TREK: A Love Affair with the Sonoran Desert (Photo Essay)

TREK: A Love Affair with the Sonoran Desert (Photo Essay)

Sonoran Desert Landscape - Camelback Mountain, Phoenix

On a recent trip to AZ, I ventured out to a place I had not visited in my many years of annual trips: The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  There are over 200 botanical gardens and arboretums (botanical gardens devoted to trees) in North America, most of them located in or near urban areas. 

The Desert Botanical Gardens includes 4 themed easily accessible trails.  Many different kinds of cacti are featured including threatened and endangered species.

The Desert Botanical Gardens includes 4 themed easily accessible trails.  Many different kinds of cacti are featured including threatened and endangered species.

What do botanical gardens actually do?

Botanical gardens collect, cultivate and display a large variety of plant species. Some demonstrate native plant ecosystems while others may offer a glimpse of historical gardens.  Each garden has its defined purpose and unique history.  In addition to conducting horticultural and plant research, many offer tours, educational programs and related art classes (on my visit there were watercolor artists painting scenes in the garden).  Some gardens rent out their space for special events.  

While I prefer the natural and quiet landscape found in our public lands, my plant nerdy-ness wants to identify and learn about new plants that I encounter…it’s an affliction that keeps my hikes short and my companions limited!  In my home region, I always take a field guide (or two) out on hikes, identifying my way through blooming wild flowers, leaf shapes, fleshy fruits, popping seeds and bark texture.  But when I don’t know the plants of a place and have limited time, I find botanical gardens a great way to spend a day meeting new plants that are clearly identified and sometimes include some unique information.

Here in the PNW it's been a LONG winter with lots of moisture and grayness everywhere. This photo essay is filled with the sturdy plants that have adapted to the harsh, sunny Sonoran desert. I included what I know about the plants. Enjoy!

Somewhat ubiquitous in the American Southwest, these are found in many landscaped yards.

Many of the cacti had bloomed early but I managed to find a few blooms & fruits.

Many of the cacti had bloomed early but I managed to find a few blooms & fruits.

Barrel Cactus - There are many species in this genus and they are "well-protected" from animals who might want to suck out the moisture held inside this succulent.  Those needles are sharp!  Cacti can be sources of water for a parched traveller but said traveller needs to know which ones: some excrete a gooey chemical in the moisture that will make the cactus drinker quite ill.

Barrel Cactus - There are many species in this genus and they are "well-protected" from animals who might want to suck out the moisture held inside this succulent.  Those needles are sharp!  Cacti can be sources of water for a parched traveller but said traveller needs to know which ones: some excrete a gooey chemical in the moisture that will make the cactus drinker quite ill.

My first impression: A succulent version of Medusa's head.  On the right, I love the lumpy textures of these species.

My first impression: A succulent version of Medusa's head.  On the right, I love the lumpy textures of these species.

Do you recognize those thick fleshy leaves? If you grow aloe vera, you do! The aloe genus is huge - over 500 species found in the hotter regions of the world.  They seldom bloom here in the north but these plants were in full bloom. Taking photos in the middle of a sunny day is not a good thing for the photos but our other destination was cancelled after we saw the traffic!

Do you recognize those thick fleshy leaves? If you grow aloe vera, you do! The aloe genus is huge - over 500 species found in the hotter regions of the world.  They seldom bloom here in the north but these plants were in full bloom. Taking photos in the middle of a sunny day is not a good thing for the photos but our other destination was cancelled after we saw the traffic!

The diversity within the succulent family is not as diverse as other plants families but they do offer a range of sizes, shapes, colors and textures.

The diversity within the succulent family is not as diverse as other plants families but they do offer a range of sizes, shapes, colors and textures.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus - named for obvious reasons

Fishhook Barrel Cactus - named for obvious reasons

I am always amazed at the amount of energy that a plant puts into growing a stalk and flowering. To see it in the desert is even more dramatic.  That takes some serious energy.

I am always amazed at the amount of energy that a plant puts into growing a stalk and flowering. To see it in the desert is even more dramatic.  That takes some serious energy.

Hadn't seen this before...reminded me of the invasive English Ivy that grows up our North American trees.  I was curious about how fast this species grew and if it prefers the shade of a tree.  

Hadn't seen this before...reminded me of the invasive English Ivy that grows up our North American trees.  I was curious about how fast this species grew and if it prefers the shade of a tree.

 

Agave - the genus of tequila!

Agave - the genus of tequila!

And the plant art!  The first frame is a welded version of the classic Sonoran saguaro, the second frame is simply wonderful (I would love this in my yard!) and the third frame is the wonderful Chihuly interpretation of cacti.  Sweet little surprises among the garden!

And the plant art!  The first frame is a welded version of the classic Sonoran saguaro, the second frame is simply wonderful (I would love this in my yard!) and the third frame is the wonderful Chihuly interpretation of cacti.  Sweet little surprises among the garden!

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