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Dalea frutescens

Black Dalea


Origin and Adaptability:

Originating from the arid landscapes of North America, Dalea frutescens, commonly known as Black Dalea, is a versatile and resilient plant that thrives in a variety of climates. Well-suited for landscapes with arid conditions, this plant adapts to well-drained soils, providing landscape architects with a sturdy and adaptable design option. Also recognized by the name Black Prairie Clover, this plant offers a unique combination of beauty and functionality to outdoor designs.

Architectural Form and Foliage:

Black Dalea is characterized by its distinctive architectural form as a perennial shrub. Its fine, fern-like foliage adds an elegant touch to outdoor spaces, creating a visually appealing canvas for landscape architects. Whether used as a standalone focal point, incorporated into mixed plantings, or part of a native plant palette, the shrub's foliage enhances the overall aesthetic appeal, contributing to a well-balanced and visually pleasing design.

Floral Display and Growth Speed:

The plant showcases slender spikes of dark purple to nearly black flowers, providing a striking floral display. With a moderate growth rate, Black Dalea ensures a harmonious balance between prompt establishment and long-term manageability for landscape designers. This characteristic allows for the creation of landscapes that evolve gracefully over time, offering clients dynamic and aesthetically pleasing outdoor environments.

Light and Water Requirements:

Thriving under full sunlight, Black Dalea reaches its full potential when exposed to at least six hours of sunlight daily. While it can tolerate partial shade, providing abundant sunlight enhances its growth and overall vibrancy. As a drought-tolerant species, Black Dalea requires minimal water once established, making it an ideal choice for sustainable landscape designs.

Wildlife Support and Biodiversity:

Indigenous to North America, Black Dalea plays a crucial role in supporting local biodiversity. Its flowers attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, providing landscape architects with an opportunity to create outdoor spaces that contribute to the well-being of native pollinating wildlife. Additionally, the plant may support various bird species, enhancing the ecological balance of the landscape.

Cultural Significance and Local Context:

While specific traditional uses might not be extensively documented, some plants in the Dalea genus have been historically used by indigenous communities for medicinal purposes. Native American tribes often had a deep knowledge of local flora and their potential health benefits. Landscape architects can highlight its regional significance and incorporate it into designs that reflect the local flora, fostering a sense of connection to the surrounding environment.

Challenges and Considerations:

Black Dalea is generally low-maintenance, but landscape architects should consider its mature size and growth habit during the planning stages. Pruning and maintenance may be required to ensure optimal flowering and a well-structured growth pattern. The shrub's adaptability to different soil types and conditions makes it a versatile choice, but attention to these details contributes to its overall health and longevity in the landscape.

Integration into Landscape Designs:

With its striking floral display, adaptability, and moderate growth rate, Black Dalea seamlessly integrates into diverse landscape designs. Designers can use it to enhance xeriscape gardens, introduce a focal point in rock gardens, or as a key element in native plantings, contributing to the overall aesthetic appeal of outdoor spaces. As a member of the legume family, Black Dalea has nitrogen-fixing nodules on its roots, enhancing soil fertility. This trait is ecologically important as it helps neighboring plants access essential nutrients.

Designing with Black Dalea:

For landscape architects and designers, Dalea frutescens, commonly known as Black Dalea, provides an opportunity to infuse outdoor spaces with vibrant floral displays, wildlife support, and adaptability. Landscape architects and designers may choose native plants like Black Dalea for their projects to create designs that are ecologically sustainable and reflective of the local environment. This aligns with a growing appreciation for native plant landscaping and habitat restoration. Whether featured prominently or subtly integrated into a diverse plant palette, this shrub adds a touch of elegance and ecological balance to landscape designs, creating dynamic and environmentally conscious outdoor environments.

USDA Zone Range


Mature Height

5 feet

Flower Color


Native Region

Southwest United States and Sonoran Mexico


Perennial shrub

Soil Type

Well-drained, poor, shallow soil or xeric conditions

Planting Guidelines

How to Plant a Perennial Plant in the Desert Southwest

Perennials add a burst of color and life to any desert Southwest landscape, providing continuous blooms year after year. With proper selection (based on your local conditions) and care, these low-maintenance plants can thrive in the hot, dry climate. Here's a guide to ensure your desert perennials flourish in your xeriscape:

Planting Time:

Fall (late September to November) is generally the ideal planting time. Cooler temperatures and occasional rain showers encourage root establishment before the summer heat arrives. Early spring (February-March) can work as well but be prepared for more frequent watering during the initial establishment period. Planting perennials in late May to August when temperatures can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit can be a recipe for a quick death. Choose your planting time for perennials carefully.

