalks, flowers, fruits, and seeds are edible, and its roots are used to make soap and shampoo.

Datura (Datura meteloides)

Datura is a sprawling native wildflower with pretty trumpet-shaped flowers that blooms all summer. The lovely white flowers are fragrant in the evening, and the gray-green leaves serve as a nice foil. This flowering desert plant can reach a height of 4 feet and a width of 4 feet.

Agave (Agave americana)

This is a striking, shrub-like succulent desert plant that adds texture and foliage to any garden. It’s no surprise that agaves are becoming popular among gardeners everywhere; their bold, architectural form stands out in the landscape. In bloom, it can grow to be 25 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida)

Mexican tarragon, also known as Mexican mint marigold, is a tasty herb that can be used in cooking and baking. When in full bloom this edible desert plant can grow up to 30 inches in height and 18 inches in width. It has aromatic foliage and charming golden-yellow flowers that are part of an autumn bonus.

Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Penstemons are hardy and attractive desert plants. There are huge selections of these plant life in the desert that are excellent for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies, and the majority also make excellent cut flowers. This plant that lives in the desert can grow up to 2 feet in height and width.

Salvia (Salvia farinacea)

Salvia, like penstemon, is another desert plant that is used in gardening. It is one of the best desert plants for landscaping. This spiky desert plant is drought- resistant and the spikes of bloom found on it range from bright red to true blue in color. Many of these desert plants have long bloom seasons and are popular with hummingbirds and butterflies. In full bloom, they can grow up to 2 feet in height and width.

Tarbush (Flourensia cernua)

The tarbush is another example of a Chihuahuan desert plant
Tarbush

Tarbush is a small shrub that grows to be about 1-1.5 meters tall and has dark bark and sticky, resinous, aromatic leaves. It is very common in the Chihuahuan desert, where it can form pure stands or co-dominate with creosote bush on calcareous flat plains or gentle slopes. The leaves emerge after summer rains and turn brown after frosts later in the season, but the withered leaves frequently remain on the plants until the following growing season. This plant belongs to the daisy family (Compositae). It has yellow flowers in nodding heads, but they are not noticeable.

Pricky pear (Opuntia selections)

Prickly pear is part of the cactus desert plants family. These plants are ideal for high-altitude arid desert regions. Certain species of prickly pears are among the hardiest cactuses. But when this species of desert cactus grows, they tend to reach a height of 5 feet and a width of 5 feet.

Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

Western columbine is another desert plant for pots because it adds a soft, delicate texture to shady areas where it is found especially in gardens. This perennial produces bright red and yellow blooms in the spring and when the columbine isn’t blooming, the blue-green, soft-textured foliage adds another dimension and interest to the garden. This desert plant can reach a height of 3 feet tall and a width of 2 feet.

Four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

These easy-to-grow desert perennials will fill your garden with fragrance in the afternoons all summer. It’s also a favorite of dusk-feeding hummingbirds and a variety of beautiful moths. The four o’clock can grow up to 2 feet in height and width.

Desert evening primrose (Calylophus hartwegii)

Desert evening primrose is one of the best desert plants for landscaping because it is an excellent choice for creating a carpet of color in hot, sunny areas from spring to fall. The cheerful yellow blooms pop against the rich evergreen foliage of this perennial. This desert plant can grow up to a height of one foot and a width of several feet.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Ocotillo is the name of a desert plant
Ocotillo desert plant

The ocotillo is a bajada member that can be counted on to bloom every year, even if it doesn’t leaf out in extremely dry springs. It is a funnel-shaped desert plant with several woody, spiny, whip-like, straight branches angling outward from the base and rising up to 20 feet.

Ocotillo plants are leafless most of the year, except when it rains; the leaves quickly wither after the soil dries out. These narrow, oval leaves are about 2 inches long and grow in clusters above the spines. This flowering desert plant can be found from southeast California to west Texas and south into Mexico in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. The ocotillo prefers open, stony, well-drained desert slopes below 5,000 feet in elevation. It has 1/2-to-1-inch red flowers with five short lobes curled back into 10-inch clusters. These desert flowers bloom at the tips of branches from March to June, or later, depending on rainfall.

Desert sage

Desert Sage is a lovely tall desert shrub that stands about 2-3 meters tall. The flowers of these desert plants are a cool blue with purple bracts. The striking feature of this plant is that it never needs to be watered once it has established itself. These plants are evergreen shrubs. They are very drought tolerant.

Desert marigold

This is a picture of a desert marigold plant
Desert marigold /credit: Stan Shebs and Chris English/

Desert marigolds are members of the aster family. They are widely available in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are annual and short-lived perennial plants with hairy leaves that grow between 10 and 30 inches tall.

Desert lily

The desert lily is the name of another desert plant
Desert lily /credit: bureau of land management California/

Hesperocallis is another name for this desert flowering plant. This desert lily can be found in North American deserts, Mexico, California, and Arizona. These flowers are also funnel-shaped and cream-colored. They bloom in March and continue to bloom until May.

Desert sand verbena (Abronia villosa)

Desert Sand Verbena is a sticky, hairy creeper with flower stalks up to 10 inches long and stems up to 3 feet long. The leaves are oval with wavy edges and measure 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches long. After heavy winter rains, Sand Verbena can carpet desert washes for miles. They bloom from February to May and have bright pink trumpet-shaped, 5-lobed, fragrant flowers that are 2 to 3 inches wide.

