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14 of the Most Common Wildflowers in Arizona

Arizona’s average yearly precipitation amount is around 13 inches, one of the lowest in the U.S. In fact, much of Arizona is classified as a desert, with the Sonoran Desert comprising the majority of land in central and southwest Arizona.

The Mojave Desert is located in the upper west of the Grand Canyon State and the Chihuahuan Desert lies in the state’s southeast region. However, all this dryness and heat can’t stop the vibrant wildflowers in Arizona from bursting open with colorful blooms in the spring and summer.

14 Wildflowers in Arizona

State Wildflower of Arizona

The iconic Saguaro Cactus Blossom holds the title as Arizona’s state flower. Blooming on the tips of the saguaro cactus during May and June, these large, waxy, white flowers open during cooler desert nights and close again by next midday.

Aside from the Saguaro Blossom, Arizona’s desert and upland areas bring forth an impressive array of wildflowers. The state’s wildflower scene is diverse, boasting of other captivating species like the Arizona Poppy, Desert Mariposa Lily, and the vibrant Bird of Paradise.

1. Desert Marigold

Desert marigold flowers
Desert marigold flowers | image by Katja Schulz via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Baileya multiradiata

Depending on the temperature and precipitation, the desert marigold has been seen blooming in the Sonoran Desert as early as the middle of February. Desert marigold leaves can be either lobed or smooth-edged. Flowers resemble small sunflowers in petal shape and color.

The stems bearing desert marigold flowers can reach up to 20 inches in height. By July, the desert marigold begins to lose its flowers, but a heavy rain shower in mid-summer may generate a second bloom in the fall.

2. Desert Globemallow

Desert globemallow flowers
Desert globemallow flowers | image by Ron Frazier via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Sphaeralcea ambigua

One of the more drought-resistant wildflowers in Arizona is the desert globemallow, a hardy wildflower that blooms continually from spring to early fall. Five apricot-colored petals form a bowl shape around the pollen-heavy center of the flower.

After the petals fade, green cups develop that contain tiny seeds for dispersal by the wind. Look for the desert globeflower growing as a round, bush-like plant that can achieve a height of up to 40 inches.

3. Bladderpod

Bladderpod with a bee
Bladderpod with a bee | image by Laura Camp via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Peritoma arborea

Found only in northern Arizona, bladderpod is not only a favorite of wildflower lovers but also of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Presenting clusters of vivid, yellowish-orange flowers, bladderpod is easily recognizable by its seed pods that hang from the ends of branches after the flowers have died.

The seed pods resemble the shape of a human bladder–hence the name bladderpod. The sugary sap contained in the bladderpod’s leaves, pods, and flowers is a magnet for pollinating insects and insects looking for a bite to eat.

4. Sacred Datura

Sacred datura flowers
Sacred datura flowers | image by Zion National Park via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Datura wrightii

Highly poisonous to animals and humans if any part of the plant is consumed, the sacred datura bears large, cream-colored flowers that can reach five to six inches in diameter. Also called deadly nightshade, the sacred datura’s flowers smell sweet but crushing its dark green, sticky leaves release a not-so-sweet, somewhat foul odor.

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Flowers are replaced by small, green, round fruit later in the summer. These fruits pop open and release seeds when mature. Sacred datura has adapted to higher elevation conditions and can be found in southern and northern Arizona.

5. Brittlebush

Brittlebush flowers
Brittlebush flowers | image by Matt Mets via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Encelia farinosa

The brittlebush is a desert shrub with small, gold-colored flowers and long, silvery, fragrant leaves. During extremely dry conditions, the brittlebush sheds its flowers and leaves. Water conserved in the shrub’s thick stems provides the brittlebush with enough moisture to survive extended droughts.

Indigenous people once depended on the brittlebush for a resin-like glue to make arrows and other items. Cowboys of long ago are said to have fashioned the stem of the brittlebush into a makeshift toothbrush.

6. Chuparosa

Chuparosa flowers
Chuparosa flowers | image by Justin Meissen via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Justicia californica

The Chuparosa flourishes in southern Arizona, depending heavily on hummingbirds to spread their seeds in late summer. Similar to other tubular wildflowers in Arizona, the chuparosa is designed to accommodate nectar-loving hummingbirds.

With its long, narrow, brilliantly red flowers harboring carpals rich in sweet sap, chuparosa is such a popular wildflower among hummingbirds that certain species of hummingbirds migrate from Mexico to Arizona to Alaska just to follow the blooming growth of the chuparosa.

7. Creosote Bush

Creosote bush flowers
Creosote bush flowers | image by Chic Bee via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Larrea tridentata

A common but fascinating flowering bush seen in southern Arizona, creosote bushes can live up to 100 years in the right conditions. The creosote bush is also unusual due to how it multiplies. Instead of seed dispersal via a pod or fruit, the creosote bush splits open when it is dying and produces a new “crown” that goes on to grow and bloom.

In other words, the creosote bush simply clones itself at the end of its life. Its white and yellow flowers emit a pleasant, woodsy fragrance. Creosote bushes can reach a height of 10 feet or more when fully mature.

8. Stansbury’s Cliffrose

Stansbury’s cliffrose flowers
Stansbury’s cliffrose flowers | image by gailhampshire via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Purshia stansburiana

A many-branched, three to 11-foot small tree or shrub, Stansbury’s Cliffrose blooms with yellowish to creamy yellow flowers between April and June. Flowers tip each branch of a Stansbury’s Cliffrose shrub.

