What is a Sub-shrub?

You may see plants listed under a subshrub category; how can they be used in a pollinator garden?

A sub-shrub is a type of plant that has woody stems at the base, but herbaceous or non-woody stems and leaves above ground. Sub-shrubs are often smaller in size compared to shrubs and are a great addition to a low desert pollinator garden because they are native to the region and provide food and shelter for pollinators.

subshrub (Latin suffrutex) or dwarf shrub is a short shrub, and is a woody plantProstrate shrub is a related term. “Subshrub” is often used interchangeably with “bush“.[1]

Because the criteria are matters of degree (normally of height) rather than of kind, the definition of a subshrub is not sharply distinguishable from that of a shrub; examples of reasons for describing plants as subshrubs include ground-hugging stems or low growth habit. Subshrubs may be largely herbaceous though still classified as woody, with overwintering perennial woody growth much lower-growing than deciduous summer growth. Some plants described as subshrubs are only weakly woody and some persist for only for a few years.


Sub-shrubs are useful in a low desert pollinator garden for several reasons. Firstly, they are hardy and can survive in hot, dry conditions with little water, making them well-suited to the low desert environment. Secondly, they provide a source of nectar and pollen for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Finally, sub-shrubs can be used as a border or filler plant in a pollinator garden, helping to create a diverse and visually appealing landscape.

In addition, sub-shrubs can be used in a variety of ways in a low desert pollinator garden. For example, they can be planted in clusters to create a mass of color that will attract pollinators. They can also be used to create a border around the edges of the garden or along pathways. Finally, sub-shrubs can be used to fill in gaps between larger shrubs or trees, creating a layered effect that provides shelter and food for a variety of pollinators.

The Sonoran Desert is a unique and diverse region that spans parts of California, Arizona, and Mexico. Here are some examples of plants that may be categorized as subshrubs, although some are woody and can get quite tall:

  1. Agave spp
  2. Baja Fairy Duster(Calliandra californica)
  3. Blackfoot Daisy(Melampodium leucanthum)
  4. Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
  5. Burrobush(Ambrosia dumosa)
  6. Catclaw Acacia(Senegalia greggii)
  7. Colorado FourO’clock (Mirabilis multiflora)
  8. Chuparosa (Justicia californica)
  9. Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides)
  10. Desert Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
  11. Desert Honeysuckle(Anisacanthus 
  12. Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
  13. Desert (Rush) Milkweed(Asclepias subulata)
  14. Eastern Mojave Buckwheat(Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium)
  15. Parish’s Goldeneye(Bahiopsis parishii)
  16. Pink Fairyduster(Calliandria eriophylla)
  17. Penstemon spp 
  18. Prairie Acacia(Acaciella angustissima)
  19. Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
  20. Wright’s Buckwheat(Eriogonum wrightii)

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