Understanding Native Plants

One of the most enchanting things about the Mojave Desert is its wide variety of wildlife. Landscaping with native plants is a great way to support the rich biodiversity of the Mojave, from the pollinators to the coyotes and all the critters in between. Because native plants are well-adapted to this climate and soil, they require less water and they don’t require fertilizers, making them a low-maintenance way to beautify your outdoor spaces. Learn how to support the Mojave Desert’s biodiversity right in your own backyard with the following plant lists.

Tortoises enjoy Amsinckia tessellata, or checkered fiddleneck. Photo: Tom Grundy

Before you get started, check out our guides to managing invasive plants and hi-desert landscaping.

Restore lands scraped of native vegetation

If you are restoring a residential lot that has been scraped of native vegetation or is compacted due to years of use, we recommend starting with fast-growing perennials and common shrubs that are relatively easy to establish on disturbed sites. Keep in mind each site is unique, and all the plants on this list may not be appropriate for your site. Be sure to research what grows in your area by visiting Calscape.org. Learn how to restore your land here.

Attract native bees

The Mojave Desert is home to an estimated 750 native bee species. While many bees will pollinate a variety of flowering plants, some species have preferences for the types of flowers they pollinate. For example, the mallow bees Diadasia ochracea and D. diminuta, specialize on flowers of apricot mallow, while other Diadasia species only pollinate cactus flowers. Native bee diversity is important for maintaining native plant diversity and healthy ecosystems. Support native bee diversity with these plants.

Attract hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are attracted to brightly colored, tubular-shaped flowers that produce lots of sugary nectar. They love red blossoms, but are also drawn to lavender, purple, yellow, pink, and white. Hummingbirds also need protein which they get by feeding on small insects, so avoid using pesticides in the garden, especially during breeding season. Learn the favorite foods of Mojave hummingbirds.

Attract butterflies

When creating a garden to attract butterflies and moths, it’s important to include plants that support the entire life cycle of the insect. This means having flowering plants for adults (nectar plants) and plants with foliage for their caterpillars to eat (larval food plants, or host plants). Adult butterflies often visit a variety of flowers, while their caterpillars typically feed only on certain species. Following are lists of host plants and nectar plants to attract desert butterflies and moths to your garden. Attract butterflies and moths with these plants.

Attract birds

To create a garden that attracts birds, it is important to have a variety of native plants that provide food, nesting sites & materials, and protection from predators (cover). To make your garden bird-friendly, consider adding a source of clean water and avoid using pesticides. Create a birdwatcher’s paradise in your own yard.

Support desert tortoises

The Mojave Desert tortoise feeds on a variety of native plant species during spring and summer months. This list is intended as a guide for enhancing tortoise habitat on private property. Please note: The desert tortoise is a Federally Threatened Species and it is illegal to touch, harm, harass, or remove a desert tortoise from the wild. Provide forage for tortoises with these plants.

Learn more

Consult this planting guide for tips and suggestions, including a basic watering schedule for desert gardening and planting techniques. If you are starting from seed, check out our seed sowing guide.