Spadefoot Plant Index
Below are plants that we tend to carry organized by family. Seeing the plants you know organized in this way will help you to begin to understand how they all are related (plant taxonomy is arranged to reflect evolutionary relationships). Below are plants that we tend to carry at the nursery. Not all are always available—some are seasonal, some we just may not have at the moment. Most of the plants below are native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The plants that are not are either a domestic edible species, or a plant we just like (usually a botanical curiosity). As we add more species to our circulation, we will add them here as well. If you are looking for a specific plant, use your search function to find it.
We also made some brief descriptions of the families that these plants belong to, because it’s important to know the plant families—plants play such an important role in just about every aspect of our lives (food, medicine, building, and so much more).
the acanthaceae: Bear’s Breeches family
The large and largely tropical plant family Acanthaceae includes at least 4000 species in about 210 genera. Occurring in tropical and subtropical regions; seldom found in warm-temperate areas. Many are used around the world as ornamentals including Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus mollis), blackeyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata).
The Adoxaceae: moschatel family
Five genera with about 225 species. Adoxaceae was recently segregated from Caprifoliaceae. Most species are northern temperate. The fruits and flowers of the various species of Sambucus are used to make wines and spirits, preserves, and are used in cosmetics. Viburnum species have been used in landscaping and also have edible berries although some have poisonous fruits.
The amaranthaceae: amaranth family
A family of flowering plants commonly known as the amaranth family, in reference to its type genus Amaranthus. It includes the former goosefoot family Chenopodiaceae and contains about 170 genera and about 2,040 species. More or less cosmopolitan, especially common and diverse in arid, warm-temperate and subtropical regions and saline habitats. Beets are perhaps one of the most famous in the family along with quinoa, and the various edible and wild goosefoots. In the Mediterranean, agretti (Salsola soda) is a luxury vegetable, and a similar species in Japan, Oka Hijiki (Salsola komarovii) is also a popular food. Ironically these two are closely related to tumbleweed ( formally Salsola kaki but now Kali turgidum) and the young, fresh growth of tumbleweed are edible and delicious. Other famous members of this family include spinach (Spinachia oleracea), chard (Beta vulgaris), and of course amaranth (Amaranth spp).
The Amaryllidaceae: Amaryllis family
The Amaryllidaceae are a family of herbaceous, mainly perennial and bulbous (rarely rhizomatous) flowering plants which contains about 2140 species, divided into about 77 genera. The onion (Allium cepa) is definitely the most famous amaryllid, though many members of Allium are used as food and flavoring including shallots (A. cepa var. aggregatum), leeks (A. ampeloprasum) and of course, garlic (A. sativum). The daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) along with many many other species in this family are grown as ornamental bulbs.
The Anacardiaceae: Cashew Family
This family includes about 83 genera with about 860 known species. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans, T. rydbergii) is famous for its contact dermatitis and is native to our region, but so are several other closely related plants with edible fruits. Other famous anacards include cashew (Anacardium occidentale), mango (Mangifera indica), pistachio (Pistache vera), and several ornamental shrubs and trees like Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis), mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), and pepper tree (Schinus mollle).
The Apocynaceae: dogbane family
There are over 4300 species represented in the Apocynaceae, organized into 322 genera. Recent genetic evidence placed what was formally known as the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family) into the Apocynaceae or dogbane family. The family gets this name due to several plants in this groups that were used to make dog poison. Several species of Carissa, especially the Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa) yield edible fruit and have been used in landscaping. Many species are grown as ornamentals like the loved/maligned oleander (Nerium oleander), tropical Hoya species, Madagascar palm (Pachypodium spp), desert rose (Adenium spp), all the succulent stepelioides (Caralluma, Duvalia, Hhoodia, Huernia, Stapelia, etc), and plumeria (especially Plumeria rubra). Milkweeds have been recently popularized and planted to help migrations of the monarch butterfly (most species of Asclepias serve as larval food for both the queen and monarch butterflies). Flowers of this family are often nectar-rich and highly visited by butterflies and pollinators of all sorts.
The Arecaceae: Palm Family
A tropical and subtropical family of about 195 genera, and around 2400 species. Palms are one of the most useful species in the world: used for food, shelter, fiber, drugs, oils, and more. The most commonly consumed palms would be the coconut (Cocos nucifera—the fruits and oil) and the date palm (Phoenis dactylifera), though there are many many more. The most common palms seen in SE Arizona are the Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta), the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera—this is actually the only one native to Arizona), and the Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis) though there are many more grown here.
the Aristolochiaceae: birthwort family
A family of bizarre-flowered plants with seven genera and about 500 known species. Though regionally used for foods and medicines, they are most famous for their bizarre flowers and growth forms. Many are used as larval food for butterflies and some have strange, convoluted pollination strategies.
