Full sun ornamental grass

Desert needlegrass (Stipa speciosa) is one of the few C3 spring-flowering perennial grasses in the Sonoran Desert. It occurs from Colorado to Arizona and southern California. In the Mohave Desert of western Arizona, it flowers in the spring, and is occasionally encountered in desert mountains, where it reaches its southern distributional limit. Fossils in ancient packrat (Neotoma sp.) middens demonstrate that the range of desert needlegrass expanded southward in the winter-rainfall dominated climates of the late Wisconsin glacial period, and especially the early Holocene, 11,000 to 9,000 years ago (see page 63). This grass also occurs in southern South America, as do a number of other species with amphitropical discontinuous distributions (that is, occurring on both sides of the tropics, but not in them?for example, in both North and South America). Other amphitropical species are creosote bush, little barley (Hordeum pusillum), allthorn (Koeberlinia spinosa), and Atamisquea emarginata.

Tanglehead (Heteropogon contortus) is widespread in tropics of the world, a distribution pattern shared by hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa). Tanglehead is an example of a tropical species reaching its northern limit in desert grassland in southwestern United States at about 5500 feet (1675 m) elevation. It is ?wedged out? by cold temperatures at higher elevations and by drought in the desert below. Other tropical species with similar distributions are coral bean (Erythrina flabelliformis), kidneywood or palo dulce (Eysenhardtia polystachya), brown vine snake (Oxybelis aeneus), and green ratsnake (Elaphe triaspis).

Threeawns, genus Aristida, are a taxonomically difficult group containing about 150 species in temperate and subtropical areas in North America and about 40 species in the United States. The fruit usually has 3 awns (stiff hairs, or bristles), thus the common name. The threeawns in the Sonoran Desert present several interesting patterns. Sixweeks threeawn is found from Missouri and Texas west to California and southward to Argentina, and also in warmer parts of the Old World. It is a highly adaptable and opportunistic annual that grows in both spring and summer and can be from 2 inches to 2 feet (50-600 mm) tall, depending on rainfall. Purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea) is a common perennial in Arizona Upland desertscrub in Arizona. Typical purple threeawn (A. p. var. purpurea) with striking, nodding red infloresences commonly occurs on roadsides. (The edges of roads and highways are pseudo- riparian habitats with disturbed soils and concentrated runoff water?easy dispersal corridors for many native and introduced grasses.) If trimmed at the end of the spring and summer growing seasons, purple threeawn is an attractive ornamental in xeriscapes.

In contrast, Reverchon threeawn (A. p. var. nealleyi) only occurs in rocky desertscrub habitats and rarely on roadsides. Superficially it is very similar to A. parishii, which lives in the same upland habitats, mostly differing in details of the fruit. In this threeawn and in many other desert plants, including borages (Amsinckia spp., Cryptantha spp., Plagiobothrys spp.), spiderlings (Boerhavia spp.), and spurges (Euphorbia spp.), there has been far more evolution of the seeds and fruits than of the vegetative plant parts, likely reflecting selection for differences in dispersal methods or microhabitats. In Aristida ternipes, A. t. var. gentilis has 3 awns (bristles) and mostly occurs in desert grassland, whereas spider grass (A. t. var. ternipes) is a single-awned ?threeawn? that is widespread in desert and tropical lowlands. Spider grass is very responsive to rainfall and, like many perennial grasses, can flower in its first year. A seedling encountered in early September in the Tucson Mountains was flowering only 5 weeks after germination in response to a 1.8 inch (46 mm) rainfall. In the desert, spider grass is a low, rounded bunch grass 1 or 2 feet (30-60 cm) tall. In a tropical deciduous forest near Alamos in southern Sonora, with annual rainfall of 20-25 inches (500-630 mm), roughly twice that of the Tucson area, spider grass grows to be an erect, elegant 4 to 5 foot (120-150 cm) tall plant.

Exotic Species and Ecological Threats

There are introduced exotic plants throughout the Sonoran Desert region in Arizona and Sonora. With the notable exception of riparian habitats in Arizona and northern Sonora, introduced species usually account for relatively low percentages of local species present, and are mostly innocuous with few serious impacts on the vegetation. Introduced species are most diverse and abundant in riparian habitats (river bottoms, arroyos, washes) and pseudoriparian habitats (road edges) because they are disturbed, unstable dispersal corridors that harvest water, nutrients, and seeds from large areas. Successful invaders are often short-lived, fast-growing plants, which have high reproductive effort. Longer-lived exotics are usually ?mortality resistant??survivors not easily killed by environmental stresses (floods, fire, drought, freezes, heavy grazing).

Unfortunately a few exotic species have the potential to cause ecological havoc in the Sonoran Desert region and threaten irrevocable landscape changes; most of the worst of these are grasses. Competition with native species is typically intense and can alter the composition of the flora and vegetation. When a new ecological process is introduced into an ecosystem as a result of an introduction of a new species, the impact on the vegetation is more severe?the entire vegetation type can be converted to a different assemblage.

In subtropical desertscrub, tropical thornscrub, and deciduous forest, fire fueled by exotic grasses can be devastating, as most of the community dominants have little or no adaptation to fire.

Some annual grasses native to the Mediterranean areas of Europe are especially troublesome. They are preadapted to the winter rainfall climate and fire regimes of the chaparral vegetation in California. As they have moved eastward into the Mohave Desert, with its winter rainfall, they have directly competed with the native spring flora and introduced fuel and structure conducive to fire.

