Like many people who savor gardening as a hobby, we fancy the bright colors and upbeat feeling a sunflower brings! So, how many varieties of sunflowers are there?
First, SUNFLOWERS belong to the genus Helianthus, which contains over 70 species. Most varieties are annuals; but, Helianthus incorporates 38 species that are perennial (grow back every year on their own). With so many cultivars out there one can get overwhelmed quickly! We’ve identified several Sunflower favorites to make it easier.
The variety called “Holiday Sunflower” has uneven heights and multiple blooms.
Sunflowers track the sun throughout the day, but when they are fully grown the mature flower-heads face towards the east and no longer move. To grow the best sunflowers they will need full sun!
The variety called Ring of Fire is another dwarf sunflower species that is very uniform and under 3 feet in height.
Dwarf sunflowers are a perfect choice if you want to grow sunflowers in a pot or window container. After choosing the size of the container, add a layer of small rocks to help the soil drain. To grow sunflowers you will need fertile moist soil with heavy mulch.
The variety called Big Smile Sunflower is under 2 feet in height, has multiple blooms and is a Dwarf Sunflower Plant.
The sunflower stem is rough and hairy with a circular head of flowers. The head has hundreds of individual flowers which mature into seeds.
The sunflower species called Autumn Beauty branches out with a variety of yellow, red and orange colors.
In the 16th century, sunflower seeds from the Americas were brought to Europe along with sunflower oil and they became a popular cooking ingredient.
Tohokujhae Sunflowers are bright yellow with multiple blooms. This variety has big double flowers 6-7 inches across. The height of Tohokujhae sunflowers is 3-6 feet.
The leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed and the fiber in the stems can be used in the production of paper.
Some say Sonja Sunflowers are a weaker variety. The height is uneven and ranges from 3-5 feet. This sunflower has a dark center with big yellow petals.
The sunflower has a tall, thick stem crowned by what seems like a single giant flower. Interestingly, this flower is no flower at all; but a constellation made up of hundreds of small flowers called the sunflower head.
Although the sunflower head resembles a huge flower with yellow petals and a brown center, it is actually the brown that is the constellation of flowers, with the yellow leaves acting more as a protectant to the sunflowers during the flowering and seed development phases.
The sunflower’s cheery facade plus its sheer height make it a wonderful plant that everybody will enjoy, either in the vegetable garden or at the back of a flower bed.
A sunflower can grow to become well over 10 feet (3 meters) tall and the head can become quite wide. Once open, the sunflower head will start to follow the sun while it is moving across the sky.
The flowers in the center of the sunflower will then start to grow fruits, sunflower seeds, and after a while these seeds will loosen and scatter across the ground.
Once that is done, the life cycle is complete and it will eventually wilt and die so that the new seeds can grow to become sunflowers in the next growing season.
When growing sunflowers it is important to consider where you want to plant them because they will need full sun to mature successfully. Many people grow sunflowers close to walls since the sunflower can be quite sensitive to the wind; but, planting close to a wall will unfortunately come at a loss.
Sunflowers are sensitive to the amount of sunlight they obtain, and how much water required to optimize their growth. Too much water may result in the soil loosening and becoming far too unstable to support the weight of the sunflower head as it sways in the wind.
Planting a larger grouping of sunflowers has the benefit of helping to stabilize the immediate area of soil and helps to create some barrier to wind damage. I put stakes into the ground close to the sunflower stem making sure it stands strong and stable on its own. Next, you can tie small pieces of thick string, florist ties or velcro around the stake and the sunflower, thus helping them to support each other.
Currently we have several sunflowers growing in large pots. Sunflowers do not do well if they sit in water so it is important that your pot or garden container drains well. You can use a layer of sand or rocks in your container. The garden soil you choose needs to be full of nutrients.
When placing your sunflower seeds in a pot, do not put them close together. Depending on the size of your container, space them at the minimum of 3 inches apart.
To enjoy the seeds of your sunflowers here are simple harvesting tips:
When the backside of the sunflower head turns yellow be sure to protect them from birds, squirrels and other animals that eat sunflower seeds!
