Click on the thumbnail pictures below for larger views, and on the 
Latin names for links to more information on the plants.
Most links to genus and species names are to the U. S. Forest Service data base, titled Fire Effects Information: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (2002, June). Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. Available:

Beaver Tail Cactus

Beaver tail cactus, century plant

Opuntia basilaris

Gray-green stems with bright purple flowers in the Spring.  The fine bristles, called glochids, can irritate the skin but don't pose the danger that the spines of the cholla do.  The beavertail was perhaps the most important of the cacti for the original inhabitants of the desert.  the young fruit were eaten, and pulp from older parts of the plant was scraped out and used as a dressing for wounds.  Glochids were actually rubbed onto the skin to remove warts and moles.

Brittle Brush

Bitter brush

Encilia  farinosa

Bright yellow flowers in spring on stems above leaves of shrub.  Stems were chewed by Indians to ease thirst, and were burned as incense in the California Missions.


Catclaw acacia

Acacia greggii

Also called "Wait-a-minuite bush", the re-curved thorns on the bush catch clothing and skin.


Cholla cactus

Opuntia sp. (Bigelovii)

Perhaps the most dangerous of all the plants and animals in the desert.  The lightest brush up against the cactus' limbs can embed spines deeply into the skin.  Unwary desert hikers are much more likely to be injured by the spines of a cholla than be bit by a rattlesnake.


Chuparosa bush

Beloperone californica

"Chuparosa" is Spanish for "hummingbird", and these birds can frequently be found drinking the nectar from the red flowers on the shrub.  As they feed from flower to flower, the hummingbirds also perform a service for the plant by pollinating as they feed.


Creosote bush

Larrea tridentata

This is the most characteristic bush of the southwest desert regions.  Following rain, the air is filled by the incense emitted by the resins of the creosote.  This is also said to be the oldest plant in North America, some individuals attaining an age of well over 1000 years.


Jojoba bush

Simmondsia chinensis

The jojoba, ("ho-ho-ba " ), nut is approximately 50% oil.  Some recent uses for jojoba oil have been in sun screens, car waxes and cosmetics.  Because of this oil content, the nuts are not very nutritious, so the Indians used the oil as a hair dressing and a sealant.

Mesquite, (Honey and Screw Bean Var.)

Honey bean mesquite

Screw bean mesquite

Prosopsis glandulosa, var. Honey Mesquite

Prosopsis pubescens, var. Screw bean Mesquite

Spanish for "mosque", (mezquit), the mesquite is one of the most important food sources in the desert.  Insects and animals rely on the shrub for food, and Indians, who were noted not to have an idea of private or personal property, laid family claims to specific mesquite trees, attesting to their importance in the Indian's daily lives. 



ocotillo bloom

Foquieria splendens

Probably the most noticed plant of the Anza-Borrego region.  The ocotillo, (ah-ko-tee -yo), stands up to 30 feet tall, and after rain is covered with bright green leaves and fiery red flowers jut out from the tips of the branches.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus

Opuntia phaeacantha

Opuntia with flat joints such as the Beavertail and prickly pear are grouped under the catch-all phrase "Prickly pear" in the southwest.  The fruits of the true prickly pear here in the Anza-Borrego are juicy and edible, and are called tuna in Spanish.

Four-wing salt brush

Salt brush

Atriplex canescens

This is another of the most common shrubs seen in the Anza-Borrego region.  If you take a leaf from the plant and taste it, you'll notice a definite salty tang.

Smoke tree

Smoke Tree

Psorothamnus spinosus

The name describes the hazy appearance of the bush when seen in its native habitat of desert washes. 

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