Top 10 Most Mysterious Desert Plants

The climate has a significant impact on the growth of all plant species. A desert is an area that receives very little precipitation, making it extremely dry. Living conditions in the desert are hostile to both plant and animal life. However, desert plants exhibit unique survival characteristics in such a harsh environment. Below is a list of the ten most mysterious desert plants.

10Wollemi Pine

wollemi pine
Wollemi pine in the Royal Horticultural Society garden, at the RHS Hyde Hall, in Rettendon, Essex, England.

The Wollemi Pine is a rare plant species and a living fossil found in Australia’s desert areas. Its stem has a distinctive bubbling shape, and the tree can grow up to 82-131 ft tall. The Conifer has attractive and unusual dark green foliage ranging from bright lime green on younger foliage to apple green on mature foliage. The tree’s unique trunk has a brown, knobbly, spongy bark cover.

However, experts discovered that wild-growing trees can be infected with Phytophthora cinnamomi. Despite this, the oldest trees can reach up to 40 meters in height and may be over 1000 years old. The Wollemi pine is one of the world’s oldest plant species, belonging to a family that is 200 million years old. It can survive even at temperatures as low as -12 degrees Celsius. Each plant of the Wollemi pine has both male and female cones.

9Silver Torch Cactus

Silver Torch Cactus The Torch Cactus, which is silver in color, is native to Bolivia and Argentina. It has a unique structure with slender, erect, grey-green columns that can grow up to 9.8 feet tall. The columnar stem has approximately 25 ribs with a covering of dense, bristly white areoles. The plant also produces cylindrical flowers that are 2.5 inches long. It thrives in free-draining soils and requires strong sunlight but not high temperatures.

The plant can even grow in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. These cacti usually begin to flower at 10 to 15 years of age, blooming in late summer with deep red or burgundy flowers in cylindrical shapes. Interestingly, the Torch Cactus can tolerate low-nitrogen soil without any adverse effects. However, over-watering can make the plant weak.

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8Desert Ironwood

desert ironwood
Desert Ironwood near Bajada Nature Trail.

The Desert Ironwood is a plant species native to the Sonoran desert in North America. It can survive the harsh and dry desert environment. The plant exhibits a tree-like structure resembling sweet peas. The Desert Ironwood has a long lifespan of 1,500 years. It is a slow-growing plant that can reach up to 25 feet tall.

When fully grown, the Desert Ironwood provides shade with a cooling below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It drops its blue and grey leaves during the heavy dry season and blooms from April to June with pink and white flowers. As a keystone species in the region, it provides food and shelter for many animals and plants. Its dense wood has many artisanal purposes, such as durable wooden sculptures, knife handles, and firewood.

7Baseball Plant

Baseball Plant

The Baseball plant is a rare species found within the Karoo desert of South Africa. This mysterious plant looks exactly like a baseball and is almost extinct due to over-collection. The plant has rudimentary leaves that have a very short lifespan and don’t produce spines. The tapering taproot of the plant helps it acquire nutrients and water from the ground.

It is greenish, has a diameter of 15 cm, and can store water for long periods, making it drought-resistant. The flowering buds are inside of the plant, and like all Euphorbia, the flowers of this baseball plant are called cyathia. It is interesting to note that the female and male flowers grow on different plants. However, the plant is toxic and can cause acute skin issues.

6Jumping Cholla

jumping cholla Jumping cholla, or teddy bear cholla, is a desert plant that grows in the southwestern United States and Sonora. The plant’s branches are fuzzy, soft, and cuddly, which gives it its name. However, the branches have silver spines that can cause pain when touched. The plant’s stems are firmly tuberculate and light green. White and pink flowers streaked with lavender grow about one inch wide on the plant.

These flowers are displayed at the pooled tips and bloom from February to March. The pear-shaped fruit of the jumping cholla hangs from the branches. The plant’s thick spines help it survive the heat of the desert. This variety of cholla cactus can reach 6 to 15 feet in height. These mysterious desert plants often propagate via the stem part.