Once the back of the sunflower head is brown it means time to harvest! Cut the head off about 12 inches down the stem
Then rub the head using your hand and the sunflower seeds will fall off
extra tidbit: If pressed, sunflower seeds will give you sunflower oil. This oil can be used for many purposes and ongoing research is mapping new and improved uses every day. First of all, sunflower oil is great in cooking and will give food a very mild but distinct taste, similar to mild olive oils. Sunflower oil can also be transformed into lubricants for engine parts and can even work as a fuel for engines.
Arizona’s well-known desert bird of paradise shrubs burgeon with vivid red flowers or delightful yellow blooms. The red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, is our favorite and we have several constituting a border.
This Red Bird of Paradise is a drought and heat tolerant shrub that relishes full sun with its lively red- orange flowers cultivating out of long, thin stalks.
All the Desert Bird of Paradise bushes are Perennial (only plant them once). Pruning and trimming is standard since these desert plants are easy growers; reaching over 10 feet tall. PRUNING your Desert Bird of Paradise
Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Desert Bird of Paradise seedlings easy. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant simply put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.
To germinate Bird of Paradise seeds, soak the seeds from the bean pods (pods need to be brown) in water for 48-72 hours. Next plant them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds. You may prefer to use the paper towel method to germinate your seeds; if so, when a white shoot (root) appears, plant it with the white rootDOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.
Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun; it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.
These resilient desert bushes THRIVE in intense heat and look stunning with cactus, succulents, Lantana, even Bougainvillea!
Honey and Velvet Mesquite Trees can take the extreme heat and the cold! This tree grows fast. What is the most common tree of the Desert Southwest? It is the Mesquite! Like many members of the Legume Family, mesquite trees restore nitrogen to the soil.
There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees: Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ), Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).
These native trees are extremely drought tolerant. Honey Mesquites are more rounded with big, floppy, drooping branches. The foliage is feathery and straight – paired with sharp spines on twigs.
This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft, but can reach as tall as 50 ft (15 m). The growth rate is medium. Honey mesquite coppices (it will make new growth from a root or stump if it is cut down), making permanent removal extremely hard. If a single trunk is cut down the Honey Mesquite will replace it with a multiple trunk version.
The Honey Mesquite has pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seed bean pods. In this picture you can see how long and strong this mesquite’s spikes are. I’ve learned NOT to wear flip-flops when walking around our Honey Mesquite!
Caring for mesquite trees is a simple process after the tree has fully matured. Mesquite trees need a full day’s worth of direct sun light to grow. Make sure to plant your mesquite tree in a place where it will always have a lot of quality sun.
Good staking is crucial to the mesquite tree, especially in areas with severe summer storms, monsoon season, or high winds.
The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!
The shortcoming of a Chilean or Honey Mesquite tree is wind damage. Proper staking and proper watering can help you avoid wind damage with your mesquite trees.
Make your Mesquite trees “seek out” water and nutrients by careful arrangement of your irrigation emitters and scheduled DEEP irrigation. This will develop a more dispersed root system and reduces the risk of wind throw.
Pruning will keep your tree from becoming messy, while stimulating new growth on those branches that you pruned. The dead, diseased, broken or weak branches, drain the Mesquite tree’s energy.
Mesquite bean pods are rich in carbohydrates and have very low moisture content, making them an excellent source for harvesting, processing, and storage. A variety of animals eat the seeds such as quail, dear, javelina, coyotes, squirrels and rats.
Historic records have indicated that almost every part of the mesquite tree has a use. The Pima Indians of southern Arizona referred to the mesquite as the TREE OF LIFE.
During the inevitable droughts and deprivations of desert frontier days, the mesquite trees served up the primary food source for caravans and settlers. Mesquite beans becamemanna from heaven.
Medical studies of mesquite trees and other desert foods, said that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour (made by grinding whole pods) is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Mesquite trees have lateral roots that extend far beyond the canopies of the plants and tap-roots that penetrate well below the surface of the soil. Some mesquites may live for more than two centuries; according to U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
(Prosopis Velutina) Velvet Mesquite is the most common of the North American varieties, it ranges from southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and most common to the Chihuahua and Sonorandeserts of Mexico.
