Closures and Missile Tests
Upcoming Missile Tests: From time to time the missile range that surrounds us performs missile testing that may require the closure of the park or Highway 70. Please follow the link below for up to date information on closures More »
New Monument Hours
The monument currently opens at 8 a.m. and closes roughly 1 hour after sunset. More »
Road Safety Corridor
The first four miles of Dunes Drive is a road safety corridor. Slowing or stopping in the corridor is prohibited. Dune Life Nature and Playa trails are also temporarily closed. The staff of White Sands National Monument apologizes for the inconvenience.
Plant Checklist - Text Only Version
PLANTS OF THE WHITE SANDS A Discussion of Dunes Ecology With Revised Checklist White Sands National Monument New Mexico INTRODUCTION 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. ECOLOGICAL ASPECTS 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.
CLIMATIC FACTORS This high desert basin, averaging 4,000 feet in elevation, is subject to harsh and sometimes rapidly changing climatic conditions. Summers are hot, averaging 95ø highs in July and August, with occasional readings over 100øF. 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 -25øF. 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. PLANT CHECKLIST 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. CHECKLIST FOR PLANTS DIVISION - CYANOCHLORONTA (Cyanobacteria) Oscillatoria sp. DIVISION - CHLOROPHYTA (Green Algae) Chlamydomonas sp. Microcoleus paludosus Microcoleus vaginatus Nostoc spp. Palmogloea protuberans Pleconema nostocorum Schizothrix californica Schizothrix lamyi Scytonema hofmannii DIVISION - CHAROPHYTA (Stone Worts) Nitella sp. DIVISION - EUGLENOPHYCOPHYTA (Euglendids) Euglena sp. DIVISION - THALLOPHYTA (Lichens) Dermatocarpon lachneum Fulgensia sp. Physia aipolia Psora sp. Psora decipiens DIVISION - SPERMATOPHYTA GYMNOSPERMAE (Non-flowering Plants) EPHEDRACEAE (Ephedra Family) Ephedra torreyana Mormon Tea or Jointfir Ephedra trifurca Canatilla ANGIOSPERMAE (Flowering Plants) MONOCOTYLEDONAE CYPERACEAE (Sedge Family) Scirpus paludosus Salt-Marsh Bulrush Scirpus microcarpus Bulrush JUNCACEAE (Rush Family) Juncus balticus var. montanus Rush Juncus mexicanus Rush LILIACEAE (Lily Family) Yucca elata Soaptree Yucca Yucca torreyi Torrey Yucca POACEAE (Grass Family) TRIBE (4) ABUNDINEAE Arundo donax Giant Reed TRIBE (8) STIPEAE Oryzopsis hymenoides Indian Ricegrass TRIBE (13) ERAGROSTEAE Muhlenbergia arenacea Ear Muhly Muhlenbergia porteri Bush Muhly Muhlenbergia pungens Sandhill Muhly Scleropogon brevifolius Burrgrass 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 TRIBE (14) CHLORIDEAE 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 TRIBE (16) AELUROPODEAE Distichlis stricta Desert Saltgrass TRIBE (19) ARISTIDEAE Aristida adscensionis Six-weeks Three-awn TRIBE (20) PANICEAE Setaria macrcostachya Plains Bristlegrass TRIBE (21) ANDROPOGONEAE Andropogon scoparius Little Bluestem RUPPIACEAE (Ditch-grass Family) Ruppia maritima Widgeongrass TYPHACEAE (Cattail Family) Typha angustifolia Narrow-leaved Cattail Typha latifolia Common Cattail ANGIOSPERMAE (Flowering Plants) DICOTYLEDONAE AIZOACEAE (Carpet-weed Family) Trianthema portulacastrum Horse Purslane AMARANTHACEAE (Amaranth Family) Amaranthus retroflexus Pigweed Tidestromia lanuginosa Woolly Tidestromia ANACARDIACEAE (Cashew Family) Rhus trilobata Skunkbush Sumac Rhus microphylla Little-leaf Sumac APOCYNACEAE (Dogbane Family) Amsonia arenaria Blue-Star Amsonia hirtella Blue-Star ASCLEPIADACEAE (Milkweed Family) Asclepias arenaria Sand Milkweed Asclepias subverticillata Poison Milkweed ASTERACEAE (Composite Family) TRIBE (2) AMBROSINEAE Hymenoclea monogyra Singlewhirl Burro-bush TRIBE (3) ASTEREAE Baccharis bigelovii Bigelow Baccharis Baccharis glutinosa Seepwillow Baccharis Baccharis salicina Willow Baccharis Chrysothamnus nauseosus Rubber Rabbitbrush Chrysothamnus pulchellus ssp. baileyi Southwest Rabbitbrush Erigeron bellidastrum Fleabane Gutierrezia microcephala Three Leaf Snakeweed Gutierrezia sarothrae Broom Snakeweed Haplopappus heterophyllus Jimmy-weed Haplopappus spinulosus ssp. australis Goldenweed Machaeranthera linearis Sand Goldenweed Machaeranthera parviflora Wild Aster Machaeranthera scabrella Machaeranthera tanacetifolia Tohoka Daisy TRIBE (5) HELIANTHEAE Dicranocarpus parvilflorus Pitchfork Engelmannia pinnatifida Engelmann Daisy Flourensia cernua