Desert Accents

Agaves, called Century Plants because it can take decades for them to flower, are prime examples of the sculptural qualities of these desert accents. When it rains, watch the wide Agave leaves funnel rainwater toward its roots. It’s an elegant water-harvesting device. 

What kind of desert accents should I choose?

The unexpected bonus of these rugged survivors is the brilliant show of flowers they produce.

From tree-sized to tiny, with flowers from screaming scarlet to hot magenta to soft pink and lemon yellow, there are cacti and succulents for every hot dry spot in the garden.

Shindagger, Agave lechuguilla

Shindagger, Agave lechuguilla

Exposure: Sun / Shade

Water: Rainwater

Height and Spread: 1’ x 5’ (when not in flower)

Blooming Season: April – August

Flower Color: Maroon

Region: All parts of the Greater Albuquerque region except the East Mountains

A succulent evergreen with spiny yellow-green rosettes of foliage, the Lechugilla is a dangerously striking specimen. Its rugged beauty is reminiscent of the landscapes where it grows naturally – the plains and mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert, including parts of western Texas and southern New Mexico. Select the Lechuguilla for its low water requirement, dramatic production of an outlandishly tall flower stalk, and value for bees and butterflies.

Locate the Lechuguilla with caution – plant only in an area where the sharp spines pose little risk to yourself or passersby. This plant is best appreciated from afar. An ideal location is in front of a south-facing wall, where its form can be appreciated. After producing the flower, the entire plant will die. However, since the Lechuguilla suckers, small offshoots will grow up in its place.

Paired with soft, complementary companions such as the Chocolate Flower, Lechuguilla provides an enduring architectural presence in the dry garden. It has a long history of use in soaps and textiles in the Chihuahuan Desert. Unique among agaves for its relatively small size, it is an excellent desert plant.

Calycinum Flameflower, Phemeranthus syn talinum

Calycinum Flameflower, Phemeranthus syn talinum

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low Water

Mature Size: 8”X 8”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Bright pink

This perennial relative of moss rose grows neat tufts of narrow succulent leaves topped with a continuous show of rose pink flowers every afternoon throughout the hot summer months. The flowers float above the leaves on wiry gold stems giving them a delicate appearance completely at odds with their resilient nature. They reseed easily in gravelly or sandy soil without becoming weedy. With Flameflower you can’t have too much of a good thing.

Soapweed Yucca, Yucca glauca

Soapweed Yucca, Yucca glauca

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 3’X 3’
Blooming Season: Early summer
Flower Color: White tinged pink

There are many species of Yucca  that are native in the Southwest. They vary in height, leaf width and color but they are all reliably heat- and drought-resistant. Soapweed is one of the toughest; it is one of the smaller, narrow-leafed species that given enough time develops short stems and several clustered heads. Its bellshaped, waxy white, fragrant flowers are borne on short candelabra-like stems, the buds sometimes tinged rose-pink.

Prickly Pear, Opuntia engelmannii engelmann

Prickly Pear, Opuntia engelmannii engelmann

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 5’X 8’
Blooming Season: Late spring
Flower Color: Yellow or orange

In high desert gardens, Engelmann Prickly Pear is one of the largest reliably cold-hardy cacti. Its dinner plate-sized pads stand perpendicular to the sun in summer, one of the ways it minimizes its water needs by avoiding the direct rays of the sun. Its flowers can be either yellow or a spectacular red-orange, and the same plant may have one color or the other in different years, but luscious red fruits always follow.

Texas Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora

Texas Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora

Full Sun, Part Shade
Low  Water

Mature Size: 36”X 36”
Blooming Season: May-June
Flower Color: Reddish-Orange

Hesperaloe is a very showy plant native to southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Not only does it thrive in hot, dry summers, it is also remarkably tolerant to sub-zero winter temperatures. Evergreen clumps of narrow, dark bluish-green leaves make a great accent of year-round texture. In early summer it sends up 3- to 4-foot stalks covered with reddish flowers. A great-looking, low- maintenance plant that attracts hummingbirds.

