Anza-Borrego: Plant Guide To Visitor Center Plantings

This is a working list, about which we make no guarantees at all until we officially release it. Use at your own risk!

Introduction and Explanation of Plant Trail Guides

Highlights of This Trail
Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time
The Plant Guide
Comments On Specific Species


This plant trail guide is to the plantings immediately adjacent to the Visitor Center. The 0.15 mile route is all on paved sidewalk, beginning at the parking lot and looping around the Visitor Center. (The sidewalk actually goes on top of the Visitor Center, which is built into a hill, so it technically only loops around the front of the Visitor Center.)

The garden has beautiful plantings, and best of all, nearly all of the species are labeled. On the route described here, 21 of the 26 taxa are labeled with both the common and Latin names.

Four of the other five taxa were easily identified using the wonderful book Cacti, Shrubs and Trees of Anza-Borrego: An Amateur's Key to Identifying Desert Plants when they are without flowers, by Paul R. Johnson. The fifth taxon was a grass, easily identified from a plant list compiled by Michael Simpson.

This is the best place to begin learning the plants of Anza-Borrego, which Tom knows from experience. When Tom first did this trail, having never botanized the desert before, he was only familiar with four of the 26 taxa. With Paul's Key in hand, two hours spent with these plants gave Tom enough confidence in recognizing and keying out these plants to begin plant guides for Anza-Borrego trails.

Highlights of This Trail

The taxa found on this Sonoran Desert Trail are almost completely different from the taxa found in our other plant guides to date, which have been in the mountains (the San Gabriels, San Bernardinos, San Jacintos, Palomar and the Cuyamacas); in the coastal regions (Crystal Cove and Torrey Pine Beach areas); and in low inland coastal areas (Fallbrook; Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve; Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, and Blue Sky Ecological Reserve). Only four of the 26 taxa were recorded on any of the previous 37 trails in our database. Even those four are mostly due to desert species which have extended their range from the Baja California deserts into San Diego County coastal regions, which receive the lowest rainfall of all of our other plant guide trails.

Most interesting is that many of these taxa are "single children", in that they are the only species, or one of the few species, in their genus and sometimes even the only genus in their family. Others are the only representatives of their genus in California or even the United States. The following table gives some examples:

Common NameLatin NameDistribution
ironwoodOlneya tesotaonly sp in genus
blue palo verdeCercidium floridum ssp. floridumonly 4 spp in genus; only 2 here
ocotilloFouquieria splendens ssp. splendensthe only genus in family; only 11 spp.
creosote bushLarrea tridentataonly 5 spp in genus; only one here
jojobaSimmondsia chinensisonly genus in family; only sp in genus
elephant treeBursera microphyllaonly sp here of 60 spp in genus; 17 genera in family
catclawAcacia greggiionly native sp in genus
desert lavenderHyptis emoryionly sp here
California trixisTrixis californica var. californicaonly sp here
chuparosaJusticia californicaonly one here out of 300 spp in tropics and subtropics

Clearly, this is telling us something important about the cactus, shrubs and trees (CST below) of this lower desert flora. We don't know for sure what this means, and the Jepson Desert Manual, oddly, does not even give any mention of this "single children" aspect of the flora. Possible reasons are:

Of course, it is possible that many or all of the above factors operate simultaneously to account for the "single children" effect.

The other noticeable feature of the flora on this trail is the dominance by the Fabaceae family. There are six taxa from that family, 23% of the 26 total taxa, equaling the six taxa from the Cactaceae family, and only four taxa by the usual ubiquitous Asteraceae family. When one thinks of the desert, one usually thinks of cactus. But if this planted area is any guide, one should equally well think of the pea family!

Finally, an amusing sidenote: the families represented here include the first (Acanthaceae) and last (Zygophyllaceae) dicot families in alphabetical order.

Number of Unique Taxa On This Trail

The following histogram gives the number of trails in our database that contain each taxon on this trail. We had 38 trails in our database when this histogram was made. A number of "1" means the taxon has only been found only on this list, among all the trails in our database.

Number of Trails
Containing A Taxon
Number Of Taxa
On This Trail
% of Taxa
On This Trail
Total Taxa26100%

Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time

The following table gives the dates the trail was walked and taxa recorded. After each visit, the tables gives the total number of taxa on the list and the breakdown of the taxa without positive identification. See Explanation of Plant Trail Guides to understand the symbols below.

Visit DateVisit ## taxa# "?"# "sp"# "~"# "ssp"

The Plant Guide

This plant guide is unusual in that a number of species are listed twice. The first occurrence is listed and numbered, as always. In addition, all labeled species are listed as well, each time they occur. These specimens are identified by Lbl in the id column. If the common name or latin name on the label differs from the one we use, the latin name contains a link to comments below giving the differences.

