Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park



Apache Plume
Fallugia paradoxa is a scraggly, clump-forming shrub found between 4000' and 8000' in rocky or sandy soils along roadsides, canyons, and arroyos. The small wedge-shaped leaves of this partially evergreen shrub are divided into 3 to 7 blunt-tipped lobes. Conspicuous white flowers are present all summer. Fruits are feathery balls often tinged with red or pink. The fruit reminds some people of an Indian feather bonnet, hence the common name, apache plume.

Agrito, Algerita, or Barberry
Berberis sp. is an evergreen shrub with stiff, spiny, holly-like leaflets on alternate, compound leaves. The yellow flowers grow in small clusters and yield a small reddish berry in the fall. A yellow dye can be extracted from the stems, and jelly is made from the berries. Three species are found in the park.

Mexican Orange
Choisya dumosa is an aromatic, evergreen shrub of the canyons and hillsides, that grows between 3000' and 7000'. The unique, palmately compound, opposite leaves have 5 to 10 narrow, coarsely toothed, gland-dotted leaflets. Flowers are solitary or in small clusters with 5 white petals. Young twigs are green and hairy, becoming gray and warty with age. This shrub is a member of the citrus family, but the fruits are not edible.

Desert Ceanothus or Desert Buckthorn
Ceanothus greggii is associated with rocky and often brushy slopes above 2000'. This heavily browsed, thorny shrub is seldom more than 4 feet in height. Leathery and opposite, the gray-green leaves are finely toothed and semi-evergreen. The tiny, white, fragrant flowers are produced in small axillary clusters. The berrylike fruit is green and three-lobed, turning reddish brown as it ripens.

Mountain Mahogany
Cercocarpus montanus is a slender-stemmed shrub of dry rocky areas found at elevations above 3000'. Simple oval leaves are about 1 inch long with distinct veins and coarse-toothed margins. The tiny flowers lack petals, but the sepals form a greenish tube that holds the many stamens. In autumn, fuzzy, spiral tails 1 to 3 inches long are found on the small seeds.

Skunkbush, Squawbush, or Desert Sumac
Rhus trilobata is a heavily browsed shrub found above 3500'. Leaves are alternate and compound with three lance-shaped, toothed or lobed leaflets. Tiny flowers with yellow petals appear in dense clusters before the leaves develop. The reddish-orange, hairy berries are used to make a lemonade-like drink. Indians used the stems in basket making. The leaves turn red in fall and are aromatic when crushed.

Evergreen Sumac
Rhus virens, an evergreen shrub of rocky hillsides and cliffs, is found above 2000'. The alternate, compound leaves are leathery with 5 to 9 leaflets and entire margins. Tiny white flowers appear in clusters after rains. The reddish fruit is covered with short hairs and used to make a lemonade-type beverage.

Catclaw Acacia
Acacia greggii is found between 3500' and 5000' along streams and arroyos and in canyons. This shrub or small tree often grows in almost impenetrable thickets. Leaves are bipinnate with 2 to 6 pinnae each and 4 to 14 oblong, prominently nerved leaflets. Flowers are cylindrical, yellow, and grow up to 11/2 inches in length. Seed pods are flat, linear, and irregular constricted between seeds. Spines along the branches are curved back like the claws of a cat, hence the name.

Larrea tridentata is one of the most long-lived and abundant desert plants of North and South America. It is often found in pure stands. The small, leathery, evergreen leaves occur in pairs united at the base. When it rains, five-petaled flowers appear and the air is permeated with the fragrance of creosote bush. The fuzzy white seed balls are relished by rodents. When crushed, the resinous leaves smell like the petroleum by-product, creosote.



Bigtooth Maple
Acer grandidentatum occurs in canyons and moist soils of the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas. The tree may grow to a height of 50 feet. Leaves are opposite and typically 21/2, inches in diameter, with three broad, blunt lobes. Fruits occur in winged pairs called samaras. The bark is gray to light brown and may be smooth or scaly. This tree is responsible for the brilliant reds and yellows during the fall color display.

