Monday, January 27, 2014

Desert Botanical Garden

Hailing from the forests of the Northeast, the Southwest Desert presents itself as a surreally beautiful, alien landscape. Slowly I am beginning to make friends with the indigenous plants.    Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ, has helped with the acclimatization.

On the way in to the garden..inspiration for native landscaping!

See the three glass cacti? The gardens are hosting  a Chihuly exhibition
from November, 2013 to May, 2014

The gardens offer guided tours, audio tours and specialized trails for the Sonoran Desert, uses of plants and areas for different genera I opted for the audio tour, but with limited time, I found myself more like a kid in a thorny candy store..photographing and learning about whatever moved or most caught my interest..

Something moved!..Mmm, beep, beep

Some plants were familiar from Long Island..we have a native Opuntia,  Opuntia humufusa. The Opuntia genus is named for the ancient Greek city of Opus, where according to Theophrastus, an edible plant grew  ,which could be rooted by it's leaves.

 Opuntia are also known as Nopales, from Nahuatle word, nopalli, referring to the 'paddles', Paddle Cactus or Prickly Pear (for it's fruit). 

The "paddles" and the pear-like fruits are edible. The paddles of course, must be skinned..Opuntia, have straight spines, and/or glochids..small hair-like spines that can break off from the plant and stay stuck in your skin. There are 200 species of Opuntia in North America (Thank You Wikipedia)  
Opuntia rufida has only reddish glochids (rufida)

Some fine spines, or glochids can be seen in this enlargement.

Opuntia microdasy or Bunny-Eared Prickly Pear.

                                           Real bunny ears..a Desert Cottontail.

Chollas are another fascinating cactus..once classified as Opuntia (don't ask me why) but now have their own genus, Cylindropuntia.. I am told they have beautiful purple flowers in the spring. They also have diabolical spines that can break off and lodge in your skin..

A Cholla in a refined setting..

A "Cholla Forest"  along a nearby highway
These individuals may have the same DNA.

Where, you might be wondering, is the iconic cactus of the Sonoran Desert..the Saguaro, Canrnegiea gigantea? 

They were all along the roads heading into Phoenix, here with some Cholla.

The Saguaro are arborescent (tree-like) cacti found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. They are slow-growing and can live to be 100-150 years old. They have yellow flowers in the spring, the Arizona State Flower, and red fruits. They have an extensive root system, most of which is near the surface, but with one long tap root. A mature specimen can absorb 700 gallons of water over 10 days.     

Here, in the garden, with Organ Pipe Cacti (Stenocereus thurberi).

Saguaro cacti grow with the help of "nurse trees". For Saguaro seeds to germinate, the fruit must be eaten, the seed coat digested, and then the seed expelled.

Animals eating the fruit generally do so under trees, such as the Palo Verde or Mesquite. The branches of the tree then protect the baby cacti from too much sun or wind and make it harder for them to be trampled. As the cacti grow, they also receive water and nutrients from the tree. Eventually the tree dies from it's exertions.

Baby Saguaro underneath a Palo Verde tree

   Adolescent Saguaro, taking over it's nurse tree.

 Bird break! Flocks of Gambels Quail were everywhere.

                                      A male 
                               A female                                     

A beautiful stand of Organ Pipe Cacti.. (Stenocereus thurberi)See the nesting holes?  Birds nest in these, and in Saguaros.

Organ Pipe "pleats" expand and contract with water availability.

Organ Pipe and an Octotillo, Foquieria splendens.
Octotillo are not true cacti and 
look all but dead in the dry season.

Fishhook Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus wislizeni  is another dangerous beauty. A puncture to the human skin from one of the 'fishhooks' is considered a "dirty wound" and may require antibiotics. (wikipedia) . Barrel cacti water contains oxalic acid, and may cause stomach pain if too much is ingested. One has to admire the defenses and adaptations of these plants..from a distance!

Ferocactus wislizeni , Candy Barrel or Arizona Barrel

The eponymous 'Fishhooks'

Lizard break! Maybe a Western Fence Lizard?

Not all desert plants are cacti.. Agaves and Yuccas, succulents, both belong to the Agave family. These plants were more familiar as Yucca filimentosa is a Long Island native. 

Although the common Aloe houseplant look like Agaves, I learned that they are examples of convergent evolution, and are very different plants. The Aloes are "old world" plants, native to Sub-Saharan Africa, the Agaves are native to the Southwest.  Agaves and Yuccas are Monocarpic..flowering only once in their lifetimes

Agaves under a Mesquite Tree. Sorry, no better ID.

Mesquite Trees are legumes, have been around since the Mastodons, 
their beans are 35% protein, and their roots can go as deep as 60ft.
A better look at Mesquite bark.

Mesquite Leaves

This is Cousin It! Yucca Rigida with an Agave friend.

As you can see, the desert has varied and miraculous flora, which could take a lifetime to explore...this is all I could accomplish in two hours...except for...

Life bird! Curved Bill Thrasher, Toxostoma curvirostre
Water, water, water...There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount, a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes, towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here, unless you try to establish a city where no city should be~ Edward Abbey