Saturday, January 10, 2009

DBG: And Now the Rest of the Story...

Freezing rain is falling as I write, covering the streets and sidewalks with a dangerous coating of ice. Snow is in the forecast the next few days, and then an "Arctic blast" is predicted to come in by the middle of the week, with temperatures plummeting into the subzero range. All this makes me long to get on a plane and head south to any place warm and sunny. But I can't, so a mini virtual vacation will have to do.

A week ago I wrote about the Chihuly art exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens which I visited in Phoenix in December. If you missed it, you can scroll down two posts and see this marvelous display "The Nature of Glass." Today I wanted to finish the tour by showing you a few of the varied plant specimens to be found every day at the Gardens. Click on any picture to enlarge it, and definitely enlarge any photos on the earlier post about Chihuly. I found that these photos on Blogger don't do justice to the art; enlarging them really brings out a clearer idea of their beauty.

"Float Boat"

When I made my first visit to DBG last January, I opted to take a guided tour of the garden. If you visit, I would highly recommend taking the tour first. I was told it would last 30 minutes, but mine lasted an hour and was worth every minute. Our guide was very knowledgeable about all the plant life in the garden despite being a transplanted Chicagoan and gave us so many fascinating little tidbits about each plant and about the whole ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert. This time I decided to go it alone to give myself enough time to see everything at the Garden.

I didn't need a guide or even the identifying sign to recognize this agave plant. I remembered some of the information from the guide on my previous visit, too, such as the fact that this plant can live for over a hundred years and that it blooms once--right before it dies. But I didn't know until I went to purchase one in the gift shop that there are over a hundred varieties of agaves.
This familiar-looking one is agave mapisaga.

My smugness at being a quasi-expert in Sonoran flora wore off very quickly, when I saw plants like this that I didn't remember seeing before. This tall cactus stood near the entrance to the Garden in one of the first displays of Chihuly art. When I began to organize my photos at home, I realized I hadn't even bothered to get the name of this plant. Its lower trunk looks very similar to the saguaro growing near it, but the top is unique. I have no idea what kind of cactus it is; looking at it from this angle, it reminds me of a sculpture of a Greek mythological monster.

Another type of cactus I didn't remember is this Teddy Bear Cholla Opuntia Bigelovii. It's a fairly common type of cactus seen in the area; this one does look look rather cute and cuddly like a teddy bear, doesn't it?

But on closer inspection, I don't think you'd better cuddle with it:) Those needles are pretty long!

Here's one you definitely wouldn't be tempted to cuddle--a Toothpick Cactus. If you enlarge this photo, you'll see the intimidating size of its needles.

This was a name I recognized--Euphorbia--but this Euphorbia Canariensus was nothing like any euphorbia I've ever seen! All the euphorbia I am familiar with, like my Euphorbia "Diamond Frost," have blooms and look nothing like a cactus. This succulent--I think--comes from the Canary Islands.

And this smaller variety, which looks like an aloe, is from Madagascar, Euphorbia kamponii.

Having posted a few times about the saguaro cactus, I thought taking this pop quiz posted near a planting would be a cinch. Wrong again! I failed miserably. I don't remember the answers to all of these now, but I did get one right--saguaros grow only in the Sonoran Desert, which is primarily located in Arizona. I missed the one about the deep roots: saguaro roots are not deep, but are wide, usually as wide as they are tall. I do remember the guide telling us on my previous visit that when developers must move a saguaro--as required by state law--it is a major undertaking.

I also misidentified this cactus--at first glance it looks like a saguaro with the same ribbed arms, complete with woodpecker holes. But this is actually a Cardon pachycereus pringlei. The most obvious difference between the two is that while a saguaro grows straight up, with arms developing after many years, the cardon grows a few feet, then branches out into many arms. My vague memory of high school Latin leads me to think the name comes from its resemblance to an elephant's tough hide.

