A Checklist of Plants of White Sands National Monument

A Discussion of Dunes Ecology With Revised Checklist

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124s.jpg-image of yucca in dunes

White Sands National Monument preserves a sea of graceful white gypsum sand dunes--a landscape of stark natural beauty. Life is difficult in the dune field, even for plants adapted to desert conditions. The dune field environment is unusually harsh: plants must endure burial by moving dunes, nutrient-poor gypsum soil, and extreme fluctuations of temperature. Only about 60 species of plants, one quarter of those growing in the adjacent Tularosa Basin, have found a way to survive in the dunes.

This guide combines previously compiled, revised checklists of plants of the White Sands. The following discussion of the ecological aspects of the dunes should help the observer to locate and identify individual species of plants. By placing the checklists in ecological context, it is hoped that the observer will come to think of each plant as a member of a life community interrelating with the dune movement.


Ecology is the study of the interrelationships between plants and animals and their physical surroundings. It is literally a study of the home or household of living things. In understanding the ecology of the White Sands, several rather distinct homes, or habitats, must be considered. Most of these habitats are named in terms of the physical surroundings because, as in most arid lands, the inorganic part of the environment is the most prominent and has the greatest influence on the organic parts.

Interdune flats. As the gypsum sand dunes move northwestward across the Tularosa Basin, pieces of the underlying desert floor are exposed between the individual dunes. Most of the plant species inside the dune field grow only in these interdune flats, where conditions are less hostile. Better soil and protection from wind and blowing sand allows plants to survive for a while-- until the next dune buries them.

The most showy wildflowers in the interdune flats include Centaury, a gentian with bright pink flowers; Sand Verbena, with its fragrant lilac-like smell; Stick-leaf, with yellow, star-like flowers; Woolly Paperflower, which stands out against the white dunes in bright yellow clumps in the fall; and Yellow Evening Primrose.

Marginal Dunes. These extend into the dune field two or three miles from its southern and eastern boundary. Most of the dunes in this habitat are slow-moving, scattered and separated by large grassy, interdune areas. Although the dunes are still the prominent feature here, the effects of vegetation in slowing the rate of dune movement is very evident.

The marginal dunes themselves have become relatively heavily populated with flora able to withstand such physical conditions. There are eight species of plants that routinely grow on the marginal dunes. The Soaptree Yucca is found scattered throughout this part of the dune field. Yuccas that can be seen on the tops of dunes actually germinate in interdune areas. As a dune begins to bury them, the yuccas elongate their stems, growing upward as much as a foot per year, to keep their leaves above the sand.

Two large shrubs, Skunkbush Sumac and Hoary Rosemarymint, can also extend their stems and outgrow slow-moving marginal dunes. Their stems and roots can then anchor the dunes, further slowing dune movement and allowing other plants to take root on the relatively stable soil.

This developing plant community attracted animal life from the adjacent desert, which became fit to live on the dunes through evolutionary adaptation. Thus, the marginal dunes are now an ecological complex of unexpected variety and diversity.

Transverse and Barchan Dunes. In the center of the dune field, the physical forces of nature reign supreme. The paucity of plant life in the interior of the dune field is indicative of the harsh environmental conditions that prevail. Large transverse and barchan dunes creep forward many feet per year, overwhelming all plant life in their paths. Even the fast-growing yucca and rosemarymint cannot outgrow these dunes. No plants grow on the tops of the dunes, and only a few hardy species are able to live in the interdune flats until they are covered by sand. This interdune environment, known as the Abronia (Sand Verbena) association, is characterized by openings invaded first by Evening Primrose. These pioneers occupy the lee slope of the migrating dunes, the most recently created portion of the interdune flat. Moving out toward the center (older portion) of the flat, the Primrose is replaced by Indian Ricegrass and, later, Groundsel. The last plants to invade are Sand Verbena, Ephedra, Greenthread, and, finally, Alkali Sacaton.

Alkali Flat and Lake Lucero. The transverse-barchan dunes grade to the west into a narrow zone of embryonic dunes. The latter mark the eastern boundary of an ancient lake bed called the Alkali Flat. Here alkaline conditions prevent the growth of plant life except for a few scattered grasses and a scaly pseudo- evergreen known as Pickleweed. Lake Lucero, at the southern end of the Alkali Flat, occasionally contains standing water. There is little plant growth in the bed of Lake Lucero due to extreme alkaline conditions and infrequent flooding. However, alkaline- tolerant grasses sparsely fringe the shore of the lake.

