For all of the unusual flora and fauna of Joshua Tree National Park, it can easily be said this is the prettiest park in California. Certainly, this is the most desolate of just about any national park. But with that desolation comes incredible beauty in the way of the cacti and desert flowers, many of which can only be found here.

The arid desert conditions have developed so many stunning variations of plant life over millennia. It’s hard to believe that such diversity could come from such harsh conditions.

There are about 750 species of plants, cacti, trees and shrubs in Joshua Tree National Park.  The shrubs alone found in the park account for the most diverse vegetation types on the continent.

For serious plant enthusiasts, don’t miss the park’s herbarium which holds a wealth of information about all the variety of plant life and what may be at it’s most beautiful during your stay.

The visitor’s guide has a great Junior Ranger Workbook that has photos of some of the plant species in the park.  Be sure and grab one for the kids or get a guide book to some of the many different plants in the park and see how many you can find on your trip.  Read our article on things to do with the kids in Joshua Tree for more ideas.

Rare Plants In Joshua Tree National Park

A total of 44 species of rare plants can be found here and many horticulturists come here from around the world to study the various species. 

One of the rarest of the plants found in Joshua Tree includes the Desert Fan, the only palm tree native to California. It grows in some of the park’s oases and can be found throughout the year. 

Another rare plant is the Coyote Melon, which resembles any melon or squash plant with flowering vines. The fruit is dark green or bright yellow.  Don’t try it though, it tastes quite bitter.

One of the most dangerous plants in the park is the Sacred Datura, a beautiful white flower with a bright purple inside the petal.  The flower has a sweet scent but was once used as a powerful hallucinogen.

Flowering Plants

Another important contributor to the richness of the flora at Joshua Tree is the many flowering plants that bloom after the summer rains in late summer and early fall.

Some of the more spectacular plant varieties to look for are the Mohave Yucca, desert lavender, beavertail cactus, pancake prickly pear, and desert bluebell.


Although many people think that cacti are just a prickly boring green plant, there is so much color, size and types of cacti in Joshua Tree National Park you can easily see how diverse they actually are. 

On your trip be sure to take a hike through the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail that leads you through 10 acres of many different species of cacti, desert flowers, shrubs and trees. You’ll see the Teddy Bear Cholla, The beautiful flowering Mohave Mound Cactus, several varieties of prickly pear cactus and many other species of these adaptive desert wonders.

The Joshua Tree

And of course, there is the famous Joshua Tree which can be found throughout the park. This tree can be found throughout a large part of the southwest, from southern California, northern Mexico and western Arizona. The name comes from a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the 19th century. The tree’s unusual shape reminded them of the biblical tale of when Joshua reaches his hand up to the sky in prayer.

Flora And Fauna Trails

There are several different hiking trails that are perfect for specifically viewing the flora and fauna and wildlife of Joshua Tree. Be sure and read our trails overview to learn which trials offer the best views of the plants and wildlife found in Joshua Tree.