The Mojave and Sonoran deserts of southeastern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona, and northwest Mexico are home to these flowering desert plants. Desert sand verbena grows in sandy flats, dunes, and desert roadside vegetation below 1,500 feet.

Desert paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa or angustifolia)

This flowering desert plant grows to a height of 12 to 18 inches and has bristly gray-green to purple-red herbage. What appears to be flowers are actually the bright red-orange bracts that conceal the tubular yellow-green flowers with a thin coat of white hairs. Their 20–70 mm linear/lance-shaped leaves have 3 or 5 narrow finger-like lobes and are found lower down the stem from the colorful bracts.

Desert Indian paintbrushes can be found in the San Bernardino Mountains, the Great Basin Floristic Province, and the Mojave Desert. It can be found at elevations ranging from 1000–3000 m in dry sagebrush scrub and pinyon/juniper woodland.

Mojave aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)

The Mojave aster is another desert plant that grows in the Arizona desert
Mojave aster /Credit: Stan Shebs/

The Mojave-aster, which is technically a herb, can be found in desert areas near canyons and has a small stem with a white flower. This white flowering desert plant has a stem that is green in color and it can reach a height of 30 inches. It has about 3 inches long, narrow, hairy leaves. The Sonoran, Great Basin, and Mojave deserts of southeastern California are home to the Mojave Aster.

Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

The ironwood is the name of another desert plant
Ironwood desert plant

The Ironwood is a large desert tree that can reach heights of 30 feet or more in desert foothills or desert wash communities below 2500 feet in elevation. From May to June, the pale purple or white flowers of this mojave desert plant bloom.

Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii)

The Teddy bear cholla plant is an example of a plant of the desert
Teddy bear cholla plant

This amazing spiny cholla species is found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts below 3,000 feet on warm, open hillsides, rocky washes, and sandy flats. Teddy Bear Cholla may bloom twice a year, once in March and again in September.

The Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

The Joshua tree is another example of a plant in the desert
Joshua tree

The Joshua tree is a yucca plant native to the Mojave Desert. This drought-tolerant desert plant is also known as yucca palm and palm tree yucca. The large sun-loving plant can grow up to 50 feet tall and is native to Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada (15 m). It could take many years for the slow-growing tree to reach that height.
The large desert Joshua tree’s large root system extracts moisture from the arid landscape. The spiky green leaves cover the short, stumpy branches. The Joshua tree’s leaves grow in clumps at the ends of the thick branches, giving it a barren appearance.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)

Creosote bush is a flowering desert plant
Creosote bush /credit: Stan Shebs/

This desert plant, also known as greasewood, is a flowering species of a hardy plant that is native to arid deserts. The evergreen shrub has dainty yellow flowers and a large root system that absorbs moisture from deep within the desert soil. The common name for this bushy desert plant comes from the smell of creosote compounds distilled from coal tar. Mature creosote bush plants can withstand temperatures as high as 70°C and severe drought.

Ghost Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense)

Ghost plant is a succulent plant of the desert
Ghost plant

The ghost plant is a succulent that thrives in a variety of environments, including the hot, dry conditions of a desert climate. Other names for this desert plant include the mother-of-pearl plant and sedum Weinberg. This groundcover plant is indigenous to Mexico. The succulent leaves form a rosette, and the plant is also known as a porcelain succulent. These desert plants are also stunning as a small houseplants, in a rock garden, or in an open terrarium.

Candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)

Candelilla is an example of a plant that lives in the desert.
Candelilla plant

Candelilla is a plant that grows in the warmer parts of Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert and southern Texas. It has a thick wax coating on its greyish or purple-tinted photosynthetic stems that is stems that can undergo photosynthesis. This desert plant grows on ledges and slopes of limestone.

Types of desert plants

  • Succulents
  • Perennial plants
  • Annual desert plants

These 3 listed types of desert plants are all classified as xerophytes. This classification is because desert plants modify their morphology and physical features to adapt and evolve in the hot dry desert environment.

Succulents

Succulent desert plants are characterized by having a root system that is shallow but extensive to tap water from the ground. This water is then stored in the stems of the plants, hence the name succulent desert plants.

Succulent desert plants examples

  • Pancake prickly pear cactus
  • Barrel cactus
  • Saguaro cactus
  • Lace or hedgehog cactus
  • Organ pipe cactus
  • Agave
  • Banana yucca

Perennial plants

Perennial desert plants survive by going dormant during the dry season and then reviving when water is available, that is during the rainy season.

Perennial desert plants examples

  1. Datura
  2. Agave
  3. Mexican tarragon
  4. Penstemon
  5. Salvia
  6. Prickly pear
  7. Western columbine
  8. Four o’clock
  9. Primrose
  10. Ocotillo

Annual desert plants

The term “annuals” simply means that they are desert plants that bloom once a year, but this is not always the case, so desert annuals are more appropriately referred to as “ephemerals.”  This is because many of them can complete their entire life cycle in a matter of months, while others can do so in a matter of weeks.

Examples of desert plants that bloom once a year

  • Desert sage
  • Desert marigold
  • Desert lily
  • Desert sand verbena
  • Desert paintbrush
  • Mojave aster
  • Desert sage
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