Common Spring Plants To See On Your Next Hike
By: Kathleen Terry Johnson
Springtime is one of the best times of the year to get outdoors on a hike in the Sonoran desert. The plants are coming to life after a brief winter, but the temperatures haven’t yet marched into the triple digits. Arizona is home to a variety of plant life outside of the signature Saguaro cactus, and in the spring, many of these plants are in bloom. Here are common spring plants to see on your next hike.
Palo Verde Trees
Let’s begin with the state tree — the palo verde. There are actually two species of palo verde trees in the Arizona desert, and as one of the few sources of shade, you can’t miss them. Depending on whether it’s the foothills palo verde or the blue palo verde, the trees can range in height from 30 to 40 feet tall. They play a crucial role in the ecology of the desert, offering shade and shelter to any number of other species of plants and animals. The trees put on a show of bright yellow blooms each spring beginning in March. When you see them, it’s easy to understand why the Arizona legislature named this the state tree.
The green flowers with purple buds bloom from April until August. Spider milkweed grows in clusters of about 20 flowers. They grow well is the desert heat and bloom nicely along the Agua Fria River. These flowers are vital to the ecosystem. Without milkweed, the monarch butterfly will cease to exist since caterpillars feast on their leaves.
Desert Ironwood Trees
This is another plant you can’t miss — just because of its height in a landscape dominated by smaller shrubs and plants. The desert ironwood tree is also a “nurse” plant in the landscape because of its height. If you’re on a hike in late May, you’ll catch the plant’s spring show. You won’t soon forget their spectacular pink and purple blossoms that arrive in late May… just as the heat does. It’s worth a little sweat to see them in bloom.
These delicate pink puffs bloom beginning in February, all the way through May. Fairy dusters are low shrubs that are native to the Sonoran desert, and the flowers are oddly delicate against the rugged terrain. These are most common on hillsides and below 5,000 feet elevation. Fairy dusters also play an important role in the ecology — feeding different insects and animals living in the desert. It’s also one of the most popular native plants used in local gardens if you are looking for inspiration for your own home.
Lesser Indian Paintbrush
One of the most stunning flowers of the desert, the lesser Indian paintbrush blooms from March through September. It prefers a moist environment so you’ll most likely see it in wet meadows and along stream banks. This flower is also plentiful along the Agua Fria River.
The strawberry hedgehog cactus is also called the Engelmann hedgehog cactus. Never mind the funny name because this is one of the first cacti to bloom in the spring. It’s well worth the show when you come across one because the pink and magenta flowers are a standout. The cactus blooms beginning in March and the plant itself gets up to about a foot high. The flowers turn to a fleshy fruit a few months after the spring blossoming.
Hundreds of plants grow in the Arizona desert, and each has something to contribute to the sustainability of the environment. The desert is often considered a barren land, but it’s very much alive and growing. And the scenery varies from season to season. These common spring plants to see on your next hike will put you on the lookout for the color every season offers.
Kathleen Terry Johnson is a travel blogger and nature enthusiast. She loves exploring new places and new ways to enjoy the outdoors.