Native Mojave Desert Plants Profile Project: Psorothamnus fremontii

If you head out into the desert around Las Vegas, there’s a good chance you’ll come across a pretty nondescript plant commonly known as Fremont’s dalea. It has small silver leaves on a spindly form that even a gardener with a generous spirit might describe as underwhelming. I certainly wouldn’t fault you for walking right past it and never giving it a second glance most of the year.

But in spring.

In spring you’d have to  be walking through the desert with blinders on to miss this plant. The first time I saw one in bloom I remember coming around the corner on a trail and there it was, an explosion of indigo flowers set against those silvery leaves that stopped me dead in my tracks. I think I may have actually said the words, “Well, hello there, sexy” but there was nobody else around so I’ll deny it to my death. It’s definitely what I was thinking though.

The botanical name for Fremont’s dalea is Psorothamnus fremontii, which I know looks like a tough one to pronounce but it’s really not. If you want to say it correctly, you have to pretend the ‘P’ isn’t there, just like when you’re floating down the Lazy River at Wet n’Wild and you genuinely want to relax. So it comes out as soro-tham-nus free-mont-ee-i.

This plant gets to be about 4′ high x 5′-6′ wide and it’s really spectacular in bloom, in case I haven’t mentioned that bit. Also, it’s mostly native to the Sonoran and Great Basin deserts but we’re close enough to one of the Mojave Desert’s sky islands to have Fremont’s dalea here too. If you don’t know about sky islands, our very own Spring  Mountains provide a lovely example of this unique type of ecosystem within an ecosystem. They’re exceptionally close too so they’re easy to explore and well worth the effort if you’re into that sort of thing.

The leaves of P. fremontii are kind of felty and soft to the touch but be aware that it does have thorns. I think it would make a striking background plant given enough room to sprawl. That being said, it should also have something that looks great in the summer months nearby because this beauty looks straight up heinous in the summer months.

Check it out. The plant below is the same exact plant you just saw in flower.

Yeah, no, I know. I see it too. That’s one ugly plant. I don’t think anyone can deny its hideousness but I do think we should cut it a break. It just does what a lot of desert natives do and shuts down during the summer heat instead of during the milder winter months. They’re smarter than us that way. I’m seriously considering adopting the habit next summer myself.

As you can imagine based on the picture above, P. fremontii isn’t exactly in high demand so it can be hard to find through growers. The good new is that it’s easily propagated through seeds so if you find them for sell, definitely grab a packet.  As tempting as it might be to take them from the wild it really isn’t a great idea, especially when they’re in such limited supply in our area.  If you know anybody that has one in their garden however, it seems like it’d be worth asking for a few seeds. Then, if they say yes, you could grow some and start a nursery where you sell Psorothamnus fremontii and a whole bunch of other native plants and then you could hire me to dink around with them all day long. Just putting it out there on the off-chance one of your buddies has some growing in their yard.  Can’t fault a Martian for trying.

Have a great October, guys!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

2 Comments

  • Our irrigation system failed before moving here and we lost most of our trees and shrubs. We need new trees to plant near a pool so would like trees with minimal to no shedding. Our 2 crape myrtles luckily survived. We received a few recommendations such as an ash tree and a southern live oak. I’m leery of the ash tree because the emerald ash borer destroyed our ash trees back east and our pin oak trees there suffered from chlorosis. We would like some brightly flowering bushes and shrubs but could only think of lantana. Are there other flowering plants you could recommend in addition to lantana? We have lots of sun. The only plants that survived are oleanders and Texas sage. Thank you.

    • Hi Bobbie,
      Sorry to hear about that irrigation failure. I’d steer clear of both ash and oaks near a pool. Both have pretty large root systems that could damage its infrastructure. Maybe consider a mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) or a shiny Xylosma (Xylosma congestum) instead. Be aware that all trees produce some litter, it’s just that some do it more than others. When it comes to flowering shrubs, I’m a fan of all the plants you listed but I see the same varieties used over and over again. You could work in some of the larger Lantana (Dallas Red or Radiation) and dwarf Oleander with the Lynn’s Legacy Texas sage and have a very durable and colorful garden that doesn’t look like everybody else’s yard. Of course, there are a lot of other flowering plants that do great in our extreme heat. Fairydusters, desert birds-of-paradise and Tecoma hybrids all come to mind and they’re readily available at the local nurseries. Groundcovers like Sierra Gold Dalea and Angelita daisies take the heat and look pretty great year-round. Natives like sacred Datura, golden Dyssodia and globe mallow are gorgeous flowering shrubs that require no water at all. IF you’re open to cacti and succulents, the flowers are even more spectacular and the care requirements even lower. I hope this helps 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *