Index of Plant Families -- Sonoran Desert Field Guide

In the first column, clicking on the family name will bring up pages of all plants belonging to the family discussed here. Thumb links under the examples column will take you to the species shown.

Family Name




Acanthaceae Acanthus Family

Simple leaves are mostly opposite on stems. Flower petals fused with 4 or 5 lobes and with usu. 4 stamens. Flowers usu. bilaterally symmetrical and in spikes with bracts between flowers. Fruit a capsule w/2 seeds per chamber. More on Wikipedia.

Chuparosa Desert Honeysuckle Siphonoglossa
Agavaceae Agave Family

Large robust plants with succulent, elongate leaves usu. clustered at ground level. Flowers on tall stalks. Flwrs with usu. 6 parts all similar in color and texture. Fruit three-parted. More on Wikipedia.

Desert Agave Golden-flowered Agave Sotol;Desert Spoon
Aizoaceae Carpetweed Family

In Arizona's flora these plants are prostrate, mat-forming annual or perennial herbs. Stems fleshy. Flowers small with 5 lobes. More on Wikipedia.

Horse Purslane
Amaranthaceae Amaranth Family

Mostly herbaceous plants with simple leaves and without showy flowers. Greenish flowers small, often in dense clusters, including papery bracts, each developing a small, single seed. Includes weedy species. More on Wikipedia.

Pigweed  Woolly Tidestromia
Anacardiadaceae Sumac Family

Shrubs, vines or trees with resious foliage. Small flowers in panicles. Including poison ivy and sumacs with shiny leaves. Upper Sonoran Desert and into Chaparral. More on Wikipedia.

Skunkbush  Poison Ivy  Sugar Berry
Apiaceae Carrot Family

Compound leaves (ex. Bowlesia) expressing carrot or parsley aroma. Includes a floating aquatic plant. Ferbaceous plants small flowers arranged into umbels. More on Wikipedia.

American Wild Carrot  Hairy Bowlesia  Whorled Marsh-Pennywort
Apocynaceae Dogbane Family

Leaves usually simple adn opposite. Sometimes with milky and toxic sap. Radially symmetrical flowers producing paired capsules with many seeds. Includes cultivated oleander. More on Wikipedia.

Palmer's Bluestar
Araceae Palm Family

Trees with large palmate or pinnate compound leaves. More on Wikipedia.

Aristolochiaceae Pipevine Family

Low growing, vine-like, herbaceous perennial, trailing along the ground. Obscure flowers greenish, shaped like a smoker's pipe. Leaves distincly arrow-shaped. More on Wikipedia.

Indian Root; Pipevine
Asclepiadaceae Milkweed Family

Vines or perennial herbs exuding white sap from breaks. Star-shaped flowers often arranged in an umbel. Seeds often with long, silky hairs. More on Wikipedia.

Milkweed Vine
Asteraceae - Green Flowers Sunflower Family

Green or brownish flowers apparently lacking petals. Heads sometimes form a bur. Many small flowers grouped together into a head. More on Wikipedia.

Burrobrush  Cocklebur  Triangle-leaf Bursage  Canyon Ragweed
Asteraceae - purple flowers Sunflower Family

Many small flowers (sometime few) grouped closely together into a head. Mostly each floret produces a seed. More on Wikipedia.

New Mexico Thistle  Desert Straw;Wire Lettuce  Salt Marsh Fleabane  Bigelow's Tansy Aster
Asteraceae - white flowers Sunflower Family

Many small flowers (florets) make up what might appear to be a single flower. Rays present or absent (discoid). More on Wikipedia.

White Easter-bonnets  Spreading Fleabane  Seep Baccharis  Desert Chicory
Asteraceae - yellow flowers Sunflower Family

Yellow sunflowers and daisies. Some without rays. Others tending to orange color. More on Wikipedia.

Paper Flower  Camphor Weed  California Goldfields  Desert Dandelion
Berberidaceae Barberry Family

Shrubs with holly-like leaves. Flowers yellow followed by dry berries. More on Wikipedia.

Red-berry Barberry
Betulaceae Birch Family

Deciduous tree in riparian habitat with simple leaves. Flowers appearing like small cones. More on Wikipedia.

Arizona Alder
Bignoniaceae Trumpet Vine Family

Vines or small trees with flowers shaped like a trumpet. Seed with long hairs in elongate pods. More on Wikipedia.

Desert Willow
Boraginaceae Borage Family

In Sonoran Desert most are herbs often with stiff hairs. Flowers with 5-lobed, tubular flowers. Fruit a set of four nutlets. Flowers often in scorpioid spike. More on Wikipedia.

