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The Xeric Zone > Essentials :: Plant Life Forms: Chihuahuan Desert Uplands

  

Plant Life Forms

Chihuahuan Desert Uplands, including Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Socorro, Carrizozo, Roswell, central New Mexico valleys, Silver City

David Cristiani

 

Why are so many “xeriscapes” objected to? It could be because 1) one or more plant forms are left out, due to people’s reluctance to use “stickery” or thorny plants, or 2) perfectly good plants are not used effectively. The result? A sea of bark mulch or gravel, with a random scattering of isolated plants with “sage” in their names, along with some grasses and wildflowers…a sparse, shrubby, or even weedy look, lacking all excitement.

 

Carrie Nimmer, a Phoenix landscape designer, has cleverly described a different approach. She considers 5 basic plant life forms that need to be used together, each essential to a great landscape. Her plant life forms each contain a consistent set of patterns: 1) strategies to use and conserve water, 2) natural habitat and rooting habit, and 3) overall appearance. Leaving one form out (including the first form listed) is like expecting a car to run perfectly with one of its engine’s cylinders not firing, she said.

 

Here is a local interpretation of Carrie’s 5 life forms, with a sampling of appropriate native or adapted plants grouped into each. They are listed based on how they respond after they have been established in the landscape. Identifying life forms really begins to promote appearances and sustainable landscapes. Most need little supplemental irrigation once they are established, an emerging trend in many southwestern gardens.

 

1. CAM / Sculpture Plants

 

+ Succulent foliage that conserves water by storing it for future use

+ Shallow, fine, yet extensive root system that takes advantage of light rains

+ Bold, signature plants that accent a space year-round

 

 

Agave / Century Plant

Agave spp.

Cholla

Cylindropuntia spp.

Sotol / Desert Spoon

Dasylirion spp.

Hedgehog Cactus

Echinocereus spp.

Hesperaloe

Hesperaloe spp.

Beargrass

Nolina spp.

Prickly Pear

Opuntia spp.

Yucca

Yucca spp.

 

 

Adapted, non-native plants if natives are unavailable or won’t function:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Seasonally Deciduous Plants

+ Leaves that conserve water by defoliating during weather extremes

+ A deep root system that takes advantage of soaking rains

+ Plants that show seasonal weather changes through their long life spans

 

 

Leadplant

Amorpha canescens

*Netleaf Hackberry

Celtis reticulata

*Desert Willow

Chilopsis linearis

Chamisa

Chrysothamnus nauseosus

Damianita

Chrysactinia mexicana

Feather Dalea

Dalea formosa

Apache Plume

Fallugia paradoxa

Ocotillo

Fouquiera splendens

Fragrant Ash

Fraxinus cuspidata

Mariola

Parthenium incanum

Honey Mesquite

Prosopis glandulosa / torreyana

Broom Dalea

Psorothamnus scoparius

Oak

Quercus spp.

Sumac

Rhus spp.

*Soapberry

Sapindus drummondii

 

 

Adapted, non-native plants if natives are unavailable or won’t function:

Chinese Pistache

Pistacia chinensis

Winter Jasmine

Jasminum nudiflorum

Russian Sage

Perovskia atriplicifolia

 

 

 

 

3. Drought Tolerant Evergreen Plants

+ Reduced leaf surfaces conserve water; if leaves drop, the plant dies

+ Deep, spreading roots that take advantage of light and soaking rains

+ Softer plants with a year-round presence of green foliage

 

 

Sand Sage

Artemesia filifolia

Saltbush

Atriplex spp.

Mountain Mahogany

Cercocarpus ledifolius / breviflorus

Cypress

Cupressus spp.

Mormon Tea

Ephedra spp.

Turpentine Bush

Ericameria laricifolia

Juniper

Juniperus spp.

Creosote Bush

Larrea tridentata

Algerita

Mahonia haematocarpa

Piñon

Pinus edulis

Oak

Quercus spp.

Sugarbush

Rhus ovata

Rosemary

Rosmarinus spp.

Rosewood

Vauquelinia spp.

 

 

Adapted, non-native plants if natives are unavailable or won’t function:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Herbaceous / Seasonal Plants

+ Plants that die and reseed or return more than once to conserve water

+ A root system sized to take advantage of the rains it receives in it’s lifetime

+ Plants that show life for the season that favors them, then they go away

 

 

*Hyssop

Agastache spp.

Purple Threeawn

Aristida purpurea

Grama Grass

Bouteloua spp.

Buffalograss

Buchloe dactyloides

Winecups

Callirhoe involucrata

Desert Marigold

Baileya multiradiata

Chocolate Flower

Berlandiera lyrata

Blackfoot Daisy

Melampodium leucanthum

Indian Ricegrass

Oryzopsis hymenoides

Penstemon

Penstemon spp.

Paperflower

Psilostrophe tagetina

*Sage

Salvia spp.

Threadleaf Groundsel

Senecio longilobus

Globemallow

Sphaeralcea spp.

Threadgrass

Nasella (Stipa) spp.

Verbena

Glandularia (Verbena) spp.

California Fuchsia

Zauschneria latifolia

 

 

Adapted, non-native plants if natives are unavailable or won’t function:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Phreatophyte / Water Seeking Plants

   

+ Plants that love water, growing in moist arroyo and floodplain habitats

+ An root system extending into moist soil, tolerating occasional flooding

+ Plants whose forms often mimic the life-giving water they are near

 

 

Arizona Alder

Alnus oblongifolia

False Indigo

Amorpha fruticosa

Yerba Mansa

Anemopsis californica

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea

*Desert Olive

Forestiera neomexicana

Ash

Fraxinus spp.

Guara

Guara lindheimeri

Maxmillian Sunflower

Helianthus maxmillianii

Arizona Walnut

Juglans major

*Muhley Grass

Muhlenbergia spp.

Sycamore

Platanus spp.

Cottonwood

Populus spp.

*Screwbean Mesquite

Prosopis pubescens

Willow

Salix spp.

Silver Buffaloberry

Sheperdia argentea

*Sacaton

Sporobulus spp.

 

 

Adapted, non-native plants if natives are unavailable or won’t function:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Denotes plants that can occupy other places in the landscape, but are shown in their most common form.

 

 

 Other plant life form links:

Bernalillo to Socorro, Carrizozo | East Mountain Area and Estancia Basin

Truth or Consequences to El Paso, Alamogordo

 

 

 

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