Arizona’s Blooming Desert Flowers

Last Updated on April 22, 2021 by Janet Frost

First-time visitors to the Sonoran Desert are always surprised by the amount and diversity of vegetation. Arizona flowers put on a colorful show all year long. The blooming colors of the desert flowers is truly awe-inspiring. Early spring, February and March, bring a vast diversity of delicate wildflowers. Later spring, April and May, is ablaze with blooming cacti. It seems that each week introduces a new shape and color to the desert floor, rolling foothills and mountain peaks.

Let’s Go! Learn Things about the desert flowers of Arizona…

I will admit right up front, I am not a botanist. In this post, I will do my best to identify everything correctly with its common name. The general style of this post will be a photo journal of all the colors the blooming desert has to share. Spring visitors to the desert are especially delighted with the desert wildflowers. In meticulously groomed landscapes, wildflowers are technically “weeds”. However, on the desert floor and the foothills of Arizona, the wildflowers are a precious commodity. Our desert wildflowers are dependent on our annual rain levels. Therefore, the “wet” years are more splendid than others.


Lupines and Poppies

The Desert Lupines are the first wildflowers to start popping up. They are heaviest along the shoulders of the roadways. In just a couple of days the Mexican Poppies start showing up. The mix of rich gold and deep purple is stunning.

The Desert Lupines are smaller than I expected but hardy enough to splash the roadsides with color
Arizona blooming desert flowers

Mexican Poppies, very delicate alone but together they create fields of color

Arizona flowers
The poppies and lupines blanket the lower elevations in the Sonoran Desert region.

Parry’s Penstemon

Several plants in the Sonoran Desert carry the name “Parry”. The name refers to Charles Parry, a surgeon and botanist that joined the US-Mexico Border Survey following the Mexican-American War in 1855. In addition to its documentation of the new boundary, the survey report was notable for its natural history content, including paleontology, botany, ichthyology (fish), herpetology(reptiles), ornithology, and mammalogy.
Parry must have been overwhelmed by all the amazing desert wildflowers he found in this region.

Arizona desert flowers
For a couple of weeks the desert is ablaze with the gold poppies, purple lupines and hot pink Penstemon
Arizona blooming desert flowers
Parry’s Penstemon is tall and delicate fuschia flowers


Sometimes called Globe Mallow or Apricot Mallow these delicate spherical blooms are some of my favorites. An interesting fact is that the tiny leaf hairs on the globe mallow are an eye irritant, they are sometimes called sore-eye poppies or pink-eye poppies. These hairs discourage herbivores from eating the plant.

Arizona blooming desert flowers
Globe mallow sends up delicate spikes
Arizona desert flowers
Globe Mallow ranges from a pale salmon to a deep orange color
Arizona desert flowers globe mallow
Sometimes the mallow is a beautiful pale lavender

Scorpionweed, Popcorn flower, Fiddleneck

My local sources claim that these curly desert flowers come in purple, white and yellow and that each color has a different name. My research uncovered that they are all in the Forget-Me-Not family but each a different species. Here in the Sonoran Desert, the purple are called Scorpionweed, the white are Popcorn flowers and the yellow are Fiddlenecks. Fiddlenecks seem to describe the curled up tips of the flowers most accurately.

Arizona blooming desert flowers

Chia, I love these purple globes, they pop up randomly in the desert like botanical cell towers. Chia was of great importance to Native Americans of the Southwest. The parched seeds were ground to make their staple flour, pinole. Indians also placed the seeds in water to make mucilaginous poultices and beverages. Today Chia is still sold as a pudding thickener and great source of fiber.

Arizona Desert Wildflowers come in every color and size

There are so many I can’t begin to cover them all. Here are a few more examples:

Arizona desert flowers-desert stars
Desert Stars are teeny tiny white flowers creeping among the harsh soil and rocks
Arizona desert flowers-desert bells
Desert Bells remind me of African violets

Desert Blooming Trees and Shrubs

The desert flora provides a continuous show of shapes and colors. As one species starts to fade the next is reaching its glory. This spectacle includes the trees and shrubs.

Fairy Duster

The Fairy Duster is a short shrub that blooms in the late spring. Like many of the wildflowers, it thrives in the lower elevations and arid conditions. These beautiful wispy flowers range from pale pink to vivid scarlet.

