Book: Plant Life in California’s Deserts

We received this press release today and thought that it might be of interest to our readers.

  • June 1st, 2022
  • Michael Kauffmann
  • Backcountry Press
  • mk(at)
  • (707) 407-7686

CA_Barrel_Cactus-Providence_Mtns by Michael Kauffmann.


Desert-Willow-Kelso-Dunes Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis) by Michael Kauffmann.
Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis) has a deep root system that allows it to tap groundwater pools along desert washes and at the margins of desert dunes as in the Kelso Dunes. Photo by Michael Kauffmann.



Death Valley monkeyflower (Diplacus rupicola) by Dylan Neubauer.
Death Valley monkeyflower (Diplacus rupicola) is rare species limited to limestone substrates in Death Valley and higher ranges of the northern Mojave Desert. Photo by Dylan Neubauer.


There are three distinct desert areas in California—the northwestern portion of the Sonoran Desert, the Mojave Desert, and the western margin of the Great Basin. A key feature of the California deserts is the dominance of infrequent rainfall in the cool winter months and the absence of rainfall in the summer months when warm temperatures are otherwise favorable for growth. These conditions make it tough for anything to survive. Plants in California’s deserts have evolved unique combinations of traits that allow them to temper the impacts of infrequent rain and long-term drought.

“More than any other ecosystem, deserts present unique environmental challenges with no simple solution of form and function for plant survival. What makes deserts so interesting is that plant species have multiple strategies that allow for success and survival.” says Phil Rundel, the book’s lead author.

For the past 15 years Phil has been developing this book through his long-term relationship and travels in deserts of the world. His vision is now a reality. California Desert Plants: Ecology and Diversity is a new book written by Phil Rundel, Robert Gustafson, and Michael Kauffmann and published Backcountry Press. It explores traits and strategies that allow plants to survive in some of the world’s harshest environments. The book includes over 400 photographs to complement the text.

Dr. Rundel, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Los Angeles, would be the first to admit that California’s deserts are his favorite—and this new book goes a long way to showing why.

“This book gives the context in which plants make sense, and helps us to see relationships between species, across families, and in response to place.” Says author and naturalist John Muir Laws.

“What is fascinating to me about these plants,” says Michael Kauffmann a co-author, “is that they live within one of the most dramatic desert landscapes on Earth. Including Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, the Mojave National Preserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and numerous other National Monuments. California’s deserts are well protected, stunningly beautiful, and easy to visit.”

“I love photographing plants in California’s deserts because they are both beautiful and among the toughest plants on Earth.” Says Matt Berger, one of the lead photographers in the book.

California Desert Plants is a spectacular celebration of the compelling flora and the patterns they form in California’s deserts. It is available at and from independent bookstores across the region.

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