The Asparagaceae: Asparagus family
Asparagaceae includes 118 genera with a total of ca 3220 known species, including what was formally known as the Liliaceae (lily family) and the Agavaceae (agave family). Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) has been eaten since classical times. Many species are grown as ornamental bulbs throughout the world like the hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), lilyturf (Ophiopogon spp), and some are famous house plants like the snake plant (Sansevieria spp), or dracaena (Dracaena reflexa var. angustifolia). Agaves (Agave spp) are grown as ornamentals and are used to make tequila and mescal, while the desert spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri), is used to make sotol.
The Asteraceae: daisy family
One of the biggest plant families in the world, the Asteraceae currently has about 24,700 accepted species names, in 1627 genera. In terms of numbers of species, the Asteraceae are rivaled only by the Orchidaceae (orchid family). Such a big family has found many uses for humans, too many to briefly mention but here are a few: lettuce (Lactuca sativa), artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus), and all the edible greens derived from the very diverse Chichorium intybus and Chichorium endivia (chichory, endive, radicchio, escarole, Frisée etc). Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) seeds are an important source of food and oil as well. Many, many species are grown as ornamentals and almost all are great nectar plants for pollinators.
The Berberidaceae: Barberry family
The Berberidaceae possesses 18 genera of flowering plants commonly called the barberry family which contains 14 genera with about 700 known species, of which the majority are in Berberis. The fruits of many species are high in vitamin C and are made into preserves. Yellow dies come from several species as well. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is a prevalent plant in the landscape trade throughout this country.
The Bignoniaceae: Bignonia Family
According to different accounts, the number of species in the family is about 870, with 82 accepted genera. The calabash trees (Crescentia spp) produce gourd-like fruits that are made into instruments and other useful items. Most species have gorgeous flowers and are grown as ornamentals throughout the world like jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), pink trumpet vine (Podranea ricasoliana), cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis), and many more.
The Boraginaceae: Borage Family
Boraginaceae, the borage or forget-me-not family, includes a variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs, totaling about 2535 species in 135 genera found worldwide. The family’s name sake, borage (Borago officinalis) is an old time potherb with edible flowers loved by honeybees. Another famous borage is comfrey, used medicinally, as an edible vegetable, and as a soil stabilizer and compost ingredient. Many are ornamental plants like the forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvestris), baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp).
The Bromeliaceae: Bromeliad Family
Includes about 62 genera with about 3475 species. If you think you don’t know what bromeliads are, you are wrong. You’ve been eating them your whole life: pineapples (Ananas comosus). Other species are used in the world for fiber, like Puya chilensis which is used to make very durable fishing nets. Another plant that enters into our lives is Spanish moss, used as packaging materials or even stuffing for pillows and cushions. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is seen in the south, dangling from trees. Despite the common name, Spanish moss is actually an epiphytic bromeliad. Many species of tropical bromeliads (the kind that you pour water into the middle of like the silver vase or urn plant (Aechmea fasciata) are common as houseplants, often found in commercial building like malls. And though many species are from the tropics, some are xeric, dry-growing species.
The Cactaceae: Cactus Family
A cactus (plural: cacti, cactuses, or less commonly, cactus) is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 94 genera with some 1150 known species. This family has had more name changes than most due to the enthusiasm of amateur botanists as well as the promiscuous nature of the family (lots of hybridization and genetic variance), and genetic studies suggest that classification of the cacti currently remains uncertain and is likely to change more. Many cacti produce edible fruits including prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp), and dragonfruit (Hylocereus undulatus). One of the most famous dyes, carmine, is made from dried mealy bugs that live on many species of prickly pears, especially Opuntia cochenillifera. Many are used for their hallucinogenic properties like peyote (Lophophora williamsii).
The Campanulaceae: Bellflower Family
This family contains about 2300 species in 84 genera of herbaceous plants, shrubs, and rarely small trees. Many species have edible leaves and/or roots like the Chinese balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus). Some species are grown as garden perennials or bedding plants like the border lobelia (Lobelia erinus).
The Cannabaceae: Hemp Family
This family includes about 100 species grouped in about 9 genera. The most famous plants in this family are hemp or marijuana (Cannabis sativa and its many varieties) used as a recreational drug as well as for fiber. Hops (Humulus lupulus) are used to flavor and preserve beer. But hackberries (Celtis spp) are certainly the family’s largest group.
