First-time visitors to Arizona are familiar with the Sonoran Desert’s cacti, but they are often surprised by the numerous trees and bushes that are native to the area. The green-barked palo verde tree is a gorgeous example. The drought-deciduous tree, which is often found in floodplains and washes, sheds its tiny leaves during dry spells, leaving its “green wood” to take over photosynthesis. In the spring, the canopy blooms in an explosion of tiny yellow flowers.
The hardy mesquite tree easily adapts to limited water conditions, thanks in part to a deep taproot that can easily tunnel 25–50 feet underground. Generations of pioneers or artisans have used the hard, dense wood in furniture and as a smoky flavoring in barbecues. Also, there are several varieties of acacia, including the whitethorn acacia, which produces fuzzy, yellow flowers. Farther north, in Sedona  and Oak Creek Canyon , you’ll see dark-green ponderosa pines, as well as white and Douglas firs, leafy oaks, old sycamores, and distinctive species like the scaly alligator juniper.
There are smaller shrubs to enjoy, too. The waxy creosote bush, a prevalent sight throughout the desert, produces a unique, herbal scent after much-appreciated rainstorms. In the spring, the silver-leafed brittlebush blooms with delicate yellow flowers, while the woody jojoba produces a nut that cosmetic companies covet for its natural oil. The long, slender ocotillo, which is also called vine cactus, is easy to spot. Its cane-like stems grow from the desert floor, and bright-red, tube-shaped flowers appear on the tips.
Also, the ornamental agave is used as a decorative plant in many gardens. The thick leaves grow from a central core, often in a symmetrical pattern, and ending in a sharp point. The slow-growing agave produces a single flower only once, on a tall mast that grows from the center of the plant, and, like a romantic Western tragedy, dies after it blooms.