Flowers of the Southwest Deserts

Flowers of the Southwest Deserts
Title: Flowers of the Southwest Deserts
Release Date: 2016-11-02
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Flowers of the Southwest Deserts


By Natt N. Dodge
Drawings by Jeanne R. Janish


Globe, Arizona

Copyright 1951, 1952, 1954
by the Southwestern Monuments Association

U. S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Southwestern National Monuments
Gila Pueblo, Globe, Arizona

This booklet is published by the Southwestern Monuments Associationin keeping with one of its objectives, to provide accurate andauthentic information about the Southwest.

Other numbers of the Popular Series now in print are: (2) “Arizona’sNational Monuments,” 1946; (3) “Poisonous Dwellers of theDesert,” in its fourth printing, 1951; (5) “Flowers of the SouthwestMesas,” 1951; (6) “Tumacacori’s Yesterdays,” 1951; (7) “Flowers ofthe Southwest Mountains,” 1952; and (8) “Animals of the SouthwestDeserts,” April, 1954.

A Technical Series will embody results of research accomplished bythe staff and friends of Southwestern National Monuments.

Notification of publications by the Association will be given upondate of release to such persons or institutions as submit their namesto the Executive Secretary for this purpose.

Dale Stuart King, Executive Secretary
Harry B. Boatright, Treasurer


John M. Davis, General Superintendent, Southwestern National Monuments, National Park Service, Gila Pueblo, Globe, Arizona, Chairman
Horace M. Albright, New York City.
Adrey E. Borell, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Dr. Harold S. Colton, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Dr. Emil W. Haury, Tucson, Arizona.
Rev. Victor R. Stoner, Victoria, Texas.
Alexander V. Wasson, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Executive Secretary and Treasurer, ex-officio

Naturalist, Southwestern National Monuments

First Edition, 5,000 copies, published April 9, 1951
Second edition, revised, of 7,500 copies, January, 1952
Third edition, revised, of 10,000 copies, March, 1954

Printed in the United States of America by
Rydal Press, Santa Fe, N.M.

1. Big Bend National Park
2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
3. Casa Grande National Monument
4. Chiricahua
5. Death Valley
6. Joshua Tree
7. Montezuma Castle
8. Organ Pipe Cactus
9. Saguaro
10. Tonto
11. Tumacacori
12. White Sands
13. Lake Mead Nat’l Recreation Area

Desert Areas of the West—this booklet deals with the common plants of threeof them: (1) the Chihuahua; (2) the Sonoran; and (3) the Mojave.

Plants of the higher plateau country of from 4,500 to 7,000-feet elevation areshown and described in “Flowers of the Southwest Mesas,” companion volume tothis one, by Pauline M. Patraw and Jeanne R. Janish, 1951.

Mountain zone vegetation (from the Ponderosa Pine belt, or about 7,000 feet,on up) is the subject of “Flowers of the Southwest Mountains,” the third of thetriad, by Leslie P. Arnberger and Jeanne R. Janish.



By Natt N. Dodge
Drawings by Jeanne R. Janish


In order that you may get full value from this booklet, it isimportant that you understand how to make the greatest use of it.The purpose of the booklet is double: (1) to introduce the commondesert flowers to newcomers to the Southwest; and (2), to give alittle background of information about the plants’ interesting habitsand how they have been and are used by animals, by the nativepeoples, and by the settlers. Every effort has been made to presentaccurate, if not always complete, information.

Since there are more than 3,200 plants recorded from Arizonaalone, and this booklet attempts to introduce you to the commonplants of desert areas in Texas, New Mexico, and California in additionto Arizona, it is apparent that you will find an enormous numberof flowers which are not included. Therefore, a painstakingeffort has been made to select the commonest or most spectacular;that is, those which you will naturally stop to look at and say,“Who are you?”

For ease in identification, flowers are arranged in this bookletaccording to color of the flower petals. When you meet a flower towhom you would like an introduction, first note the color of itspetals. Don’t jump too quickly to a conclusion, for what at first glancemay seem to be pink, careful examination may prove to be lavender,violet, or purple. Once you feel reasonably sure of the color,turn to the section of the booklet in which flowers of that color arelisted and examine the sketches. Find something that looks similar?

Now check the size of the plant as indicated in the sketch andtext. Does the text list the flower as occurring in the particular desertarea (see map on next page) where you are? Is the blossomingseason correct? Do other details check? If so, the chances are thatyou have the right flower—or at least a close relative. Close enough,anyway, so that you may be reasonably safe in calling the flowerby its common name. Of course if a botanist happens along, he maypoint out that you have Penstemon parryi whereas you thought youhad struck up an acquaintance with Penstemon pseudospectabilis.However, it’s a penstemon, even tho’ a sister of the one you thoughtyou were meeting. Perhaps you’ll run across a dozen other brothersand sisters before you happen onto the member of the genus commonenough to be listed specifically in our Desert Who’s Who.

Certain of the desert flowers change color with age. Also, duringoff seasons, some of the really common flowers don’t show upin large numbers while a few of the rarer ones may take their turnat brightening up the desert. Furthermore, in a few cases such asthe Oleander, the species comes in two colors, red flowers on oneplant and white on another. The Bird-of-Paradise flower has yellowpetals, but the rest of the flower is red, so it’s a toss-up which coloryou might call it. The Beavertail Cactus has magenta flowers while4those of its very close relative, Engelmann’s Prickly Pear, have yellowblossoms, yet in this booklet it has been necessary to put themboth on the same page in the “yellow” section.