Another specimen I don't think I saw on my first trip was this saguaro growing up through a palo verde tree. The palo verde with its green trunk and branches was a tree that I marvelled at on my first visit to Arizona. A nearby sign explained that a saguaro sometimes grows up through the tree's branches, which shelter it in its early years. When the saguaro reaches a certain size, the palo verde dies. That's not as sad as it sounds, because judging by the size and the arms of this saguaro it may be nearing 100 years old, so the tree has lived a long life. Another example of the marvels of nature.

There were some other sights I hadn't seen before as well as a few surprises. This large prickly pear, Opuntia martiniana, is a common sight in desert landscapes.

But I was surprised by another variety with blooms that look like berries. (This one's worth taking the time to enlarge.)

Most cacti don't bloom until March in Arizona. But this barrel cactus--I think--is also getting a head start.

The last time I visited the DBG, I was somewhat on a time constraint and didn't get to see all parts of the Garden. This time I was determined to visit every nook and cranny, including the Sonoran Desert Trail. This half-mile loop contains native plants of the Sonoran Desert with many display signs containing a wealth of information about this unique landscape.

The organ pipe cactus was a common sight on the trail. Notice the luminaries lining the path in this photo and the one above. For the holidays, the DBG held a special luminaria exhibit at night. I went in the morning, but I can only imagine how beautiful this scenery--and the Chihuly exhibit in particular--would have looked illuminated after dark.

The Desert Trail is on a slope and provides an excellent vantage for viewing the natural landscape beyond the gardens. The iconic saguaros are everywhere.

The DBG is located southeast of Phoenix, next to Papago Park and the Phoenix Zoo, and is quite easy to get to. It's within easy driving distance of Scottsdale and Tempe, in particular. The Sky Harbor Airport is not far either; if you look closely or enlarge this photo, you'll see a plane taking off above the cactus.

The Gardens aren't just about cacti, however. There is an herb garden where I found this huge basil plant flowering in December.

Another area I missed on my first visit was the Wildflower Garden. Unfortunately, December is probably not the best month to view wildflowers here, as few were blooming at this time. This is where I took the photo of the gaillardia, however, that I pictured on my earlier post about xeriscaping.

This yellow wildflower didn't seem to mind sharing space with a prickly pear cactus.

Just beyond the herb garden there were several areas planted in annuals and flowering perennials. I looked all over the place but could not find a sign to identify these striking red seed pods.

My favorite part of this section of the Gardens had to be the Wildlife Garden, where for a moment I could imagine it was summertime once again. Bees, butterflies, and birds were in abundance here.

Hummingbirds hovered happily over the blossoms. Don't bother to enlarge this photo--it will still be a blurry hummingbird:) They were as elusive for this photographer in Arizona as they were last summer in Illinois.

The bees were much easier to capture. They were especially drawn to the unusual red blooms of this Baja Fairy Duster.

The butterflies were drawn to more familiar plants. I wonder if any of you butterfly experts out there can tell if these are monarchs. They looked a darker brown than the Monarchs I'm used to. Perhaps they've just gotten a tan in the Arizona sun:)

Last fall I tried countless times to get one decent Monarch photo. Apparently, I had to travel 1700 miles to get one! Notice what plant it's feeding on--a milkweed, of course.

I spent several enjoyable hours touring the Botanical Gardens and admiring the Chihuly glass exhibit as well as all the different area of gardens. There was one area, though, that I was unable to visit.

Daughter really wants her Dad to come out for a visit and is trying to persuade the two of us to come in March to see some Cubs' spring training games. It won't take much convincing for me--as you can see, I wouldn't mind visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens once again.


  1. Rose, I hate to hear you are getting all the ice. That means it will be here in no time.

    This post is wonderful. All that sunshine and all of those cactus. Wonderful.

    I saw the plane above the cactus before I read your commentary. Ha.. Too bad one of those pesky hummingbirds didn't just fly in for a photo.

    All of that purple on the hummingbird makes me think it was a Costa's Hummingbird. Arizona is the hummingbird capitol of the US. We have been to AZ several times birding. A wonderful place.

  2. Dear Rose ~ Thank you for this amazing garden tour. Have only been to AZ once years ago when my husband/then boyfriend was playing football at U.of A. Your stunning photos brightened my snowy day :) We're at the lake and getting nervous thinking of driving home in this mess tomorrow. Hope all stays well with your icy weather.

