Desert shrubs have various adaptations to help them survive in their environment. Many have very small leaves, which limits the surface area that can be damaged by the sun. Small leaves also help the plant lose less water through evaporation, since it’s a smaller surface area. Many shrubs also have thick, leathery leaves that help prevent water loss. Some shrubs, like sage, are very aromatic, and can have a bitter taste, which discourages animals from eating them.

View a plant checklist for Capitol Reef. Shrubs are on the second page.

Clumps of pink, feathery whisps on a shrub, with blue sky and cliffs in background.
The Apache Plume is easy to distinguish once it has bloomed and produced the feathery seeds. Until then, it resembles cliffrose.

NPS/ Shauna Cotrell

Apache Plume

Scientific Name: Fallugia paradoxa

Size (height): up to 6 feet (1.8 m) tall

Habitat: Lowland riparian, mixed desert shrub, pinyon-juniper. It is found throughout the park but is especially abundant in Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

Flowering Season: April - August

Range: Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona

Description: Apache Plume has scaly bark, wedge shaped leaves, and white flowers with five petals. To the Eurpoean Americans who gave the plant its common name, Apache Plume, the feathery seeds resembled headdresses of the Apache People. Apache plume is an important browse plant for big game.

Lots of small five-petaled yellow flowers on green shrub.
Cliffrose can often be smelled before it's noticed. Many people look forward to when the cliffrose blooms because of its sweet scent.



Scientific Name: Purshia mexicana

Size (height): 1.5-10 ft (0.5-3.0 m) tall

Habitat: Mixed desert shrub, pinyon-juniper, mixed conifer. It is found throughout the park but is especially abundant in Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

Flowering Season: May - June

Range: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada

Description: Cliffrose has numerous branches with shredded bark which has been used by native people for weaving sandals, mats and other items. It has aromatic, five-lobed leaves which are green above and whitish below due to a coating of fine hairs. The leaves are coated with a resin that gives them a bitter taste. However, the shrub is generally palatable to large ungulates and is an important browse plant. Flowers are white to yellowish with five petals.

Two photos: 1: Spindly shrub with narrow green leaves and tan colored clusters of seeds on stalks. 2: Seeds with four "wings" around central seed in a hand.
The fourwing satbush has many seeds with four "wings" around the central seed.Though it is not legal for the public to collect, remove, or destroy plants inside the park, seeds are collected by park staff for use in restoring the plants to their habitat. 

NPS/ Ann Huston

Fourwing Saltbush

Scientific Name: Atriplex canescens
Size (height): up to 6 ft (2 m)
Habitat: Desert shrubland and Pinyon-Juniper
Flowering Season: Spring-Fall
Range: Utah, western North America
Description: There are a few different species of saltbush found in Capitol Reef, but all are able to survive on soil that has a higher than normal salt content. Fourwing saltbush is one of the easiest to identify because of its distinctive seedpods that have four “wings” coming out of the center, where a single seed is. Saltbush is important forage for many animals.

Close up of narrow, silvery green leaves with three little indentations at the top.
There are four subspecies of A. tridentata, but Capitol Reef only has the one subspecies.

NPS/ Emily Van Ness

Great Basin Sagebrush

Scientific Name: Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata
Size (height): 3-9 ft (0.5-3 m)
Habitat: well-drained, fertile soils in valley bottoms
Flowering Season: late summer-late fall
Range: Widespread in Utah, western US, and southwest Canada
Description: Sagebrush have soft silver-grey leaves, with three little indentations at the tips, giving them the name “tridentata,” three teeth. They have a deep taproot, which helps them get and store water, as well as a root system closer to the surface, that spreads out horizontally, to collect surface water.

Skinny green, jointed stems, with little flower-like yellow clusters on it.
What look like yellow flowers are actually male cones with bracts that can be up to 4 mm long. The male cones produce pollen.


Green Ephedra

Scientific Name: Ephedra viridis var. viridis
Size (height): up to 5 ft (1.5 m)
Habitat: desert shrubland and Pinyon-Juniper
Flowering Season: n/a (Gymnosperm—seeds in cones, not flowers or fruit)
Range: Utah, the Southwest, north to Oregon and Wyoming
Description: Green ephedra has slender, jointed stems, with miniscule leaves at the joints. Male and female cones are produced on the same plant, and yellow. The seeds are small, triangular, and brown. Sometimes called Mormon Tea, or Brigham’s Tea, this ephedra has been used for medicinal purposes.

Two photos: 1: Large silvery-green shrub with canyon and blue sky in background. 2: closeup of pale green leaves with small 4-petaled yellow flowers.
The Roundleaf Buffaloberry is easy to identify from a distance, with its silvery-green hue. In the spring, small yellow flowers appear on the shrub.

NPS/ Emily Van Ness

Roundleaf Buffaloberry

Scientific Name: Shepherdia rotundifolia

Size (height & diameter): 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m) tall & 3-12 ft (0.9-3.7 m) wide

Habitat: Widespread throughout the park on hillsides, slickrock, and canyon bottoms in mixed desert shrub and pinyon-juniper woodlands.

Flowering Season: May - July

Range: Endemic to the Colorado Plateau occurring in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado.

Description: The species name, rotundifolia, refers to its round leaves which are leathery and silvery green above and whitish below due to a dense covering of short hairs. The tiny yellow flowers grow in clusters in leaf axils. The roundleaf buffaloberry is adapted to poor soils. The berries were used by native tribes to make pemmican, a combination of dried meat, berries, fat, and other ingredients, that stores well and is a high energy food. Settlers also used the berries to make a sauce for buffalo (bison) meat.

Many small, yellow flowers on green stalks, with narrow green leaves.
Rubber Rabbitbrush blooms in the fall, and can be found throughout Capitol Reef.


Rubber Rabbitbrush

Scientific Name: Ericameria nauseosa

Size (height & diameter): up to 6 ft (1.8 m) tall

Habitat: Widespread throughout the park on hillsides, benches and canyon bottoms in desert scrub, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper woodlands.

Flowering Season: August - October

Range: throughout the western United States north to Canada and south to Mexico

Description: Its stems are grayish green, straight, and relatively parallel with very narrow green leaves. Flowers are bright yellow and plentiful. The sap of this plant can be used to create a rubbery latex.

Last updated: April 20, 2020

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