As they moved further eastward and southward into the biseasonal climatic regimes of the Sonoran Desert, their ecological interactions have been more complex. In desert grassland, competing subshrubs (winter-spring active) and perennial grasses (summer active) have differing water-use strategies. In desertscrub, a similar seasonal competition for soil nutrients occurs between spring and summer annuals. In the spring, introduced annuals compete directly with native spring herbs for water, space, and nutrients. The roots of the introduced annual grasses, including mouse barley (Hordeum murinum), red brome (Bromus rubens), and wild oats (Avena fatua), are active at relatively cool soil temperatures, accelerating their growth compared to native annuals. Often they are so prolific that few nutrients remain for summer ephemerals. However, the alterations of community structure and competition due to fires are much more serious.

Red brome is a weedy Mediterranean annual that was established in California by 1848, and is presently common through much of western United States. It is seasonally abundant and widespread in the Sonoran Desert region. In lower, more arid areas, it is mostly found in disturbed habitats, while at higher elevations throughout the Arizona Upland it also occurs in undisturbed habitats. Observations in a Lower Colorado River Valley creosote bush desertscrub at 1560 feet (475 m) elevation in the Eagletail Mountains west of Phoenix illustrate the variability of these annuals. In the spring of 1992, red brome a foot (30 cm) tall covered the slopes in response to excellent winter-spring rains. The spring of 1996 was very different. In response to a light rain in late February, tiny, approximately 2 inch (50 mm) tall sixweeks threeawn were widespread, but red brome did not germinate, suggesting that native species have some advantages when rainfall is light and soils are relatively warm. Nonetheless, in the last decade or so, early summer wildfires in Sonoran desertscrub, mostly fueled by dried red brome, have increased 10- to 20-fold.

Arabian grass (Schismus arabicus) and Mediterranean grass (S. barbatus) are closely-related winter ephemerals that are geographically segregated in the Old World: Arabian grass from southwest Africa to the western and northern Sahara and the western Mediterranean region, and Mediterranean grass from Kashmir and southern Russia west to Greece. The differences between them are subtle and these plants are difficult to tell apart.

During years of favorable winter rains, these grasses can be abundant across much of the northern part of the Sonoran Desert, forming extensive, dense carpets on relatively flat, sandy terrains. The first stems and leaves often spread out close to the ground, effectively excluding or preventing other ephemerals from sprouting. The earliest record for Arabian grass in North America seems to be from 1933. Mediterranean grass does not seem to be as common in our region as Arabian grass, and apparently does not extend much south of the Arizona border. Interestingly, the earliest North American records for this grass are from 1926 in southern Arizona and from 1935 in Fresno County, California?the reverse of the typical dispersal pattern of Mediterranean weeds, which usually first settle in California and follow the highways eastward. Today this exotic grass is a preferred food for desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) in the Mohave Desert, instead of native annuals such as lupines (Lupinus spp.), and deer vetch (Lotus spp.). This may cause physiological problems, because tortoises in the Mohave Desert may need the higher water and protein content of the native annuals to survive the dry summers. In the Tucson Mountains, the introduced red brome joins native curly mesquite grass and fluffgrass as a preferred food of the desert tortoise.

Buffelgrass is a shrubby savannah grass native to the warmer parts of Africa, Madagascar, and India, that is widely introduced and established in hot, semiarid regions of the world for forage and fodder. A strain from the Turkana area of Kenya was officially released for planting by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in San Antonio, Texas, in 1946. The shrubby habit of buffelgrass allows rapid growth of leaves from the nodes and copious seed production in response to rain. It is very adaptable, likely due to its great genetic variability and largely apomictic reproduction. (Apomixis is a form of asexual reproduction where seeds are produced without fertilization or any sexual union.) The plant burns readily (even when green) and recovers quickly from fires.

Since the 1960s buffelgrass has been extensively introduced for livestock forage in Arizona and Sonora. In Arizona the expansion was initially slow in areas where buffelgrass was not actively seeded into cleared areas. However, in recent years, buffelgrass has begun to spread rapidly along highway shoulders both in lower and higher elevations. It also is invading desertscrub communities on rocky slopes away from roads. In 1992 when a floristic survey of the Tucson Mountains was completed, buffelgrass was only occasionally encountered, and only noticeably invasive on Tucson?s Tumamoc Hill and ?A? Mountain. (On ?A? Mountain, fires accidentally set during the annual Fourth of July fireworks stimulated buffelgrass expansion.) In the past 6 years, dense patches of buffelgrass have become established in several new areas. On Radio Towers Peak, a dirt road provided a dispersal corridor and entry into palo verde-saguaro desertscrub, while on Panther Peak buffelgrass established itself away from roads. In metropolitan Phoenix, buffelgrass is well established on North Mountain and on many other mountains, especially on upper south-facing slopes, where it apparently outcompetes and eliminates native cacti and trees. Such upper slopes appear sandy-colored in winter when buffelgrass is dormant, and are readily distinguishable to the informed eye.

In central Sonora, more than a million hectares (470 thousand acres) of desertscrub and thornscrub have been cleared to plant buffelgrass, often as part of government-subsidized programs to support the ranching industry. Fire cycles in buffelgrass allow the grass to expand rapidly into large areas of uncleared vegetation, very much like cancer spreads in a human body. Along many highways, especially in central Sonora, dense monocultures of buffelgrass have replaced other weedy roadside species, especially brittlebush. Recurrent fires maintain the buffelgrass. Ranchers have been forced to replace wooden posts with metal ones, and the bases of power poles are shrouded with metal or cement. Fires fueled by buffelgrass are now a serious urban problem in Hermosillo, Sonora.