Velvet Mesquite Trees are a deciduous plant that benefits by being able to retain moisture during the winter or exceptionally dry seasons better because water does not escape through the leaves. These Mesquite trees have elongated bean pods that are sweet to taste when ripe ( reddish-yellow color). This native tree has thorns with varying lengths even on the same branch.
For the first year, deeply water your mesquite tree every week or so until it has properly matured. Once your velvet mesquite tree has matured, it can survive with a little supplemental water in addition to natural rain. In case of droughts, do water your mesquite trees more often.
Velvet Mesquites hold the record for deepest root (160′); these tap-roots can tap into deep, underground water supplies that aren’t available to the average plant.
The seeds of mesquite trees need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract) to germinate. Coyotes, and other desert animals eat the bean pods regularly.
Quick facts: Yucca is a category of trees and shrubs that are members of the Asparagaceae family. It is an evergreen plant which does not annually shed its leaves. The long, narrow and pointed leaves of the Yucca grow in a cluster along the stem. Agave and Yucca are similarand belong to the same subfamily, Agavoideae.
From the center of this leaf cluster grows a cluster of bell shaped flowers. The edges of the leaves tend to be razor sharp, and the flowers are whitish-green, white or cream colored. In the evening some yucca blossoms open and emit a strong fragrance.
Yuccas come from the deserts and plains of southern North and Central America and with their stiff, leathery leaves and panicles of creamy white flowers, they make great architectural plants.
The yucca plant produces a fleshy or dry fruit. It is a large fruit that contains numerous small, flat, ebony colored seeds. The Native Americans ate the yucca’s fruit during the winter months, after first preserving it by drying. The Native Americans also made fermented beverages from the yucca fruit. The appearance of the yucca fruit varies by the type of yucca plant. Some resemble a green egg plant, and others look like wrinkled bell peppers.
Yucca plants grow in parts of the Caribbean, in the southern and southwestern parts of the United States and in Mexico’s desert highlands and plateaus. While most of the plants are shrubs, there are some tree varieties, such as the Joshua tree. A large collection of yucca plants grow at the Joshua Tree National Park in the Southern California desert. The Joshua Tree National Park includes over 800,000 acres, and is under the National Park’s authority.
Native Americans found many uses for the yucca plant. From the leaf fibers they made baskets, sandals, ropes and mats. They utilized the fruit as food and to make drinks. They even ate the flowers from the yucca, which were either boiled or eaten raw. From the stems and roots of the yucca they made soap. Today yucca plants are used as decorative yard foliage and as bordering plants.
Yucca trees are known for being quite tall, although they can be grown indoors if you trim them back often.
If you are growing a yucca tree indoors, repot your yucca cane when it becomes top heavy or its roots stick out of the drainage hole at the bottom of its container.
These Yucca trees are quite strong as well, so you don’t need to worry about damaging them when pruning and trimming. Pruning yucca trees is a simple and straightforward process. Because the yucca tree is a cane plant, pruning is synonymous with cutting the trunk.
Like most plants, the best time for pruning a yucca is right before it goes into its growth period. This will be in early spring. While early spring is the ideal time, a yucca can be pruned anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering. Like all things about yucca plants, care and pruning is very easy. It may seem drastic, but I assure you that your yucca plant considers this to be a very normal thing.
Wear gloves as you trim and shape your Yucca, otherwise you will get many cuts on your hands. The pruning will be much easier if you have extra sharp garden shears.
The yucca plant in the above picture was so large we could not walk to the front door. Pruning your Yucca is a bit time consuming but is well worth it. As I look above at our Yucca I think it needs a little more trimmed off the top!
Red, Salvia darcyi, survived well through the desert winter months that hit in the mid 30’s and does superb in the high heat as long as it is watered everyday! It is a thirsty plant during these temperatures of 100 degrees or more. I recommend larger pots than the ones I used.