Starting in July, the flowers develop into a small, hairy fruit containing about five to 10 seeds. Since this wildflower has adapted to dry, hot southern and western Arizona, it conserves water with dark, green leathery leaves covered with tiny hairs that help retain moisture.

9. Desert Tobacco

Desert tobacco flowers
Desert tobacco flowers | image by Lake Mead NRA Public Affairs via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Nicotiana obtusifolia

Look for the desert tobacco’s pale yellow to pale green, trumpet-shaped flowers blooming on rocky slopes, or along shallow channels called “desert washes” that follow the shape of the land and let various amounts of water flow through the wash. Desert tobacco is a bush-like flowering plant that reaches two to three feet high and bears deep green, oblong leaves.

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The leaves and stems of the desert tobacco are slightly sticky and covered with tiny hairs. The leaves and stems are also poisonous if consumed and can make humans and livestock extremely ill.

10. Whitethorn Acacia

Whitethorn acacia flowers
Whitethorn acacia flowers | image by Ken Bosma via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Faidherbia albida

Towering over other wildflowers in Arizona is the whitethorn acacia, found mostly in the Sonoran Desert. Blooming once in spring and again in late summer if there is enough rain, the whitethorn acacia has attractive, bright yellow flowers that don’t attract insects or hummingbirds because they do not contain nectar. Classified as a partially evergreen shrub, the whitethorn acacia can grow up to 16 or 17 feet high, developing dense shrubbery as it matures.

And, yes, the whitethorn acacia does bear sharp, white thorns on younger branches near the base of the shrub. After the flowers wither and die, brownish-red bean pods appear that are about three to five inches long.

11. Spreading Fleabane

Spreading fleabane flowers
Spreading fleabane flowers | image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Erigeron divergens

The flowers of the spreading fleabane look like small delicate daisies with petals that can be white, purple, or yellow. Reaching about 17 inches tall and between one and two feet in width, the spreading fleabane’s stems are hairy, and its leaves are greenish-gray and hairy.

The fruit of the spreading fleabane contains one seed that does not disperse the seed by splitting open. Wildflower enthusiasts can catch the spreading fleabane flowering between February and April, and between August and October, depending on precipitation amounts.

12. Crucifixion Thorn

Scientific Name: Koeberlinia spinosa

A flowering shrub-type tree native to the Sonoran Desert and other higher elevation deserts throughout the southwestern U.S., the crucifixion thorn can reach up to 15 feet in height. Prominent, sharp thorns tip the ends of its greenish-gray branches alongside yellow flowers comprised of thin, curling petals.

The crucifixion thorn is unusual because of the way it completes photosynthesis. Since its leaves are nothing more than scales clinging to the branches, this wildflower’s twigs are responsible for the process of photosynthesis necessary for plant growth.

13. Santa Rita Hedgehog Cactus

Santa rita hedgehog cactus flowers
Santa rita hedgehog cactus flowers | image by Melissa McMasters via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Echinocereus santaritensis

Southern Arizona is the only area of the state where you can find the Santa Rita hedgehog cactus, one of the state’s rarest cacti native only to the Santa Rita Mountains range in AZ. Brilliantly reddish-orange flowers bloom on this towering cactus, which often reaches 15 feet in height. The Santa Rita cactus is colloquially called the “elephant’s trunk” cactus because its wrinkled, thick exterior resembles the skin of an elephant.

14. Saguaro Cactus Blossom

saguaro blossom
saguaro cactus blossom | Image by kslackner from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Carnegiea gigantea
Zone: 9 – 11
Where to see: Widespread across the Sonoran Desert
Season: Late spring to early summer

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Regarded as the jewel of the Sonoran Desert, the Saguaro Cactus Blossom is truly a sight to behold. These large, fragrant, white flowers bloom atop the towering saguaro cactus. Look for them blooming under the cover of night and closing again by the heat of the following afternoon.

saguaro cactus tall
saguaro cactus with bloom | Image by Frauke Feind from Pixabay

This striking blossom is more than just a visual delight. As it opens in the evening, it offers a feast for nocturnal creatures like bats and moths. By day, a variety of birds take their turn. It’s not just Arizona’s state flower, it’s a key player in a fascinating desert ecosystem.

Where to Find Wildflowers in Arizona

As springtime gains momentum in Arizona, visit Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests or Coconino National Forest to view a beautiful array of wildflowers bursting with gorgeous blooms from April until early July. Located near Tucson is Saguaro National Park, where you might come across the Santa Rita prickly pear or the brittlebush.

A few miles south of Phoenix lies the San Tan Mountain Regional Park, offering miles of hiking trails and, of course, a stunning collection of wildflowers in Arizona.

State Parks and Natural Reserves

Picacho Peak State Park is one of the best places in Arizona to enjoy wildflowers. Each spring, especially if winter rains have been plentiful, the park’s hillsides burst with Mexican gold poppies, lupines, and a variety of other colorful flowers.

The Coronado National Forest is another superb wildflower spotting location. This sprawling landscape houses many different ecosystems, each with its unique assortment of wildflowers.

Botanical Gardens

For a more curated view of Arizona’s wildflowers, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is a must-visit. This 140-acre garden is home to thousands of species of cacti, trees and flowers from all around the world. Here’s a quick list of some wildflowers you can spot here:

Whether hiking through state parks or enjoying the manicured paths of botanical gardens, these locations provide excellent opportunities to experience the beauty and diversity of Arizona’s wildflowers.