Alluvial Fans. The alluvial fans at the base of the San Andres Mountains have coalesced to form a broad slope known as a bajada. The lowermost slopes of this extend into the monument and border the Alkali Flat on the west. The bajada is cut at frequent intervals by deep washes or arroyos that empty onto the Alkali Flat and Lake Lucero. Large Honey Mesquite hummocks are the dominant vegetative feature. The mesquite community soon gives way to Creosote Bush higher up on the slopes, near the monument boundary.

Saltbush Flats. The center of this high desert basin, the Tularosa, is vegetated mainly by Four Wing Saltbush and salt- tolerant bunch grasses. As grazing land, it is now very poor but, in the 1800's before the introduction of range cattle, it supposedly was predominately grassland having more of the appearance of plains than desert. A combination of drought and overgrazing may have allowed the hardy saltbush to take over. The eastern and southern edges of the marginal dunes are bordered by these saltbush flats. This grey-green monotony is broken by an occasional splash of bright red blossoms of the Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus in the spring and stands of Golden Crownbeard in the fall.

Exotic plants. Tamarisk, or salt cedar, is a Mediterranean shrub introduced into North America. The aggressive tamarisk has spread throughout the southwest, growing thickly along streams, ponds and other seasonally-wet areas. At White Sands, tamarisk has invaded many interdune areas, where water is close to the surface. To protect native plants, the National Park Service is actively trying to control the spread of tamarisk within the monument. Other exotic plants now found in the park include Russian Thistle, or tumbleweed, and African Rue.


This high desert basin, averaging 4,000 feet in elevation, is subject to harsh and sometimes rapidly changing climatic conditions. Summers are hot, averaging 95°F highs in July and August, with occasional readings over 100°F. Winter days are relatively mild, but nighttime temperatures routinely drop below freezing. Cold spells can send the mercury to below zero. The lowest temperature on record is a -25°F. Snowfall is infrequent, but heavy snows have occurred on occasion. Precipitation averages about eight inches per year, with most of this occurring during summer thunderstorms, often accompanied by hail.

Wind is the dominant climatic factor here, especially from February through May. The prevailing southwesterly winds blow unimpeded across the desert and at times reach gale proportions. Storms sometimes last for several days in the spring. This is the time of greatest dune movement, when living conditions for dune plant and animal communities become extremely harsh.


The following checklist has been compiled by various qualified individuals over the years since White Sands was established as a National Monument in 1933. Much of the work has been done by National Park Service personnel and volunteers. The latest revision was prepared by park volunteers Paul Shaw and Jeanine Derby. A Flora of New Mexico by W.C. Martin and C.R. Hutchins is the source for scientific names used in this checklist.

Separate checklists of birds and other animals of the white sands are available at the monument bookstore.



Oscillatoria sp.


Chlamydomonas sp.

Microcoleus paludosus

Microcoleus vaginatus

Nostoc spp.

Palmogloea protuberans

Pleconema nostocorum

Schizothrix californica

Schizothrix lamyi

Scytonema hofmannii


Nitella sp.


Euglena sp.


Dermatocarpon lachneum

Fulgensia sp.

Physia aipolia

Psora sp.

Psora decipiens


GYMNOSPERMAE (Non-flowering Plants)

EPHEDRACEAE (Ephedra Family)

Ephedra torreyana

Mormon Tea or Jointfir

Ephedra trifurca



CYPERACEAE (Sedge Family)

Scirpus paludosus

Salt-Marsh Bulrush

Scirpus microcarpus


JUNCACEAE (Rush Family)

Juncus balticus var. montanus


Juncus mexicanus


LILIACEAE (Lily Family)

Yucca elata

Soaptree Yucca

Yucca torreyi

Torrey Yucca

POACEAE (Grass Family)


