The Living Desert
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Oasis Garden

A desert oasis is like a tropical island in a sea of sand. An oasis has a permanent water supply, and so supports plants and animals that are not adapted for dry, hot desert living. Palms and cottonwoods are typical oasis natives. Tamarisks, imported invaders, also flourish here. Birds, bats, rodents, insects, mule deer, coyotes, bighorn sheep and people all depend on oases for water, shelter and food.

This garden, dominated by desert fan palms, is modeled on oases found along the northern edge of the Coachella Valley. Here, underground water forced to the surface by the action of the San Andreas Fault supports many plants and animals, as well as the only palm species native to California.

The desert fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is a reminder of the past. This palm species has survived in the southwest for thousands of years. These plants are called “Relics”. They are left over from a time when our climate was moister; then, they could be found growing across southwestern North America as far north as Oregon. Climate and geologic changes have reduced their numbers until they can grow only in oases where water is available.

The palm is in the plant group known as monocotyledons. They are related to the lily, orchid and grass. The palm is not a tree in the sense that it is not woody. Palms do not add a new ring of cambium each year as an oak tree does. Rather their trunk is made up of bundles of fibers which divide as the plant grows. A huge ball of slender roots serves to anchor the plant as well as gather moisture. The roots will seldom reach more than ten feet long.

The palm sends out long, hanging stalks of cream-white flowers in late spring and bears small, blue edible fruit.

Link to Oasis/Palm article – Jennifer article in Native Plants

Botanical Name Common Name Family
Baccharis salicifolia Mule Fat Asteraceae
Distichlis spicata Salt Grass Poaceae
Isocoma acradenia var. eremophila Alkali Goldenbush Asteraceae
Juncus acutus ssp. leopoldii Southwestern Spiny Rush Juncaceae
Muhlenbergia rigens Deer Grass Poaceae
Pluchea sericea Arrowweed Asteraceae
Populus fremontii ssp. fremontii Fremont Cottonwood Salicaceae
Salix gooddingii Goodding’s Willow, Goodding’s Black Salicaceae
Vachellia farnesiana (syn. Acacia farnesiana) Sweet Acacia Fabaceae
Washingtonia filifera Desert Fan Palm, California Fan Palm Arecaceae
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