Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Zinnia acerosa, Desert Zinnia

Desert Zinnia has white or off-white flowers with yellow centers. Note flowers have both ray and disk florets. Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia bracts that surround the floral heads have rounded over ends, oblong in shape. Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia blooms from April or May through October following adequate monsoon rainfall. Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia leaves are green, and the blades are narrowly linear, stiff to needle shaped. The leaves are clustered at the nodes in twos or threes.  Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia is limited in distribution in the United States primarily to central and southern Arizona with much smaller isolated populations in NM, TX and UT. Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia is found in elevations from 2,500 to 6,500 feet (762-1,981 m); habitat preferences are upper deserts, dry and rocky slopes and flats, mesas, caliche or calcareous soils. Zinnia acerosa

Scientific Name: Zinnia acerosa
Common Name: Desert Zinnia

Also Called: Dwarf Zinnia, Dwarf White Zinnia, Shrubby Zinnia, Southern Zinnia, Spinyleaf Zinnia, Wild Zinnia (Spanish: Zinia, Hierba del Burro)

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: (Crassina pumila, Diplothrix acerosa, Zinnia pumila)

Status: Native

Duration: Perennial

Size: Small, 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm).

Growth Form: Forb/herb, subshrub; plants rounded or low flat-topped mounding; woody base; numerous branches; surfaces covered with soft, weak and thin hairs (pilose).

Leaves: Green; blades narrowly linear, stiff to needle shaped; leaves clustered at nodes in twos or threes; leaves arranged oppositely along stem.

Flower Color: White or off-white with yellow centers, pale yellow; single floral heads with both ray and disk florets; disk flowers yellow; bracts surrounding heads with ends rounded over (oblong); fruit is a cypsela.

Flowering Season: April or May to October following monsoon rainfall

Elevation: 2,500 to 6,500 feet (762-1,981 m)

Habitat Preferences: Upper deserts, dry and rocky slopes and flats, mesas, caliche or calcareous soils.

Recorded Range: In the United States, Desert Zinnia is limited in distribution; primarily to central and southern Arizona with much smaller isolated populations in NM, TX and UT. It is also native to northern, eastern and central Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Zinnia acerosa.

North America species range map for Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa:

Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map

North America species range map for Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa:

Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
Wetland Indicator: Unknown
Threatened/Endangered Information: Unknown

Genus Information: In North America there are 4 native species and 1 accepted taxa overall for Zinnia; there are 3 introduced species. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 22 accepted species names and a further 13 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Zinnia.

The genus Zinnia was published in 1759 by Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778).

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, Texas and Utah each have 3 species of Zinnia, California and Nevada each have 0 species, New Mexico has 2 species. Data approximate, subject to revision.

Comments: Desert Zinnia has the heart of its United States population in Arizona. Its flowers readily attract insects especially butterflies as noted below. Desert Zinnia differs from the similar Rocky Mountain Zinnia, Zinna multiflora, which has bright yellow flowers. As with other Zinnia’s, Desert Zinnia is a popular arid landscape plant in Arizona and the southwest.

Also see in Southwest Desert Flora: Rocky Mountain Zinnia, Zinnia grandiflora and Peruvian Zinnia, Zinnia peruviana.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa has attractive flowers, the flowers, their seeds and plants may be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals including rodents and granivorous birds in search of food, nectar and protection through cover.

Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Honey Bees and Insects
Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa has attractive flowers, the flowers and their plants may be visited or used by butterflies, moths, flies, honeybees, native bees.

****Special Value to Native Bees****
According to The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa, is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of Native bees. Click here for more information on their Pollinator Conservation Program.

The genus “Zinnia” is from Johann Gottfried Zinn, (1727–1759), a German anatomist and botanist. Mr. Zinn was also a member of the Berlin Academy. It was a botanist, Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778) who named a genus of flowers in the family Asteraceae, native from Mexico, as “Zinnia” in his honor.

The genus Zinnia was published in 1759 by Carl Linnaeus, (1707-1778).

The species epithet acerosa (acero'sa:) (acerosa) sharp, or with stiff needles

Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa is used by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Keres, Western Drug, Antirheumatic (External); Crushed plant paste mixed with salt and used on swellings or aches.
  • Keres, Western Drug, Psychological Aid; Plant given to children to quickly learn to talk.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

    Date Profile Completed: 8/2/2012; updated 01/08/2021
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, as Zinnia pumila.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search; accessed 01/07/2021.
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet;; accessed 01/07/2021.
    Alan R. Smith, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 21 | Asteraceae- Zinnia; 1. Zinnia acerosa (de Candolle) A. Gray, Smithsonian Contr. Knowl. 3(5): 105. 1852. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet; accessed 01/07/2021. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    FNA 2006, Wiggins 1964; Editors: S.Buckley 2010, F.S.Coburn 2015; from SEINet Field Guide, on-line; accessed 01/07/2021.
    Michael J. Plagens; Arizonensis; Field Guide; Sonoran Desert Flora; Asteraceae, Desert Zinnia - Zinnia acerosa; accessed 01/07/2021.
    T. Beth Kinsey, Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and Plants; - Zinnia acerosa – Desert Zinnia - accessed 01/07/2021.
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Zinnia acerosa', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 February 2018, 03:04 UTC, [accessed 7 January 2021]
    Seiler, John, Peterson, John, North American species range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    Etymology:Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 01/07/2021)
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Johann Gottfried Zinn', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 October 2019, 17:03 UTC, [accessed 7 January 2021]
    IPNI (2020). International Plant Names Index. Published on the Internet, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries and Australian National Botanic Gardens. [Retrieved 07 January 2021].