Top Ten Native Plants for the Southwest
The desert willow is a large shrub or small tree, often with a leaning trunk, willow-like leaves, large showy flowers and very long, narrow, bean-like fruit.
Did you know? Desert Willow is important in erosion control and is planted also as an ornamental. Propagated from cuttings or seeds, it grows rapidly and sprouts after being cut. Indians made bows from the stiff, durable wood, which is also suitable for fence posts. Despite its name, this species is not related to the willow.
Rocky Mountain Juniper
The rocky mountain juniper is an evergreen tree with straight trunk, narrow, pointed crown, and slender branches of aromatic, gray-green foliage often drooping at ends. The juniper has berry-like cones that are bright blue.
Did you know? The rocky mountain juniper is a graceful ornamental. The aromatic wood is especially suited for cedar chests and is also used for lumber, fence posts, and fuel. Wildlife eat the "berries."
A small, spiny tree, the blue paloverde has a short blue-green trunk and is leafless for much of the year. It has bright yellow flowers and bears flat thin pods in the summer.
Did you know? Although leaves are absent most of the year, photosynthesis, the manufacture of food, is performed by the blue-green branches and twigs. Native Americans cooked and ate the immature beanlike pods and ground the mature seeds for meal. Twigs and pods of paloverdes serve as browse for wildlife and emergency food for livestock, the seeds are consumed by rodents and birds, and the flowers are a source of honey. This species is useful for erosion control along drainages. The Spanish common name, paloverde, means "green tree" or "green pole."
A miniature tree, the teddybear cholla has short, stubby branches that are densely covered with pale golden spines. Flowers are green or yellow, the petals often streaked with lavender.
Did you know? Though the branches resemble the arms and legs of a fuzzy teddy bear, this plant is far from cuddly. With its painfully clinging spines, it is one of the most formidable and respected cacti of the Southwest.
The skunkbush sumac is an erect, bushy, stiffly branched shrub with highly aromatic 3-parted leaves and clusters of red berries. The berries are fleshy and produce a sticky secretion.
Did you know? Skunkbush is one of the more widespread sumacs in the West. The fruit, which ripens in the fall, is an important source of winter food for many game birds, as well as songbirds and a number of small mammals. In severe winters, game birds have been known to stay close to sumac patches until the berries are exhausted. Native Americans used the berries of skunkbush and other sumacs to make drinks resembling pink lemonade, hence an alternate name, Lemonade Berry, that is applied to this and several other members of the genus. Another alternate name, Squawbush, no doubt derives from the fact that native women used the flexible stems of this plant to make baskets. Skunkbush refers to the unpleasant odor emitted when the plant is crushed.
The greenleaf manzanita is a spreading, much-branched shrub that can grow to six feet tall. Its smooth, bright red-brown inner bark is revealed as the outer bark shreds off. Round, evergreen leaves are bright green, and the pink, bell-shaped flowers occur in clusters.
Did you know? Greenleaf manzanita is a fire-resistant shrub often used as erosion control. Stems root where they touch the ground.
A grayish, woolly plant, the desert marigold is branched and leafy mostly in the lower half, with brilliant yellow flowers.
Did you know? Dense patches often form solid strips of yellow along miles of desert roadsides. In gardens a single plant grows into a perfect hemisphere of yellow, blooming throughout the hot summer and into fall. The name marigold, given to several species of Asteraceae with sunny yellow or orange flowers, comes from "Mary's Gold," in honor of the Virgin.
A low, round, bushy plant, the blackfoot daisy has flower heads of 8-10 broad white rays surrounding a small yellow central disk.
Did you know? At first glance, blackfoot daisy appears to be the twin of white zinnia, but flower heads of the latter species have 4-6 broad white rays and a narrow base of several overlapping scales. Both may be found in the same habitat, but the range of white zinnia does not extend as far south as Blackfoot Daisy.
Desert Sand Verbena
Desert sand verbena is a soft-haired, sticky plant with bright pink, trumpet-shaped flowers. The plant flowers from March through October.
Did you know? Following ample winter rains, desert sand verbena may carpet miles of desert with pink.
Red-orange or brick-red flowers bloom in narrow clusters on these leafy, branched, velvety-haired plants. Scarlet globe-mallow is often found on open ground in arid grassland and among pinyon and juniper.
Did you know? Globe-mallows are common plants on western ranges, but difficult to identify. One of the easiest species to recognize is Scaly Globe-mallow which is covered with gray scale-like hairs and has very narrow upper leaves.