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Plants of Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area


These plants are seen in the Mojave Desert at Sloan Canyon National Conservation area near Henderson, Nevada. Specifically they are found in the north entrance to Petroglyph Canyon, Hidden Valley, and the Dutchman Pass area. Plants have definite preferences as to where they live. Some prefer open desert, rocky slopes, volcanic mountains, or washes. The wildflowers on the west of Sloan Canyon bloom late March through May. Some of these plants flower abundantly in the spring but when summer temperatures arrive, they may shed their leaves and become dormant. The short few weeks of colorful beauty is worth the wait.  

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris

Beavertail Cactus

The flattened ‘paddles’ or stem give the appearance of a beaver’s tail. Flowers are bright magenta and occur from March to June.  In spring, up to six flowers emerge from the top edge of a joint. The large red to purple pear shaped fruits are known as tunas and are a valuable food source to local animals. Native peoples of the Mojave desert collected the fruit by knocking the fruit off of the joints, and brushing off the sharp (and difficult to see) glochids with a handful of grass. The fruit and pads, once the glochids are removed is edible. Medicinal uses of beavertail include: reducing pain and healing cuts by applying a dressing made from the fleshy pads, or applying the interior pulp directly to open wounds.


Bristle Gilia (Langloisia setosissima)

The plant is small with stiff bristles. The flowers are light violet and are useful in attracting pollinating insects. Leaves are wedge shaped and the entire plant measures only about three inches across. This plant is found in the Dutchman Pass area of Sloan Canyon along the McCullough Hills trail. 

Bristle Gilia

Brittlebush (Encelia farinose)


This plant stays in bloom the longest of the wildflowers and is part of the sunflower family. It can bloom for up to to six months. This plant can reach three feet tall and has large silvery leaves. During the summer, the leaves dry and fall away leaving only stems. The stems were burned and used as incense by the early Spanish explorers because of its unique sweet smell.

Chia  (Salvia columbariae)

Chia is an annual plant that can grow to a height of one foot. The square stem has crinkled leaves and it has a strong minty odor. The seeds are high in protein and folklore has said that a person can survive for a long time on a solution of water and chia seeds. Antelope ground squirrels, birds, and mice use the seeds as food.


Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentate)


The Creosote Bush is often the dominant shrub of the gravel plains, sandy flats, and rocky slopes of the southwest desert.  It can be identified by its its small yellowish-green leaves and dime-sized five petal yellow flowers.  When pollinated, the flowers turn into small fuzzy white fruits. The pungent resins on the leaves along with the plant’s ability to drop its leaves in extreme heat make it a master at preventing water loss. The Creosote can continue to manufacture the sugars it needs for growth long after the dryness of the soil has forced other plants into dormancy.

The strong scent of a Creosote Bush hints at its chemical makeup and its medicinal value to the native peoples of the Southwest. Tribes used the bush as an antibiotic. A dry powder was made from leaves and used as an effective antibacterial agent for cuts, burns and abrasions. Decoctions and teas were used to treat ailments such as rheumatism, constipation, and cramps while inhaling the boiled vapors was thought to relieve respiratory ailments.

Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana)

The chicory is a weak, fragile-stemmed annual that is common when a good spring flower season occurs. This white flower, which is in the Sunflower family, is similar to that of the common dandelion. It is often found growing under protective cover of shrubs where shading tends to reduce moisture loss. It blooms from April to June in washes and on slopes and is found along the Hidden Valley and Cowboy trail.Desert Chicory

Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata)

Desert DandelionDepending on rainfall, it may produce numerous blossoms or just a few. It grows on rolling hills and has carpeted many areas with colorful creations in heavy rainfall years.The bright yellow flowers are a favorite of the desert tortoise. They are found at the Dutchman Pass area of Sloan Canyon on the McCullough Hills Trail.

Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum

The Desert Trumpet is a perennial plant of the family Polygonaceae. The plant possesses very small yellow or pink flowers and an inflated stem just below branching segments.
The swollen stem of the Desert Trumpet is due to high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the solid stem and seems to be related to gas regulation. It is speculated that the inflation may be an adaptation to living in a harsh desert environment.

It is known that some Native American tribes that once inhabited the surrounding areas of the Las Vegas Valley (most commonly Paiute) would remove the stalk of Desert Trumpet at the base, and then cut the inflated bulb in half, producing a makeshift pipe. A mixture of Indian Tobacco and Mistletoe would then be smoked. 

Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellate)

FiddleneckThe green flower stems have a dense covering of stiff prickly hairs. They bear many small yellow flowers which curl in a manner reminiscent of the head of a fiddle(violin). The foliage is poisonous to some forms of wildlife. The sharp hairs of the plant can also cause skin irritation in humans. They are found in the Dutchman Pass area of Sloan Canyon along the McCullough Hills trail.