Gray (Grey) Oak
Quercus grisea, a common shrubby oak of the Southwest, grows in dry rocky sites at elevations between 4500' and 7800'. The leaves are small and oval, usually smooth margined, but occasionally toothed. They are dusty blue-gray in color, hence the name. Star-shaped hairs appear on both sides of the leaves. The acorns are small and stalked. The leaves turn brown in autumn and are retained on the twigs until new ones emerge in the spring. Oaks tend to hybridize, leading to variations in leaf form and other botanical characteristics and making positive identification of individual trees difficult. Guadalupe Mountains has seven species of oak; chinquapin and gray oak are the most distinctive.

Honey Mesquite
Prosopis glandulosa is a common and widespread desert shrub or tree usually found below 5000' along streams and arroyos. Root systems penetrate the soil to a depth of 60 feet; thus, there is often more wood below than above ground. The branches have sturdy, straight thorns. Flowers are catkin-like clusters of green-yellow. They are rich in nectar and attract honeybees, which produce an excellent light honey. The shiny green leaves are bipinnate with 2 to 8 pinnae each, with 12 to 60 leaflets. The fruits, which ripen in the fall, hang like string beans from the branches. Cattle eat the beans contributing to the spread of mesquite. Mesquite wood is popular for barbecuing.

Littleleaf Walnut
Juglans microcarpa occurs in southern New Mexico and west Texas along streams coming off the foothills. Trees are small and shrubby, often with several stems, typically 20 to 30 feet in height. Leaves are pinnately compound with 13 to 23 leaflets. Leaflets are narrow and long with fine teeth at the margins. The tiny walnuts, seldom more than a half inch in diameter, are gathered by squirrels and other animals.

Arbutus texana is found on rocky slopes or or canyon walls in the desert mountains of south eastern New Mexico and west Texas between 4500' and 6500'. This rain forest relict has alternate, oval, evergreen leaves up to 3 inches long. The urn-shaped flowers are white or pink and in clusters at the end of the branches. The tree, which grows to 30 feet tall, has a gnarled trunk. The reddish bark peels with age, revealing younger white or pink bark. The local name "manzanita" refers to the bright red fruit that looks like "little apples."

Mexican Buckeye
Ungnadia speciosa is a small, much-branched shrub or tree of west Texas and southern New Mexico. It grows among the rocks and in canyons. Fragrant rose-colored flowers appear before the new leaves. Leaves are compound with 5 to 7 leaflets that are up to 5 inches long with toothed margins. Two-inch brown seed pods or capsules are borne on short stalks. They are three-celled and contain one shiny black seed per cell. This tree is not a true buckeye, but is a member of the soapberry family.

Juniperus sp. have short scale-like needles and grow in dry rocky soils in the foothills or lower mountains. The seeds are borne in scaled cones, and the scales eventually grow together to produce a berrylike structure. Cones may be blue or red, depending on the species. In addition to being eaten by animals, the "berries" are used to flavor gin. The largest alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana) in Texas is located in the park. Three other species of junipers also grow here.

Pinyon Pine (Piñon)
Pinus edulis grows between 5000' and 7000', often mixed with junipers and shrubby oaks. Normally this reddish-barked tree is small and many branched. The leaves or needles, clustered in bundles of 2 or 3 are 3/4 to 11/2 inches long and dark green. The cones are about 2 inches long and contain wingless edible seeds, 1/2 inch in length. Man and animals alike relish the rich tasty seeds. One pound of pinyon nuts contains more than 3000 calories. It is the state tree of New Mexico.

Ponderosa Pine
Pinus ponderosa is typically found about 6000' feet but a few strays can bee seen in the lower canyons. This large tree (to 180 feet) is the most valuable lumber tree in the United States. The bark is dark brown to black in young trees, turning yellowish-red with age. To some people, the bark smells like vanilla. Needles grow in clusters of 2 or 3 and are 5 inches long. The immature cones are green and tightly closed, changing to reddish-brown as they ripen. Winged seeds are released from the cones and eaten by rodents.



