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Not Yellow

If you don't like yellow when it comes to your garden, Dr. Angela O'Callaghan suggests a few alternatives.

Desert flowers come in so many colors and make terrific accents against a bright gold background. Below is a collection of mostly non-yellow desert plants and trees. You can find colors most of the year in a landscape that uses very little water.


Echinocereus triglochidiatus, called the strawberry hedgehog, produces a pink-magenta cup of many petals, which gives its other common name, claret cup. Flowers bloom April through June, from low to higher elevations. This is the first cactus to bloom in the spring.

The flat pads of beaver tail cactus, or Opuntia basilaris,have a grey-purple hue and its flowers are deep pink. Both the claret cup and the beaver tail cactus produce all of its blossoms at once, which results in a bright deep pink bouquet (albiet one that you cannot handle without protection).


The Joshua tree, a member of the agave family the same family where you find the blue agave stands watch over our wild lands. They are foreign to this regions, but the ones that do well in this area have lovely blossoms. When Joshuas and other native yuccas are in bloom, they produce dense clusters of white with magenta highlights.

Red yuccas, while they're not native, are good dry land plants with deep throated red flowers that are hummingbird magnets. This plant is a mid-summer bloomer and is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds. This drought-tolerant plant is suitable for xeriscaping.

Aloe vera is another red-flowered member of the family. It does well here, although it will be damaged when temperatures drop below freezing. Fortunately, as long as the plant has a well-developed root system, it will revive.


The Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) is a member of the rose family. Its white flowers look like wild rose, but its seed plumes make the plant appear to be surrounded by a rose colored cloud. This plant's common name is derived from the fact that it resembles Apache war bonnets. Native peoples used their stems to make brooms and arrow shafts.

Salvias are often excellent dry landscape plants. The desert purple sage (Salvia dorrii) is one whose flowers are indeed purple. It is a western native gem that puts on its dazzling display in late spring. It is a fast growing, heavy bloomer best suited to the hottest, most challenging planting sites.

Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) is red-flowered (although occasionally white). Culturally undemanding, this plant tolerates a wide range of soils requiring only that they be quick draining. Just a bit of extra water during dry spells encourages more flowers.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Texas Ranger and the froth of small purple blossoms it produces throughout the summer and fall. Sometimes the flowers are so numerous that the foliage is almost hidden. Several butterflies and bees are attracted by the flowers.


Most desert trees can be either a tree or a shrub, depending on how they're pruned. By the way, don't prune off all the side branches of the trunk if you're trying to get one of these plants to develop into a tree. The side branches help the trunk to become thicker faster.

The desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) which can be a shrub or a tree, produces a fabulous show of pink and lavender flowers, reminiscent of small orchids. Hummingbirds love it.

Texas Olive, (Cordia boissieri) has spectacular white flowers and produces big green berries in the fall. The attractive blooms continue aggressively from late winter through mid to late summer. The rest of the year, the Texas Olive flowers sporadically.

It's possible to have a glorious desert palette with no yellow, but with so many lovely golden flowered desert plants, it'd be a shame to eliminate them entirely. Who could possibly not appreciate the yellow blossoms on the feathery cassia (Cassia artemisioides)? These can be planted in pots or directly in the garden. The original Feathery Cassia is used as symbol in different cultures at some festivals and holidays.

We also cannot leave out the the yellow fuzzy flowers of one of the many mesquites (Prosopis) that has evolved around here. They are extremely adaptable and tolerant to a wide range of growing conditions. They adjust to little or abundant water, and will survive during times of drought by slowing down their growth.