5Saguaro Cactus

saguaro cactus
A long slender, Saguaro Cactus in Saguaro National Park, Arizona.

The Saguaro cactus is a unique desert plant native to the Mexican state of Sonora, the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, the Whipple Mountains, and the Imperial County regions of California. This plant can grow up to a height of 25 feet with several branches that grow in upward columns. It’s an interesting fact that despite being a desert plant, the Saguaro cactus has no leaves.

The plant blooms in the springtime, and its flower is the national flower of Arizona. These white and waxy flowers require cross-pollination because they are self-incompatible. This mysterious plant has a long lifespan of 200 to 250 years. The Saguaro cactus has a thick spine that helps it conserve water, which it uses as needed to survive droughts. Each red, fleshy fruit contains around 2000 seeds.

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4Hydnora Africana

hydnora africana
Hydnora Africana, Karasburg District, Namibia, 2002.

Hydnora Africana is a bizarre-looking desert plant that is native to Africa. Due to its unnatural physical appearance, like fungi, it is not easily identifiable as a plant. This plant is completely leafless with a deep brown flesh stem. The flowers of Hydnora Africana are spherical, with a brown exterior and a bright salmon-to-orange interior.

Additionally, these plants do not perform photosynthesis. When mature, the plant’s above-ground height is simply the size of the flower, which typically grows 4 to 6 inches tall. It also produces a pungent odor to attract pollinators, mostly carrion and dung beetles. After flowering, it produces fruits which takes up to two years to ripen fully. People also harvest it and use it as food, medicine, and a good source of tannin.

3Barrel Cactus

barrel cactus
Close up Golden Barrel Cactus.

The Barrel cactus is a desert plant native to the Southwestern American deserts and the Mojave Desert in southern California. It has an unusual cylindrical body and is the largest cactus in American deserts. The cactus with thick spines can grow up to 10 meters and have a shallow root system.

The long spines usually grow along the ribs and can range from yellow to tan to red, depending on the plant’s age and the species. After many years, flowers appear at the top of the plant, usually in April, with yellowish or orange colors. Small pineapple-shaped greenish fruit that form after flowering may last a full calendar year if untouched. Interestingly, the plant lives up to 6 years even if we take it out of the ground.

2Baobab tree

baobab tree The Baobab tree is known for its incredible longevity and survival ability in arid regions. It grows in Africa, Arabia, Australia, and Madagascar. It is a unique tree species with eight different types, also known as ‘boab,’ ‘boaboa,’ ‘upside-down tree,’ ‘bottle tree,’ ‘the tree of life,’ and ‘monkey bread tree.’

The Baobab tree has a thick, soft, fleshy trunk that often has hollows, which shelter various animals such as birds, insects, scorpions, lizards, squirrels, tree frogs, snakes, and spiders. These trees can conserve water with their spongy, porous bark and absorb as much water as possible during rainy seasons. The tree uses the stored water during times of scarcity or drought. The Baobab tree can grow up to 16 to 98 feet tall and have trunk diameters of about 23 to 36 feet.

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1Welwitschia Mirabilis

welwitschia mirabilis
Welwitschia Mirabilis in Petrified forest, Namibia.

Welwitschia mirabilis is native to the Namibian desert. This plant first emerged during the Jurassic period, and it is known for its long lifespan of up to 2000 years. Despite having many leaves, it only has two, which continue to grow from a central stem. It can survive harsh climates due to its shallow root system that can reach deep underwater storage.

This plant, also known as the tree tumbo, produces cones. The male cones are pink to red, while the female cones are pink and bluish-green. The cones vary in size, with smaller cones being male. However, only one in every thousand seeds will actually grow into a plant. Tree tumbos use their long taproot to absorb moisture from fog and precipitation, making them one of the most mysterious desert plants.