Trees of the Desert and Southwest

Trees of the Southwest differ as much as the climate and terrain.

Plants that specialize in certain growing conditions like hot deserts and higher elevation cool deserts.

Hardwoods that flourish in flatlands, or the rugged foothills, canyons and mountains.

Some vegetation is so specialized it is only found naturally in a confined area of a given region.

If you are looking for hardwoods to plant in your yard and gardens, Take a close look at native greenery.

Several specialize in food and homes for all sorts of wildlife. Birds depend on seeds and nectar. Night feeding bats pollinate certain cacti and eat the fruits. A butterfly depend on a select species as a host plant to lay her eggs on.

No where else in North America does the climate and landscape change so often as it does in the southwest.

Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica) Is a narrowly conical evergreen that grows to 65 to 70 feet in height

The rounded cones are about an inch across and provide wildlife food in late fall and winter.

As the name suggests, this is pretty much localized to Arizona.

Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) also called Shore pine or Beach pine.

These two needled pines grow to 100 feet and offer 2 inch cones. a species that grows naturally from Alaska to the northern parts of New Mexico and Arizona.

Like all true pine, the lower branches die and fall off.

As the name Lodgepole suggests, this was once used by the American Indians to support their lodges.

Big-cone pine (Pinus Coulteri) is another pine that runs from South California, through New Mexico and into Mexico. A broad shaped tree that grows to 80 feet and has cones up to 12 inches long.

Others of the Desert and Southwest gardens might include,

American elm (Ulmus americana) and Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis) Are two large deciduous trees that offer up seeds and fruits.

American elm was almost wiped out in the mid 1900's by Dutch elm diseases. A few of these survived are producing cultivars that are resistant to the disease.

Hackberries are everywhere. They offer up fruits that birds and animals reseed elsewhere.

Trees of the southwest also include White oak (Quercus alba)

'John Wayne sat tall in the saddle'.

White oak stands tall on the range and mountain sides at 115 feet and broad spreading.

Yes, White oak grows from Quebec, Canada to Texas and into southern California.

White oak is a slow growing hard wood. The wood is used in making whiskey barrels and is a great source of food with bumper acorn crops.

Acorns feed deer, woodpeckers and other wildlife. Oaks are great giants of the southwest.

True native oaks of the southwest is the Arizona white oak (Quercus arizonica) is called an evergreen oak. Native range for this 65 foot tree is Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Slow growing and broad spreading, it retains its foliage through the winter and drops and quickly replaces old foliage with new.

Acorns are one inch long and chestnut brown.

Arizona oak can be found growing in hot sandy hillsides, dry rocky canyons, and up to 10,000 feet in the mountains. An ideal planting for many growing conditions.

California live oak (Quercus Agriolia) covers much of the same region as the above mentioned tree. An evergreen oak that grows to 80 feet and produces acorns a little more then an inch long.

These are found growing in arable land. Crabapple of the southwest would be the Prairie crab apple (Malus ionsis).

A sweet crabapple that inhabits moist stream beds and woods edge. A small tree at 25 feet it is native to much of the eastern portion of North America and grows wild in Oklahoma, Texas and northeast Arizona.

You may also look at Velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina). A 40 foot ash that grows wild from Texas west to California and south into Mexico.

The thick velvety foliage makes an ideal for shade. Male and female blooms are on separate plants. To produce seed, you need one of each. The thick canopy is ideal for protection and nesting.

When I'm asked about plantings of the southwest, I see pictures of the old westerns. Trees and cactus that are symbols of the southwest.


Mesquite species (Prosopis spp.) grow throughout the southwest.

Mesquites are invaluable to people and wildlife. A deciduous plant that grows to 35 feet can grow thick and brambly if not pruned.

Various cultivars have a certain range it calls home, yet all varieties are important to birds, bees, butterflies and mammals.

The flowers attract nectar feeders and the beans are important to birds and mammals. The deep root system offers up a home sight for burrowing animals.

Native of the desert, Mesquites always welcome an extra drink.

Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia).

All yuccas native to the desert southwest are valuable to wildlife.

Joshua is native of the Mojave Desert, grows to 30 feet and can have several branches. Every few years it blooms and hard seeds appear later on.

The seeds offer food to mule deer, rabbits, and ground squirrels. Lizards look for insects while the branches offer nest sights for doves.

Woodpeckers will drill homes in dead trunks and Giant skipper butterfly larvae feed on the foliage.

Joshua's are one of the most important plants in all the desert southwest.

Good drainage is important and make sure you don't over water.

Saguaro Cactus

I'm going to throw in the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) as one of the trees of the southwest.

A true symbol of the Southwest, this very large cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro's often grow to 50 feet, and are multi branched. A food source for pollinating bats by night and visited by doves, hummingbirds and butterflies during the day.

The fruits are eaten by bats, White-winged doves, fox, other mammals and people.

Woodpeckers and Carpenter birds carve nest sights in the fleshy trunks and birds of prey build nests on the spiny branches.

Fallen logs make ideal homes for lizards, mice and other wildlife.

Saguaro cactus deserves to be considered with trees of the Southwest.

Plant life often crosses regions, you may want to look into the West coast, Mountains and Prairies for native plants in your area.

Turn Your Yard into a Wildlife Habitat

Native Shrubs for Your Trees

Native Grasses of the Southwest

Flowers for the Southwest and Deserts

Feeding Hummingbirds, Tips and Pests

Hummingbird Flowers

A Butterfly Friendly Yard

Butterfly Flowers and Plants

Offer Fresh Water

Choosing Bird feeders

Choose the Right Bird Food

Share a Passion With "Site Build It"


Gardens, Birds, butterflies and Much more.

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