In The Desert
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Trees, Bushes, Yuccas
In the desert in the Northern part of the Southwest States you'll find forested areas in the desert with large conifers. These are most likely Ponderosa Pines in the photo. Some tower over a 100 ft. tall.
The Elephant Tree is one of the weird designs of nature. The purple bark and almost complete lack of leaves make it one of the most interesting trees in the desert. This one was photographed in Baja, Mexico; but can also be found in the lower Southwestern states in the desert; mostly near the edge of mountain ranges.
The Palo Verde tree is another interesting tree in the desert. Its bark is green like its branches and only gets leaves during rainy spells. You'll find it in a lot of washes and canyons in the desert. They do provide shade as can be seen here even though for the most part they are leafless.
The Mesquite tree is another tree found in the desert and lives in or near washes and canyons. This desert tree has leaves; albiet small leaves. Mesquite trees have a long life span and were used a lot in the pioneer days for fire wood.
Here's a Mesquite tree with a rather large burl on the main trunk. Burls are sometimes caused by damage or disease in a tree. In some trees they are very desireable for furniture, clocks and carvings.
The Ironwood tree is very hard to tell apart from the Mesquite tree. The Ironwood tree has a wood that is very hard and is desireable for carvings. In some states it's illegal to cut them for any reason. They are very pretty trees and can be recognized when they bloom by the distintive purple flowers. They are in the Sweet Pea family.
This area in the desert is full of old Ironwood stumps and complete trees that have long since died. Because of the hardness of the wood they will remain like this for years to come.
The Ironwood tree is found only in the Sonoran Desert, in the dry areas below 2,500 ft.
This conifer tree was found near Laughlin, Nevada. This is the reason the pass got its name -- Christmas Tree Pass. In the desert here you wouldn't expect to find a Pine tree of any kind.
The Jojoba Bean bush. Used to make oil consumed as an ingredient in cosmetics, presonal care products. Right and below.
The Creosote bush is in the desert and nobody pays any attention to them. There are so many, they're like weeds. In the spring the flowers create much needed food for lizards who love to eat the flowers. Not to be confused with Greasewood Bushes. In the desert you'll usually find the Greasewood in or near washes. You'll find the Creosote bushes anywhere in the desert that you travel --- except the most barren terrains. Their leaves have nasty, shiny, smelly resin that's keeps predators away. Both are in the Chaparral family.
Ocotillos in the desert. These plants look dead most of the year with only bare stalks and no leaves and only those long nasty thornes. Don't ever run over a dead Ocotillo branch on a road, the thornes are noted for taking a while to work their way into your tire to cause a flat, maybe days later? Now within a few days of a rain in the desert; and it doesn't take much, they will set out leaves like the one here.
Then shortly after the leaves comes the flowers. For some reason I always thought the Ocotillos were the most beautiful flower in the desert. You usually find ants on them scurrying around looking for nectar. Take a close look next time.
Now this is an interesting plant that is in the desert Yucca family. A Soap Tree Yucca. This was found in the Cipriano Pass of the Gila Mountains; near Yuma, Arizona. You can see how high they grow Linda is 5'4" and is next this tall one.
And here is another interesting Yucca. There are aporximately 40 to 50 different sub-species in the Yucca family. This one was found up in the higher elevations of California. Near the top of a mountain and there were a lot of them. They were of special interest because of the spines! Of course everything in the desert has spines!
Have a plant you'd like to see listed here? Just send us an E-MAIL We do appreciate any offers to help expand our database of plants.
Also known as Indian Tea. The Mormons learned from the Indians to use this plant to make tea. The Indians used this plant for medicinal purposes. It has no caffeine. This plant was over 4 ft. tall.
"Chrysothamnus nauseosus" This is a very common bush found all through the upper elevations along with the sagebrush. Presented here with a close-up for identification purposes.
"Pinus edulis" these grow 10 to 30 ft. tall. The pine cones mature in September when the seeds (pine nuts) are collected by many different cultures for food. Indians still use the pine tree pitch for waterproffing baskets and for glue for turquoise jewelry. Pine nuts has become a big commodity second only to pecans. The tree shown here is a two-needle Pinyon Pine. Looking closely at the needles you will see that two needles orginate in the same socket on the tree.
"Juniperus osteosperma" This is a cedar tree. Usually less than 30 ft. tall. Small berries (see the close-up) can be seen on the branches. This cedar tree lives between 4,000 and 7,500 ft. elev. It is the most dominant single species of trees in Utah and is common across the Southwest. It is used for fence posts, firewood, and pencils.
"Populus tremulocides" Also commonly known as the Quaking Aspen. A really splendid tree that likes cool weather and higher elevations. Aspens grow from a central root system called "clones". When you see a group of Aspens growing together, they are all probably connected together by the same main root. They are the first tree to come back after a forest fire. Its bark has an ingredient similar to aspirin and was used as a remedy. In the fall when its leaves change color it becomes a major attraction for photographers.
Joshua Trees are native to southwestern North America in the states of California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, where it is confined mostly to the Mojave Desert.
If it survives the rigors of the desert it can live for hundreds of years with some specimens surviving up to a thousand years. The tallest trees reach about 15 m (49 ft).
Joshua trees are fast growers for the desert; new seedlings may grow at an average rate of 7.6 cm (3.0 in) per year in their first ten years, then only grow about 3.8 cm (1.5 in) per year thereafter. A smaller one is shown with the vehicle for a size comparison.
Palo Verde Tree
Jojobo Bean Bush
Mormon Tea Bush
Soap Tree Yucca
A Joshua tree in bloom. The flowers on most yuccas are very similar, clusters of white bulbs.
Photo Courtesy of Jamaka Petzak -->
(Agave shawii var. shawii)
Not to be confused with the "Blue Agave" which is used to make Tequila. Native to California and Bahia de Los Angeles. These grow all along roads in Baja, Mexico and are considered very rare now in southern California. Used for water in dry regions, plant fibers and also eaten when in the young stage of growth. These were photographed in central region of Baja. It is one of the most ancient plants found in Baja.
When in full bloom this brush is full of yellow flowers - see below.
Photo above, Courtesy of John Cary
Photo above, Courtesy of Greg Watson
Mojave Desert Parsley
Flower color ranges from yellow to purple to brown. Leaves are greyish-green, and finely, pinnately divided 3 or 4 times into tiny lobes, around 1/8 of an inch long. The cooked root can be dried and ground into a powder and then be mixed with cereal flours or added to soups etc. The leaves are edible and said to taste like parsley.
Photos courtesy of Greg Watson
See the enlargement for more detail.
This Yucca is often wider than the leaves are high. The flowering stem can reach 40" in height. Banana Yucca is just one of 40 species found only in North America. The fruits are fleshy and succulent and look like short fat green bananas, thus the name. The fruits are often picked before maturity and ripened off plant to keep wildlife from eating them.
Photo courtesy of Larry Reyes
Wildlife: Fruits attract birds, deer & insects.
Photo taken: LaMadre Springs, Red Rock Canyon, NV. See the close-up.