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Tall Shrubs: Landscaping for Desert Wildlife

Tall shrubs (6 feet or taller) provide leaves, berries, flowers and seeds as food for wildlife. They can also serve as hiding places from predators and as nest sites.

White Thorn (Acacia constricta) Medium green, feathery foliage. Flowers in fragrant yellow balls, May to August. Normally a tall shrub, but can be trained as a tree up to 18 feet tall. Sheds leaves in winter, thorny. Many birds and mammals eat seeds in summer and fall; insects on flowers attract birds; rabbits and deer eat foliage.

Catclaw (Acacia greggii)
Catclaw (Acacia greggii)

Catclaw (Acacia greggii) Gray-green leaves, dark brown bark. Flowers in abundant, fuzzy, sweet-smelling, light yellow balls in late spring. Typically 6 to 8 feet tall, but can be trained as a small tree up to 15 feet tall. Sheds leaves in winter, curved thorns, good barrier plant. Very tough and drought-resistant. Seeds eaten by quail, doves, rodents and javelina in summer and fall. Provides escape cover for wildlife and good nest sites — a favorite of verdins.

Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida) Medium green leaves, intricately branched; juicy orange berries in summer and early fall, drying on bush in fall and winter. Thorny evergreen shrub is 3 to 10 feet tall. Excellent for wildlife: Many birds and small mammals feed on berries; deer and jackrabbits eat leaves; and quail and other ground-dwelling animals and shrub-nesting birds find shelter in the dense growth of this shrub. A magnet for migrating warblers.

Big Saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis) Also known as Quailbush. Rounded, intricately-branched shrub with gray-green to silver leaves and large, decorative clusters of dry fruit on female plants. Fast grower, up to 12 feet tall with ample irrigation. Responds well to trimming and becomes dense. Evergreen, no thorns. Provides shelter and insects for many birds and mammals, and an abundant fall seed source for doves, quail, finches, sparrows and towhees.

Barberry (Berberis haematocarpa or B. fremontii) Also known as algerita. Leaves green or grayish-green in summer, turning reddish-purple in winter. Yellow flowers, red or blue-black berries. Evergreen, 3 to 10 feet tall, sharp points on leaves. Juicy berries attract birds from April to August. Deer browse on leaves and fruit.

Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi) Upright, grayish shrub with fragrant violet-blue flowers most of the year. Up to 10 feet tall. Evergreen, no thorns. Good nesting shrub. Verdins and gnatcatchers use wooly outer portion of flower to line their nests.

Barberry, Algerita (Berberis haematocarpa, B. fremontii)
Barberry (Berberis haematocarpa,
B. fremontii

Gray Thorn (Zizyphus obtusifolia) Light green leaves, thorny gray-green twigs. Up to 15 feet high. Purple fruit attracts birds any time from November through July depending on rainfall patterns.

Wolfberry (Lycium brevipes) Medium green, densely branched shrub with white, lavender or greenish tubular flowers in winter and spring, sometimes fall. Up to 9 feet tall. Sheds leaves in summer, thorny. Good wildlife shelter. Flowers attract hummingbirds, and abundant red berries are eaten by many species of birds in spring, summer and winter.

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) Thorny, whip-like branches produce a unique silhouette. Bright red flower spikes. 6 to 18 feet tall, slow-growing. Sheds leaves in drought conditions; leafs out a few days after receiving water; may grow and drop leaves several times in one year. Flowers attract hummingbirds April through June.

Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa) Erect, bright-green shrub with lush, willow-like appearance except under harsh conditions. Form ‘Purpurea’ has purple leaves. Clusters of winged seeds are ornamental. Good screen or hedge,
tolerates partial shade.

Up to 10 feet tall. Evergreen, no thorns, moderately fast grower. Doves, quail and desert rodents eat seeds in summer and fall.


Landscaping Information
- Landscaping Home
- The Wildlife-friendly Garden
- Trees
- Tall Shrubs
- Small Shrubs
- Cacti and Succulents
- Flowers and Grasses
- Plant List for Planning
- Reading List
Related Information
- Living with Urban Wildlife
External Resources [More]
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Arizona Native Plant Society’s Invasive non-native landscape plants information
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association information about conserving water while landscaping
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
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