In southern Sonora, buffelgrass has been planted in clearings in tropical deciduous forest but apparently is not able to invade undisturbed shady forests. With management using fire, buffelgrass praderas (prairies) can be maintained indefinitely. However, ranchers are reluctant to use fire lest they lose the last tuft of forage. In many areas, native species including boat-thorn acacia (Acacia cochliacantha), Indian mallow or pintapan (Abutilon abutiloides), and Sonoran bursage (Ambrosia cordata) invade buffelgrass pastures. Without fire, boat-thorn acacia grows tall enough to shade buffelgrass, and succession backwards to tropical deciduous forest may well occur.

This ?grasslandification? of desert-scrub and thornscrub now occurring is the opposite of the well-known ?desertification? of the southwestern United States?the expansion of shrubs into desert grassland beginning in the late-19th century. Ironically, because buffelgrass is such a hardy, drought-resistant grass and excellent forage, great effort has been expended to introduce it and to select hardier varieties. The ecological result of buffelgrass introduction into fire-intolerant subtropical and tropical communities is a permanent (on our time scale) conversion to a savanna, much like those in Africa, with drastically reduced plant cover and overall diversity.

Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is another robust, often 3 foot (1 m) tall perennial clump grass from Africa. It is a common landscape ornamental in southern Arizona, where it is slowly spreading into natural habitats, especially in desert riparian canyons. It has been cultivated in Tucson since 1940 and was established in the nearby Santa Catalina Mountains by 1946. The larger, purplish cultivar ?Cupreum? is a better choice for landscape plantings, since it does not volunteer, that is, invade areas where it is not planted.

Natal grass (Rhynchelytrum repens) is another African grass that is common on roadsides in many areas in Sonora. This attractive grass with fluffy, rose-colored inflorscences is invasive in desert grassland in Sonora south of Nogales and near Maycoba in the Sierra Madre Occidental, as well as eastward into Chihuahua. In the mountains north of Guaymas on the Gulf of California, it has invaded steep slopes in undisturbed palm canyons. High humidity likely helps it survive in the arid Central Gulf Coast desertscrub. In these conditions, it could potentially fuel fires in vulnerable desertscrub vegetation.

The introduction of the South African Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana) has begun a transformation of desert grasslands in southeastern Arizona. It produces 2 to 4 times the annual biomass of native grasses and responds favorably to grazing and fire. It is replacing native grasses in vast areas, dramatically altering community composition without conversion to desertscrub. It has followed major highways well into the Sonoran Desert west of Tucson.

Grasses are one of the largest, most diverse families of plants, found worldwide in virtually all climatic regimes and vegetation types. They are the most important plants economically, providing edible grains for people and forage for livestock. Superbly adapted to live in variable desert environments, they avoid extremes in drought and heat through life history strategies. Well-hydrated plants grow rapidly in response to spring or summer rainfall, dying back to stem nodes (shrubby grasses), root crowns (bunch grasses), or seeds (annuals) during dry periods. The same adaptations help grasses to survive and recover rapidly from fires, grazing, and other severe disturbances.

Some of the many exotic species reaching North America in today?s intercontinental travel and trade are grasses. Successful species from other arid and semiarid lands, especially Africa and the Mediterranean, are rapidly expanding in the Sonoran Desert region, competing with native species. When new ecological processes such as fire are introduced, the impacts are devastating. Fire-intolerant desertscrub and thornscrub can be permanently converted to Africanized ?savannas? or weedy Mediterranean annual ?grasslands.? Increases in fires and in the total area of disturbed communities in the last few decades in Arizona and Sonora should be a call to arms to battle these invasive Old World grasses.

Additional Readings

Gould, Frank W. Grasses of Southwestern United States. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977.

McClaran, Mitchel, and Thomas R. Van Devender, eds. The Desert Grassland. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995.

Webb, Robert H. Grand Canyon: A Century of Change. Rephotography of the 1889-1890 Stanton Expedition. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996. (Included here is a table of plants recorded to live more than a hundred years, including grasses.)

Desert plants have found a place in modern home and garden design. There are many plants in the desert that can survive in a xeriscape garden or even in a glass terrarium. The term xeriscape is derived from the Greek word xeros, which means “dry,” and is a form of landscaping that conserves water through the use of native plants. Thus, desert plants have become popular for landscaping because they are easy to take care of due to their drought-tolerant capabilities.
Popular desert plants include the Palo Verde tree, the Queen Victoria agave, the golden poppy, and the Mexican thread grass. To help you identify the many desert plants there are, we created a compendium below of 127 of the most stunning desert plants and succulents.

Desert plants can be classified into three main categories: Cacti and Succulents, Wildflowers, and Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses. For each category, we’ve compiled a helpful desert plants list that outlines the most popular plants within that category.

Succulents

Did you know that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti? Desert succulents, including cacti, are the modern gardener’s best friends. Due to their ease of care, and wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, the options for designing your home and garden with these trendy plants are endless. From terrariums to your garden, it seems that you can grow succulents almost anywhere.

As long as you provide these drought-tolerant plants with good drainage, sandy soil, and sunshine, they will thrive for years. From the popular ghost plant, to the architectural marvel of the crassula plant, there are so many varieties to choose from. To help you narrow down the many succulents choices that are out there, we’ve picked the top 10 most popular for your home and garden.