Precipitation patterns, in combination with duration and abundance of moisture in the southwest determine not only blooming periods for wildflowers, but also whether or not one can expect to see flowers in limited quantities and locations, or a sea of vibrant colors splashed across the landscape. The hottest deserts in the southwest - the Sonoran and the Mohave - are famous for their early spring wildflowers, because they often receive reliable rains in winter. About every ten years or so, perfect conditions allow wildflower seeds to germinate by the billions and create an outstanding wildflower show that blankets hundreds of thousands of acres of otherwise sparsely-coated desert.

The Chihuahuan desert on the other hand, rarely receives any significant precipitation in winter or spring. Because of the dry nature of these seasons, particularly spring, this cooler and higher-elevation desert favors not annuals but perennials, cacti and succulents, and shrubs. Spring wildflowers in the Chihuahuan desert generally bloom later than those of the Sonoran or Mohave deserts, and tend to be ground-hugging perennials that hide among the rocks, grasses and other plants. This important adaptation not only helps protect them from predators, but also secures them from detrimental weather elements such as damaging winds or a late season freeze. Though the desert is rich with diversity, many varieties that bloom right under foot go unnoticed because of their inconspicuous nature. Flowers that are most appreciated are often those of the cacti, such as claret cups (April), prickly pears and chollas (May), succulents such as ocotillo (April), and yuccas, agaves, and sotols (May). Visitors also enjoy the flowering trees including Texas madrone, Mexican buckeye, and honey mesquite - all of which are as fragrant as they are beautiful.

Immediately following summer "monsoon" rains, a whole new crop of plants begin to bloom, and some will last well into fall. Many of these plants, such as gayfeather and cardinal flower provide important nectar sources for butterflies, bees and other insects.

The temperate nature of the desert climate insures that something will be blooming nearly any time of the year. And if your timing is perfect, you may have the opportunity to catch a brief, but spectacular profusion of wildflowers, and one of nature's finest moments.


The grasses comprise the most widely distributed family of flowering plants, and the largest in terms of numbers of individuals. They are found in almost all habitats and on all continents, including Antarctica. The family appears to have originated near the beginning of the Tertiary geologic era, perhaps in association with the rise of grazing animals. The generative response of grasses to fires ignited by plains tribes contributed to the vast extent of the prairie ecosystem with its unsurpassed soils and 60 million bison. Minute flowers of grasses are wind pollinated, highly specialized in structure, and thus possess a descriptive terminology all their own.

Of all plants on earth, grasses and their seeds are of the greatest use to the human race. Nine of the ten most economically important plants are grasses. Civilization as we know it would not exist without them. To the grasses belong the cereals, including wheat, corn (maize), rice, barley, rye, and oats. It has been justifiably stated that wheat, com, and rice are the crops that feed the world; rice is a staple food for more of the world's peoples than any other plant. Also of tremendous significance are sugarcane, sorghum, millet and bamboos (the largest of the grasses, regularly attaining a height of over 100 feet).

Because they furnish the bulk of the forage and feed of grazing animals, grasses are also the basis of the animal industry. Throughout centuries, grasses have not only nourished us, but have served as or provided us with construction supplies and art materials, fiber, clothing, paper, utensils, wax, oils, boats, floats, conduits, and even corncob pipes, fishing rods, and walking canes. They hold soils in place and provide wildlife with food and habitat.


The biological diversity within Guadalupe Mountains National Park is outstanding and includes more than 1000 species of plants. While many of these are common desert species such as ocotillo and prickly pear cactus, others are found only in the park and nowhere else in the world.

In part, the amazing diversity can be attributed to significant geographical variations in an extremely rugged landscape. Steep-walled canyons, highcountry ridge tops, wide-open expanses of desert lowland, and lush riparian oases provide opportunity for unique and contrasting life zones that span across thousands of acres with over 6000’ of elevation difference.

