Common Plants

Yellow flowers blooming on the Plains Prickly Pear cactus plant.
Yellow flowers of the Plains Prickly Pear cactus plant.

PETR/NPS

Prickly Pear Opuntia phaeacantha

The edible fruits of this plant are called "tunas" and were one of the few sweets the native people enjoyed before the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of the common fruits we eat today.

 
Photograph of Purple Aster flowers.
Purple Aster in full bloom.

PETR/NPS

Purple Aster Machaeranthera spp.

These flowers are found widespread in New Mexico during the fall. A concoction of leaves and stems was used by native peoples as a stimulant, especially effective for women in labor. Tea from the ground plant was used to treat upset stomachs.

 
Photograph of a Fourwing Saltbush in full bloom with pale yellow flowers.
Blooming Fourwing Saltbush.

PETR/NPS

Fourwing Saltbush Atriplex canescens

Native people ground and cooked the seeds of this plant as a cereal; the leaves were dried and mixed with other ingredients for flour. Ashes of burned saltbush were used as a leavening for breads.

 
Photograph of Broom Dalea in full bloom with small, dark purple flowers.
Broom Dalea in full bloom.

PETR/NPS

Broom Dalea Psorothamnus scoparius

This tall shrub (sometimes called Purple Sage) has many branches, and is characterized by leaves with only one leaflet, and intense purple flowers.

 
Cane Cholla cactus plant in full bloom with bright pink flowers.
Cane Cholla in bloom.

PETR/NPS

Cane Cholla Opuntia imbricata

Cholla buds are high in calcium. Local native peoples ate the fruit raw, stewed or dried and ground into flour. The woody skeleton has been used for walking sticks or tied together to make fences.

 
Photograph of the large, white trumpet flowers of Jimsonweed.
White trumpets in the desert.

PETR/NPS

Jimsonweed Datura meteloides

This highly poisonous perennial plant has a history of ceremonial use by native peoples throughout the Southwest.

 
Photograph of Sand Sage nestled between basalt boulders.
Sand sage blowing in the wind.

PETR/NPS

Sand Sage Artemisia filifolia

This aromatic plant has many medicinal uses. Boiled in water, the steam can be inhaled as a decongestant; as a tea it is believed to cure stomach disorders.

 
Scorpion Weed in full bloom with its purple flowers along a curled stalk.
The purple flowers of Scorpion Weed.

PETR/NPS

Scorpion Weed Phacelia integrifolia

This plant has been used medicinally by local native peoples. The powdered root or leaves are mixed with water and rubbed on sprains, swellings and rashes.

 
A photograph of a blooming Spectacle Pod with white flowers and light green spectacle shaped seed pods on lower stem.
Blooming Spectacle Pod.

PETR/NPS

Spectacle Pod Dimorphocarpa wislizenii

This herb is a member of the mustard family. The fruit of the plant is flat and resembles a pair of spectacles.

 
Snakeweed in bloom with dark yellow flowers.
Blooming Snakeweed.

PETR/NPS

Snakeweed Gutierrezia sarothrae

This medicinal plant is used in a variety of ways by local native peoples. Used in poultices and as a tea it is said to be useful in treating rheumatism, rattlesnake bites, eye problems, bruises, aching muscles, colds and sore throats.

 
Curly Dock in full bloom with light red flowers along stalks one to two feet in length.
Curly Dock, Desert Rhubarb or Wild Rhubarb.

PETR/NPS

Curly Dock Rumex hymenosepalus

This plant is also known as Wild Rhubarb. The stems and leaves are high in vitamins A and C. Local native people boiled and served the leaves much like spinach and also cooked and ate the rhubarb stems .

 
Photograph of Globe Mallow blooming with orange flowers.
Orange flowers of Globemallow.

PETR/NPS

Globemallow Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Remnants of this plant have been found in many archeological sites in the Southwest. It was used in several ways including, chewing the stem like gum, a cure for dysentery, and smoked as a replacement for tobacco.

Last updated: February 1, 2018

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