Lower Cliff Dwelling with wildflowers.
Lower Cliff Dwelling with wildflowers

NPS Photo


Tonto National Monument supports a high diversity of flora that leads to an incredible natural ecosystem that the Salado people used 700 years ago. We call this ethnobotany, or the traditional knowledge of how people use native plants. Learn about the different cacti and desert succulents, trees and shrubs, wildflowers, and exotic plants found in Tonto National Monument.

At the northeastern edge of the Sonoran Desert, the Monument is lush with plant life.These plants have different adaptations to the cycles of rain and drought. Some seeds lie dormant, waiting for the right combination of moisture and temperature. Other plants have deep root systems that seek water far beneath the surface. Still other plants use their shallow root systems to collect rain that rushed across the surface. Besides root systems, some plants rely on their leaf structure to prevent loss of moisture, while others just lose their leaves during drought.

The different plant communities are reflective of the elevation changes within the Monument. Sonoran Desert Scrub vegetation is most commonly seen with a mixture of cactus, trees, shrubs, and flowers. Higher up, the vegetation transitions to a Semi-desert Grassland. Desert Riparian Scrub exists in canyon bottoms and washes where enough water passes through or is stored for desert trees and bushes. There is also a small interior Southwestern Riparian Deciduous Forest supported by the permanent spring in Cave Canyon. With its leafy shade trees and the gentle sound of running water, this desert oasis is home to mosses, ferns, and the many animals that enjoy its habitat.

Last updated: January 24, 2021

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