Arundo donax

Giant Reed


Oryzopsis hymenoides

Indian Ricegrass


Muhlenbergia arenacea

Ear Muhly

Muhlenbergia porteri

Bush Muhly

Muhlenbergia pungens

Sandhill Muhly

Scleropogon brevifolius


Sporobolus airoides

Alkali Sacaton

Sporobolus contractus

Spike Dropseed

Sporobolus cryptandrus

Sand Dropseed

Sporobolus flexuosis

Mesa Dropseed

Sporobolus giganteus

Giant Dropseed

Sporobolus nealleyi

Gypgrass or Nealley Dropseed

Tridens pulchellus

Fluff Grass


Bouteloua barbata

Six-weeks Grama

Bouteloua breviseta

Gyp Grama or Short- bristled Grama

Bouteloua gracilis

Blue Grama

Chloris virgata

Feather Fingergrass

Hilaria mutica

Tobosa Grass


Distichlis stricta

Desert Saltgrass


Aristida adscensionis

Six-weeks Three-awn


Setaria macrcostachya

Plains Bristlegrass


Andropogon scoparius

Little Bluestem

RUPPIACEAE (Ditch-grass Family)

Ruppia maritima


TYPHACEAE (Cattail Family)

Typha angustifolia

Narrow-leaved Cattail

Typha latifolia

Common Cattail


AIZOACEAE (Carpet-weed Family)

Trianthema portulacastrum

Horse Purslane

AMARANTHACEAE (Amaranth Family)

Amaranthus retroflexus


Tidestromia lanuginosa

Woolly Tidestromia


Rhus trilobata

Skunkbush Sumac

Rhus microphylla

Little-leaf Sumac

APOCYNACEAE (Dogbane Family)

Amsonia arenaria


Amsonia hirtella


ASCLEPIADACEAE (Milkweed Family)

Asclepias arenaria

Sand Milkweed

Asclepias subverticillata

Poison Milkweed

ASTERACEAE (Composite Family)


Hymenoclea monogyra

Singlewhirl Burro-bush


Baccharis bigelovii

Bigelow Baccharis

Baccharis glutinosa

Seepwillow Baccharis

Baccharis salicina

Willow Baccharis

Chrysothamnus nauseosus

Rubber Rabbitbrush

Chrysothamnus pulchellus ssp. baileyi

Southwest Rabbitbrush

Erigeron bellidastrum


Gutierrezia microcephala

Three Leaf Snakeweed

Gutierrezia sarothrae

Broom Snakeweed

Haplopappus heterophyllus


Haplopappus spinulosus ssp. australis


Machaeranthera linearis

Sand Goldenweed

Machaeranthera parviflora

Wild Aster

Machaeranthera scabrella

Machaeranthera tanacetifolia

Tohoka Daisy


Dicranocarpus parvilflorus


Engelmannia pinnatifida

Engelmann Daisy

Flourensia cernua

American Tarbush

Helianthus annuus

Common Sunflower

Helianthus petiolaris

Prairie Sunflower

Thelesperma megapotamicum


Verbesina encelioides

Golden Crownbeard

Zinnia grandiflora

Rocky Mountain Zinnia


Bahia absinthifolia


Gaillardia pinnatifida


Gaillardia pulchella


Hymenopappus filifolius var. cinereus

Yellow Cutleaf

Pectis angustifolia


Pseudoclappia arenaria

False Clappia

Psilostrophe sparsiflora


Psilostrophe tagetina

Woolly Paperflower

Sartwellia flaveriae

Threadleaf Sartwell


Senecio douglasii var.longilobus

Threadleaf Groundsel

Senecio riddellii

Riddell Groundsel

Senecio spartiodes

Broom Groundsel


Centaurea melitensis

Napa Star Thistle

Centaurea repens

Russian Knapweed

Cirsium wheeleri

Wheeler Thistle


Perezia nana

Desert Holly

BIGNONIACEA (Bignonia Family)

Chilopsis linearis

Desert Willow

BORAGINACEAE (Borage Family)

Coldenia hispidissima

Purple Borage

Cryptantha fulvocanescens

Yellow Cryptantha

Heliotropium greggii


Lappula texana


BRASSICACEAE (Mustard Family)

Descurainia pinnata


Dithyrea wislizenii


Diplotaxus tenuifolia

Slimleaf Wallrocket

Greggia camporum

Velvety Greggia

Greggia camporam var. linearifolium

White Sands Mustard

Lepidium densiflorum


Lepidium montanum var. alyssoides


Lesquerella fendleri


Sisymbrium irio

London Rocket

Streptanthus validus

Jewel Flower

CACTACEAE (Cactus Family)

