Lower Cliff Dwelling with Wildflowers
Lower Cliff Dwelling with Wildflowers

NPS Photo

Tonto National Monument supports a high diversity of flora that not only supports an incredible natural ecosystem, but also tells the story of how the Salado people used these plants 700 years ago. We call that 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 adapt through deep root systems seeking water far beneath the surface. Still other plants use their shallow root systems to collect the rain rushing across the face of the land. 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 its mixture of cactus, trees, shrubs and flowers. Higher up, grasses and other plants are added as 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. It is 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: July 18, 2017

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