Our Desert Harvesters website is an amazing storehouse of information and inspiration! For years it has served those curious about the native plants and foods of the Sonoran Desert, and their long history of use by people who lived and thrived here thousands of year ago, and—not without hardship—into the present. That legacy informs and guides our current appreciation for the Sonoran Desert, the amazing plants that evolved here, and the people who form relationships with place, plants, and people, for all kinds of sustenance.
We have lots of resources at our website to help you grow, identify, harvest, process and eat native foods in the Sonoran Desert, including:
Desert Ironwoods are one of the oldest and most intriguing trees of the Sonoran Desert. Named for their dark, dense wood, they can be recognized by their grey bark, small dark-green leaves, small thorns, and lovely pink blooms. They serve as "nurse trees" for saguaros, protecting young cacti from frost until the saguaros grow up through the tree branches and eventually tower over their nurse tree. The desert ironwood tree is now a protected species in Arizona. It grows at elevations below 2500 feet, often in xeri-riparian areas. It is prized among desert harvesters for its edible flowers and seeds.
For more information about harvesting ironwood trees, go to https://www.desertharvesters.org/native-plant-food-guides-the-desert-can-feed-you/desert-ironwood/
Photo credit: Jill Lorenzini
The Velvet Mesquite is the most common native mesquite tree in the Tucson/Phoenix area. It is the true local, native mesquite of southern Arizona. It can grow up to 30 feet tall and typically is a multi-trunked tree. It has a compound leaf and a long pod that can range from tan, with or without purple streaks, to dark purple. Young, new growth of the tree may have thorns. It has a trunk that is smooth when the tree is young and grows shaggy with age. While the trees prefer full sun, they are also cold-hardy to 5 degrees F. These trees are found in flood plains and along arroyos. The Velvet is our tree of choice for planting in and around Tucson and Phoenix. It has a long lifespan, is drought tolerant.
For information about harvesting mesquite trees, go to
Palo Verde, Spanish for “green pole” or “green stick,” are so named because their trunks and branches are green. In Arizona there are two native Palo Verde species: the Foothills Palo Verde and the Blue Palo Verde. In the desert, Foothills Palo Verde are found on rocky slopes, while Blue Palo Verde tend to grow along arroyos, or washes. Both species make great nurse trees, providing protection for other native plants such as baby saguaro.
Foothills Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) trees have a yellow-green trunk, tiny leaves, and a spine at the end of each branch. Their seeds are large with a seed pod that constricts around them.
Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum) trees have a blue-green trunk, larger leaves, small spines along the branch at the leaf nodes, and no spine at the end of the branch. Blue Palo Verde seed pods are larger pod than Foothills seed pods, and the pod does not constrict around the seeds.
For more information about harvesting palo verde trees, go to