Plants of Desert Washes: Lower Burro Mesa Trail

A dirt trail leads into the canyon at Lower Burro Mesa.
The Lower Burro Mesa trail leads through desert vegetation before dropping into the wash.

NPS/CA Hoyt

An easy, 1.0 mile, round-trip walk up a desert wash. Here, you'll transition from desert vegetation to plants that flourish where there's a little more soil moisture. As with any desert wash, use caution when hiking during the rainy season or anytime rain is in the forecast. Flash floods occur without much notice and the canyon walls are steep.

The illustrated list below features some of the most common plants you'll see once you start your walk up the wash.
 
Paired images, one showing small white flowers of Old Man's Beard and the other showing feathery seedheads.
Old Man's Beard is most noticeable in the late summer when the feathery seedheads cover the vine.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Old Man's Beard
Clematis drummondii

A clambering vine that is easily overlooked until it goes to seed in the late summer. The tufts of seedheads, with their long feathery tails, cover the vine.
 
A milkweed vine with heart-shaped leaves and small creamy white flowers.
Talayote, a milkweed vine, is common in desert washes.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Talayote
Cynanchum racemosum

A twining milkweed vine that can completely cover the tree or shrub it clambers over. The tiny, creamy white flowers have the prominent central crown typical of milkweeds.
 
Bright pink flowers on long, thin stems of prostrate four o'clock.
Trailing four o'clock sprawls across the sand and gravel of desert washes.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Trailing Four O'Clock
Allionia incarnata

A common, vine-like plant that grows in the sand of desert washes. The pretty, bright pink flowers can be found year-round.
 
A paired image of resurrection plant when it is brown, dry, and curled and when recent rains allow the plant to unfurl and turn green.
Left: Resurrection fern in its dormant state. Right: After rains, resurrection plant unfurls and turns bright green.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Resurrection Plant
Selaginella lepidophylla

Resurrection plant is common on rocky slopes lining desert washes. For most of the year, the plant survives as a tightly curled, nest-like, brown ball. When it rains, the balls unfurl, and the plant turns emerald green as they start growing. Resurrection plants can also help you orient yourself. Thick patches of them occur only on north-facing slopes.
 
A low, bushy shrub with yellow flowers grows on the edge of the wash.
American threefold is most common along the edge of the wash.

NPS/CA Hoyt

American Threefold
Trixis californica

A low, leafy shrub with yellow flowers. American threefold usually blooms during the summer rainy season and into the fall.
 
A low-growing shrub with large yellow flowers grows in the wash.
Lindheimer's senna grows in gravelly creek and river beds and on rocky slopes.

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Lindheimer's Senna
Senna lindheimeriana

The yellow flowers of most of the 8 species of senna in the park look pretty much the same. To distinguish between the species, count the leaflet pairs and take note of the size of the plant. Lindheimer's senna has 5 to 8 pairs of leaflets and grow up to 6 ft. tall.
 
Tiny pink and yellow flowers of feather dalea cover the low-growing shrub.
Everything about feather dalea is tiny, but it's worth looking at closely.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Feather Dalea
Dalea formosa

A low shrub (it can grow to 3 ft. tall, but is usually only about 18 inches tall) with tiny leaves and stiff, crooked stems. In early spring and after sumer rains, feather dalea is covered in tiny magenta and yellow flowers. The white, feathery calyx tube that supports the flower gives the plant its common name.
 
The stiff limbs of Guayacan are covered with tiny leaves and purple flowers.
The flowers of guayacan can range from deep purple to a lavender so pale it's almost white.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Guayacan
Guaiacum angustifolium

When people ask "What's that furry bush?", we know they've seen a guayacan. The small leaves tend to lay close to the stem, giving it a distinctly "furry" appearance. In the spring, purple flowers cover the branches. In the fall, guayacan is easily recognized by the bright red and yellow fruit. Guayacan is common along dry washes.
 
The twisted, reddish-brown seed pods of catclaw acacia dangle from a stem with recurved prickles resembling cat claws.
The rusty-red seed pods of catclaw acacia are a nutritious food for wildlife.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Catclaw Acacia
Acacia greggii

Wait-a-minute bush! Watch for those recurved prickles on this common desert shrub. Catclaw thickets are common along desert washes and are a painful annoyance to hikers. But what draws blood from you provides invaluable shelter and food for wildlife.
 
Long, straight white prickles; yellow flower balls; and thin bean-like pods distinguish the whitethorn acacia from other acacias.
The long, straight pairs of white prickles are the most distinctive feature of whitethorn acacia.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Whitethorn Acacia
Acacia constricta

Look closely and you'll see the straight, white prickles that give this desert shrub its name. In the summer, marble-sized, yellow flower balls cover the plant. Whitethorn acacia is most commonly found along dry washes in the desert although it also grows up in the Chisos Basin.
 
Dark green, glossy leaves and bright red fruit of the evergreen sumac.
Birds and many animals seek the tart, red fruit of evergreen sumac.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Evergreen Sumac
Rhus virens

A large shrub with shiny, stiff leaves and tiny, white flowers in the spring and fall. Soaked in water, the acidic, red fruit makes a tart, yet refreshing, drink. All sumacs are in the same family as poison ivy and may cause a reaction to those that are extremely sensitive to poison ivy. Evergreen sumacs retain their leaves year-round and are commonly found in shaded canyons.
 
Round, black fruit hangs on a Texas persimmon tree.
Black persimmons are sweet and delicious but stay away from the green ones. They have real pucker power.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Texas Persimmon
Diospyros texana

These small trees or shrubs are common in canyon washes. They have a distinctive, peeling bark, bell-shaped white flowers in the spring, and round, black fruit in the summer and fall. The fruit is one of the best-tasting wild fruits in Texas. Black bears love Texas persimmons, so be alert when hiking up a wash when the fruit is ripe. You don't want to scare a bear from its snack!
 
Small, orange fruit of the desert hackberry hang from the grey, spiny, branches.
Eye-catching, tangerine-orange fruit of the desert hackberry attracts birds and other animals.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Desert Hackberry
Celtis pallida

A shrubby tree with scraggly, zig-zag, spiny branches. The tiny white flowers are inconspicuous, but in summer and fall, the tangerine-orange fruit calls attention to the plant. The outer pulp of the fruit is sweet, but the seed is very hard.
 
Linear green leaves of the desert willow highlight the large, pink tubular flowers.
One of the showiest of desert plants, desert willow flowers are a summer delight.

CA Hoyt

Desert Willow
Chilopsis linearis

One of the most common and conspicuous desert wash trees. Starting early in the spring, large pink to maroon flowers adorn the plant. The long, string-bean like seed pods can also be used to identify desert willows when not in bloom.
 
In the early spring, clusters of bright pink flowers cover the branches of Mexican Buckeye.
Bright pink flowers, fresh green leaves, and last year's seedpod highlight a Mexican buckeye.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Mexican Buckeye
Ungnadia speciosa

A small, bushy tree that frequently lines desert washes. In the early spring, the bare limbs of Mexican buckeye are covered with bright pink flowers. As the bloom ends, fresh, green leaves appear. When not in bloom, the tree is easily identified by the heavy seed pod containing three, shiny black seeds.

Last updated: August 11, 2020

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