Top 10 Most Popular Succulents

  1. Ghost Plant

The ghost plant is probably one of the most popular succulent plants used today. Chances are, you’ve seen it in the succulent gardens and indoor terrariums that have become so popular in landscape and home decor. Also known by its scientific name as Graptopetalum paraguayense, it is one of the easiest succulent plants to take care of. Depending on the level of sunlight it receives, these plants can take on various colors ranging from blue-gray to pinkish yellow. When new rosettes form at the tips of its stems, its old leaves fall off. During springtime you can witness the ghost plant producing bright yellow flowers.

2. Pencil Plant

A popular choice amongst modern landscapers, these succulents are widely used in drought-tolerant landscaping, or xeriscaping. Also known as Euphorbia tirucalli, the plant’s green pencil-like sticks turn bright coral when the plant is under stress. Succulent stress can come in the form of many factors including the plant having too little water, being too cold, or being planted in nutrient poor soil. Gardeners commonly deprive this succulent, as well as several other types of succulents, of nutrients or water on purpose in order to encourage the plant to display its bright and showy colors.

  1. Burro’s Tail

Popular as a house plant, the Burro’s Tail succulent, bears long stems that are plaited with tear-dropped shaped leaves. They are popular for planting in hanging baskets, which allow the long stems to drape to the ground. Colors range from green to blue green, with an ashy finish that gives the colors a muted tone. Place your Burro’s Tail out of direct sunlight, as the leaves will burn. Partial sun, or brightly-lit shade is best.

  1. Paddle Plant

Also known as red pancakes, the paddle plant’s funny nickname is derived from its large, bright red, disk-shaped leaves. They make a striking addition to any xeriscape garden and thrive in hardiness zones 9 to 11. When mature, the paddle plant forms a single flowering stalk from its center. Like many other succulents, the paddle plant is a monocarpic plant, which means that the plant will sprout a flower when it is about to reach the end of its lifecycle. However, there’s good news — to preserve your paddle plant, simply snip off the stalk and replant!

  1. Living Stone

Living stones, known as lithops, are a prime example of evolution at its best. These succulents have evolved to seamlessly blend into their surroundings, and protect themselves from predators. Upon first glance, they look just like small stones or pebbles. However, upon closer examination, these stones are actually living plants.

Originating in southern Africa, where they receive less than 2 inches of rainwater a year, these plants are well adapted to dry climates. The extreme climate conditions cause the plant’s formation to be stripped down to just two leaves, which are fused together at its base where the root holds them together. This formation evolved from the plant’s need to have the least amount of surface area exposed to the hot sun. The thick stone-shaped leaves also allow the plant to store as much water as possible. A direct product of evolution, this is truly a fascinating plant to have in your succulent collection!

  1. Queen Victoria Agave

The marble-like striations on the petals of this agave make it a favorite amongst modern landscapers. Scientifically known as Agave victoria-reginae, this agave is native to the Chihuahuan desert of Mexico. It is extremely drought-tolerant and thrives in hardiness zone 7. Shaped like a large rosette, it has a very distinguishing look that’s similar to an artichoke. The spherical arrangement of the leaves allow it to funnel water down towards its root base. In the wild, the Queen Victoria agave can live up to 15 years.

  1. Zebra Cactus

This incredibly slow-growing plant is often compared to aloe. Its contrasting white striations against its dark green leaves makes it a popular houseplant and a trendy way to decorate your home or even office desk. It is easy to maintain, but keep it away from direct sunlight or deep shade. It only needs watering about once a month, and if you’re lucky, the Zebra cactus will flower during the summer if given the proper living conditions throughout the year.

  1. Golden Barrel

The Golden Barrel cactus is fittingly named for its large, bulbous shape. Adorned with golden yellow spines, this cactus makes for quite a striking centerpiece in any desert landscape — both in the wild and in your garden! The top of the barrel cactus is where its striking flowers bloom. Once pollinated, it closes up and the seeds begin to develop into fruit, which sit on top of the cactus until pulled out. The Golden Barrel cactus is known for being slow-growing and can live for quite a long time.

  1. Bunny Ear Cactus

Believe it or not, the Bunny Ear cactus is actually a type of prickly pear cactus. Upon first glance, it may seem that this cactus does not contain any spines. However, if you look closely, the fuzzy specks that adorn this cactus are actually small clusters of tiny little spines. These types of cactus spines are called glochids, and are nearly impossible to remove if caught in your clothing or skin. Bunny Ear cacti are available in both yellow and white spined varieties.

  1. Fox Tail Agave

Also known as Agave attenuata, this agave is commonly found in desert gardens and is a popular choice amongst landscapers. The fox tail agave has a centrally curved spear, from which large green leaves emerge and curve back, resulting in a shape that looks like a large green flower. Its leaves are smooth and pliable, and unlike its other agave cousins, the leaves are completely spineless — making it a safe choice for planting in gardens.

Wildflowers

Desert wildflowers provide a refreshing pop of color in the dry desert landscape. Although they have adapted to survive in such harsh climates, their bloom cycles are extremely sensitive and dependent on a variety of factors including frequency of rainfall during winter, moderate temperatures, wind, and elevation.

Botanists refer to wildflowers as “ephemerals”, meaning that they have extremely short life cycles and will only grow under the right conditions. Once the flowers bloom, they will quickly spread their seeds and a sea of colorful blooms will grow for a short period of time before the plants die. In general, wildflowers are known to start flowering in early spring from February to March.