Narrow-leaf Popcorn Flower  Comb Bur  Orange Fiddleneck  Heliotrope
Brassicaceae Mustard Family

Mostly herbaceous plants, some perenials and small shrubs. Fruit often an elongate pod. Petals 4, stamens 4 + 2 (two sizes). More on Wikipedia.

London Rocket  Lacepod  Perennial Rock Cress  Peppergrass
Burseriaceae Torchwood Family

Shrub or small tree with aromatic, evergreen leaves. Flowers and fruit small. Trunk large in comparison to plant size. More on Wikipedia.

Elephant Tree
Cactaceae Cactus Family - Chollas

Succulent shrub with flesh, elongated, segmented joints with mumerous sharp spines aranged on buttons. More on Wikipedia.

Teddy Bear Cholla;Jumping Cholla  Buckhorn Cholla
Cactaceae Cactus Family - Columnar

Spiny succulent plants with one or more cylindrical stems. Petals numerous blending into green sepals. Stamens numerous. Fruit fleshy. More on Wikipedia.

Saguaro Cactus  Fishhook Barrel Cactus 
Cactaceae Cactus Family - Prickly Pears

Succulent shrubs with flattened, spiny joints. Miniscule spines called glochids. Flowers with numerous often yellow or pink petals. More on Wikipedia.

Prickly Pear  Beavertail Pricklypear
Cactaceae Cactus Family - Single Stem or Clumping

Spiny succulents, usually low growing and not branching - forming clumps of several stems. More on Wikipedia.

Engelmann Hedgehog Cactus 
Caesalpinioideae Senna SubFamily

Subfamily of bean family - fruit a pod with beans. Flowers with 5 nearly similar petals. Leaves compound. More on Wikipedia.

Jerusulem Thorn;Mexican Palo Verde  Desert Senna  Foothills Palo Verde; Yellow Palo Verde  Blue Palo Verde
Celastraceae Bittersweet Family

In Sonoran Desert a large shrub to small tree with small flowers and abundant long thorns. Fruit a hard capsule. Wikipedia.

Canotia Canotia
Campanulaceae Bellflower Family

Fruit positioned below petals. Petals and sepals five. Capsule with many seeds. Leaves simple and alternate. Wikipedia.

Small Venus' Looking-glass Small Venus' Looking-glass
Capparaceae Caper Family

Strongly scented herbs, shrubs or tree. Fruit an elongate pod. Wikipedia.

Clammy Weed
Caprifoliaceae Honeysuckle Family

Shrubs and vines here. The leaves are mostly opposite with no stipules and may be either evergreen or deciduous. The flowers are tubular funnel-shaped or bell-like, usually with five outward spreading lobes or points, and are often fragrant. They usually form a small calyx with small bracts. The fruit a berry below the petals. Wikipedia.

cluster of berries on a Mexican Elder
Caryophyllaceae Pink Family

Opposite leaves and often with distinctive swelling at stem nodes. Wikipedia.

Chenopodiaceae Goosefoot Family

Flowers mostly obscure greenish or papery. Shrubs or herbaceous plants with foliage often mealy-textured and/or fleshy, leaves alternate and sometimes scale-like. One seed per ovary. Wikipedia.

Lamb's Quarters  Quailbush  Tumbleweed;Russian Thistle  Iodinebush
Convolvulaceae Morning Glory Family

Trumper or funnel-shaped flowers are five-lobed and frequently brightly colored. Seed capsule with usually four seeds. Mainly vines with twinning stems, but a few free-standing herbs/subshrubs, and with alternate leaves. Wikipedia.

Paiute False Bindweed  Trans-Pecos Morning-glory Canyon Morning-glory Dwarf Morning-glory
Crassulaceae Stonecrop Family

Fleshy herbs or perennials with simple leaves often clustered at plant base. Flowers in usu. tight groups and mostly 5-merous. ne to several seeds in capsules. Stamens may be numerous. Wikipedia.

Sand Pygmy-weed
Crossosomataceae Crossosoma Family

Just a single uncommon shrub in Sonoran Desert. Simple leaves. Flowers with five white petals, many stamens, and producing each several ovaries. Wikipedia.

Ragged Rock Flower
Cucurbitaceae Cucumber Family

Herbaceous vines climbing by tendrils. Leaves palmately lobed/cleft. Funnel flowers with five lobes. Fruit a gourd or spherical cucumber. Wikipedia.

Bigroot  Finger Gourd
Cupressaceae Cypress Family

Trees or large shrubs with resinous, scaly foliage. Seeds within a fleshy cone appearing as a berry. Wikipedia.

Utah Juniper
Cyperaceae Sedge Family

Grass-like plants most often in riparian zones. Stems usu. three-angled. Flowers greenish or with reddish tints. Leaves and fruit also in threes. Wikipedia.

purple nut sedge
Ephedraceae Ephedra Family

Medium to large shrubs with greenish stems and only small, scale-like leaves. Female plants produce small cones with a couple of seeds , whereas the male cones display conspicuous yellow stamens. Wikipedia.