Clustering Snowball, Escobaria orcuttii

Clustering Snowball, Escobaria orcuttii

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 5”X 8”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Pink

Clustering Snowball has glistening white-spined stems that ring themselves with pink- or salmon-colored flowers. Native to southwestern New Mexico, it thrives in baking heat but has remarkable cold tolerance. Quick-draining soil is a must for this plant.

Green-Flowered Hedgehog, Echinocereus viridiflorus

Green-Flowered Hedgehog, Echinocereus viridiflorus

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 5”X 5”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Green

This small hedgehog forms small clusters of two or three stems. Bright red and white spines contrast nicely with the bright green flowers that ring the stem in late spring. Flowers are fragrant, often with a hint of citrus. These plants thrive throughout central New Mexico.

Claret Cup Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Claret Cup Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 6”X 18”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Red

Claret Cup Hedgehog is a substantial plant that forms large clusters of thick- spined stems. The glowing red-orange cupped flowers come in early summer, making Claret Cup the star of the garden when it blooms. It thrives in hot, sunny locations in well-drained, rocky soil.

Ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens

Ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 96”X 60”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Red

Ocotillo’s slender, whip-like green stems provide an excellent accent in a xeric landscape. After spring or summer rains, the thorny stems sprout fleshy green leaves and scarlet flowers. Ocotillo is a slow grower, usually growing a foot or less each year. It requires well-drained soils and will thrive in hot, sunny micro- climates.

Oklahoma Hedgehog, Echinocereus reichenbachii

Oklahoma Hedgehog, Echinocereus reichenbachii

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 4”X 6”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Pink

Native to a limited area in the mountains of southwestern Oklahoma, this is one of the most beautiful of the Echinocereus species. The albispinus variety, shown here, features long, pure white spines  and large, soft pink flowers. At maturity, it forms tight clusters of numerous stems.

Sotol, Dasylirion wheeleri

Sotol, Dasylirion wheeleri

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 60”X 48”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: White

Sotol is a very handsome, rather slow-growing succulent with large rosettes of long, flexible half- inch-wide blue-green leaves edged with white teeth. With age, the plant develops a woody trunk (up to 4 feet high) and eventually blooms producing narrow 10-foot-tall white-flowered spikes. An invaluable  xeric ornamental for use all across the Southwest.

Spiny Hedgehog, Echinocereus coccineus

Spiny Hedgehog, Echinocereus coccineus

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 5”X 15”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Red

Spiny Hedgehog is often found nestled in rocky ledges under the shade of pines throughout its habitat in New Mexico and southern Colorado. The spines are needle-sharp and caution should be used in planting this showy hedgehog out of harm’s way. Being a mountain dweller, Spiny Hedgehog doesn’t mind being under snow for much of the winter.

Clustering Pin Cushions, Coryphantha vivipara

Clustering Pin Cushions, Coryphantha vivipara

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 4”X 6”
Blooming Season: Late Spring
Flower Color: Pink

Coryphantha is a very adaptable species, making it a fine choice if you’ve never grown winter-hardy cacti before. Its dense gray-white spines obscure the stem and show off the large rose-pink flowers, which cover the plant in late spring. Clustering Pin Cushions is equally at home in the rock garden or in a xeric landscape planted with Penstemons, Zinnia grandiflora (Prairie Zinnia) or Calylophus (Sundrops).

Parry’s Century Plant, Agave parryi

Parry’s Century Plant, Agave parryi

Full Sun
Rainwater Only

Mature Size: 30”X 30”
Blooming Season: Summer
Flower Color: Yellow

An impressive species from  western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, Parry’s Century Plant is one of the most cold hardy of the Agave family. Forming large, heavily toothed rosettes, the sword-like leaves are blue-green. When the plant decides to bloom (after many years of slow growth), it sends up a huge 12- to15-foot flowering spike that will attract hummingbirds from miles around. Aga- ves need a long period of hot summer weather to regrow their fleshy roots after transplanting.

Dig into our newsletter

Our monthly newsletter covers topics on desert friendly landscape practices, maintenance, irrigation principles, and seasonal tips.

Most Requested Information

Contact Information

Water Conservation Program
P.O. Box 568
Albuquerque, NM 87103-0568

www.abcwua.org

505-842-WATR  Option 4

Brought to you by:

P.O. Box 568
Albuquerque, NM 87103-0568
505-842-WATR