This is by far the MOST hardy, successful flower in my Arizona Garden! This perennial Salvia will generally grow from between eighteen inches and thirty-six inches, yet there are some that are much smaller. Mine is averaging about 20 -22 inches. The red salvia in the picture is a young plant that actually started from a fallen seed. The photo above is just after I pruned the finished red flowers. From having Salvia (red and blue) for over 2 years now I have learned it is best to trim them quite far down the stem to gain a thicker shrub. Best of all this flowering plant is critter proof. Last year the desert rats, squirrels, and rabbits ate most of our flowers except the Salvia. Since then, we are determined to have a rat-proof, squirrel-proof, rabbit-proof thriving Garden. Quick note:Hummingbirds love the flowers and will visit your garden often!
To keep your Salvia looking vibrant and encourage better flowering, deadhead the plant. You can do this by pinching or cutting off the flower spikes with spent blooms, I like to use small pruning shears.
Red salvia flowers can form a striking border when massed together. It is a good choice for a bedding plant. Some people call this perfect Arizona plant, Scarlet Sage.
Propagating cacti is very easy. First gather the cactus cuttings from the parent plants. Make sure your knife is clean and sharp before cutting your cactus. For paddle cacti a single pad makes a good cutting.
For branching cacti, be sure the cutting is taken from a joint on the mother plant. Cutting on a diagonal angle is beneficial to the mother cactus so water doesn’t pool on the healed cut. Never handle a cactus with your hands.
To grow a successful cactus you MUST let the fresh cutting callus over and heal. Place them in a dry, warm place for up to 2 weeks. The larger the cut surface is, the longer it needs to dry. This may sound extreme but remember cactus are drought tolerant. If you choose to use a rooting hormone make sure it is powder! Do not let your cactus cuttings get moist or wet.
It is easiest for your cactus cuttings to root during warm weather. According to the University of Arizona, the best time to propagate your cacti is during August & September when the soil temperatures are warm and conducive to rooting. Some shade is best for rooting and will prevent your cactus cuttings from sunburn.
Pick a good container with drainage holes for your callused cactus cutting.
When planting your cactus use a well drained soil mixture designed specifically for cacti. Plant the cutting about 2 inches deep and pack the soil around the cactus. I also use small rocks to help keep the cuttings from falling over. Wait about 2 weeks to water; then soak the cactus well and let it dry out another 2 weeks. The biggest problem for growing cactus is over-watering. Too much water causes the roots to rot.
The photo above is a prickly pear cutting that I planted in well draining soil in southern Arizona. I’m starting a cacti garden on a rocky hill using different species of cactus cuttings.
Cactus are dormant during winter. Do not water a cactus during cold weather unless it looks shriveled.
Honeysuckles love the Arizona heat and the hummingbirds love the honeysuckle. Now that is a desert garden delight!
As long as I water this thirsty honeysuckle shrub it will produce abundant blooms most of the year. The narrow, orange, tubular flowers give enthusiasm to the garden with their bright colors.
Our orange honeysuckles are fast growing perennial plants that are low maintenance. Care for your honeysuckle with regular watering and pruning to keep the growth under control. With 180 species of honeysuckles, genus Lonicera, you can pick from pink, yellow, white, orange, red, etc., flowers. Honeysuckles belong to the Caprifoliacea family which includes all types of woody shrubs and fragrant vines.
When choosing a honeysuckle to grow, be sure to check the label as some varieties are hardier than others and can cope with frost. Also, there exists a few species of honeysuckle that are considered invasive such as Japanese honeysuckle.
Pruning tips for honeysuckle vines: Prune your plant in later winter when it is dormant. With pruning shears, remove dead blooms from your honeysuckle as soon as you see them.
Tree, fence, trellis or wall; honeysuckle vines will climb on anything to seek out the sun.
Our garden has become a very busy place. It is October in the Arizona desert and our honeysuckles are still blooming. What a joy to sit quietly and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds feast on the bright tubular flowers.
These heat tolerant honeysuckle plants did well even in full desert sun as long as they received their daily water.