  3. Rose, This is an extraordinary botanical garden and you've given us a great tour. I love your comment about how you had to travel 1700 miles to get a good monarch photograph!

    We are getting lots of rain, so when the icy blast hits us our plants will freeze with out snow cover...I will be
    raking those leaves over the beds! It's a good thing they're still so many of them.

    Thank you for the tour and the bright blue skies...I had a wonderful visit.


  4. What extraordinary plants -- thank you for taking us along on your WARM sojourn!

  5. What amazes me is how completely different the plants are there. We were just out that way two years ago (in the summer, camping) and we kept commenting on the fact that we didn't see anything that we would have seen at home! I do remember how ubiquitous the hummingbirds were. It was so much fun to watch them. Great post, Rose! You always include so much good information.

    I'm dreading this ice hanging on for days, since it's supposed to get very cold. Ugh!

  6. What a lovely garden tour, Rose. I can just imagine how beautiful it would be after dark, but much better to see all those specimens in the daylight to really appreciate them

  7. Lisa, I do hope the ice turns to rain before it gets to you. Aiyana at Water When Dry had a post a few weeks ago about a common hummingbird around Phoenix, Anna's hummingbird, but it was green. The ones I saw at the Gardens had the purple you saw in the blur; wish I could identify them for you, but they were gorgeous and much more colorful than the ones we see here.

  8. I have been to Arizona twice, but I didn't visit the Desert Botanical Garden. The photos are wonderful and it looks like a really fascinating place.

    (I'm sure that you can guess where I did go in Arizona - yes, of course, the Grand Canyon.)

  9. It is really cool. All of it. Not sure a garden full of cacti is my thing but it is so interesting to see the differences in gardening around the country. Something blogging allows me to do. I think that funny looking cactus that the bottom look like a saguro cactus and the top looks like a crinkled up sharpei is my favorite. Stay warm and safe. Pretty nasty here too, though the day started at 56 degrees we are now at 37.

  10. Joey, I'm developing a real fondness for Arizona in the winter:) I can see why so many people retire there or spend the winters there. Hope you get home safely!

    Gail, Winter arrived so early here that it was a real treat to see the bees and butterflies flying about a green garden in December. I'm definitely tired of ice! I'll take snow any day over that.

    Nancy, It's good to take a little break from winter, isn't it? You've had so much snow, but we have had ice. I'm ready for a little warmth:)

    Joyce, If you were camping there in the summer, you were one brave lady! It is a different world there, isn't it? That's what makes it so fascinating to me, though I would never give up spring or fall here. I'm not looking forward to the cold, but at least then it won't get icy.

    MG, There was a separate admission price for the luminaria, and I was too cheap. Besides, as you say, I don't think you could view the plants that well after dark.

  11. Hopefully the ice has eased off, though you've provided a wonderful diversion by this report on the garden visit. I LOVE the first photo, with all the glass marbles/floats/gazing balls; that just appeals to my sense of whimsy and fun.

  12. Mean Mom, I've now been to Arizona twice, but have not been to the Grand Canyon. I'm hoping one of these trips I'll be able to make it there.

    Tina, A crinkled up sharpei is a pretty apt description of it:) I wouldn't really want my own garden filled with cacti either, but it's interesting to see other types of plant life. Stay warm!

  13. Jodi, Fortunately--I guess-it has gotten colder, so no more freezing rain. The "Float Boat" was part of the Chihuly exhibit which was just gorgeous. Definitely whimsical!

  14. Good luck with the icy blst Rose...brrrrrr....

    The cacti are striking and cannot but be taken back by the size and texture of some of them. I love the berries on one particular species......

    BUT for me the whole post came alive when you showed the wildlife garden. For me, there is no doubt, that it's the creatures that make the garden and the plants are secondary.....

    A informative post.....tku for showing us something completely different.......

  15. I do just LOVE that float boat and I couldn't concentrate on anything else for looking at it. Wonderful idea.

    Oh for a bit of heat over here! it is perishing cold.
    And you will never guess what word verification is..... heatogl!