The Caprifoliaceae: Honeysuckle Family
The honeysuckle family includes about 825 species in 28 genera, with a nearly cosmopolitan distribution. The most famous honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is a noxious weed in the United States and Mexico, and should be avoided. We have several native species and hybrids that suffice as superior substitutes. More world famous plants in this family include the salad green mache (Valerianella locusta), the sedative tea valerian (Valeriana officinalis), and the perfume spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi). Besides the honeysuckles, some popular ornamentals include scabiosa (Scabiosa atropurpurea), and red valerian (Centranthus ruber).
The Commelinaceae: Spiderwort Family
This family is found in both the new world and the old world and comprises about 731 known species in 41 genera. Several plants are used as outdoor and indoor ornamentals.
The Convolvulaceae: Morning Glories
This is a family of about 57 genera and more than 1660 species of mostly herbaceous vines, but also trees, shrubs and herbs. Most people don’t realize that the sweet potato (ipomoea batatas) is actually a morning glory! Ironically, the Arizona Department of Agriculture has outlawed all Ipomoea species except the tree forms. Their intent was controlling the weedy bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) which is a terrible weed in agriculture fields. But someone at the office was lazy and just banned the whole genus which includes many native plants, some of which are rare and this law has been on the books for many decades. Several species in this family are popular ornamentals like silverbush (Convolvulus cneorum).
The Cupressaceae: Cypress Family
Cupressaceae is a conifer family, the cypress family, with worldwide distribution. The family includes 30 genera (17 monotypic), which include the junipers and redwoods, with about 146 species in total. Recently all new world cypress were changed from the genus Cupressus to Hesperocyparis, due to distinct morphology. The most famous in this family has got the be the redwood tree (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Many species have been important for building and fuel. And several function as landscape shrubs and trees like junipers (Juniperus spp). The famous Italian cypress tree (Cupressus sempervirens) is well known as the tree of graveyards.
The Euphorbiaceae: Spurge Family
The family Euphorbiaceae is the fifth largest flowering plant family and has about 6252 species organized into 210 genera. The most important food plant in this family is the yuca root (Manihot esculenta) which is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates in the tropics, after rice and maize. Sometimes also called cassava, it is a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. Before it was synthesized, the main source for natural rubber was from the Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) which is a euphorb! Another important euphorb crop is castor oil from the castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) which also makes an extremely deadly poison (ricin).
The Fabaceae: Legume Family
This family is widely distributed, and is the third-largest land plant family in number of species, behind only the Orchidaceae and Asteraceae, with about 745 genera and about 16,020 known species. The most widely-grown legume is most likely the soybean (Glycine max). The peanut (Arachis hypogea) is probably the second most widely-grown. Also popular arepeas (Pisum sativum), fava (Vicia faba), and the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), though there are a multitude of other important beans in the world. The tamarind (Tamarindus indica) offers edible pulp instead of the seed. Jicama (Pachyrizus erosus) forms an edible tuber. Some of the worlds most important perfumes come from legumes, especially the sweet acacia (Vachellia farnesiana). This giant family is very useful and prevalent in our lives.
The Fagaceae: Beech Family
Fagaceae is a family of flowering plants that includes beeches and oaks, and comprises eight genera with about 927 species. Chestnuts (Castanea spp) have been cultivated and eaten since at least Roman times. Ham from pigs fed on acorns of oaks (Quercus spp) produce incredibly-flavored, marbled meat commanding very high prices in Spain. The cork on wine bottles comes from the bark of cork oak (Quercus suber). Oaks form predictable canopies which is why they are often used in commercial landscapes, despite their slower growth rates.
The Fouquieriaceae: Occotillos
Fouquieria is a genus of 11 species of desert plants, the sole genus in the family Fouquieriaceae. The genus includes the famous ocotillo (F. splendens) and boojum tree or cirio (F. columnaris), but also includes several other lesser-known species. The so-called “living fences” are made from stems of ocotillo which only sometimes root (if some water is available at the right time).
The JuglanDaceae: Walnuts
The nine or 9 genera in this family have a total of ca 63 species, and include the commercially important nut-producing trees walnut (Juglans regia), pecan (Carya illinoinensis), and hickory (Carya spp). The wood of many species in this family are valuable for making fine furniture, cabinetry, etc.
