Homage to Arizona: 3

Arizona cactus-1

(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)

I found these looping cacti in the botanical gardens in Phoenix, where exotic species display the most amazing attributes, all of which they developed to survive and compete in a very hostile climate. Arizona vegetation is tough and extremely well defended (as anyone knows who has brushed carelessly against a prickly-pear cactus). I admire those traits.


  1. That’s stunning. Tough and extremely well-defended are lovely traits, especially in defense of something worthwhile.

  2. how come Arizona and similar New World deserts haven’t spawned persistent religions like the old Sinai memes?

  3. Prickly Pear grows vigorously in our Michigan gardens, collapsing and shriveling up when the ground freezes. This time of year the squirrels dig it out of the snow and nibble the unripe fruits.
    I’m propagating mine to anyone who will take rooted cuttings, for the sole reason that it amuses me to be the origin of a clonal colony of cacti in the frozen north.

  4. I used to grow that species in a window container when i lived in south west Colorado. i found some even more bizarre species on the tropical island of St. John that i grew for years, some of the cacti there were over twice as tall as I was. there was even an orange leafless spaghetti vine that grew there and hermit/soldier crabs everywhere. nature in its endless beautiful surprising variations is truly amazing.

  5. The botanical gardens pictured here are actually right in the middle of the city, and very close to the new light rail system. So those of you who work downtown or go to ASU (Arizona State for you transplants), I encourage you to go and see these miracles in person.

    also, @Takuan: Actually, New Age quasi-religion is a cottage industry in Sedona, which is said to have a lot of “vortexes” where magic happens. If you want details, ask anyone who buys a lot of crystals and turquoise.

  6. Hiking outside of Tucson when a cholla ball randomly dropped onto my boot and went through it into my foot. Quite badass.

  7. “Arizona vegetation is tough and extremely well defended. I admire those traits.”

    That’s why I like your mom so much.

  8. I too ponder the prickly pear cactus. The question I have is why does the fruit have thorns if it is a medium by which it propagates? Clearly the plant exacts it’s price if an animal manages to eat it solely by the thousands of inedible seeds that inhabits it.

    Perhaps the thorns help prevent it from digestion before the fruit drops, to maximize the spread of seeds among many small fury creatures rather than a few large ones?

  9. @8
    Now when you pick a pawpaw
    Or a prickly pear
    And you prick a raw paw
    Next time beware
    Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
    When you pick a pear
    Try to use the claw
    But you don’t need to use the claw
    When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw

    Have I given you a clue ?

  10. The botanical gardens are quite nice, I used to have a membership there.

    The thing you have to understand immediately when you move to Arizona (and visiting the gardens is a good lesson in this) is that EVERYTHING there, plants, animals, insects, the land, etc, etc, wants to kill you.

    My backyard (shout out to Estrella) has fifty different ways to die.

    This is the only place I have ever been where taking a nap in the wrong place at the wrong time of year is likely to be a fatal mistake.

  11. If you want to experience Arizona vegetation and wildlife, IMO there’s no better place than the Tucson Desert Museum (http://www.desertmuseum.org/). It’s an amazing learning center. I take everyone who comes to visit me there and I’m still not bored with it.

    of course I also think it’s impossible to ever not want to see another saguaro. . .they are so lovable :)

  12. Chihuly glass sculptures are at the DBG right now and in the way they are placed they are a fantastic complement to the natural plants.

    Also, every year during the Christmas season, they have the lluminaria exhibit, where the garden is reopened after dark and the paths are lit with thousands of luminarias (candles in paper bags to those not familiar). While you walk through there are several performers at different points doing everything from carols to a jazz trio.

    Seeing all of this light up in the night was truly magnificent. maybe if I get off my ass and do somthing about it I can get it into my flickr stream…

  13. @jeffgbrock re Arizona vegetation:

    “…everything wants to kill you.”

    Yes, but only in self defense!

  14. What #18 said. I love the botanical gardens in Phoenix, but for a hardcore fix, you go to Tucson.

    There’s a motel called the Ghost Ranch Lodge in a slightly shabby section of town. When it was built, it was a nicer neighborhood.

    As of about five years ago, the prices were quite reasonable. From the front, the motel doesn’t look like much, though it has a snappy logo, a neon sign that features a Georgia O’Keefe cow skull.

    Turns out the fellow who originally opened the museum was a buddy of O’Keefe’s, and the fellow who collected many of the specimens in the Desert Museum.

    The motel itself is my idea of heaven. It has spacious grounds with many gardens. Half the ground are in an orange grove, the other half are in an exceptional cactus and succulent garden. The boojum tree here is better than the one at either Phoenix’s botanical garden or the Desert Museum’s. Why? Because it was collected by the same guy who collected for the museum collection.

    The gardens are maintained by the folks from “Plants for the Southwest” a nursery that is a MUST on your tour if you are interested in desert plants. I’m a lithops freak and they let me have a tour of their propagation area. Lithops are “living stones” and native to South Africa, but they are very happy to grow in Southern Arizona. This nursery has more of them than any other place outside of South Africa.

    Lithops are wonderful. Lithops, like striped pajama squid, are one of those things that make life worth living. Here’s a link to the nursery: http://www.lithops.net/

    The motel had just changed hands when I last visited, about five years ago. As it was, there ws a pool and a hot tub and lovely grounds and a very humble, yet pleasant, little restaurant. The rooms were all a little worn, well-loved you might say, but the prices were very reasonable. For family travel in particular, it was a wonderful spot. You could get rooms with kitchens, suites of rooms, rooms that came with their own little courtyards. It was all adorable.

    I’m crossing my fingers that it hasn’t changed much. Here’s a link to the motel: http://www.ghostranchlodge.com/

    From the ghost ranch, you’d get up early and drive to the desert museum. Just the ride was a joy, over a gorgeous mountain path through thick stands of saguaro. So much life in such a fierce desert climate, so much beauty. It was all a total jaw-dropper.

  15. Brownhb, Pipenta: That museum is everything you say. And the outskirts of Tucson wins for Best Desert Lightning in a Dramatic Setting.

  16. Anonymous #7:

    The orange vine sounds like dodder, a parasitic vine. It’s orange due to lack of chlorophyll. There are several species in the U.S. I occasionally see them at the side of the road during the summer here in NC –a startling sight.

  17. Grew up in the Tucson foothills and got to visit the Sonoran desert musuem often. It really is a wonderful place. I’ve lived all over the country… Washington, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Florida. All have their nice aspects, but there’s just nothing like the the deep rainbow sunsets, filled bright by electrical storms during monsoons, and strange flora & fauna out there. Just had an astronomy professor who showed the class slides of the observatory up on Kitt’s peak too… everybody’s conspiring to make me homesick :\

  18. aww, I’m enjoying the Tucson love-fest. Makes me want to go run out into the desert right now. The weather is perfect for it.

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