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Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area

Crucifixion Thorn. Photo credits: BLM\Carrie SimmonsThe Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area is a wonderful place to view desert plants and wildflowers. Located southwest of the Yuha Desert on Highway 98, this fenced area has excellent stands of crucifixion thorn, ironwood, palo verde, ocotillo, mesquite, and creosote. Spring is usually the best time of year to visit the area. When nature provides sufficient winter rains, an abundance of wildflowers and blooms from a variety of desert plants can be seen.

Although deserts are not favorable environments for plants, they have adapted to the harsh climate. High temperatures, poor soil, and lack of water are just a few conditions that desert plants have adapted to. Adaptations of desert plants include: small or no leaves, waxy coatings, extensive root systems, and protective thorns or spines.

Also known as corona de Cristo, the crucifixion thorn (Castela emoryi) is the highlight of the area. Although fairly common in other southwest desert basins (Arizona and Mexico), crucifixion thorn is rare in California. This stand is one of a few in southwest Imperial County. The name crucifixion thorn comes from the resemblance of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his trial and crucifixion.

Crucifixion Thorn in bloom. Photo credits: BLM\Carrie Simmons.In spring, small pink flowers can be found on the thorny branches of the crucifixion thorn. Fruits also grow, and are usually scarlet in color. The fruits can stay on the plant for years and it is usually possible to identify each season's fruit clusters by the degree of weathering. As the fruit ages, it turns black and brown. The older fruit is often mistaken for parasitic growth or the result of disease.

The palo verde tree (Cericidium floridum) produces food through photosynthesis in its green bark and is not dependent upon leaves as most tree species. The small leaves, lasting no more than one month, greatly reduces the amount of water given off to the atmosphere.

The ever present creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) is also found in the Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area. The distinctive scent of the creosote can be released by cupping some leaves in your hands and breathing on them. In the spring, the creosote blooms with yellow flowers that have twisted petals and resemble tiny pinwheels.

The flat terrain of the area offers easy hiking. There are no facilities in the area, so visitors should bring their own water.


  • From Interstate 8, take the Ocotillo exit.
  • Proceed south to the stop sign at the intersection of Highway S2 and Highway 98.
  • Turn left (east) on Highway 98.
  • After approximately eight miles, turn right on Coyote 2.