Flowering Plants of the Sonoran Desert

Mark A. Dimmitt

This section focuses on the most common, conspicuous, or interesting plants of the Sonoran Desert. Many are treated as groups based on their taxonomy (for example legume trees) or ecology (such as annual wildflowers).

About Plant Names

Most plants can be identified positively only by their scientific (Latin) names. We will also list regional English and Spanish vernacular (common) names when we know them. Scientific names are officially recognized worldwide and are validated by the regular reports of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, which also lists retained synonyms. On the other hand, there is really no such thing as a common name for the vast majority of the planet’s 300,000 species of flowering plants. There are committees that establish common English names for birds and several other animal groups, but no organization has assumed the responsibility for standardizing common plant names worldwide (the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “officialized” some for the United States).

Moreover, a minority of plants have names that are common in the sense of being widely recognized, such as apple, rose, or carnation. The names of less well-known plants, and even widely-known plants, often vary geographically, and there may be numerous “common” names that are unknown outside of the given region. For example, Antigonon leptopus has more than a dozen vernacular names in the Southwest, including, queen’s wreath, coral vine*, confederate vine, San Miguel, coronillo, Mexican creeper, love vine*, chain of love, mountain rose*, queen’s jewels, and bellissima. The starred (*) names are shared by other, unrelated plants. Some vernacular names, such as spider lily, are given to at least 20 unrelated flowers. The majority of plants have no vernacular name at all because they are not well-known species. For this reason we use the term “vernacular name” in this book. (Because they are not official, plant vernacular names should not be capitalized except for proper names, for example, Parry penstemon.)

We use Thorne’s system for family names, all of which end in “-aceae” and are named for the original named Latin genus in the family.