Have you ever been in a garden that offered free sunscreen in the restrooms? Or where sightings and encounters with wild animals could occur? Or where lightning occurs during the summer monsoon season and you must seek indoor shelter? These are some of the safety precautions offered during the visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Gardens. Whew, I’m leery of walking along the trails. The Desert Loop Trail states it is hot, dry, dusty and bumpy……a half-mile long and uphill on the way back. Hmm……there seem to be plenty of docents along the trail however, to remind us NOT TO FEED THE ANIMALS and answer any questions we have. She also reminds us to stay on the paths and if we are separated from our party for any length of time to alert a staff member or docent immediately! But I want to see the Cat Canyon, the Desert Grassland, the Mountain Woodland and the Life on the Rocks, so here we go!
The Museum was founded in 1952, when folks were wondering if it would be just another roadside snake farm. It was dedicated to the Sonoran Desert region with 85% of the museum outdoors and made up of 97 acres, of which 47 are developed. There are two miles of walking trails, 16 individual gardens, 1200 native plants species and 56,000 individual plants. There are also 230 native mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds, including the Hummingbird aviary. There is an Earth Science Center which re-creates an underground cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites, and houses one of the world’s best mineral collections in the world.
And I am very interested in the plants!
The many, usually unbranched stems that arise from ground level distinguish the Organ Pipe Cactus. Plants are usually 9 to 11 feet tall, but can get as high as 20 feet. From April to August, pinkish-white flowers open after dark and close at sunrise! Nectar feeding bats pollinate them and the fruit is regarded as the second best-tasting after the Stenocereus cacti. The fruits are popular and sold in markets in Sonora and Baja, California.
The thick barrel-shaped body of this cactus is usually 2-4 feet wide and reaches 10 feet tall. Flower colors are orange with a stripe of darker shade on each petal. Cactus bees pollinate the flowers. The fruit remains until it is removed by animals and may remain on the plant for a year. Birds, squirrels, deer and javelina eat the fruit. The tall, ridged cacti, to the right, is Senita, which grows up to 13 feet tall. Pink, nocturnal flowers emerge through the bristles and they emit an unpleasant odor. The flowers are followed by a marble-sized red fruit with juicy red pulp. A moth pollinates these flowers.
The Creeping Devil or Caterpillar succulent (due to it’s traveling chain of growth) lies on the ground and grows at one end while the other end slowly dies. New roots develop on the underside of the stem. The stem is very spiny, creamy-green in color and growth patterns can be widely scattered growing up to 2 feet a year with each branch up to 6 feet long. They have large nocturnal flowers of pink, white or yellow and the spiny fruit has black seeds. I was fascinated with this plant!
As you can see there were many types of plants in this garden! I hope you have enjoyed Part One of our Desert Garden Tour! More tomorrow with the animals!