In the photo above is Lonicera arizonica which is a native Arizona Honeysuckle. It is a perennial vine or shrub that you find in the open at elevations of 6,000 – 9,000 feet. According to Northern Arizona University, this native honeysuckle was used by Native Americans to cleanse the bowels. Navajo tribes used the leaves of the Lonicera arizonica to induce vomiting. Can I eat the red berries from the Arizona honeysuckle? Yes you can eat the berries but it will have a purgative effect.
The health promoting attributes of Pomegranates put it in the category of “SUPER FOODS”. Pomegranate contains potent and unrivaled antioxidants called punicalagin and punicalin. The juice of the Pomegranate has greater antioxidant activity than acai juice, green tea, cranberry juice or red wine.
Pomegranate is one of the earliest cultivated fruits throughout history. It appears in Egyptian tombs, Greek mythology and even in the Bible. Pomegranate is a symbol of abundance and faith in many cultures. Recorded history shows that over 2000 years ago Pomegranate was used to treat an assortment of illnesses.
Inside the fruit are hundreds of tiny seeds called arils; this is what we eat or make into juice. The aril is delicious with a sweet, tart flavor that is high in vitamin C. Pomegranates originated in Iran and are commonplace throughout the Middle East. The unique flavor and exceptional health benefits are making it increasingly popular in the United States.
Pomegranate Health Benefits:
Pomegranate has anti-inflammatory effects that help protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and Type 2 Diabetes.
Research showed patients with prominent carotid artery blockage showed a 30% reduction in atherosclerotic plaque after one year of drinking one ounce of Pomegranate juice per day.
Pomegranate is high in vitamin C and is a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin K and protein.
Studies conducted showed patients with memory issues that drank pomegranate juice every day performed better and exhibited increased brain activity on their MRI.
The antibacterial and antiviral properties of Pomegranate help reduce dental plaque.
Research and clinical studies continue to investigate pomegranates and their antioxidant effects. The experts state that drinking Pomegranate juice whole and unprocessed is the best way.
The 2009 article “Pomegranate juice: a heart healthy fruit juice,” published in Nutrition Reviews states, “Observational studies and clinical trials investigating the cardiovascular health benefits of fruits and vegetables, attribute these effects to the combination of phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients in whole food intake, rather than the sole effects of an individual component.”
An easy way to eat the seeds, arils, of the Pomegranate is to slice the fruit in half. Using a bowl of water, hold the half upside down and beat gently with a wooden spoon so the seeds drop down in the water. The arils (seeds) are delicious alone, in cereals, or in your favorite dish.
Before adding Pomegranates to your diet consult your physician. The high vitamin K may counteract blood thinners. It is always best to speak to your pharmacist or physician first.
The bountiful pomegranate tree is native to the Mediterranean region which has similar growing conditions as the Arizona Sonoran Desert. Pomegranates thrive in the drier climates of California and Arizona. As a matter of fact, in 2009 the first commercial pomegranate farm started in Arizona. This fruit tree seems satisfied with our alkaline soil and experiences no deficiencies!
Although the pomegranate originated in Iran, ancient records show it is one of the oldest known cultivated fruits. Biblical Archaeologists discovered fruit such as the pomegranate, was much more than a food; it had symbolic significance for the Ancient Israelites. The antiquated Greeks believed pomegranate juice was the “symbol of love”. The botanical name for pomegranate is Punica granatum belonging to the family Lythraceae. P. granatum has more than 500 cultivars. In 1769, the pomegranate was introduced into California by Spanish Settlers.
In the sizzling, sunniest area of our yard we now have five pomegranate trees, shrubs ranging from six months to six years old. “Wonderful” is our cultivar and is also the most common cultivar for Arizona. Recently, we had record temperatures of 113 degrees F; with higher temps forecasted for next week. There was some vexing over the younger plants, but it proved to be unnecessary. We are delighted to report our Punica granatum flourished in the extreme desert heat!
The adamant pomegranate is drought tolerant and does best with well-drained soil, semi-arid climates and plant hardiness zones 8 to 10. The fruit is adversely affected in wetter climates along with the plant becoming prone to root decay. Tolerant to frost down to 20 degrees F. Easy to grow, this deciduous tree can mature to 30 feet; but it is more common to see pomegranates at 12 – 15 feet.
