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.
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.
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.
Scientific Name: Atriplex canescens
Great Basin Sagebrush
Scientific Name: Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata
Scientific Name: Ephedra viridis var. viridis
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.
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