Plants that grow here are tough. They survive not only the components that make up the landscape, but also the extremes of temperature, aridity, and relentlessly powerful winds, all common factors of the park’s desert climate. Plants have evolved elegant methods of tolerating or avoiding desert conditions. Some such as cactus have thick fleshy stems that store water, and spines that not only serve as fierce armor against predators, but also help reflect the sun’s radiant heat. Many species avoid desert extremes by clinging tightly to limited but dependable seeps and shaded springs. Annual wildflowers that grow here avoid the drought altogether with a compressed, complete life cycle – from sprout to seed – that occurs only in conjunction with summer’s monsoon rains.

Cacti / Desert Succulents

Cacti and succulents, such as agaves and yuccas are xerophytes – plants that are highly adapted to arid conditions. Forced to survive by conserving water, these plants have evolved into uniquely shaped plants, with many unusual characteristics. Though cacti and agaves (and yuccas) are often confused, agaves and yuccas have long fibrous leaves that may be barbed, while cacti have thick fleshy stems, pads, or branches. These form as ribs or knobs that swell and contract, accordion style, as water is stored or lost. A cacti’s “skin” is coated with a waxy layer that effectively protects the plant against moisture loss and provides protection from the sun’s radiant heat. Essentially, leaves have been replaced by spine clusters, which form within defined areas called areoles. Some species, such as prickly pears and chollas also possess numerous glochids, or barbed hairs that are located at the center of the spine clusters. Tiny glochids may go unnoticed or appear fuzzy and soft, but are dangerously sharp. Cacti also have broad, shallow root systems that allow them to rapidly absorb large quantities of water during brief rains where precipitation only superficially moistens the upper soil layers. Cacti use a photosynthesis process (unique to succulents) called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism or CAM. Pores in the skin surface, called stomata, open only at night. Carbon dioxide is taken in through these minute openings and chemically stored as an organic acid. Much less of the plant’s preciously stored moisture is lost in this process during the night, than would be in the heat of the day. During the day, carbon dioxide is internally released from the acid and made available to the plant. The trade-off with this unusual, and delayed method of photosynthesis is that cacti and succulent species generally grow very slowly.

Flowers of both the cacti and the agaves and yuccas are very beautiful and quite striking. Agaves and yuccas generally produce tall stalks. Stalks may grow several feet per night, allowing them to reach towering heights before hungry predators can nibble off the delicious flowering tips. Fragrant blossoms form as tight clusters along the upper portion of the stalk or may branch out in radiant beauty, such as those of the century plant. Many cacti species have huge, showy blossoms ranging in color from shimmering magenta, to flashy red-orange, to sunshine yellow. Agaves, yuccas, and many of the cacti species bloom from April through June. Pollinators including bees, and moths depend on these plants for nectar, as do early migrating hummingbirds and Scott’s orioles.

Succulents found here in Guadalupe Mountains National Park include several species of yuccas, beargrass, sotol, agaves, and ocotillo. There are close to 50 species of cacti including prickly pears, chollas, hedgehogs, and pincushions, and many like the Claret Cup are “show-stoppers” whose brilliant blossoms attract visitors from around the world.


Although usually associated with moist tropical regions, ferns are found in almost every imaginable habitat in the world's temperate zones, including deserts. Perennial ferns are often found growing in moisture-retaining crevices, a viable adaptation for survival in the desert. They remain dormant throughout most of the year, simply awaiting infrequent rains to grow and reproduce.

Desert ferns possess excellent drought-resistant features, including hardened and thickened tissues, a waxy layer covering leaf surfaces, highly dissected leaves, leaves that curl into compact balls, and leaf and stem surface hairs. These features help to disperse heat, reduce evaporation, and retard the destructive effects of hot winds.

Typically, ferns are composed of an underground stem (rhizome) with roots and a number of compound green leaves (fronds) that extend well above ground. They lack flowers or seeds. In season, clusters of tiny capsules containing numerous ripening spores develop on the undersides of the leaflets. Eventually the capsules snap open, catapulting millions of minute spores into the breeze. These may remain viable for years. Ferns may also reproduce by means of creeping rootstocks.