  16. Feeling much warmer now!! I do love the colours in that first photo.

  17. Cheryl, It's fun to see something different, but the desert landscape is not something I would want to live with all year-round. The wildlife garden was wonderful--to be surrounded by bees, butterflies, and the hummingbirds in mid-December was quite a treat! I only wish I'd gotten some better pictures.

    Maggie May, Sometimes the word verification is almost spooky. Stay warm!

    Suburbia, Glad this warmed you up! It's snowing here again.

  18. Hi Rose, thanks so much for taking us on the long version of the tour this time. I couldn't get past oohing and aahing over the glass art last time and didn't really notice the plants. There is a stark beauty to the scenes there, so much sky and space around the plants, not the lushness we are used to here in TN. A nice place to visit, but....

  19. Thanks for the tour of the Botanical Gardens Rose. I lived in Phoenix for 4 years when I was an adolescent and we never visited this garden. Can't wait to see your visit in March, the butterfly exhibit should be wonderful.

  20. How these photos bring back memories of my visit to the DBG! Oh that Teddy Bear hubby stepped on one of it's babies while we took a stroll in the desert...OUCH..the needles went right through his running shoe!
    With my mother being so ill we may be cancelling our yearly getaway to AZ.
    I truly enjoyed seeing all the cacti through your photos!

  21. Oh Rose, what a wonderful garden tour! Like you, I wouldn't want my garden to have all catus, but they are so interesting-the sizes, the shapes, the spines. And even the berries! To think that some of them live for a hundred years is amazing.

    To see butterflies, bees and hummingbirds must have been glorious.I would imagine in March you will see many more as most of the cactus and wildflowers will be in bloom. Take lots more pictures!

  22. Frances, Indeed a nice place to visit, but I'll take our kinds of plant life any day! It's fun to see something different, though.

    PG, Isn't it the truth that we often don't visit places nearby? I've lived here all my life, but last summer was the first time I visited the Idea Garden on campus. The March trip is iffy; I do hope I can go back.

    Nature Girl, I bet those cholla needles hurt! I'm sorry if you have to cancel your Arizona trip this spring; sometimes life intervenes... All the best to you and your family.

    Beckie, I do hope I can go back in March. As you say, that is when the cacti start to bloom.

  23. I love cactus when they bloom. The rest of the time they look so unfriendly;) Imagine taking a walk (very carefully) thru them.

  24. LOL--the only saguaro question I *did* know the answer to was the shallow roots!! I also love the prickly pear, which grow in Michigan, too. Mine bloomed for the first time last year. I was beside myself (or maybe I'm just fat!...) I had never heard of that striking Baja Fairy Duster. And I think there is some unwritten rule that there is never a plant ID for plants you do not know. I've gone to gardens in small groups and between us, we knew pretty much all plants int he place, except the three or four that weren't labeled--none of us knew those!!!

  25. Marnie, Cacti do look a little intimidating, don't they? I tread very carefully around them:)

    Monica, I have never grown cacti, but I did bring back an agave that I'm hoping will like this Midwest weather. The Baja fairy duster was really an intriguing plant--the blooms do look like a feather duster! Usually, I forget to write down names of unfamiliar plants, but I searched to no avail on that one with the seed pods.

  26. Fairy Duster! What a lovely name for a lovely flower. And it dos look like a fairy duster too!

    Agave: that's what they make tequila from, isn't it?

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  30. Hi Rose,

    Beautiful pictures. You have quite the eye as a photographer.

    The tall cactus near the entrance to the DBG that you photographed is one of two Crested Saguaros at the DBG.

    The cristate, or crested form of any cactus is an abnormality. It happens when the growth point (The tip of the stalk) is damaged in some way.

    ~Tom in Phoenix

  31. Yea Stubled across the cactus picture on image search it is a saguaro just kind of a sick one its called fascication. Its where a bud or meristem which is normally a point gets mutated and becomes a line. It happens in all plant but when it happens in plants with relatively few stems, like cacti its is very noticeable and often they are astetically prized. Though botanically its a mutation, generally not a great one but not a deadly one.


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