4 Great Shrubs for the High Desert Garden

I’ve put a few new plants into the Hellstrip this week.  I’d like to say I showed some restraint but that would be lying to all of you.  What can I say?  Plants of the Southwest had a sale and it would have been foolish to let such an opportunity pass me by.

But my purchases weren’t entirely frivolous.  I picked up 4 shrubs that fit well into our plan.  They are either edible or medicinal, require very little water and fill in a part of the wildlife habitat that we are developing.  Our plants are still pretty small compared to what they will be in a few years.

  1. Creosote Bush:  One of the oldest living organisms on the planet is an 11,000-year-old Creosote Bush in the Mojave desert.  It can live for up to 2 years without water but when it does rain, the resins in the leaves give off the fragrance of the desert during monsoon season.  The creosote bush is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal and its constituents are being studied as a treatment for cancer.  The roots secrete a substance that keeps its own seeds from germinating but it’s an important “nurse plant” for other native species.20626145_469784536724136_6038609878967296277_o
  2. Ephedra viridis:  A beautiful, nearly leafless shrub that is a native to the Southwest, it is traditionally used for bronchitis, as a stimulant tea, and for discomfort due to a bladder infection (BTW: this is not meant to be medical advice).  It loves sandy soil that’s not too rich and prefers to stay on the dry side.  The flowers and cones aren’t flashy but the birds like them.20729132_469784543390802_2621974716829113112_o
  3. Four Winged Salt Bush:  I was a bit ambivalent about adding this to the garden.  It gets messy looking, doesn’t have nice flowers or a lot of obvious advantages other than being extremely drought tolerant.  But it turns out that this rangy looking shrub is incredibly valuable.  The seeds, which are high in niacin, can be boiled up like oatmeal and the leaves can be used to season soups and meats.  The dried leaves are also used by the Zuni people as a soap.20643528_469784540057469_3326413689700785772_o
  4. Fernbush:  Also known as Desert Sweet and loaded down with creamy white flowers in the summer, this shrub is hugely popular with pollinators.  It’s also a great refuge for birds and other small animals.  The leaves can be made into a tea to relieve an upset stomach.20645499_469784510057472_7791826574679091434_o

These are fairly slow growing plants but when mature, will take up quite a lot of real estate, so I’ll have to be conscious of that as I consider what to plant next.  They will eventually give us a lot of privacy from the street traffic while also providing food, medicine, shelter and beauty for us and the other living things in the neighborhood.

Check out the links below for more information on these amazing plants:

The ethonoherbalist talks about creosote bush and Four Winged Salt Bush

New Mexico State University talks about ephedra

The Awkward Botanist talks about fernbush/

What useful plants have you considered putting into your difficult locations?  Let me know in the comments.