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Desert Plants

Plants are an important part of the desert ecosystem.  They provide protection, water and a source food for desert animals. For centuries, native desert dwellers have used parts of plants for food, medicine and to build homes.The plants that grow in the desert are varied. The most common is a cactus but there are many different varieties.  There are also bushes, grasses, wildflowers, and trees in the desert. 

The plants need our help!


Types of plants in the story

  • ocotillo: A large shrub with spiny stems that can be 20 feet high.  At times a long red flower blooms at the end. This plant can live up to 100 years. Sometimes this cactus is nicknamed “monkey tail”.

  • saguaro: A tall tree-like cactus that can grow over 40 feet and can live over 150 years. The flower that grows at the top of the cactus is the Arizona state flower. It only blooms for 24 hours and smells like a melon. The fruit that grows after is edible. Most saguaros grow “arms” but the first one usually does not show up until the plant is about 95-100 years old! Saguaros only grow in the Sonoran desert region, which includes parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.

Other plants to learn about:

  • yucca            

  • agave            

  • cholla            

  • mesquite

  • hedgehog

  • barrel cactus          

  • tumbleweed        

  • prickly pear (pictured in book) 

  • creosote bush

  • organ pipe cactus       

  • palo verde        

  • sage            

  • honeysuckle


  1. Study the various types of plants that grow in the desert. Discover how these plants were used for food, medicine, and other products in the past and present.

  2. Visit a desert, a botanical garden or a nursery to see the various plants found in a desert. Take photos or draw pictures to compare the differences.

  3. Invite a speaker from a park, a museum or plant society to share information about the plants and the importance they play in the desert environment.

  4. Plant a cactus or other desert-like plant to keep and further study.

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