The Living Desert
Home  >  Plants

Our Gardens

The gardens at The Living Desert showcase the diversity of forms adopted by plants found growing in the harsh conditions typical of the world’s deserts.

Over 1,400 different species of plants are represented in the many gardens that constitute The Living Desert’s plant collection.

At this time the majority of the plant collection represents the arid regions of North America and Africa.

Future projects will involve the deserts of Australia and South America.

Trial evaluations to determine horticultural merit of plants found in desert regions but not typically found in the nursery trade are ongoing.

The plant collection constitutes an ex situ source of germplasm available for propagation and/or research.

The individual gardens generally fall into one of four categories; Geographic, Taxonomic, Interpretative and Display.


The Living Desert was one of the first public gardens to represent the plants from a given geographical region through “immersion” gardening. These gardens are created with the purpose of giving one the sense of having been dropped into the middle of the area being represented. Among the Geographic gardens are the Mohave, Upper Colorado (the local region of the Colorado Desert of southeastern California at 1,500 to 3,000 feet elevation), Yuman (southwestern Arizona), Vizcaino (central Baja California, Mexico), Foothills of Sonora and Chihuahuan (Big Bend area of western Texas). Village Watutu, East African Garden, Savannah Exhibit and Madagascar Gardens all strive to achieve the same affect.


Plants in these gardens share familial or morphological traits that are displayed. Included in this category are the Cactus, Agave, Opuntia, Barrel Cactus, Ocotillo, Sage, Yucca, Mexican Columnar Cactus, Grass, Nolina, Palm and Aloe Gardens.


These gardens have a unifying theme or message to impart. The Cahuilla Garden relates the relationship of the local band of Native Americans to their desert environs. The two Hummingbird Gardens and the two Butterfly Gardens offer examples of plants favored by these winged pollinators. The Demonstration Garden provides ideas for landscaping around the home combining plants, hardscape elements and water features while the Primitive Garden sheds some light on the evolution of plants.

Landscape Display

These areas function in the way most of us generally think about landscapes, as window dressing for adjoining animal exhibits or buildings. Eagle Canyon is an example where plants from a broader geographical area, southwestern United States and northern Mexico, have been used to create a naturalistic ambience and backdrop for Mexican wolves, mountain lions and javelina.

The Living Desert Gardens

Zoo News