Cereus greggii

Night blooming Cereus

Coryphantha macromeris

Nipple Beehive Cactus

Coryphantha sheeri

Needle Beehive Cactus

Coryphantha vivipara var. vivipara

Biscuit Cactus

Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. horizonthalonius

Blue Barrel Cactus

Echinocereus fendleri var. fendleri

Fendler's Hedgehog

Echinocereus fendleri var. rectispinus

Fendler Needle-Spine Hedgehog

Echinocereus ennaecanthus var. stramineus

Straw-colored Hedgehog

Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. gonacanthus

Claret Cup Hedgehog

Opuntia clavata

Club Cholla

Opuntia imbricata

Cane Cholla or Tree Cholla

Opuntia kleiniae var. kleiniae

Klein Pencil Cholla

Opuntia leptocaulis

Desert Christmas Cactus

Opuntia macrorhiza var. macrorhiza

Tuberous-Rooted Prickly Pear

Opuntia macrorhiza var. pottsii

Plains Prickly Pear

Opuntia phaeacantha var. discata

Desert Prickly Pear

Opuntia polyacantha var. rufispina

Red-Spined Prickly Pear

Opuntia violacea var. macrocentra

Long-Spine Prickly Pear

Pediocactus papyracanthus

Paper-Spine Plains Cactus

CHENOPODIACEAE (Goosefoot Family)

Allenrolfea occidentalis


Atriplex canescens

Four-wing Saltbush

Salsola kali var. tenuifolia

Russian Thistle

Suaeda depressa


Suaeda suffrutescens

Desert Seepweed

Suaeda torreyana

Torrey Seepweed

CONVOLVULACEAE (Morning Glory Family)

Cressa truxillensis

Silky Cressa


Cucurbita foetidissima

Buffalo Gourd


Croton dioicus


Euphorbia albomarginata

Whitemargin Spurge

Euphorbia lata

Hoary Euphorbia

Euphorbia serrula

Sawtooth Spurge

FABACEAE (Pea Family)

Astragalus allorchrous

Halfmoon Loco

Cassia bauhinioides


Cassia lindheimeriana


Dalea scoparia

Broom Pea

Hoffmanseggia densiflora


Melilotus officinalis

Yellow Sweet Clover

Prosopis glandulosa

Honey Mesquite

FOUQUIERIACEAE (Ocotillo Family)

Fouquieria splendens


FRANKENIACEAE (Frankenia Family)

Frankenia jamesii


GENTIANACEAE (Gentian Family)

Centaurium calycosum

Centaury or Rosita

Centaurium texense

Lady Bird's Centaury

Eustoma exaltatum

Catch-Fly Gentian

Eustoma grandiflorum


HYDROPHYLLACEAE (Waterleaf Family)

Nama carnosum

Gyp Nama

Nama hispidum

Hispid Nama

Phacelia corrugata


Phacelia integrifolia

Scalloped Phacelia or Scorpionweed


Koeberlinia spinosa

Spiny All-thorn

LAMIACEAE (Mint Family)

Hoary Rosemarymint

LOASACEAE (Stick-leaf Family)

Cevallia sinuata


Mentzelia pumila var. integra


Mentzelia pumila var. multiflora

Desert Mentzelia

Mentzelia pumila var. pumila


MALVACEAE (Mallow Family)

Sida leprosa var. depauperata

Scrufy Sida

Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Narrow-leaf Globemallow

Sphaeralcea incana

Soft Globemallow

Sphaeralcea subhastata


NYCTAGINACEAE (Four O'clock Family)

Abronia angustifolia

Sand Verbena

Allionia choisyi

Smooth Trailing Four O'clock

Allionia incarnata

Trailing Four O'clock

Ammocodon chenopodioides

Goosefoot Moonpod

Mirabilis multiflora

Colorado Four O'clock

Selinocarpus diffusus

Spreading Moonpod

Selinocarpus lanceolatus

Gyp Moonpod

ONAGRACEAE (Evening Primrose Family)

Calylophus hartwegii

Yellow Evening Primrose

Gaura coccinea

Scarlet Gaura

Gaura parviflora

Lizard Tail

Oenothera albicaulis

Prairie Evening Primrose

Oenothera pallida runcinata

White Evening Primrose

Oenothera pallida latifolia

White Evening Primrose


Argemone polyanthemos

Prickly Poppy

PLUMBAGINACEAE (Leadwort Family)