Although most desert wildflowers are known to be only found in their natural habitat, there are still many species that can be adapted for the domestic garden. Popular garden wildflowers include the California poppy, the desert sage, and the winecup.

Top 5 Most Popular Desert Wildflowers:

  1. California Poppy

As the official state flower of California, this poppy is known for it’s bright orange color. It is native to the western region of the United States, from the coast of Oregon down to Baja California. Due to its popularity and how easy it is to grow, the California poppy can be found in most states in gardens, roadsides, and even empty lots. The petals of this dicot open during the day and close at night. will bloom all summer in California and in cooler coastal climates. In hotter summer regions, the flowers will die after blooming in early spring, and the plant will remain dormant for the remainder of the summer.

  1. Winecup

Like the poppy, this drought-tolerant wildflower will open in the morning and close in the evening. The Winecup is a perennial that bears cup-shaped flowers that range in color from light pink to deep magenta. This wildflower will bloom from March to June and thrives in sandy or rocky soil that is well-drained. Outside of the wild, it is popularly used as a bedding plant, or for hanging baskets where its long stems can cascade over the side. One interesting fact about this plant is that it it can be medicinally used as a natural pain reliever.

  1. Desert Marigold

The name marigold can be derived from its early association with the Virgin Mary, when this golden flower was deemed as “Mary’s Gold.” The desert marigold is native to the southwestern desert areas of the United States. Its long bloom time occurs from March until November, and the it can often be seen on roadsides where it covers the landscape in a thick yellow blanket. It is common to see flowering buds sealed into a hard ball. This is the result of the symbiotic relationship between the desert marigold and the desert marigold moth larvae, which envelops the flower into a cocoon.

  1. Desert Sage

The desert sage is one of the most beautiful desert wildflowers. With its bold blue and purple flowers and frosty gray foliage, these wildflowers truly standout in any desert landscape. Desert sage can thrive in high heat, nutrient-poor soil, and require little watering. Because of these factors, the desert sage is not fitting for fertile soil within most garden settings. However, it is the perfect addition to a xeriscape or drought-tolerant desert garden, because it is great for attracting birds and butterflies.

  1. Whitestem Paperflower

The whitestem paperflower is named for its delicate flower petals which dry into paper once the flower dies. Belonging to the same family as the daisy, this flower blooms nearly all year long from spring to fall, and thrives in hardiness zones 8-11. Its bright yellow flowers have five petals, and its stems can grow up to 12 inches tall. The whitestem paperflower is native to the southwestern United States and can be found in Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico all the way to northern Mexico.

Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses

Beyond cacti, succulents, and wildflowers, the rest of the desert landscape is inhabited by trees, shrubs, and grasses. Like cacti and succulents, this subgroup of desert plants does not require much care and tends to be slow-growing. From the green Palo Verde tree, to the flowering ocotillo shrub, many of these plants are popular choices for desert garden landscapes.

Trees play a very important role in the desert, as they are one of the tallest plant species and provide necessary shade and protection for other desert plants. It is amazing to see how such large trees have evolved to survive in the desert, with some species that can live for over 100 years! Shrubs and grasses are suited to withstand the harsh dry winds of the desert, with some shrubs that can grow into the size of trees. Here we’ve outlined the top 5 most popular desert trees, shrubs, and grasses.

Top 5 Most Popular Trees, Shrubs, and Grasses

  1. Palo Verde

This popular desert tree is known for its striking green trunk and bright yellow flowers. The green trunk is due to the presence of chlorophyll. Because there is so much chlorophyll in the trunk, much of the tree’s photosynthesis occurs there. There are two common types of Palo Verde trees, the Blue Palo Verde, which has a blue-green trunk, and the Foothills Palo Verde, which has a yellow-green trunk.

The Palo Verde is the “nurse” plant of the Saguaro cactus, as the two species are often found inhabiting the same areas. In the wild desert, the tree plays a key role in the procreation of new plant life as it provides necessary shade and protection for young Saguaro cacti and other vulnerable desert plants to grow. In a garden setting, the majestic Palo Verde makes for a striking focal point and is a popular choice amongst xeriscape landscapers.

  1. Joshua Tree

The Joshua tree is the largest of the yucca species, and is scientifically known as Yucca brevifolia. This tree is so rare that it only grows in the Mojave desert. One reason for its scarcity is that it completely relies on the female pronuba moth for survival. In fact, this symbiotic relationship has caused the moth to evolve specialized organs to help collect and distribute the Joshua tree’s pollen as it travels from tree to tree. The female moth lays its eggs in the Joshua tree’s flowers where the hatched larvae eat the seeds to survive.

This fascinating tree is extremely slow-growing, and only grows about 2-3 inches a year. It can take up to 60 years for a Joshua tree to mature, and it can live up to 150 years.

  1. Tree Aloe

The tree aloe is native to Africa, where it is the continent’s largest species of aloe. Its dark green leaves form dense rosettes, with tips that curve and are lined with sharp teeth. Also known as Aloe barberae, the tree blooms in June and July and bears pink flowers. Unlike many common desert trees, the tree aloe is fast-growing. When tree aloe is planted in a garden, it should have ample space and be planted away from nearby buildings.