The Lamiaceae: Mints
The family has a cosmopolitan distribution. The enlarged Lamiaceae contain about 241 genera and have been stated to contain more than 6800 species. The mints are well known for their ethereal and fragrant oils. The best known mints are probably peppermint (Mentha x piperita—a hybrid between M. aquatica and M. spicata), basil (Ocimum basilicum), oregano (Origanum vulgare), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), sage (Salvia officinalis), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). But there is an endless list of herbs in this family, some being regionally significant while others have become popularized throughout the world. Mints have also become important fragrances, especially lavender (Lavandula spp) and patchouli (Pogostemon cablin). Many plants in this family make great ornamentals as well.
The Linaceae: Flax Family
This family is cosmopolitan, and includes about 255 species in 13 genera with the largest genus, Linum (flax) with 180-200 species. The most commonly grown flax (Linum usitatissimum) is used for oil (linseed oil), fiber (flax and linen), seed (linseed). The oil was an important ingredient in fine paints throughout history. Linseed oil is also one of the main ingredients in linoleum!
The Loasaceae: Stickleaf Family
This is a family of 20 genera and about 308 species of flowering plants, native to the Americas and Africa. Members of the family include annual, biennial and perennial herbaceous plants, and a few shrubs and small trees. Many species have a local history of use: some with edible seeds, leaves that were smoked, but most are grown as ornamentals, mostly as “wildflowers”. Some species have stinging hairs, and most species have sticky, velcro-like leaves.
The Lythraceae: Loosestrife Famiily
Lythraceae is a family of flowering plants, including 32 genera with about 620 species of herbs, shrubs and trees. Pomegranate is the most famous of the loosestrifes, having been eaten by humans since at least ancient Egyptian times. The water caltrop(Trapa bicornis) and water chestnut (Trapa natans) were a significant part of the prehistoric diet in Europe where they are now extinct or rare. Now it is most often used in Asian cuisine. It is an invasice species in Eastern North America. Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is the commercial dye used for hair and temporary tattoos. Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a popular landscape ornamental.
The Malpighiaceae: Barbados Cherry Family
This family comprises about 77 genera and 1315 species, all of which are native to the tropics and subtropics and most of them from the New World. The Barbados cherry is eaten fresh or made into juice, ice cream, or alcoholic products. Many other species have locally significant edible fruits. A few species like goldshower (Galphimia gracilis) make it into the landscape trade in warm-temperate climates.
the malvaceae: mallow family
This is a family of flowering plants estimated to contain 244 genera with 4225 known species. Cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is native to the tropical Americas and is the basis of chocolate. Kola nuts (Cola acuminata and C. nitida) are high in caffeine and roasted, pounded, or chewed, or added as flavoring to drinks (cola). Durian (Durio zibethinus and other species) is the famous giant, foetid-smelling fruit from Southeast Asia. Jamaica or roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a popular drink, originally from Africa. The famous Southern USA ingredient, okra (Hibiscus esculentus) is also in this family. Many mallows are also used for producing fiber, especially cotton (Gossypium hirsutum is the most commonly planted in the US). There are many cultivated mallows, like the most well known hibiscus plant (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and all its selections. But the most impressive species are probably the baobab trees (Adansonia spp) which form massive trunks that look like walls.
The Martyniaceae: Unicorn Plant Family
An entirely New World family, growing in arid and semi-arid areas, with 16 species in 5 genera. These days they are mostly grown as ornamental plants but in history various species of devil’s claw (Proboscidea spp) were used in basketmaking.
The Moraceae: Mulberry Family
A family comprising 37 genera and over 1880 species. The common fig (Ficus carica) is the most famous. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is an important food in tropical Asia and the pacific. Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) has become an important food for vegetarians as the fruit can produce texture similar to meat and absorbs whatever flavors you add, similar to tofu. Southern mulberry (Morus australis) and black mulberry (Morus nigra) have been cultivated for millennia for their fruits. Paper is made from the aptly named paper mulberry (Broussonetia payrifera). White mulberry (Morus alba) is also cultivated for the fruit (the most common species planted in our region), but it’s much more historically significant as the larval food plant for the silkmoth (Bombyx mori). A few species were important for rubber—the rubber fig (Ficus elastica) and the Panama rubber tree (Castilla elastica). Probably the most common houseplant tree in the world is the weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) though in many places it is a street tree. The sacred Buddha tree (Ficus religiosa) is the tree where the Buddha allegedly became enlightened under.