Arizona desert flowers
Fairy Duster


This ubiquitous silver-green bush bursts into yellow flowers in late spring. It paints a golden background for the other colorful players.

The Catalina foothills blanketed with Brittlebush

Palo Verde

In the month of May, another yellow flowering tree splashes the landscape. The Palo Verde, with a green bark and yellow flowers literally glows across the desert and mountains.

Palo Verde trees spread bright yellow flowers across the dsert

Arizona Cactus flowers

As the desert starts to heat up and the delicate wildflowers fade, the intimidating cactus start to show their softer side. Everything in the desert is sharp and prickly, but they are also show-offs.

The fuzzy hedgehog cactus is the first to enter the stage. These gorgeous fuchsia-colored desert blooms called to my camera. These are some of my favorites.

Hedgehog cacus


Cholla cactus come in about 20 different varieties. There are Chain Fruit Cholla, Staghorn Cholla, Pencil Cholla and Teddy Bear Cholla. All of them are encrusted with thorns and referred to as “jumpin’ cholla”. Because they all seem to reach out and attach to everything. The cholla bloom shortly after the hedgehogs. They range in color from rusty yellow to deep magenta.


The Ocotillo is from a family of weird looking desert plants. They grow tall (up to 20 ft) like a tree, are covered with spines like a cactus, have woody stems like a bush and thrive like a succulent. The word Ocotillo is Spanish for “little torch”. Their late spring, showy bloom illuminates the desert just like a torch. Ocotillos bloom simultaneously with the brittlebush, wrapping the desert in fields of orange and yellow.


Of course, the big kahuna in the blooming cactus world is the Saguaro. These iconic many armed cacti stand sentry across the Sonoran Desert. For a short time in late May and early June these giants wear crowns of flowers. Each bloom only lasts one day. But the mighty Saguaro arms are packed with blooms and the show goes on for a couple of weeks. It is a challenge to get close-up shots of these blossoms because they sit atop such soaring cacti. The Saguaro can grow to over 40 feet tall.

Prickly Pear

The prickly pear blooms in early summer and produces conical plum-colored fruit in August and September. Arizonans use the prickly pear fruit in everything. Soap, salsa, beer and margaritas to mention just a few.

Arizona desert flowers-prickly pear cactus
Prickly pear cactus heavy with blooms in the morning sun.
Prickly pear blooms
Prickly pear cactus blooms in a couple of their color manifestations.
The prickly pear blooms open each morning and close at dusk. They start a zest lemon yellow and fade slightly each day to finally a pale peach color.

Blooming Agaves and Yuccas

At the zenith of summer, in the month of June, another unusual family of plants joins the blooming circus. Agave and Yucca are succulents that grow a green rosette and then shoot up a flowering stem that soars over the landscape. Although the casual observer would classify these together, the agave and yucca are distinct species with unique characteristics. The agave have spiny leaves and bloom only once in their lives. Yucca on the other hand have smooth leaves that often grow a trunk and they bloom annually.

Arizona desert flowers-Century Plant Agave

The agave called the American Century Plant lives for years, sometimes up to 100 years, hence the name. They are monocarpic which means that it will bloom once and then die.

A Utah Agave has a fascinating bloom to watch evolve. It sends up a fuzzy yellow arrow that gradually fills out the bloom from the bottom up to its tippy top.

Soaptree Yucca have gorgeous stalks of white blooms. You can see they grow more of a trunk at their base, common to yuccas. These plants also bloom perennially so they are popular in landscape designs.

I can’t begin to share all of the blooming and flowering plants of the Sonoran Desert and Sky Island Mountains around Tucson. The best time to visit Arizona for blooming color is March, April, May. Just know that the landscape changes every week during that season and you won’t be able to see everything in bloom at once. This is a perfect reason to make your visits frequently and lengthy. I have listed below some of my favorite venues and resources to experience the Sonoran Desert flora.

Go Learn and Discover Arizona Desert Flowers at these locations:

Botanical Gardens

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum
Tohono Chul Park
Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix
Boyce-Thompson Arboretum

Hiking Spots to find Arizona Flowers

Catalina State Park
Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area
Picacho Peak State Park

Go Learn about other Arizona Destinations:
Sky Islands: Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas, Dragoons
Arizona State Parks: Catalina SP, Oracle SP

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