Planting in the Ground -


• Shovel
• Soil amendments (compost, organic matter, coarse sand) - for caliche soil only
• Rake (optional)
• Watering can or hose

1. Location Selection: Choose a location that receives appropriate sunlight for your chosen perennial. Full sun varieties need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily, while part-sun perennials prefer some afternoon shade.

2. Soil Preparation:

o Native Soil: Desert soils are often heavy clay or caliche, which can hinder drainage and root development for perennials. Here's how to improve drainage:

- Identify your soil type: Scrape away a few inches of topsoil and examine the underlying soil. Caliche is a white, hardpan layer that can be challenging to penetrate.
- Amending caliche soil: If you have caliche, thoroughly break up the compacted layer with a pickaxe or similar tool as much as possible within the planting area. Then, incorporate a generous amount of organic matter (compost, shredded bark) and coarse sand into the planting hole and surrounding soil to a depth of 12-18 inches. Mix the amendments thoroughly with the native soil to improve drainage.

o Existing beds: If your planting area is not caliche, consider amending the existing soil with organic matter to improve drainage and provide nutrients. Mix compost or shredded bark into the top 12 inches of soil.

o Raised beds: Raised beds offer the best drainage and avoid altering your existing soil composition. Fill them with a well-draining potting mix specifically formulated for cacti and succulents.

3. Digging the Hole: Dig a hole 2-3 times wider than the diameter of the plant's root ball and slightly deeper than the root ball itself.

4. Planting the Perennial: Carefully remove the plant from its container, ensuring the root ball remains intact. Gently loosen any tightly packed roots with your fingers.

5. Backfill and Water: Place the plant in the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball sits level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with the amended soil or potting mix, gently tamping it down to eliminate air pockets. Water thoroughly until the surrounding soil is moist but not soggy.

Planting in Container Gardens -

Perennials can be grown in containers combined with shrubs, annual plants, and vegetables for an ornamental display. If your soil is primarily caliche and amending the ground is not feasible, consider planting your perennials in containers as well.


• Container with drainage holes
• Well-draining potting mix
• Potting bench (optional)
• Watering can or hose

1. Container Selection: Choose a container 2-3 inches wider in diameter than the perennial's root ball. Opt for a pot with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Clay or terracotta pots provide good air circulation for the roots.

2. Potting Mix: Use a well-draining potting mix.

3. Planting the Perennial: Fill the container with the potting mix, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Gently remove the perennial from its container and loosen any compacted roots. Place the plant in the pot, ensuring the top of the root ball sits at the same level as the surrounding mix. Fill the remaining space with potting mix and tamp it down gently.

4. Watering: Water thoroughly until the water drains freely from the bottom of the pot.



• Ground-planted perennials: Water deeply and infrequently, allowing the soil to dry completely between waterings. Established perennials in desert landscapes may only need deep watering once a month during the hottest months. Avoid overwatering, which can lead to root rot.
• Containerized perennials: Water more frequently than ground-planted perennials, as the potting mix dries out faster. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.


Fertilizer application at planting time is not typically necessary for desert-adapted perennials. However, if the foliage appears pale, a light application of a balanced, diluted fertilizer formulated for houseplants can be applied during the growing season (spring and summer).


Applying a 2–3-inch layer of loose pebbles or gravel or an organic mulch (shredded bark, wood chips) around the base of the plant (both ground-planted and containerized) helps retain moisture in the soil, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Leave a few inches of clearance between the mulch and the plant stem to prevent moisture buildup.

Additional Tips:

• Winter Protection: While most desert perennials are winter hardy, some tender varieties may benefit from protection during cold snaps. Cover them with frost cloth or burlap during freezing temperatures.
• Summer Protection: Cover newly planted perennials with 30% shade cloth during heat spells, particularly in the first season of growth.

By following these steps and selecting perennials suited to your specific desert conditions, you can create a vibrant and flourishing perennial garden in your xeriscape that provides beauty and attracts pollinators throughout the year.


Elevation Range

2000 to 5000 feet

Mature Width

5 feet

Plant Type


Growth Habit

Rounded, open, delicate leaves

Wildlife and Pollinators

Butterflies, bees, nectar insects, dogface butterfly

Sunlight Requirements

Full sun

Water Requirements

erought tolerant


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