Last Updated on January 13, 2023
Deserts are by definition inhospitable environments with little to no vegetation, but there are actually quite a few species of plants that adapted to live in these arid conditions, and there are several types of wildflowers that grow in the desert.
The adaptations of these desert plants make it so that the bulbs often stay dormant under the ground for several months, sometimes even years, until rainfall makes them bloom.
These flowers usually have a relative small size and waxy or hairy surfaces, which allows them to minimize water loss through transpiration and evaporation, and have very deep roots in order to reach underground water sources and absorb moisture from the soil beneath.
Desert flowers often appear coloring the blooming desert of white, red, and purple, and have strong fragrances that help them attract insects, birds, lizards and other pollinators in order to ensure reproduction.
A desert bloom is a natural phenomenon that consists of the appearance of a great diversity of wildflowers due to unusual rainfall and occurs in three desert areas of the world: in Chile, Australia and the United States.
The phenomenon is known and studied particularly in the Atacama Desert (Chile), the driest place on the planet, where rain can fall in cycles of between 3 and 7 years due to the El Niño phenomenon, and more than 200 species of flowers can appear simultaneously covering the desert immediately after a precipitation.
Below, a list of desert flowers and desert blooming plants that you can find across different deserts in the US and across the globe.
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
Encelia farinosa is a typical desert shrub found in northern Mexico and the southwest of the United States.
The brittleness of its stems is the source of the popular name “brittlebush“. Because the dried sap was used as incense by early Spanish missions in the New World, the plant also goes by the name incienso.
Mojave Aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia)
The Mojave-aster (or Mojave woodyaster) is a purple desert flower endemic to the Great Basin Desert, Sonoran Desert, and Mojave Desert ecoregions of western Mexico, California, and the southwestern United States. Habitats it is found in include arid canyons near creosote bush scrub, saltbush scrub, and Joshua tree woodlands.
Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)
Apache plume is a small deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub with shredded bark and white flowers. The 2 inch white rose-like flowers of Apache plume bloom in the spring and occasionally again in the fall. These desert plants serve as a haven for wildlife, as the flowers attract butterflies and bees and the seeds attract birds.
Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)
Desert dandelions are sunflower-like plants that grow in all major deserts of North America, across southern California, Arizona and northern Mexico.
These bright yellow desert flowers bloom from March throughout June, with a single plant producing multiple flowers.
Desert Lily (Hesperocallis undulata)
Desert lilies are large, cream-colored flowers that bloom March through May in sandy desert flats of the Mojave and Sonora deserts. The bulbs are edible and were used as a food source by Native Americans and by the Spanish who called this plant “Ajo Lily” (garlic lily) because of its flavor.
Because of the arid conditions it lives in, the desert lily has adapted to only grow when there is enough moisture in the soil. If the ground is dry, the bulb can remain dormant for several years.
Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
The desert marigold is an annual plant or short-lived perennial with bright yellow flowers. They are very widespread desert wildflowers in the southwest US and northern Mexico, and because of their adaptability and long flowering period they are a popular choice for desert gardening.
Mariposa Lily (Calochortus kennedyi)
Mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. This beautiful desert flower with red-orange colorations grows in both the Mojave and Sonoran desert across California, Arizona, Nevada and northern Mexico.
A similar species, the White Mariposa Lily (Calochortus eurycarpus) is native to the western US.
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