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Desert Flowers and Fruits

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  • Conspicuous: easy to see. Bright red tomatoes are conspicuous when hanging on green vines.
  • Distinctive: something different that is used to tell living and non-living things apart.
  • Fertilize: when a sperm and an egg join.
  • Parasite: an organism that lives on or inside another organism (the host) and uses it to survive, causing damage or harm to the host.
  • Pollinate: moving pollen from the male to the female component of a flower as part of the fertilization process in plants. Birds and insects often move pollen from flower to flower when gathering nectar and they are therefore called pollinators... more

Desert plants offer both beautiful flowers and also an equally amazing selection of fruits. A walk through the desert could give you a chance to see many of these eye-catching flowers and fruits.

Wolfberry flower   Wolfberry


Wolfberry:  Shrubs in this group produce hundreds to thousands of small tubular flowers (left), which then develop into larger, more conspicuous, edible fruits (right) that attract a variety of hungry birds.

 

Catclaw acacia flower   Catclaw acacia fruit


Catclaw acacia:
 This prickly big shrub flowers (left) heavily in the spring. Some of its flowers become long green fruits (right) after the flowers have been pollinated by insects.  You can see the seeds growing within the pod in this photograph.

 

Ocotillo flower   Ocotillo fruit


Ocotillo:
  These tall plants have many thin limbs that grow upward.  At some times of the year, a cluster of bright red tubular flowers (left) grows from the tips of the limbs.  Hummingbirds come to drink the nectar from the flowers and when they do, they may pollinate the flowers, which then become greenish football-shaped fruits (right).

 

Sacred datura flower   Sacred datura fruit


Sacred datura:  This small poisonous shrub has dramatic white flowers (left) that, when pollinated, become equally dramatic spiky fruits (right).

 

Mistletoe flower   Mistletoe fruit


Mistletoe:
Here is a parasitic plant that inserts its roots into the limbs of mesquites, paloverdes and ironwood trees in the desert.  It then lives off the sugars produced by the plant it is parasitizing.  At intervals, it produces tiny inconspicuous flowers (left) that grow into larger, bright red, round fruits (right).  A desert bird called the phainopepla likes to eat these fruits. After digesting the edible outer part of the fruit, the bird then passes the seeds out of its gut. If one of these sticky seeds falls onto a tree limb, it can grow a tiny rootlet that slips under the bark, which can lead to a parasitic mistletoe getting started there.

 

Paloverde flower   Paloverde fruit


Foothills paloverde:  This common desert tree can, in a good year, cover itself in small white and yellow flowers (left).  Bees visit the flowers for nectar. During their visits, they may transfer pollen from one tree to another, which triggers the development of the fruits of this plant (right).  Each long dangling fruit pod contains one to five plump seeds.

 

Jajoba flower   Jajoba fruit


Jojoba:
  Another common desert shrub but one with a distinctive approach to reproducing. This is a plant that produces male (pollen-producing) flowers and female (fruit-producing) flowers instead of flowers that combine the two sexes.  Pollen from the little male flowers (on the left) fertilize female flowers that then grow into shiny green fruits (on the right) which contain lots of oil.

 

Crucifixion thorn flower   Crucifixion thorn fruit


Crucifixion thorn:  This plant has many very large and intimidating thorns but its flowers are tiny (left).  If the flowers are pollinated by wasps and flies, they give rise to clusters of reddish fruits (right) that are much more noticeable than the little flowers.

 


Images copyrighted and courtesy of John Alcock

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Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.