  1. Ocotillo

The ocotillo is a common desert shrub that bears striking red tubular-shaped flowers from its spiny, leaf-covered stem. Its sharply-toothed stem makes this shrub a popular choice as fencing in the garden. This shrub is native to the Sonoran desert where it prefers rocky terrain. Its bloom time occurs from March to June. Also known as Candlewood, the ocotillo can live a long life of 60 years, with studies suggesting that some can live well over 100 years.

  1. Mexican Thread Grass

This perennial bears long thread-like leaves that feather at the ends. The leaves sprout from a middle base from which they cascade outward and downward. The Mexican thread grass is a popular choice amongst landscapers not only for its drought-tolerance, but for its tendency to be naturally pest free. It can be used as a border or as ground cover, and although it does reseed it isn’t aggressive and will not invade the garden.

The Mexican thread grass will sprout new leaves in the spring. In the summer, if deprived too much of water, the grass may enter a dormant stage and continue its growth once temperatures cool down.

A Compendium of 127 Desert Plants and Succulents

With so many desert plants to choose from it can be difficult to identify which ones are the best for your home and garden. To show you the many desert plants that exist, we’ve created a compendium featuring 127 of the most popular desert plants. So the next time you see that adorable succulent or unique cactus, you’ll definitely be able to identify it!

Share this Image On Your Site

Resources

www.succulentsandmore.com | environment.nationalgeographic.com | www.amwua.org |

www.bhg.com | www.desertusa.com | www.gardeninggonewild.com 1, 2 |

Image Sources

Ghost Plant left CC Image courtesy of FarOutFlora on Flickr; right CC Image courtesy of Patrice78500 on Wikimedia Commons

Pencil Plant left CC Image courtesy of Mike Boucher on Flickr; right CC Image courtesy of Ralph Hockens on Flickr

Burro’s Tail left CC Image courtesy of Andrew Goloida on Flickr; right CC Image courtesy of Pymouss on Wikimedia Commons

Snow White Panda Plant, Paddle Plant left CC Image courtesy of Frank Vincentz on Wikimedia Commons; right CC Image courtesy of Anika Malone on Flickr

Penwiper Plant, Living Stone left CC Image courtesy of Dysmorodrepanis on Wikimedia Commons; right CC Image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr

Aloe polyphylla, Queen Victoria Agave left CC Image courtesy of J Brew on Flickr; right CC Image courtesy of Ken Bosma on Flickr

Crassula ‘Gollum’, Zebra Cactus left CC Image courtesy of Mokkie on Wikimedia Commons; right CC Image courtesy of Popperipopp on Wikimedia Commons

Golden Barrel left CC Image courtesy of H. Zell on Wikimedia Commons; right CC Image courtesy of Rob Young on Flickr

Bunny Ear Cactus, Woolly Senecio CC Images courtesy of Drew Avery on Flickr

Felt Bush, Fox Tail Agave, Jade plant, Topsy Turvy Echeveria, Vertical Leaf Senecio, Weeping Jade CC Images courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr on Flickr

California Poppy left CC Image courtesy of Neko Nomania on Flickr

Winecup left CC Image courtesy of Patrick Standish on Flickr; right CC Image courtesy of Clinton & Charles Robertson on Flickr

Aloe dorotheae, Banana Yucca, Blue Yucca, Candy Cactus, Cape Aloe, Desert Marigold, Desert Spoon, Indigo Bush, Palo Verde, Whitestem Paperflower CC Images courtesy of Stan Shebs on Wikimedia Commons

Desert Sage left CC Image courtesy of tdlucas5000 on Flickr; right CC Images courtesy of Stan Shebs on Wikimedia Commons

Tree Aloe left CC Image courtesy of Consultaplantas on Wikimedia Commons

Desert Mariposa Lily, Ocotillo CC Images courtesy of Joe Decruyenaere on Flickr

Mexican Thread Grass

Cabbage Head Agave CC Image courtesy of Nauticashades on Wikimedia Commons

Twin-Flowered Agave CC Image courtesy of Raffi Kojian on Wikimedia Commons

Aloe aristata, Parry’s Agave CC Images courtesy of Raul654 on Wikimedia Commons

Queen Victoria Agave CC Image courtesy of Cliff on Flickr

Agave titanota CC Image courtesy of Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz on Wikimedia Commons

Mezcal Ceniza, Miniature Agave CC Images courtesy of Juan Ignacio 1976 on Flickr

Dinner Plate Aeonium, Strawberry Hedgehog CC Images courtesy of James Steakley on Wikimedia Commons

Aeonium canariense CC Image courtesy of Peter Coleman on Wikimedia Commons

Aeonium decorum CC Image courtesy of Winfried Bruenken on Wikimedia Commons

Aeonium leucoblepharum CC Image courtesy of stephen boisvert on Flickr

Echeveria colorata, Echeveria lilacina, Spiny Aloe CC Images courtesy of Jean-Michel Moullec on Flickr

Biznaga Gigante, Devil’s Head, Pincushion Euphorbia, Spanish Bayonet, Tiger Tooth Aloe, Twisted Barrel Cactus CC Images courtesy of Amante Darmanin on Flickr

Aloinopsis orpenii, Giant Claret Cup CC Images courtesy of Michael Wolf on Wikimedia Commons

Airplane Plant, Aloinopsis schooneesii, Aloinopsis serifera, Baseball Plant CC Images courtesy of C T Johansson on Wikimedia Commons