So, this booklet makes no claims to perfection, and these discrepanciesadd certain hazards to the game. You may strike outseveral times before getting to first base. As you become accustomedto using the booklet, home runs will come more frequently,and you will soon begin to have a lot of fun. If any particular speciesespecially interests you, once you are certain of its identity you canreadily find out more about it by following up in one or more of thepublications listed in this booklet under the heading “References.”

A few of the common desert flowers have been left out of thisbooklet—purposely. The reason is that, although they are well representedamong desert flowers, they are even more common throughoutnon-desert parts of the Southwest. You will find them all in a companionbooklet: Polly Patraw’s “Flowers of the Southwest Mesas.”They belong principally to the following groups: Cottonwood, Rabbit-brush,Snakeweed, Saltbush, Apacheplume, Clematis, Squawbush,Blanketflower, Sunflower, Groundsel, Elder, Blazing Star and Morningglory.

Be Serious About Plant Names—But Not Too Serious

It has often been said that “a rose by any other name would smellas sweet.” Although the statement is literally true, we are often disappointed,perhaps offended, when we find some flower friend of longacquaintance called by another, and, to our minds, inferior name. Also,we dislike the attachment of a name which we have long associatedwith a certain plant to another, and perhaps less attractive, flower.

Common names are by no means standardized in their usage,and a well known plant in one part of the country may be called byan entirely different name somewhere else. Also, certain names areapplied to a number of plants which more or less resemble oneanother. For instance, the name “Greasewood” is applied to almostany plant that has oily or highly inflammable leaves; and with theavid reading by eastern people of Zane Grey’s and other “westerns,”any shrubby plant with grayish foliage covering large areas of westernland immediately becomes “Sagebrush.” This is particularly irritatingto inhabitants of the desert areas treated in this booklet because trueSagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) rarely grows below elevations of 6,000feet. The loose application of common names is a confusing annoyanceto wildflower enthusiasts.

In an effort to avoid this confusion and to establish a methodof naming that will be uniform throughout the world, botanists havedeveloped a system using descriptive Latin names and groupingplants into genera and families based upon their relationships toone another as determined by their physical structure. Unfortunatelyfor the layman, this system is so technical and the Latin names sounintelligible that he becomes completely bewildered. Furthermore,advanced botanical studies result in continual regroupings and changesin names so that the amateur botanist finds it impossible to keep up.Botanists who specialize in plant nomenclature have a tendency to5become so involved with the technicalities of naming that their writingsbristle with minute descriptions of anatomical details and the readersearches in vain for such basic information as a simple statement of thecolor of the flowers.

The majority of common flowers have several to many commonnames. This is particularly true in the Southwest where some plantshave names in English, Spanish, and one or more Indian languages.In addition, of course, each species has its scientific name. An effort hasbeen made in this booklet to give as many of the names applied toeach selected flower as are readily available. This not only aids inidentifying the plant, but adds to its interest. The reader then findshimself in the enviable position of being able to scan the field andchoose whichever name appeals to him with the reasonable assurancethat he is right—at least in one locality.

Since this booklet was written by a layman for the use and enjoymentof other laymen, it violates a number of botanical, or taxonomic,principles. These violations have been committed with no spirit ofdisrespect, but in an effort to avoid confusion, conserve space, and keepa complicated and involved subject as simple as possible. The writerbelieves that the visitor to the desert who has a normal pleasure innature is interested in the flowers because of their beauty and theirrelationships with other inhabitants of the desert, including mankind.


In this booklet we are dealing with DESERT flowers, so it seemslogical to take a moment to check upon the desert itself. What is a desert,and how may we recognize one when we see it?

“A desert,” stated the late Dr. Forrest Shreve, “is a region of deficientand uncertain rainfall.” Where moisture is deficient and uncertain, onlysuch plants survive as are able to endure long periods of extremedrought. Desert vegetation is, therefore, made up of plants which,through various specialized body structures, can survive conditions ofsevere drought. In general, the deserts of the world are fairly close to theequator, so they occur in climates that are hot as well as dry. Plants inthe deserts of the Southwest must endure long periods of heat as wellas drought.

In North America, major desert areas are located in the generalvicinity of the international boundary between Mexico and the UnitedStates. Due to various differences in elevation, climatic conditions, andother factors, certain portions of this Great American Desert favor thegrowth of plants of certain types. Based on these general vegetativetypes, botanists have catalogued the Great American Desert into fourdivisions, as follows (see map):

1. Chihuahuan Desert: Western Texas, southern New Mexico, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.
2. Sonoran Desert (Arizona Desert): Baja (Lower) California, northern Sonora, and southern Arizona.
3. Mohave-Colorado Desert (California Desert): Portions of southern California, southern Nevada, and northwestern Arizona.
4. Great Basin Desert: The Great Basin area of Nevada, Utah, and northeastern Arizona.

It is of especial interest to note that certain plants such as Creosotebush(Larrea tridentata) seems to thrive in several of these desert areaswhile others are found in great abundance in only one. Plants that growin profusion in only one desert are spoken of as “indicators” of that particulardesert. Any person interested in desert vegetation soon learns themajor indicators, not only of the different deserts, but of different sectionsor elevations in the same desert. Here are some of the better-knownindicator plants:

1. Chihuahuan Desert: Lechuguilla (Agave lechuguilla);
2. Sonoran Desert: Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea);
3. Mohave-Colorado Desert: Joshua-tree (Yucca brevifolia);
4. Great Basin Desert:
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