Bureau of Land Management
Red Rock Canyon has more than 600 different species of plants. Of those, 15 can only be found in Red Rock Canyon; they are found nowhere else in the world.
A few of our more common wildflowers and plants are listed below and can be found around the visitor center. Please keep in mind that you should take only photos of plants in Red Rock Canyon, leave the flowers and plants for others to enjoy.
Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)
- Native Americans used all parts of the plant for food, drink and everyday items.
- The baked fruit of this plant tastes somewhat like sweet potato.
- The root was pounded and soaked in water and used as shampoo. Navajos used the seeds to dye yarn.
- The Pronuba (Yucca) Moth is the only pollinator of the Yucca.
Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris)
- Grows six to 12 inches high and up to six feet wide.
- The cactus pads resemble a beaver’s tail.
- Fruits and pads of the cactus were eaten by Native Americans.
- The pads are also cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
- Sold in stores under the name “Nopalito”.
Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)
- Can grow up to 12 feet tall.
- The plant goes dormant in summer and the leaves turn brown.
- Yellow pedals bloom from February to August.
- The leaves are coated with a waxy resin to prevent water loss.
- Has a unique odor after a desert rain.
Desert Marigold (Baileya multiradiata)
- This plant ranges in elevation from 100 to 6,500 feet.
- It is a drought tolerant plant.
- They begin to flower in March and can continue to bloom until November.
- Often seen growing along roadsides.
- This plant is poisonous to goats and sheep.
Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
- Main food staple for the Desert Tortoise.
- Leaf hairs are an eye irritant to some people.
- Used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
- Attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
- Is grazed upon by bighorn sheep.
Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)
- Named by Mormon settlers for the biblical Joshua reaching his hands up to the sky to pray.
- May start blooming in mid-March.
- The tree was used for fuel in steam engines.
- Has been known to live up to 1,000 years.
- At maturity can reach a height of 30 feet.
Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)
- Known as Spanish Dagger.
- Grows to a height of 16 feet.
- Plant depends on the Pronuba (Yucca) Moth for pollination.
- Fibers of the leaves were used by Native Americans for rope and sandals.
- Roots were used to make soap.
Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)
- Also called Jimson weed.
- It is a member of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae).
- All parts of this plant are toxic.
- The large white flower of the plant opens up in the evening.
- This allows it to attract the night-flying sphinx moth.
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
- Native to southwestern North America.
- A perennial flowering plant.
- Yerba Mansa means “calming herb” in Spanish.
- Used by herbalists as a poultice to reduce inflammation.
- Also used as a diuretic to assist with joint problems
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area supports a wide variety of plant species due to soil types and depth, elevation, exposure, temperature, precipitation, and existing and past use.
Located in the Mojave Desert, Red Rock Canyon supports nine major vegetation types:
This vegetation type lies between 5,000 and 7,000 feet and receives between 10 to 18 inches of precipitation a year. It forms a belt between the desert below and the true forest above. The lower edge of the belt is occupied by juniper; but at higher elevations pinyon pine and juniper intermix. At the upper edge of the belt, pinyon pine becomes prevalent. Curl-leaf mountain mahogany, big sagebrush and blackbrush are also found in this vegetation type in varying amounts. Three awn, Nevada bluegrass and cheatgrass make up the majority of the grass species present.
This vegetation type is found between 3,600 and 4,200 feet and receives between 8 and 10 inches of precipitation annually. Joshua tree is the dominant species in this type and makes up three to 10 percent of the total species composition. Blackbrush, creosote bush, Mormon Tea and burrobrush also make up portions of this type. Grasses are usually sparse and species are mostly annuals.
This vegetation type can range between 3,400 and 9,000 feet elevation, but in this area it is found between 3,400 and 4,200 feet. Annual precipitation usually is low, ranging from six to eight inches. Rabbitbrush is generally found on eroded or disturbed soils along roadsides and in wash bottoms. It characterizes a soil with a relatively low alkali content.
This vegetation type generally occurs from 4,000 to 6,000 feet in Red Rock Canyon. Precipitation is usually between eight and 10 inches. Sagebrush, manzanita, snowberry and rabbitbrush are some of the scrub species that also occur in this type in varying amounts. Nevada bluegrass, Indian rice grass and big galleta, as well as several annual grasses and forbs also occur in this type.
This vegetation type is usually found from 4,000 to 6,000 feet elevation. This type is usually found in association with creosote, hopsage, sagebrush and wolfberry. Precipitation is fairly low - five to eight inches per year.
This vegetation type is found in the area surrounding the escarpment in the rocky canyons and on the walls. Vegetation is found only on areas where soil has accumulated. The most limiting factor in this area is availability of soil. Precipitation usually ranges from eight to 10 inches annually. Other species in this vegetation type present in varying amounts are turbinella oak, cliffrose, desert barberry, desert ceanothus, snowberry, apache plume, juniper and pinyon pine. Various annual grasses and forbs also occur.
This vegetation type is found generally to the east of the sandstone escarpment. Precipitation ranges from five to eight inches annually. Species found in this community consist of Spanish bayonet, blackbrush, Mormon tea, Cheesebush, Spiny Menodora, Desert Almond, Sagebrush, Bursage, cholla cactus, dalea, turpentine bush and catclaw. Grasses commonly found include needle grass, sand dropseed and big galleta grass. The wide variety of small flowering plants include buckwheats, marigolds, mallows and desert poppy. Several species of grasses also occur in moist years.
This vegetation type is found on the eastern edge of the area and is mostly bare rock. Vegetative cover is found only in areas where soils accumulate and where water periodically stands, allowing seed germination. The main species are pinyon pine, juniper, manzanita, sagebrush, snakeweed and creosote. Sparse perennial grasses occur along with some annual grasses and forbs.
This type is limited mainly to the deep, cool, well-watered canyons of the escarpment. These canyons, especially Pine Creek, Oak Creek and First Creek, provide a microclimate which supports small communities of ponderosa pine and several other species not commonly found at this low elevation. Some of these other species are willow, serviceberry, snowberry, manzanita, sagebrush, black cottonwood and Gambel’s oak. Nevada bluegrass, Indian ricegrass, blue grama and big galleta make up some of the grass species found there.
The average age of ponderosa pines in these areas is 180 years. Reproduction is marginal. The trees are mostly concentrated in and along the creek bottoms. They may represent a relic population that was once part of a large pine forest, with these trees surviving in small pockets long after the rest of the forest disappeared.
In the past 40 years, many unique plants in the area have been subjected to heavy collection pressure. The sword fern, probably the most collected plant, has been reduced from large beds and glades to only occasional plants by trampling and collection.
Other unique plants in the area include Agave (Agave utahensis nevadensis), a conspicuous part of the cliff community in the Spring Mountains and Charleston mountain pricklypear cactus (Opuntia charlastonensis) which occurs only in the higher elevation, wooded areas of the Spring Mountains.
Riparian vegetation is associated with springs, creeks and dry washes. Plants more typical of the riparian type include mesquite, catclaw acacia, salt cedar and desert willow. In moister areas or along stream banks, cattails, rushes, willows and other semi-aquatic plants can be found.