Joint Fir
Equisetaceae Horsetail Family

Perennial underground stems give rise to hollow, jointed stems above. Leaves minute scales. One kind has fine whorled branches at nodes the other tall, slender and without branching. Cone-like sporangia at tips of some stems, i.e. no flowers or seeds. Wikipedia.

Common Scouring Rush
Euphorbiaceae Spurge Family

Diverse family with small to minute flowers. Flowers may be in dense clusters with petal-like structures or colored leaves. Sap often milky or irritating resin. Many have reddish leaves during cold or dry seasons. Fruit almost always three-parted and three-seeded. Wikipedia.

Hyssop Spurge New Mexico Silverbush Lance-leaf Ditaxis Three-seeded Mercury
Fagaceae Oak Family

Alternate leaves are tough and evergreen. Acorns and/or acorn cups usually visible. Woody shrubs or small trees at upper elevations or in deep, shady canyons. Flowers minute, without petals, and numerous in pendulant spikes. Wikipedia.

Scrub Live Oak Scrub Live Oak
Fouquieraceae Ocotillo Family

Woody and succulent - able to drop leaves with drought and quickly regrow them with rain. Sharp thorns on large woody shrub or small tree. Leaves simple and alternate. Mistakenly called a cactus by some. Wikipedia.

Frankeniaceae Franken Family

Low growing, shrubs with tolerance for salty or alkaline soils. Coastal Sonoran Desert of Mexico. Succulent leaves. Flowers with five white petals. More on Wikipedia.

Indian Root; Pipevine
Fumariaceae Fumatory Family

Just one low growing herb in Sonoran Desert with bright yellow, bilaterally symmetric flowers and finely divided leaves. Wikipedia.

Scrambled Eggs

Gentian Family

Many varieties outside our desert. Here, the most common one is herbaceous and has five bright pink petals that a pointed. Wikipedia.

Geraniaceae Geranium Family

In this area all are herbaceous with hairy foliage and strongly scented. Five free petals and five sepals. Usually five carpels that split apart readily when when the fruit matures. Wikipedia.

Red-stemmed Fillaree
Hydrophyllaceae Waterleaf Family

In the Sonoran Desert mostly herbaceous and mostly annuals. One shrub. Flowers with 5-lobed, tubular flowers often blue or white. Fruit a capsule splitting into two with a few or many seeds. Flowers in spikes, often scorpioid. Wikipedia

Notch-leaved Phacelia Blue Phacelia Purple Mat Blue Fiesta Flower
Juglandaceae Walnut Family

One tree in this family in riparian habitat. Leaves compound and alternate. Non-showy flowers in pendulant spikes. Wikipedia.

Arizona Walnut
Koeberliniaceae Junco Family


Just one uncommon shrub. Leaves reduced to small scales. Many long green thorns. Allthorn
Krameriaceae Ratany Family

Magenta flowers are bilaterally symmetrical and fruit is a prickly capsule. Perennial shrubs which act as root parasites on other plants. Krameria is the only genus. Wikipedia.

White Ratany
Lamiaceae Mint Family

The simple leaves are opposite on the stems which a most often square-sided. In addition the leaves may be strongly aromatic. The flowers come in a wide variety of colors and are two-lipped (bilaterally symmetrical). Wikipedia.

Chia Desert Lavender Horehound Texas Betony
Liliaceae Lily Family

Herbaceous plants with six tepals (petals and sepal look the same) and six stamens. In recent years taxonomists have reclassified many of these plants as members of related families such as Asparagaceae. Wikipedia.

Blue Dicks Desert Lily Parish' Desert Onion
Loasaceae Loasa Family

In Arizona small shrubs or herbs with small hooked hairs on leaves making them stiff or sticky.  Wikipedia.

Yellowcomet  Jones' Blazingstar  Blazing Star  Sandpaper Plant
Lythraceae Loosestrife Family

Slender herbs in wet places. Not in the desert. Wikipedia.

California Loosestrife
Malpighiaceae Malpighia Family


Janusia Vine Janusia Vine
Malvaceae Mallow Family


Coulter's Globe Mallow Rock Hibiscus Thurber's Cotton Cheeseweed
Martyniaceae Unicorn Plant Family

Herbaceous perennials from below ground tuber. Flowers large & bilaterally symmetrical. Fruit fleshy then later drying into double-clawed pod. Wikipedia.

Doubleclaw Devil's Claw
Mimosoideae Mimosa SubFamily

Mostly shrubs and small trees often with thorns. Flowers numerous in short or long spikes; petals minute but stamens long and colorful. Fruit a bean pod. Leaves mostly twice pinnate. Wikipedia.