Organ pipe cactus CC Image courtesy of Ken Lund on Flickr

Queen of the Night CC Image courtesy of dafiana on Flickr

Lady of the Night CC Image courtesy of Malcolm Manners on Flickr

Hildmann’s Cereus CC Image courtesy of José Eugenio Gómez Rodríguez on Wikimedia Commons

Peruvian Apple Cactus CC Image courtesy of Huerto del Cura on Wikimedia Commons

Medusa’s Head, Pleated Cereus CC Images courtesy of Leonora (Ellie) Enking on Flickr

Crassula ‘Buddha’s Temple’ CC Image courtesy of Nadiatalent on Wikimedia Commons

Black Prince, Blue Finger CC Images courtesy of Megan Hansen on Flickr

Black Knight, Echeveria harmsii, Graptopetalum pentandrum, Graptopetalum mendozae, Graptopetalum superbum, Haworthia bolusii, String of Bananas, String of Pearls CC Images courtesy of salchuiwt on Flickr

Echeveria Lola CC Image courtesy of Diane Wellman on Flickr

Hen and Chicks CC Image courtesy of brewbooks on Flickr

Echeveria agavoides CC Image courtesy of stephen boisvert on Flickr

Echeveria pulidonis CC Image courtesy of Dianakc on Wikimedia Commons

Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Panda Plant CC Image courtesy of Nova on Wikimedia Commons

Graptopetalum bellum CC Image courtesy of Salicyna on Wikimedia Commons

Haworthia viscosa CC Image courtesy of Jungle Rebel on Flickr

Haworthia coarctata, Lithops bromfieldii CC Image courtesy of Dysmorodrepanis on Wikimedia Commons

Engelmann’s Hedgehog CC Image courtesy of Marshal Hedin on Flickr

Indian Paintbrush, Lace Hedgehog, Scarlet Hedgehog CC Images courtesy of Andrey Zharkikh on Flickr

Arizona Rainbow Cactus CC Image courtesy of Matjaž Wigele on Wikimedia Commons

Mother of Thousands CC Image courtesy of JMK on Wikimedia Commons

Lithops schwantesii CC Image courtesy of Ivan I. Boldyrev on Wikimedia Commons

Lithops gracilidelineata CC Image courtesy of Averater on Wikimedia Commons

Old Lady Cactus CC Image courtesy of Dallas Krentzel on Flickr

Owl’s Eyes CC Image courtesy of Peter A. Mansfeld on Wikimedia Commons

Feather Cactus, Ladyfinger Cactus CC Images courtesy of Petar43 on Wikimedia Commons

Moonstones CC Image courtesy of Col Ford and Natasha de Vere on Flickr

Cape Blanco CC Image courtesy of Rosewoman on Flickr

Blue Ice Plants CC Image courtesy of Jason Baker on Flickr

Canary Island Spurge CC Image courtesy of Akos Kokai on Flickr

Soaptree Yucca CC Image courtesy of cariliv on Flickr

Desert Five-Spot CC Image courtesy of Curtis Clark on Wikimedia Commons

Fairy Duster CC Image courtesy of Melburnian on Wikimedia Commons

Mormon Tea CC Image courtesy of James St. John on Flickr

Pink Muhly Grass CC Image courtesy of Ken Kennedy on Flickr

Bastard Toadflax, Showy Milkweed CC Image courtesy of Matt Lavin on Flickr

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 Annuals, Fall, Perennials, Spring, Summer

Small Ornamental Grasses

I’ve never been a lawn person. Sure, I like how a lawn looks, how it frames a house or acts as a foil for a garden. But I’m not obsessed, as many people are, with a seamless green lawn. In fact, when I see fuzzy yellow dandelions or the shining dollar weed disks in my front yard, my first thought isn’t “off with their heads!” It’s more like “wow, how pretty.”

And while I won’t wax poetic about the perfect lawn, I do like the nice little carpets of ornamental grasses, especially the small fries such as mondo grass, liriope, and blue fescue that add textural color and ornamental flourish to small spaces.

In my travels last year, the charms of little grasses kept catching my attention. I was wandering through the amazing San Francisco Botanic Garden and I found myself enchanted with a textural island of dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus), also known as mondo grass. The clumps of grasses were planted about 6 inches apart, and their shaggy, slightly swirling growth make the foliage look like stream eddies surrounding a stone water basin. What a cool textural trick–clever and peaceful all at the same time.

I also spied the talents of small grasses in a street-side garden in Minneapolis. Swirling mounds of ‘Frosted Curls’ sedge (Carex comans) were bedded out in blocks next to coleus and kale, creating an exciting trio of texture and color. And then again, later in the summer, I found myself looking down and smiling at the massed mondo grasses at the base of a bench — another happy little lawn, kicking up texture.

So, I guess I do like lawns after all…of ornamental grasses.

Here are more favorite ornamental grasses that grow about a foot or less tall.

