What Does a Desert Smell Like?

Smells of the Desert

Deserts are found on every continent on our planet, and account for one fifth of the Earth’s land surface. Despite being thought of as barren and desolate, deserts can support a wide array of life, and scents. Let’s have a look at some of these unique aromas that we associate with these sandy, vast, landscapes.

A field of Blue Agave plants

Blue Agave 

You might recognize Blue agave, or Agave tequilana, from our Sojourn Company Logo. A large succulent plant near and dear to our hearts, the Blue Agave plant is native to Mexico, but can be seen growing in rich and sandy soil across the Americas. You may recognize the scent of agave by its sweet and slightly earthy scent the next time you open a bottle of tequila, blue agave being its base ingredient.

Desert flower in bloom

Cactus Blossom

As cacti are most active in growth and bloom during the summer months, we associate this scent with dry and arid images, but the scent of flowering cactus blossom is in fact, sweet, and floral. As a flowing cactus is a rare site in the desert, coming across this subtle, green scent in the wild is a real treat!

Field of desert flowers on tall cacti

Desert Flower

Similar to cactus blossoms, desert flowers share hints of floral notes, with soft subtlety. The desert flowers of various species of cacti will vary slightly, from the Carnegiea gigantea to the Christmas cactus but all are pleasant to the olfactory senses.


It Is versatile and possesses a pleasant woodsy scent as we describe in depth in our “What Does Cedarwood Smell Like” article, The varieties of cedar wood have camphoraceous, slightly balsamic undertones that our brains find calming.

Prickly Pear

Described as crisp, cool and fruity, without overwhelming sweet notes, Prickly Pear may be one of our most potent scents in this grouping. The Pear Cactus or Prickly Pear thrive in various regions across the Americas.

Sage Brush

Bitter, spicy and recognizably unique, sage brushes aroma is sharp and clean when fresh broken from the stem. As its leaves are left to aerate, you may detect notes of berry and evergreen.

What Does the Desert Smell Like?

Our deserts house many unique seasons and geological events, and are prone to extreme swings of drought, and precipitation. With every new day comes an opportunity for a new sight, and scent. 

And now for today’s word of the day, Petrichor. Australian scientists coined the term Petrichor in 1964 to the indescribable scent that our brains associate with the scent of fallen rain. 

You may also associate the strong and often sulfurous odor of clay with the desert. Moist, and mossy after the fall of rain during the wet months.

While deserts may appear to consist only of sand, they are made up of so much more. There is, of course, lots of sand, but there are also rocks, plants and animal matter. Blue agave is one of the most prevalent plant fragrances associated with the deserts of the American Southwest. What does blue agave smell like?  It is a fresh, uplifting scent with citrus, floral and woodsy notes. Typically regarded as a spa fragrance, it is also commonly used in desert-inspired home fragrance products. 

While all deserts smell alike,  they all possess similar scent characteristics. Earthy, arid & clean, accentuated with floral, woody and herbal notes as you pass form landscape to landscape. 

Upon our travels throughout the American Southwest, earthy notes of clay mingle with aromas of cedar-wood as you pass higher in elevation to where these trees thrive, while many cannot. 

In the spring months, the scented gift of rain allows for desert flora to thrive. produce a beautiful bouquet of floral fragrances. Rosemary, Desert Flower and Agave blossom creating a symphony of lively scents. 

What can you Smell in the Desert?

Palo Santo 

Bursera graveolens, or the holy wood, Palo Santo is a sacred wood steeped in spiritual tradition. Its mix of pine, lemon and mint could be used in the desert to ward off insects, or in a cleansing ritual or meditation. We go further in depth as to what Palo Santo Smells like here.

Wood Smoke 

You may find yourself wafting in the scent of wood smoke from a nearby campfire, or a controlled brush burn. The dried woods of the desert make for perfect kindling. 

Juniper tree overlooking the Grand Canyon


Utah Junipers like the Alligator Juniper, or the Oneseed Juniper are staples of the desert landscape in the United States. Their checkered bark and branches are a shelter to all sorts of wildlife and can grow up to 8000 feet in elevation. The familiar scent of Juniper is clean, woody and has a distinct spice. 

Scent of the Desert

How does one capture this variety of flowers, woods, rock, sand and isolation into one scent? Well, we tried. Our Sojourn Company candles use a custom blend of both fragrance and essential oils from steam distillation to accomplish this feat. 

Distillation is the process of removing an ingredient’s essential oils by placing it above hot water. The infused steam that’s created, is then recondensed and it becomes aromatic liquid. For our Yucca Valley candle, we take advantage of this technique by incorporating Juniper Berry essential oil in our desert inspired scent. 

We feel the Juniper Berry well represents the durability of the wildlife in the desert, finding times to thrive in the warmer months, but hearty enough to survive during the winter.

What Does Palo Santo Candles Smell Like?

A dominant woodsy scent, with a playful mix of spices reminiscent of Myrrh and Copal, a Palo Santo candles scent can be tough to pin down. But what would the fun in that be?

We use the scent of Palo Santo proudly in our Yucca Valley candle, our ode to the desert landscape of the Mojave Desert. You may detect subtle base notes of deep cedar, dry oak moss, and freshly cultivated Juniper berry.  Let us know what memories our Yucca Valley candle brings to your mind?