Skip to content

A Comprehensive Guide to Desert Almond (Prunus fasciculata)

Desert Almond (Prunus fasciculata) is a shrub that is native to the southwestern United States. This plant is a host to the pale swallowtail and many moths, and is an important nectar source for other insects. Growing from 3 to 10 feet tall, this species grows in desert scrub, woodlands, and washes. The white to yellow flowers bloom from March to May and the plant is hardy in zones 7-10.

Taxonomy and Naming of Desert Almond (Prunus fasciculata)

Herbarium specimen of desert almond (Prunus fasciculata).
Herbarium Specimen — Prunus fasciculata (Torr.) A.Gray collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Desert Almond (Prunus fasciculata) was first named and described by John Torrey, an American botanist, in 1854 as Emplectocladus fasciculatus. The description was based on specimen collected by John Charles Fremont (Stanford University 1913 and Welsh 1998). Later in 1874, it was placed in the Prunus genus by Asa Gray to have its current name. It still has the same name and is a member of the Rose Family (Rosaceae).

Varieties

  • var. fasciculata: has pubescent (hairy) leaves and has a wider distribution.
  • var. punctata: has glabrous (hairless) leaves and found only in California.

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Prunus, is Latin for “plum tree.” The species name, fasciculata, comes from the Latin word for “bundles”, referring to the leaves that are bunched on the stem, which are sometimes called fascicles.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the habitat of the species. Some other common names are wild almond and desert peach (Wikipedia), sand almond (Ferren 1984), and desert peachbrush (Cleary 1964 and Goodrich 1986).

Physical Description

Yellowish flowers of desert almond (Prunus fasciculata).
Flowers of Desert Almond — Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a shrub.
  • Height: 3 to 10 feet tall
  • Stem: suckering and thorny
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, sessile, oblanceolate to linear in shape, have entire to nearly entire margins, and are 0.2 to 1 inch in length and 0.04 to 0.2 inches in width.
  • Flower color: white to yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to May.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has gray to red-brown drupes (Flora of North America) that mature from (Apr) May to July.

Range of Desert Almond in the United States and Canada

Range map of desert almond (Prunus fasciculata) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native to the southwestern United States. This species extends south into Mexico on the Baja Peninsula.

Habitat

Mojave desert in California.
Desert Scrub Habitat – Thomas Farley, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in desert scrub, coastal scrub and coastal dunes (Ferren 1984 and Chadwick and Keil 1989)), woodlands (Griswold 1986), blackbrush – Utah (Callison and Brotherson 1985), rocky slopes (Goodrich 1986), and washes (US Bureau of Land Management 1981 and Andre’ 2006).

Hosted Insects

Pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) on a red flower.
Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Prunus genus is general is a host to four butterflies including the henry’s elfin (Callophrys henrici), Coral hairstreak (Satyrium titus), the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) (Gaden, et al 2023). Desert Almond, because of its native range, would only host the pale swallowtail and maybe the Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) (Calscape.org). This species also hosts the western tent caterpillar (Malacosma californica) (Stehr and Cook 1968), the Burns buckmoth (Hemileuca burnsi) (Tuskes 1976), the Neumoegen’s buckmoth (Hemileuca neumoegeni) (Tuskes 1985), and a plantbug (Pruneocoris stonedahli) (Schuh and Schwartz 2004).

Other Supported Wildlife

Bumblebee on pink flower.
Bumblebee on Flower — Weerlicht, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is an important nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps. Some species noted to visit this species include the desert green hairstreak (Callophrys comstockii), coastal green hairstreak (Callophrys dumetorum), and the thicket hairstreak (Callophrys spinetorum) (Shields 1972). Birds and small mammals enjoy the fruits in the summer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this species has been used as a food and for tools.

How is this plant distinguished from other Cherries (Prunus spp.)?

This species is similar to the desert peach (Prunus andersonii) and the desert apricot (Prunus fremontii). It differs from the desert peach in having entire leaves and from the desert apricot in having long-attenuate bases (Flora of North America). In Arizona, this species can be separated from others by the pubescent drupes (Kearney and Peebles 1942). In Mexico, this species is similar to the Texas Almond (Prunus minutiflora), but the linear leaves separate it from the oval leaves of the Texas almond (Carpenter 1920).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Desert Almond

Desert almond (Prunus fasciculata) fruits.
Fruits of Desert Almond (Prunus fasciculata) — Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 7-10. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun to partial-shade and prefers sandy, dry well-drained soil. This species has been noted as being suitable for arid habitats (Taylor 1985).

References

  • Andre’, James M. 2006. Vascular flora of the Granite Mountains, San Bernardino County: An annotated checklist. Crossosoma 32(2): 38-74.
  • Callison, James and Jack D. Brotherson. 1985. Habitat Relationships of the Blackbrush Community (Coleogyne Ramosissima) of Southwestern Utah. The Great Basin Naturalist 45(2): 321-326.
  • Chadwick, Ann and David J. Keil. 1989. Noteworthy Collection. Madrono 36: 32-32.
  • Cleary, C.W. 1964. Plant List, common names, Nevada. USDA Soil Conservation Service, Reno, NV.
  • Ferren, Wayne R. 1984. The Botanical Resources of La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, Santa Barbara County, California. University of California Publication No.3.
  • Goodrich, Sherel. 1986. Vascular plants of the Desert Experimental Range, Millard County, Utah. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report INT 209.
  • Griswold, Terry L. 1986. Notes on the nesting biology of Protosmia (Chelostomopsis) rubiflorus (Cockerell) (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae). Pan-Pacific Entomologist 62: 84-87.
  • Kearney, Thomas H. and Robert H. Peebles. 1942. Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona. US Department of Agriculture No. 423.
  • Schuh, Randall T. and Michael D. Schwartz. 2004. New genera, new species, new synonyms, and new combinations in North America and Caribbean Phylinae (Heteroptera, Miridae). American Museum Novitates no. 3436.
  • Shields, O. 1972. Flower visitation records for butterflies (Lepidoptera). Pan-Pacific Entomologist 48(3): 189-203.
  • Stanford University. 1913. Dudley Memorial Volume, containing a paper by William Russel Dudley and appreciations and contributions in his memory by friends and colleagues. Leland Stanford Junior University Publications University Series no. 11.
  • Standley, Paul Carpenter. 1920. Trees and Shrubs of Mexico. Contributions from the United States National Herbarium v. 23.
  • Stehr, Frederick W. and Edwin F. Cook. 1984. A Revision of the Genus Malacosoma Hubner in North America (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae): Systematics, Biology, Immatures, and Parasites. United States National Museum Bulletin 276.
  • Taylor, Allan R. 1985. Desert Gardening in the Denver Area. (Denver, Co: Denver Botanic Gardens).
  • Tuskes, Paul M. 1985. The biology and distribution of California Hemileucinae (Saturniidae). Journal of the Lepiopterists’ Society 38: 281-309.
  • Tuskes, Paul M. 1976. A Key to the Last Instar Larvae of West Coast Saturniidae. Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 30(4): 272-276.
  • US Bureau of Land Management. 1981. Joshua Tree Natural Area (natural landmark), Utah: Wilderness report. (Cedar City, Utah: US Department of Interior).
  • Welsh, Stanley L. 1998. John Charles Fre’mont: botanical explorer. Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missori Botanical Garden v. 66.
Share this post on social!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 − fifteen =

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.