Desert Vegetation
The plants of the Desert habitat area have adapted to its dry, hot extremes by using both physical and behavioral mechanisms. Plants that have adapted by altering their physical structure are called xerophytes. Xerophytes, such as cacti, usually have special ways of storing and conserving water. They often have few or no leaves, which reduces water loss. Phraetophytes are plants that have adapted to living in the desert by growing very long roots, allowing them to get their moisture deep within the earth, at or near the water table. Perennials (plants which live for years) and annuals (plants which live one season) also have behavioral adaptations. The perennials survive by remaining dormant during the dry periods and come to life when water is available. Annuals germinate after heavy rain and complete their reproductive cycle quickly. They bloom for a few weeks in spring. Their seeds remain dormant in the soil until the next year’s rain. Below are a few of the plants you will see in the desert. Interesting facts are also given for each plant.
Barrel Cactus - many people believe the barrel cactus is filled with water. Not true. It is filled with a slimy alkaline juice. Native Americans used its sharp, hooked spines as fishhooks. It grows faster on its shady side causing it to lean in a southerly direction. Barrel Cactus
Creosote Creosote Bush - blossoms are one inch-wide with twisted, yellow petals. Creosote bushes bloom from February-August. Some individuals maintain their flowers year round. Its foliage provides refuge for crickets, grasshoppers and praying mantids.
Desert Sage - also known as the wooly sage. Grows in soil with a high limestone content. Native to California. Purple sage, found in the Mojave Desert, was thrown into the fire at night by the Indians, to keep inipi (ghosts) away. Spirits did not like the smell. Death Valley Sage
Saguaro Saguaro - provides shelter, protection and nurishment for animals,reptiles, insects, and peoples of the desert. When water is absorbed , the outer pulp of the Saguaro can expand like an accordion, increasing the diameter of the stem and, in this way, can increase its weight by up to a ton. The largest plants, with more than 50 arms, are estimated to be 200 years old!
Palm Trees - Palmyra Palm trees are native to Africa and prefer well drained soil and do not take cold very well. The fruit is large, weighing 6 pounds. Once you remove the outer skin you will find a mass of sweet smelling orange flesh. Palm Trees
Desert Marigold Desert Marigold - native to California. Also found outside of California, but confined to western North America. Found at elevations from 0 to 4921 feet.
Joshua Tree - an important part of the desert ecosystem, the Joshua Tree provides food and shelter for many of the desert animals. It is the largest of the yuccas and grows only in the Mojave Desert. Joshua trees (and most other yuccas) rely on the female Pronuba Moth (Tegeticula) for pollination. Joshua Tree
Desert Pincushion Desert Pincushion Flower - found in sandy soil on slope habitats at elevations between 100 and 3500 feet. The pincushion Flower is a member of the family Asteraceae and is an annual herb.
Desert Lily - has a deep bulb that sends up a stem in early spring that can be 1 to 4 feet high. These bulbs can remain in the ground for several years, waiting for enough moisture to emerge! Desert Lily
Desert Primrose Desert Primrose - especially likes to grow near dunes. Flowers open in the early evening and close in mid-morning. This plant is pollinated by the long-tongued, White-lined Sphynx Moth (Hyles lineata).
Organ Pipe Cactus - found only in a small area of the Sonoran Desert from southwestern Arizona to western Sonora, Mexico. The fruit of the Organ Pipe cactus has provided a food source to Native Americans for centuries. The pulp can be eaten as is, made into jelly or fermented into a beverage! Organ Pipe Cactus
Elephant Tree Elephant Tree - found on the rocky slopes of desert mountains. The short, very stout, tapered trunks and branches look like the legs and trunks of elephants, hence their name. Elephant Trees are so rare that for many years, skeptics refused to acknowledge their existence. It wasn't until 1937 that this species was confirmed growing in the Anza-Borrego Desert Park region!
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Produced by Georgia Lozinsky