Questions: How long may it take for desert perennial vegetation to recover from prolonged human disturbance and how do different plant community variables (i.e. diversity, density and cover) change during the recovery process? Location: Sonoran Desert, Arizona, USA. Methods: Since protection from grazing from 1907 onwards, plant diversity, density and cover of perennial species were monitored intermittently on ten 10 m x 10 m permanent plots on Tumamoc Hill, Tucson, Arizona, USA. Results: The study shows an exceptionally slow recovery of perennial vegetation from prolonged heavy grazing and other human impacts. Since protection, overall species richness and habitat heterogeneity at the study site continued to increase until the 1960s when diversity, density and cover had been stabilized. During the same period, overall plant density and cover also increased. Species turnover increased gradually with time but no significant relation between any of the three community variables and precipitation or Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) was detected. Conclusions: It took more than 50 yr for the perennial vegetation to recover from prolonged human disturbance. The increases in plant species richness, density, and cover of the perennial vegetation were mostly due to the increase of herbaceous species, especially palatable species. The lack of a clear relationship between environment (e.g. precipitation) and community variables suggests that site history and plant life history must be taken into account in examining the nature of vegetation recovery processes after disturbance.