Version for printing, without lines and other text on this page (3 pages)

miles#idCommon NameLatin Name#here#all
0.00   This guide begins at the main pathway to the Visitor Center from the Parking Area. The tall flagpole is of this pathway immediately to the left.
0.00   Sign on left: "Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center 100 yards (ahead)"; trashcans on right.
0.00r1sspCalifornia barrel cactusFerocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei / 1
0.00l2 indigo bushPsorothamnus schottii / 1
0.00b3 brittlebushEncelia farinosa / 3
0.00r4 blue palo verdeCercidium floridum ssp. floridum / 1
0.00l5 honey mesquiteProsopis glandulosa var. torreyana / 2
0.00r6 chuparosaJusticia californica / 1
0.00l7 burroweedAmbrosia dumosa / 1
0.00l  Flagpole.
0.00r8 ocotilloFouquieria splendens ssp. splendens / 1
0.00r  Display Board
0.01l9LblironwoodOlneya tesota+ / 1
0.01   Jct. alternate sidewalk from parking lot coming in from right. Y-jct ahead - left goes directly to Visitor Center; go right, signed "Bridge Overlook". Plaque on boulder on right: "Newt and Mary Ann Williams Garden".
0.01r Lblhoney mesquiteProsopis glandulosa var. torreyana+ /  
0.01r10LblEngelmann's hedgehog cactusEchinocereus engelmannii+ / 1
0.01r11 creosote bushLarrea tridentata / 1
0.01r12 prickly pearOpuntia phaeacantha / 1
0.01l13 jojobaSimmondsia chinensis / 1
0.01r14LblMohave yuccaYucca schidigera / 3
0.02l LbljojobaSimmondsia chinensis /  
0.02r Lblprickly pearOpuntia phaeacantha /  
0.02r15Lblpencil cactusOpuntia ramosissima / 1
0.02l  Jct. sidewalk connecting direct Visitor Center path with this path.
0.03r16 silver chollaOpuntia echinocarpa / 1
0.04l17sspcheesebrushHymenoclea salsola var. salsola / 1
0.04l18 big galletaPleuraphis rigida / 1
0.04   Enter area on top of Visitor Center with benches and labeled skyline maps.
0.04r19 desert agaveAgave deserti / 1
0.06   Leave area on top via steps down.
0.07l20Lblbeavertail cactusOpuntia basilaris var. basilaris+ / 4
0.07l LblEngelmann's hedgehog cactusEchinocereus engelmannii /  
0.07   Jct with cross-sidewalk. Sign ahead: "Edith Meyerson Nierenberg Plaza dedicated 1996". Turn left toward Visitor Center.
0.08r21LblCalifornia trixisTrixis californica var. californica / 1
0.08r LblironwoodOlneya tesota+ /  
0.09   Bicycle racks on right; bathrooms on left.
0.10r Lblsilver chollaOpuntia echinocarpa+ /  
0.10r LblocotilloFouquieria splendens ssp. splendens+ /  
0.10   Visitor Center entrance on left; map of immediate vicinity on right.
0.12r22Lblelephant treeBursera microphylla / 1
0.13r Lblcreosote bushLarrea tridentata /  
0.13r  Sign: "Desert pupfish sanctuary" next to shallow pond with pupfish.
0.13r Lblindigo bushPsorothamnus schottii /  
0.13r23LblCalifornia fan palmWashingtonia filifera / 1
0.14r24LblcatclawAcacia greggii / 1
0.14r25Lblsmoke treePsorothamnus spinosus / 1
0.15l  Jct. sidewalk connecting to Bridge Overloop sidewalk.
0.15l LblCalifornia barrel cactusFerocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei+ /  
0.15r LblchuparosaJusticia californica+ /  
0.15l26Lbldesert lavenderHyptis emoryi / 1
0.15r Lblblue palo verdeCercidium floridum ssp. floridum+ /  
0.15r  Jct. Nature Loop Trail. Sign: "Nature Loop Trail 0.25 mile loop; Campground 0.6 mile".
0.15   End of this guide at the junction with the beginning of the loop at mile 0.01.

Comments On Specific Species

Various species. The variety name is not given on the labels.

Various species. The subspecies name is not given on the labels.

Olneya tesota. This species is called desert ironwood on the label.

Echinocereus engelmannii. The label gives the former ssp name of engelmannii.

Opuntia echinocarpa. The species is called cane cholla on the label, with the former variety name of wolfii.

Ferocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei. The species is called just barrel cactus on the label, with the former latin name of Ferocactus acanthodes.

Justicia californica. The species is labeled with its former latin name of Beloperone californica.

Go to:

Copyright © 2003 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester | Jane Strong
Last update: 3 November 2003.