Fremont Pincushion (Chaenactis Fremonii) 

The little annual is one of the most abundant flowers to be found in a good flower year. It is within the Sunflower family and is also called the morning bride flower. It prefers sandy soils in washes. It often grows around the bases of creosote bushes.Fremont Pincushion

Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)


Globemallow is an upright shrustems arising from the base. The plant blooms profusely in the spring and occasionally at other times of year after wet weather. The bright orange flowers are 1 ½ inches in diameter, goblet shaped and grow in clusters along the upper stems of the plant. Desert Globemallow are browsed by bighorn sheep and the flowers often attract bees. The leaves are pale greenish, three-lobed, crinkled, and covered with dense, fine gray hairs. Globemallow is a common component of desert scrub communities on flats and bajadas.

There is a belief that the hairs of the plant are irritating to the eyes has given the name ‘sore-eye poppy’ and “mal de ojo.”

Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

This plant is a common yucca that normally has a trunk and can reach up to eight feet tall. It has yellowish green spines with white fibers attached. The Native Americans used the ivory flowers as food and the white fibers in weaving to make rope, baskets, and sandals. The Mojave yucca is seen at the north entrance to Petroglyph Canyon, Hidden Valley and the Dutchman Pass area.Mojave Yucca

Notch Leaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata)

Notch Leaf PhaceliaThe sap of this plant is toxic and may cause skin rash very similar to poison oak. It may obtain a height of one to two feet and is often called scorpion weed. The leaves are notched along the margins. It grows on rolling hillsides and slopes.

Rosy Two-Tone Beardtongue (Penstemon bicolor)

Penstemon are some of the most attractive flowers. The rosy two-tone beardtongue has bright pink flowers. Penstemon bicolor is a species of penstemon known by the common name rosy two-tone beardtongue.  It is native to the desert mountains and valleys of southern   Nevada, eastern California, and western Arizona, where it grows along roadsides, volcanic soils, and other local habitat. About 92 percent of the Nevada occurrences of these plants are on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, with most of the remainder on privately managed lands.  It is under close watch by the federal agencies. It is vulnerable to activities which may affect their survival.Rose Two-Tone Beardtongue

Sundrop (Camissonia brevipes)

SundropThis is one of the most noticeable of several different kinds of primroses in the region. It may grow to a height of two feet and is in the evening primrose family. It is an abundant plant and a very important food for wildlife, especially bighorn sheep.

Teddybear Cholla Cactus (Opuntia bigelovii

The plant has a soft appearance due to its solid mass of very formidable spines that completely cover the stems. From a distance, the stems appear soft and fuzzy, giving it the name "teddy bear".

The teddy-bear cholla is an erect plant, stanging one to five feet (0.30 to 1.5 m) tall with a distinct trunk. The branches are at the top of the trunk and are nearly horizontal.  Lower branches typically fall off, and the trunk darkens with age.

Like its cousin the jumping cholla, the stems of this cactus detach easily and the ground around a mature plant is often littered with scattered cholla balls and small plants starting where these balls have rooted. When a piece of this cholla sticks to an unsuspecting person, a good method to remove the cactus is with a hair comb. The spines are barbed, and hold on tightly. Desert pack rats such as the Desert Woodrat gather these balls around their burrows, creating a defense against predators.

The teddy-bear cholla is extremely flammable.

Teddybear Cholla Cactus

White Bursage (Ambrosia dumosa)

 White BursageAmbrosia dumosa, the burro-weed or white bursage, is a common constituent of the creosote-bush scrub community throughout the Mojave desert of California, Nevada, and Utah and the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and northwestern Mexico.

Ambrosia dumosa has been determined allelopathic interactions with creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, which produces a chemical that inhibits the growth of white bursage. Other studies have suggested that roots produce a chemical that causes them to grow away from roots, preventing competition for water resources. In addition to burro-weed, A. dumosa is also commonly called bursage, burro weed, and burro bush.

 White Desert Primrose

This is one of the most fragrant of flowers. The white blossoms often turn pink before wilting and it is the evening-primrose family . They are found mainly in rocky soils along the north entrance to Petroglyph Canyon.White Desert Primrose 

White-Margined Beardtongue (Penstemon albomarginatus)

White-Margined Beardtongue Penstemon are some of the most attractive flowers. It occurs on sand deposits and is an uncommon species of penstemon known by the common name white-margined beardtongue. It is native to the deserts of southern Nevada, western Arizona, as well as California. Flowers bloom from March to May and the flowering does not always seem to be dependent on amount of rainfall. Established plants may bloom even in very dry years by utilizing water and food resources in the large taproot.