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Flowers and Grasses: Landscaping for Desert Wildlife

Dense groundcovers, including grasses and flowers, minimize weed growth by blocking sunlight and competing with weeds for water and nutrients. Groundcovers can have the added advantages of providing food, shelter and escape cover for small animals, while adding lushness to the landscape and cooling the ground.

Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis) and Sideoats Grama Grass (B. curtipendula) Small, perennial bunchgrasses can be grown as ornamental clumps among wildflowers or with cacti and succulents. Require some irrigation in the desert. Decorative seed heads eaten in mid-summer through fall by rodents, sparrows and finches. Rabbits and rodents graze on leaves. Good cover for lizards, toads and other ground-dwellers.

Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) Scented white flowers up to 3 inches in diameter open in evening above basal rosette

Blue Grama Grass
Blue Grama Grass
(Bouteloua gracilis)
of blue-green leaves, remaining open until mid-morning. Blooms spring and fall. Perennial, prefers light shade and regular, deep watering in summer at low elevations. Seeds eaten by doves, quail and other birds.

Owl-clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens) 6-inch spikes of red-purple flowers top inconspicuous plants in spring. Up to 1 foot tall. Annual. Nectar for hummingbirds. Adds color to landscape, especially when grown with native grasses or other wildflowers.

Poppies (Eschscholtzia mexicana,
Poppies (Eschscholtzia mexicana,
E. californica

Poppies (Eschscholtzia mexicana or E. californica) Bright orange or yellow flowers above blue-green foliage in spring. Annual or short-lived perennial, 5 to 12 inches tall. Doves and sparrows love abundant, late-spring seeds.

Penstemon (Penstemon species) Numerous showy, tubular flowers in tall spikes rising 2 to 3 feet above low foliage; perennial. Attractive nectar source for hummingbirds.

Many species occur in Arizona. Several do well in the desert:

P. eatoni. Red flowers March to June.
P. parryi. Pink flowers in spring.
P. pseudospectabilis. Shocking pink flowers in spring and early summer.
P. subulatus. Scarlet flowers February to May.
P. superbus. Coral flowers in April and May.

Paperflower (Psilostrophe cooperi or P. tagetina) Yellow flowers on rounded gray-green plant in spring and fall, and in summer after rain. Some blooms present nearly year-round. Dry petals remain on plant for weeks. Usually 18 to 24 inches tall; perennial. Seed production for birds and rodents in late spring and fall; year-round cover for small animals.

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) Numerous showy stalks of orange flowers extend up to 2 feet above a plant 3 feet tall and equally wide. Also available in white, lavender, pink or red flowers. Perennial, produces abundant flowers in spring and sometimes fall, and a few during rest of year. Doves, quail and sparrows feed on seeds, especially in late spring and early summer. Desert tortoises eat foliage.

Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) Rounded clumps up to 10 inches high, perennial. White, sweet-scented flowers March to November. Summer and

Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
fall seed source for sparrows, finches and desert rodents.

Desert Sunflower (Geraea canescens) Also known as Desertgold. Large, showy yellow flowers January to June on 2-foot-tall plant. Annual. Seeds are good spring and summer food source for desert rodents, doves, quail, finches and sparrows.

Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularis)
Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularis)

Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularis) Loose clusters of bright blue flowers above deep green foliage. Grows 6 to 24 inches tall. Annual. Provides seed in late spring and early summer for birds.

Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata) Numerous, large yellow flowers held above gray-green foliage. Blooms nearly all year if watered occasionally during summer. Flower stalks up to 18 inches tall. Short-lived perennial, reseeds itself well, very drought-tolerant. Seeds eaten by doves, sparrows, finches and desert rodents most of the year.

Trailing Dalea (Dalea greggii) Low, sprawling, small shrub with lots of tiny gray-green leaves and purple flowers, February to May. Evergreen, no thorns. Seeds eaten by doves, quail and finches. Desert tortoises eat foliage.

Wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum species) Most of the dozens of species are valuable to wildlife. Seeds attract quail, towhees, finches, sparrows and desert rodents, in summer and fall. Rodents, tortoises and deer browse flowers and leaves. Sulfur flower (E. umbellatum) 1-foot-tall perennial with bright-yellow flower clusters on a branched stem in summer. Seed is commercially available. Skeleton weed (E. deflexum) Summer annual with numerous, tiny pink flowers on a delicate, finely branched stalk. Common along desert roadsides and often plants itself in desert landscapes.

Sunflower (Helianthus species)
Sunflower (Helianthus species)

Sunflower (Helianthus species) Medium- or dark-green leaves and yellow flower heads. 2 to 6 feet tall. Most are annuals, no thorns. Native species are available as seed. Seeds produced in summer and fall; highly prized by doves, quail, finches, sparrows, rodents and most other seed-eating birds and mammals.

Lupine (Lupinus species) Blue or purple flower spikes borne above bright-green foliage in spring, up to 24 inches total height. Desert species are annuals. Protein-rich seeds eaten by ground squirrels, other rodents and birds in late spring and early summer. Desert tortoises,

desert iguanas, sparrows, deer and javelina graze leaves in winter and spring. Important food source for quail during breeding season.

(Buchloe dactyloides) Very low-growing perennial grass spread by runners, producing a soft, durable, gray-green lawn that needs little or no mowing. Requires some irrigation in desert climate. Seeds eaten by rodents, sparrows and finches in summer.

Indian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) Perennial bunchgrass with delicate, airy, graceful flowering stems. Not a lawn grass, but attractive among wildflowers or rocks. Moderate water requirement. Seeds attract sparrows, finches, doves and desert rodents in summer and fall.

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) Also known as Firewheel. Dark red and yellow 2-inch flowers above hairy, bright green leaves. Bloom begins in April and may last through summer if watered. Grows 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Annual. Summer food source for seed-eaters. 

Indian Ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides)
Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)



Landscaping Information
- Landscaping Home
- The Wildlife-friendly Garden
- Trees
- Tall Shrubs
- Small Shrubs
- Cacti and Succulents
- Flowers and Grasses
- Plant List for Planning
- Reading List
Related Information
- Living with Urban Wildlife
External Resources [More]
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Arizona Native Plant Society’s Invasive non-native landscape plants information
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association information about conserving water while landscaping
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
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