White-thorn Acacia Catclaw Acacia Velvet Mesquite Fairy Duster
Moraceae Mulberry Family


White Mulberry
Nyctaginaceae Four O'clock Family


Sand Verbena Bigelow's Four O'Clock;Desert Wishbone Bush Scarlet Spiderling Trailing Four O'Clock
Oleaceae Olive Family


Twinberry Velvet Ash
Onagraceae Evening Primrose Family


Tufted Evening Primrose California Sundrop Hummingbird Trumpet Hooker's Evening Primrose
Orobanchaceae Broomrape Family


Burrow Weed Strangler
Oxalidaceae Wood-sorrel Family


Creeping Woodsorrel
Papaveraceae Poppy Family


California Poppy Creamcups Prickly Poppy
Papilionoideae Bean SubFamily

Fruit a bean pod with usu. a number of seeds. Pea flowers with five united petals: hood, banner, and wings. Often with once-compound leaves. Wikipedia.

Desert Ironwood Desert Rock Pea Coursetia Arizona Lupine
Plantaginaceae Plantain Family

Leaves mostly basal - flowers in a densely packed spike without showy petals. Wikipedia.

Indianwheat; Woolly Plantain Woolly Plantain
Platanaceae Sycamore Family

Large tree with whitish bark and large, simple leaves with several, palmately arranged lobes. Spherical cluster of small flowers and achenes. Wikipedia.

Arizona Sycamore Arizona Sycamore
Poaceae Grass Family - small annuals + perennials


Red Grama Red Brome Grass
Poaceae Grass Family - larger perennials

Big Galeta Johnson Grass
Polemoniaceae Phlox Family


Yellowthroat Gilia Woolly Desertstar Desert Phlox Evening Snow
Polygonaceae Buckwheat Family


Desert Trumpet Flat-topped Buckwheat Canaigre Devil's Spine Flower
Portulacaceae Purslane Family


Red Maids Common Purslane
Primulacaceae Primrose Family


Scarlet Pimpernel
Pteridaceae Maidenhair Fern Family


Wavy-leaf Cloak Fern

Wavy-leaf Cloak Fern

Ranunculaceae Crowfoot/Buttercup Family


Desert Windflower Yellow Columbine
Resedaceae Mignonette Family


Lineleaf Whitepuff
Rhamnaceae Buckthorn Family


Graythorn Holly-leaf Buckthorn
Rosaceae Rose Family

Mostly woody shrubs and smaller trees. Some herbaceous perennial species. Few in Sonoran Desert proper, i.e. mostly in transition to chaparral or encinal vegetation. Alternate leaves. Numerous stamens. Usu. with compound ovary. Mostly without thorns. Wikipedia.

Arizona Rosewood
Rubiaceae Coffee Family


Shrubby Bedstraw Buttonbush
Rutaceae Citrus Family


Turpentine Broom Hop Tree
Salicaceae Willow Family


Fremont Cottonwood Goodding's Willow
Sapindaceae Soapberry Family


Western Soapberry
Hop Bush
Sapotaceae Sapote Family

Only one very uncommon species of thorny shrub at upper elevations of Sonoran Desert. Wikipedia.

Gum Bumelia
Sauricaceae Lizard Tail Family


Yerba Mansa
Scrophulariaceae Snapdragon Family


Desert Beard-tongue Snapdragon Bush;Bush Penstemon Purple Owl's Clover Seep Monkey Flower
Selaginellaceae Simarouba Family


Arizona Spike Moss
Simaroubaceae Simarouba Family


Crucifixion Thorn
Simmondsiaceae Jojoba Family

There is only one plant in this family: A large bush with thick gray-green leaves and big nut-seeds. Wikipedia.

Jojoba  Jojoba
Solanaceae Tomato Family


Purple Nightshade Desert Tobacco Fremont Thorn Bush Silver-leaf Nighshade;Horse Nettle
Sterculiaceae Cacao Family


California Ayenia -- Ayenia compacta
Tamaricaceae Tamarisk Family


Tamarisk;Salt Cedar
Typhaceae Cattail Family


Southern Cattail
Ulmaceae Elm Family


Desert Hackberry Netleaf Hackberry
Urticaceae Nettle Family


Verbenaceae Verbena Family


Dakota Mock Vervain Vitex
Viscaceae Mistletoe Family


Desert Mistletoe
Vitaceae Grape Family


Canyon Grape Woodbine
Zygophyllaceae Caltrop Family

Shrubs, small shrubs and herbs. Leaves are mostly pinnately compound and opposite on the stem. Flowers have five, free petals, often on a distinct claw. Fruit often separating into segments with one or two seeds inside. Wikipedia.

Creosote Bush Summer Poppy Fagonia

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 12 Jan. 2008,
updated 30 Apr. 2017.