American Tarbush Helianthus annuus Common Sunflower Helianthus petiolaris Prairie Sunflower Thelesperma megapotamicum Greenthread Verbesina encelioides Golden Crownbeard Zinnia grandiflora Rocky Mountain Zinnia TRIBE (6) HELENIEAE Bahia absinthifolia Bahia Gaillardia pinnatifida Firewheel Gaillardia pulchella Firewheel Hymenopappus filifolius var. cinereus Yellow Cutleaf Pectis angustifolia Lemonweed Pseudoclappia arenaria False Clappia Psilostrophe sparsiflora Paperdaisy Psilostrophe tagetina Woolly Paperflower Sartwellia flaveriae Threadleaf Sartwell TRIBE (8) SENECIONEAE Senecio douglasii var.longilobus Threadleaf Groundsel Senecio riddellii Riddell Groundsel Senecio spartiodes Broom Groundsel TRIBE (9) CYNAREAE Centaurea melitensis Napa Star Thistle Centaurea repens Russian Knapweed Cirsium wheeleri Wheeler Thistle TRIBE (10) MUTISIEAE Perezia nana Desert Holly BIGNONIACEA (Bignonia Family) Chilopsis linearis Desert Willow BORAGINACEAE (Borage Family) Coldenia hispidissima Purple Borage Cryptantha fulvocanescens Yellow Cryptantha Heliotropium greggii Heliotrope Lappula texana Stickseed BRASSICACEAE (Mustard Family) Descurainia pinnata Tansy-mustard Dithyrea wislizenii Spectacle-Pod Diplotaxus tenuifolia Slimleaf Wallrocket Greggia camporum Velvety Greggia Greggia camporam var. linearifolium White Sands Mustard Lepidium densiflorum Peppergrass Lepidium montanum var. alyssoides Pepperweed Lesquerella fendleri Bladderpod 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 Blue Barrel Cactus var. horizonthalonius Echinocereus fendleri var. fendleri Fendler's Hedgehog Echinocereus fendleri Fendler Needle-Spine var. rectispinus Hedgehog Echinocereus ennaecanthus Straw-colored Hedgehog var. stramineus Echinocereus triglochidiatus Claret Cup Hedgehog var. gonacanthus 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. Tuberous-Rooted Prickly macrorhiza 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 Pickle-weed Atriplex canescens Four-wing Saltbush Salsola kali var. tenuifolia Russian Thistle Suaeda depressa Seepweed Suaeda suffrutescens Desert Seepweed Suaeda torreyana Torrey Seepweed CONVOLVULACEAE (Morning Glory Family) Cressa truxillensis Silky Cressa CUCURBITACEAE (Gourd Family) Cucurbita foetidissima Buffalo Gourd EUPHORBIACEAE (Spurge Family) Croton dioicus Croton Euphorbia albomarginata Whitemargin Spurge Euphorbia lata Hoary Euphorbia Euphorbia serrula Sawtooth Spurge FABACEAE (Pea Family) Astragalus allorchrous Halfmoon Loco Cassia bauhinioides Senna Cassia lindheimeriana Senna Dalea scoparia Broom Pea Hoffmanseggia densiflora Hog-Potato Melilotus officinalis Yellow Sweet Clover Prosopis glandulosa Honey Mesquite FOUQUIERIACEAE (Ocotillo Family) Fouquieria splendens Ocotillo FRANKENIACEAE (Frankenia Family) Frankenia jamesii Frankenia GENTIANACEAE (Gentian Family) Centaurium calycosum Centaury or Rosita Centaurium texense Lady Bird's Centaury Eustoma exaltatum Catch-Fly Gentian Eustoma grandiflorum Bluebell HYDROPHYLLACEAE (Waterleaf Family) Nama carnosum Gyp Nama Nama hispidum Hispid Nama Phacelia corrugata Blue-Curls Phacelia integrifolia Scalloped Phacelia KOEBERLINIACEAE (Junco Family) Koeberlinia spinosa Spiny All-thorn LAMIACEAE (Mint Family) Poliomintha incana Hoary Rosemarymint LOASACEAE (Stick-leaf Family) Cevallia sinuata Cevellia Mentzelia pumila var. integra Blazingstar Mentzelia pumila var. multiflora Desert Mentzelia Mentzelia pumila var. pumila Stick-leaf MALVACEAE (Mallow Family) Sida leprosa var. depauperata Scrufy Sida Sphaeralcea angustifolia Narrow-leaf Globemallow Sphaeralcea incana Soft Globemallow Sphaeralcea subhastata Globemallow 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 PAPAVERACEAE (Poppy Family) Argemone polyanthemos Prickly Poppy PLUMBAGINACEAE (Leadwort Family) Limonium limbatum Sea-lavender POLEMONIACEAE (Phlox Family) 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 Bastard-toadflax 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 Woodbine ZYGOPHYLLACEAE (Caltrop Family) Kallstroemia hirsutissima Carpetweed Larrea tridentata Creosote Bush Peganum harmala African rue SYNONOMY FOR SEE 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-Dec-2004
Did You Know?
Only the top few inches of the gypsum dunes are made of loose sand. Rainwater falling on the dunes dissolves some of the gypsum and cements the sand grains together, creating a crude form of plaster of Paris. This makes the white sand dunes easy to walk on.