The Oleaceae: Olive Family
The olive family presently comprises 26 genera, one of which is recently extinct (Hesperelaea is a plant genus with only one species—Hesperelaea palmeri was found only on Guadalupe Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, part of the Mexican state of Baja California. The last collection of the plant on the island was in 1875, so the species and the genus must now be presumed extinct). The number of species in the Oleaceae is variously estimated in a wide range around 700. Economically the most important plant in this family is its namesake, the olive (Olea europa) for its pickled fruit and pressed oil. Desert olive (Forestiera pubescens) can be similarly used, though relative to the olive, it rarely is. Many species of jasmin (Jasminum spp) are grown for their pretty, aromatic flowers. And those of you from the midwestern United States will pine about the lilac (Syringa spp). Some very boring but dependable (in some climates) shrub, privet, is a plant in this family (Ligustum vulgare and Ligustrum lucidum).
The Onagraceae: primrose family
The primrose family includes about 656 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees in 22 genera. The family is widespread, occurring on every continent from boreal to tropical regions. Through a few species have edible flowers, the most common use for this family is for landscaping. Fuchsia species are very popular in the climates where they grow. Species of Ludwigia are grown as pond plants but have become noxious invasive species outside of their natural range.
The Papaveraceae: Poppy Family
The Papaveraceae are an economically important family of about 45 genera and approximately 775 known species. The family is cosmopolitan, occurring in temperate and subtropical climates (mostly in the northern hemisphere), but almost unknown in the tropics. The poppy seeds on your bagels come from either Papaver somniferum or P. rhoeas. Opiate drugs are derived from one of the same poppies (P. somniferum). This drug is used all over the world, especially in politically troubled parts, as a quick way to generate cash, and participate in the black markets of the world. Dies and medicines come from many species of the Papaveraceae and many are grown as wildflowers.
The Passifloraceae: Passionflower Family
The Passifloraceae are a family of flowering plants, containing about 982 species classified in around 28 genera. The most extensively grown passionfruit vine is the maracuja (Passiflora edulis) but the sweet granadilla (Passiflora ligularis) is also grown extensively for the fruits. Many other species are sweet and locally cultivated. A caudiciform (succulent-like plant with fat trunk) and viney genus (Adenia spp) is grown by enthusiasts.
The Pinaceae: Pine Family
The Pinaceae (pine family) are trees or shrubs, including many of the well-known conifers of commercial importance such as cedars (Cedrus spp), firs (Abies spp), hemlocks (Tsuga spp and Pseudotsuga spp), larches (Larix spp), pines (Pinus spp) and spruces (Picea spp). They are the largest extant conifers in species diversity, with between 224 species (depending on taxonomic opinion) in 11 genera. The pines (Pinus spp) are the most important of the timber species. Plants in this family are somewhat threatened by global warming in many areas as the climates in local regions heat up making them stressed and vulnerable to insect attacks.
The Plantaginaceae: Plantain Family
The enlarged Plantaginaceae consists of 99 genera and about 1,900 species. A few species have been used as medicine, most notable being foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) of which digitalin (a cardiac stimulant) is derived. Psyllium (Plantago afra and other species) has a laxative effect and is a main component in over-the-counter treatments for constipation. This family produces many gorgeous flowers used in cultivation: snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), toadflax (Linaria spp), beard tongue (Penstemon spp), speedwell (Veronica spp) and many more.
The Platanaceae: Sycamore Family
The family consists of only a single extant genus Platanus, with eight known species. The wood of sycamores (called plane trees in the UK) is resistant to splitting and used to make buttons and butchers’ blocks. Most often these species are grown for their massive canopies, mottled trunks, and stimulating aroma.
The Poaceae: Grass family
Poaceae includes the important cereal grasses, bamboos and the grasses of natural grassland and cultivated lawns and pasture. With around 792 genera and over 11,000 species, Poaceae are the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Fabaceae and Rubiaceae. The most economically important plant family, producing food, spice, sweetener, perfume, building material, biofuel, animal fodder, and more. Wheat (Triticum spp) provides a fifth of the calories eaten by humans today. Also important food grasses: rye (Secale cereale), triticale (xTriticosecale, a hybrid of wheat and rye), barley (Hordeum vulgare), rice (Oryza sativa), corn (Zea mays), oats (Avena sativa), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor and others) and many more. Bamboo (many species in several genera) is an important building material throughout the world, superior to solid wood—there have been buildings that have collapsed inside bamboo scaffolding and the scaffolding has stayed erect! Oh, and the world would be pretty boring without sugar, produced from sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum, but also S. edule and S. barberi).