Native Plants for the Southwest

Article written by Saturday6TM blogger Noelle Johnson from AZ Plant Lady

The Southwest is known for its bright blue skies, wide-open spaces and hot, dry climate. Many believe the only plants suitable for this arid region are cacti, but think again! Countless native plants are available to add beauty to the Southwest garden.

Here are just some of the Southwest natives that you may want to try to add beauty to your landscape. All are drought tolerant, grow best in well-drained soil and unless indicated otherwise, should be grown in full sun.

  • Agave (Agave species): The distinct rosette made of succulent leaves lends an iconic Southwestern look to any landscape. Agave are found in colors ranging from blue-gray to dark green and in sizes 18" to over 6 ft., depending on the species.
  • Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis): Large, pink orchid-shaped blooms appear spring through fall alongside narrow, bright green leaves. Reaching 25 ft. tall and wide, this tree is deciduous.
  • Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana): Deep yellow flowers cover this evergreen groundcover spring through fall (in hot climates it stops blooming in summer). Reaching 2 ft. tall and wide, it's great for lining pathways or planting in groups of three to five next to boulders.
  • Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii): Its globeshape and yellow, curved spines add a unique element to the landscape. It's equally at home in natural landscape settings, planted singly or in groups, or planted in rows for a more contemporary design.
  • Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) The gray-green foliage of this large desert shrub is transformed in summer and fall when large flushes of purple flowers appear in response to increased humidity. Because of its large size, it's a great choice for screening or planting against a wall.
  • Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii): Hummingbirds find the orange/red flowers borne on 2 ft. tall spikes irresistible on this compact perennial. Flowers appear in late winter into spring in desert climates and wait until summer to bloom in higher elevations.

Other popular natives that add beauty to the Southwest garden include desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), chuparosa (Justicia californica), beavertail prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris) and desert ruellia (Ruellia peninsularis).