Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

The Mojave Yucca is a small evergreen tree which flourishes in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada. The Yucca’s most noticeable characteristic is its large branches and bayonet like leaves. The rigid leaves are typically dark green in color and can reach up to 4 feet in length. I can also personally attest that they are sharp at the pointy end.

Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Yucca can reach a height of 16 feet and that mass is supported by a trunk which is up to 12 inches in diameter. The Yucca is typically found on rocky slopes and below 4,000 feet in elevation. The plant blooms are very similar the Joshua Tree and it will send up a cluster of white bell shaped flowers from the top of the stem. This cluster is short lived, but can reach and additional 120 cm in length.

Also like the Joshua Tree, the Mojave Yucca depends upon the white pronuba moth for pollination. This moth will deposit its eggs in the ovary of the Yucca Flower and there by cross pollinate the tree. The moth lavae hatch and consume some the the seeds in a wonderful example of natures balance.

The Mojave Yucca also provided utilitarian purpose for the Native Americans. They utilized the leaves as a source of cordage, which could be woven into blankets, rope, hats and mattresses. The roots of the Yucca contains high levels of saponin, and could be made into a pulp and used as soap The flowers and fruit were a food source and could be eaten both raw and roaster. The black seeds could be ground into flour.

The yucca, with its sharp pointed leaves offer wonderful defensive habitat for snakes, lizards, rabbits, birds and other desert animals.

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

The Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a commonly seen resident of the desert southwest and its range includes California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The Barrel cactus gets its name from its short stocky appearance which is said to resemble a barrel. Despite its name, this succulent can grow over 6 feet tall and thrives in gravelly, rocky and / or sandy soils and are typically seen below 5000 feet in elevation.

A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.
A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Barrel Cactus is covered in spines which when new, are straight and red in appearance, and will turn gray in color and curve as they age. This species blooms yellow or red flowers on the top of the plant, which typically happens in the spring. Like its name sake, this desert nomad will swell with fluid during the monsoons to survive the long dry periods of the desert heat.

Some Native Americans utilized this plant as a cooking vessel. It is said that they would remove the top of the plant and remove the pulp from the interior. Hot stones were place inside along with the food. Additionally, the long heavy spins were utilized as needles.

There are fifteen different species of this cactus.

California Poppy ( Eschscholzia californica )

The California Poppy the state flower of California.
The California Poppy the state flower of California.

As the name implies, the California Poppy is that state flower of California. However, this little flower is extremely wide spread and flourishes throughout most of the United States. The flower was first described by a Germain naturalist and poet, Adelbert von Chamisso. Chamisso was travelling on the Russian exploring ship “Rurick”. The “Rurick” was travelling around in the world in 1815, when the ship sailed in the San Francisco Bar Area.

This species of flowering plant with an international pedigree is a perennial and can range in height from 5 – 60 inches. The four petals of the flower are about two inches in size and range in colors from a vibrant orange to yellow, red and in some cases pink. They typically flower between February and September depending upon location.

A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

When in full display, the California Poppy can carpet the landscape in a sea of color as happens in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Such an event is spectacular to witness and will make the local news outlets in Southern California.

The flowers have four petals, which will close each night or when windy and or cloudy. The delicate little flowers will open again each morning to once again showcase this little plant.

Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis )

The Mojave Mound Cactus or Claret Cup Cactus boasts a bright red - orange flower blossom.
The Mojave Mound Cactus or Claret Cup Cactus boasts a bright red – orange flower blossom.

The Mojave Mound Cactus ( Echinocereus mohavensis ) is a cactus of many names and it also known as the claret cup cactus, hedgehog and kingcup cactus. It is native to the desert southwest of the united states and parts of Mexico. The cactus can be found in a variety of habitats including rocky slopes, scrub, low desert and mountain woodland.

This is a small barrel shaped cactus, which will range in color between light green and bluish green stems. As the name implies, this is a mounding cactus with may form up to 500 cylindrical stems with create a bulbous mound. This low lying cactus only grows to about 16 inches in height, while is clusters of spines can grow up to 1.5 inches long.

The funnel shaped waxy flowers range in color from orange to red to a dull scarlet color. The plant is commonly found at altitudes of 3500 to 9000 feet in elevation. This beautiful little cactus is known to locate Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave Desert and parts of Nevada.

This delightful specimen was found in the spring on the Pine Nut trail about 50 miles outside of Las Vegas, nestled among from boulders.