Mondo grass grows 12 to 18 inches tall; dwarf mondo grass grows 4 to 6 inches tall

Everest sedge grows 10 inches tall

Elijah Blue Blue Fescue reaches 12 inches tall

Lucerne Blue Eyed Grass grows 12 inches tall

Variegated lirope features grape hyacinth-like flowers and grows 9 to 15 inches tall

Written by:
Karen Weir-Jimerson

plant library get growing

Perennial Grasses

Fill your yard with healthy perennial grasses, and you’ll have a beautiful landscape, including strong turf and dynamic planting beds. Perennial grasses encompass plants like ornamental grasses, as well as turf grasses and perennial ryegrass. Take the guesswork out of perennial grasses by learning where to use each type in your home landscape.
When most gardeners encounter perennial grasses, they’re dealing with ornamental grasses. These perennial grasses can form a backbone for planting beds, introducing year-round interest and color. Count on ornamental grasses to add movement to plantings, with leaves and seedheads that dance and wave in the wind. The movement effect intensifies with taller grasses, like miscanthus, switch grass, or bluestem. But even smaller ornamental grasses, such as blue oat grass and blue fescues, can strike up a rhythm with the breeze.
Ornamental grasses also can bring color to plantings. Many offer leaves with shades of blue, bronze, wheat, or variegations. Some grasses have rich burgundy hues, while others glow with gold tones. Seedheads add another dimension of interest to ornamental grasses, changing color as they grow and mature. Seedheads also linger well past frost, decorating the winter landscape with color and texture.
Some ornamental grasses spread by runners and can become invasive. Others grow in tidy clumps that don’t spread. Research the perennial grass you’re considering to make sure you’re prepared to deal with its growth patterns. In cold regions, most ornamental grasses need to be pruned in early spring, before new growth begins. Cut plants to a cone shape, with the center of a clump slightly higher than the edges.
Perennial ryegrass is a kind of cool-season turf grass that’s a bunch-type grass, meaning it grows from the crown of the plant instead of by runners that root as they grow. Fine-textured ryegrass can grow in full sun or partial shade and stands up to drought and disease fairly well. Most often perennial ryegrass is grown in home lawns, around schools and parks, on athletic fields, recreation areas and golf courses. It can be grown solo as a lawn, but it’s usually used in combination with other turf grasses, including Kentucky bluegrass and tall or fine fescues.
In the South, homeowners sow perennial ryegrass seed to overseed warm-season turf grasses, like bermudagrass or zoysia. In winter, these warm-season grasses turn a buff color once cold weather arrives, and by sowing a crop of perennial ryegrass, the lawn stays green all winter long.
Perennial ryegrass seed germinates quickly and establishes rapidly, too. Once established, perennial ryegrass stands up to foot traffic well. This cool-season grass actually boasts the highest wear tolerance of all cool-season turf. Keep it mowed to a height of one to three inches. During prolonged drought, you’ll probably have to water perennial ryegrass to keep it green.

Victoria Day Weekend. Also known commonly as “May Long” weekend; the unofficial start to summer.

The roads were packed with people heading out camping or venturing away on weekend holidays. And the nurseries are full of gardeners excited to spend their weekend in the dirt.

We chose the latter this May long. There are so many outdoor projects going on around here that it felt great to get a handle on them. Since we don’t have any major summer holidays planned this year; our goal is to get our yard and deck finished as much as possible so we can actually relax a bit and enjoy our summer at the lake. Something we haven’t done for several years.

So as I headed to the nursery to choose the plants that will finish off some new beds in our landscape; I was drawn again to the simple relaxed style of ornamental grasses. Whether mass planted as a hedge; grouped together with complimentary plants; or used as a large specimen plant in a the lawn or garden, grasses are often overlooked as a beautiful landscape plant.

To be honest, I’m a little bit obsessed with them. We are using large grasses to create an informal hedge in front of the new fence (which I can’t wait to share with you on Thursday!). And before I went out shopping for the “right” grasses to create an informal hedge; I spent some time researching.

Ornamental grasses come in a wide variety of sizes, varieties, and colours. They mix perfectly with shrubs like hydrangeas in a cottage style garden; or blended with lavender or Russian Sage in a seaside garden. Today I’ve collected some stunning ideas for ways to incorporate ornamental grasses into your garden design…

{PS – I had difficulty finding the correct source for several of the images that I found on Pinterest. If you know a source I have missed, please kindly let me know. Thanks!)

I love this bright and airy mix of Morning Light Grass & Blushing Bride Hydrangea on a sweet pea gravel walkway Via Country Living Mag

What a gorgeous home and setting! I love this mix of Feather Reed Grass and Russian Sage Via

You can use smaller grasses as accents in a rock garden; they provide beautiful contrast to mounded plantings Via

A mass planting of miscanthus and hydrangea makes a beautiful edging bed Via

Smaller Ornamental grass contrast beautifully in this fun landscaped sidewalk garden bed Via

You can even put large grasses in pots as a patio screen Via

Or use them massed together in a lawn as a striking feature (Miscanthus Grass variety) Via Garden World Images

I love this informal hedge with a mix of tall grasses (miscanthus variety) and Hydrangea (I believe it is Limelight Hydrangea) Via

Tall grasses are also a brilliant way to disguise a bare or sparse cedar hedge Via

Ditch the regular grass altogether, and create a pretty and unique entry garden full of river rock and ornamental grasses Via Debra Prinzing

Tall Pampas Grasses are easily massed and used as an informal hedge or screen Via

Feather Reed grass works beautifully in this Mediterranean style garden Via Gardenista

A mix of grasses create an interesting border to the lawn and a full bloom Pampas Grass definitely creates a dramatic showing in the yard Via BHGRE

Beautiful ornamental grasses mixed in a garden bed and in bloom Via

A cute little pathway lined with small river rock, modern lanterns, and landscape grasses Via

Such a breezy and relaxed look, Mexican feather grass looks amazing mass planted Via

I’ll be back this week to share some of the spots that we incorporated ornamental grasses into our garden this past weekend.

Want to remember this?

Happy Gardening, friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *