Olneya tesota – Desert Ironwood

Olneya tesota - Desert Ironwood (flowers)

Olneya tesota - Desert Ironwood (flowers and leaves)

Olneya tesota - Desert Ironwood (bean pods)

Olneya tesota - Desert Ironwood (bark)

Olneya tesota - Desert Ironwood

Plant Name

Scientific Name: Olneya tesota

Common Name: Desert Ironwood

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial

Growth Habit: Tree, Shrub

Arizona Native Status: Native

Habitat: Desert. This cold sensitive plant is found below 2500 feet (762 m) in elevation, which means that it grows on the west side of Tucson, but not on the higher elevation east side.

Flower Color: Purple and white, Purple and pale pink

Flowering Season: Spring (late), Summer (early). It blooms in May and early June.

Height: To 35 feet (10.7 m) tall

Description: The flowers are pea-like and 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) wide. The wing petals are purple, while the other petals are white to pale pink. The trees are a beautiful and distinctive light purple color when in full bloom. The flowers are followed by plump, oblong bean pods that are narrowed between seeds and dry to a tan color on the plant. The leaves are pinnately compound with small, rounded, dull bluish green leaflets. The branches have sharp thorns. The bark is silvery gray in color and becomes rough with age. The wood is hard like iron and very dense, making it unusually heavy.

Special Characteristics

Legal StatusProtected Native Plant (Salvage Assessed, Harvest Restricted)


Kingdom: Plantae – Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta – Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae – Pea family
Genus: Olneya A. Gray – olneya
Species: Olneya tesota A. Gray – desert ironwood

More About This Plant

Arizona County Distribution Map