Plant ID

Native Shrubs

Mule fat

Baccharis salicifolia

Mule fat, or seep willow, looks very similar to a willow, but it is actually in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). These white flowers are the most common nectar source for monarchs in Saline Valley. While you are there, please note on your survey sheet what percentage of the mule fat is flowering, vegetative (no flowers or seeds), or has seeds as this helps us track the timing of flowering, and thus, when the monarchs may be there. Mule fat typically has larger serrations on the edge of the leaves, less of a waxy-look and will have flowers. Willows do not have obvious flowers so when this plant is in bloom, it is very easy to differentiate.

Photo: Stan Shebs
Photo: Steve Matson

Creosote bush

Larrea tridentata

Creosote bush is a common plant in the Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran deserts. This bush has small, waxy leaves, that release the signature smell of desert rain. This species can reproduce both from seeds and vegetatively, through clones. In the Mojave desert lives an 11,700 year old creosote ring referred to as "King Clone", and it one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. Creosote has yellow flowers and seeds covered in white fizzy hairs.

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Johnny Ramirez

Native Trees


Salix spp.

Willows are typically shrubs or trees. In Saline Valley, these trees can grow to be approximately 30-40 feet tall. You can identify this tree by it's long, linear leaves. Some leaves may have toothed or serrated edges similar to mule fat, but typically these serrations will be much smaller on willows. Willows also do not have obvious flowers, so any plant with white flowers that looks similar is mule fat. Willow leaves tend to be glossier than mule fat.

Photo: Neal Kramer
Photo: Wynn Anderson
Photo: Southwest Desert Flora

Fremont cottonwood

Populus fremontii

Cottonwoods are related to aspen trees and, as such, some species have very similar leaves. Fremont cottonwoods are the only species of tree in Saline Valley that have round leaves resembling those of aspen. Elm trees can be distinguished by their oval shaped leaves, obvious veins on the leaves, and toothed leaf margins. Cottonwood trees will be rather large compared to the rest of the desert vegetation.

Photo: Nature Songs
Photo: Ricky Grubb

Screwbean mesquite

Prosopis pubescens

Screwbean mesquite is very common in Saline Valley and is sometimes found growing in dense bosques, or forests. Screwbean mesquite are in the legume family and have pods that resemble a corkscrew. These pods tend to remain on the tree throughout the year and can be seen in tight clusters. Screwbean mesquites have long spines that grow in pairs along the branch nodes, or joints. The leaves are referred to as compound leaves with many small leaflets making up one leaf. Screwbean mesquite pods were a stable used by the Timbisha Shoshone tribe that made this valley their home. Pods were ground into flour using rocks or mesquite poles in matates ground into large rocks or bedrock.

Photo: Southwest Desert Flora
Photo: Southwest Desert Flora
Photo: Zoya Akulova
Photo: Zoya Akulova

Non-native Trees


Ulmus spp.

Elm trees are not native to Saline Valley and were likely brought in with Euro-American settlement. They are a medium to large sized tree with toothed leaf margins. Tue leaves are oblong and grow alternately on the stem. The veins on elm leaves are very prominent and the leaves are typically fairly thick.

Photo: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida
Photo: The Morton Arboretum


Tamarix spp.

Salt cedar, or tamarisk in another non-native tree that was introduced into Saline Valley. The BLM is currently conducting removal treatments to reduce the impact of this invasive tree. Tamarisk is common throughout the desert regions and can readily form mono-cultures, choking out native riparian species. Salt cedar typically has reddish branches and can feel slightly sticky and rough to the touch. The leaves on this species look similar to juniper, with overlapping scales. When flowering, this plant will have small pink flowers.

Photo: Texas A & M University
Photo: Texas A & M University
Photo: Texas A & M University