Limonium limbatum



Eriastrum diffusum

Wooly Star

Ipomopsis pumila

Low Gilia

Ipomopsis longiflora

Pale Trumpets

POLYGONACEAE (Buckwheat Family)

Eriogonum rotundifolium

Round Leaf Wild Buckwheat

RHAMNACEAE (Buck-thorn Family)

Condalia spathulata

Knifeleaf Condalia

SALICACEAE (Willow Family)

Populus fremontii var. wizlizenii

Rio Grande Cottonwood

Salix gooddingii

Goodding Willow

SANTALACEAE (Sandlewood Family)

Comandra pallida


SOLANACEAE (Potato Family)

Datura meteloides

Jimson Weed

Datura querifolia

Oak-Leaved Thornapple

Lycium berlandieri var. parviflorum

Terrac Wolfberry

Lycium pallidum

Pale Wolfberry

Lycium torreyi

Torrey Wolfberry

Solanum elaeagnifolium

Silverleaf Nightshade

Solanum rostratum

Buffalo Bur

TAMARICACEAE (Tamarix Family)

Tamarix gallica

Salt Cedar or Tamarisk

VERBENACEAE (Verbena Family)

Phyla incisa

Texas Frog-fruit

Verbena bracteata

Prostrate Vervain

VITACEAE (Grape Family)

Parthenocissus inserta



Kallstroemia hirsutissima


Larrea tridentata

Creosote Bush

Peganum harmala

African Rue




Andropus carnosus

Nama carnosum

Aplopappus spinulosus

Haplopapus spinulosus

Aster cichoriaceus

Machaeranthera chichoriaceus

Aster linearis

Machaeranthera linearis

Aster parvulus

Machaeranthera parviflora

Aster tenacetifolius

Machaeranthera tenacetifolia

Centaurea picris

Centaurea repens

Chrysothamnus latisquameus

Chrysothamnus nauseosus

Cladothrix lanigulosa

Tidestroma lanuginosa

Comandra umbellata

Commandra pallida

Crassina grandiflora

Zinnia grandiflora

Cressa depressa

Cressa truxillensis

Datura wrightii

Datura meteloides

Dicranocarpus dicranocarpus

Dicranocarpus parviflora

Distichlis spicata

Distichlis stricta

Dimorphocarpa wislizenii

Dithyrea wislizenii

Dondia moquini

Suaeda torreyana

Dondia suffrutescens

Suaeda suffrutescens

Erythrea texense

Centaurium texense

Gilia pumila

Ipomopsis pumila

Heterospermum dicranocarpum

Dicranocarpus parviflora

Hoffmanseggia glauca

Hoffmanseggia densiflora

Isocoma wrightii

Haplopappus heterophyllus

Lepidium alyssoides

Lepidium montanum

Lippia incisa

Phyla incisa

Machaeranthera pinnatifida

Haplopappus spinulosus

Nerisyrenia camporum

Greggia camporum

Nerisyrenia linearifolia

Greggia camporum var. linearifolia

Nuttallia procera

Mentzelia pumila var. pumila

Oenothera hartwegii

Calylophus hartwegii

Oenothera lavandulifolia

Calylophus hartwegii

Oenothera runcinata

Oenothera pallida runcinata

Opuntia engelmannii

Opuntia phaeacantha discata

Phacelia corrugata

Phacelia crenulata

Populus wizlizenii

Populus fremontii var.wizlezenii

Rhus aromatica

Rhus trilobata

Schizachyrium scoparium

Andropogon scoparius

Scirpus maritimus

Scirpus paludosus

Selinocarpus chenopodioides

Ammocodon chenopodioides

Sida lepidota

Sida leprosa

Sphaeralcea lobata

Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Sporobolus asperifolia

Muhlenbergia asperifolia

Sporobolus strictus

Sporobolus contractus

Thelesperma gracile

Thelesperma megapotamicum

Wootonia parviflora

Dicranocarpus parviflorus

Xanthocephalum sarothrae

Gutierrezia sarothrae

Yucca baccata var. torreyi

Yucca torreyi

Last Updated:Wednesday, 22-Nov-00 16:08:06

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