The leaves of Punica granatum are glossy, narrow, lance-shaped and deer resistant. The lavish flowers are bright orange-red with a fleshy tubular calyx. Some cultivars are grown for their flowers alone and used as ornamental trees.
Pomegranate fruit is a berry filled with seeds numbering 200 to 1,400. The seeds are in a white, spongy, acidic membrane. The outer skin is a tough , leathery texture.
The fruit is ripe when it reaches its distinctive color and it makes a metallic sound when tapped. Overripe fruit will begin to crack and the seeds will become harder.
The easiest way to eat a p. granatum is to use a bowl of water to separate the seeds. The seeds sink and the white membrane floats.
Slice the fruit in half and then hold it upside down and beat gently with a wooden spoon so the seeds drop down in the water.
Another reason Pomegranates ranked #1 on our list:
Texas is the third-largest market for tequila in America! The tequila Blue Agave flourishes in volcanic soil in Guadalajara making Jalisco, Mexico the birthplace of Tequila. The volcanic soil surrounding Jalisco is perfectly suited for growing blue agave plants, AKA “Tequila Cactus”. Over 300 million agave plants are harvested in Jalisco for tequila each year.
Agave nectar and tequila are made from the sap of piñas, (the heart) of the plant. Although the agave shares a common habitat with different cactus it has a different life cycle and is not a species of cacti. A mature agave has leaves 5-8 feet tall! It has a lifespan of 10 -15 years, depending on the agave species, growing conditions, and climate.
Harvesting the agave is pretty simple:
The leaves are removed from the agave base.
The base is then taken to a facility where it is heated in a giant pressure cooker which gets the juices flowing.
This heating breaks down the complex starches of the agave into simple sugars. (What is left of the baked piñas, agave base, can be used as compost or animal feed).
The extracted agave juice is then poured into either large wood or stainless steel vats for several days to ferment, resulting in a low alcohol content.
It is then distilled once to produce what is called “ordinario,” and then a second time to produce clear silvertequila.
There are many species of agave in Mexico, of which the blue agave – Agave tequilana weber azul – is the only one allowed for use in tequila production. Blue agave is considered to be the finest agave in the world.
The workers regularly trim the flowering stalks that grow in the center. This trimming prevents the agave from dying early and allows it to fully ripen at the base. The jimadores, harvesters, must be able to tell when each plant is ready to be harvested; and using a special knife, they carefully cut away the leaves from the piña (the succulent core of the plant).
If harvested too late or too early, the piñas, will not have the right amount of carbohydrates for fermentation.
Grown and nourished for 10 – 12 years in the red volcanic soils of Jalisco, Weber Blue Agave is harvested only at the peak of maturity to ensure sweet perfection!
Mexico has claimed the exclusive international right to the word “tequila”, threatening legal action against manufacturers of distilled blue agave spirits in other countries.
Although some tequilas have remained as family owned brands; most well-known tequila brands are owned by large multinational corporations. Due to this, each bottle of tequila contains a serial number(NOM) depicting in which distillery the tequila was produced.
The NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana)governs all processes and activities related to the supply of agave, production, bottling, marketing, information and business practices linked to the alcoholic beverage known as Tequila.
Tequila with a worm in the bottle is from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.
The worm is actually a larval from the agave plant and it indicates an INFESTATION and a product of lower quality.
In Mexico, the most traditional way to drink tequila is straight without a lime or salt. A large variety of drinks involve tequila; most famous being the MARGARITA. This cocktail made tequila famous in the United States!
Here is the best Pomegranate Margarita Recipe:
1/4 cup pomegranate juice, store bought is fine
1/3 cup Tequila (about 4 ounces)
1/8 cup Triple Sec (about 1-ounce)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 ounces)
12 ounces ice cubes
Margarita salt, optional
Combine all ingredients, except salt, in a blender and pulse until frothy and well combined. Rim glasses with lime juice using a lime wedge then dip in margarita salt, drop some fresh pomegranate seeds in the bottom of the glass and pour margarita mix over the top.
The saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, is the largest cactus in the United States and native to Arizona. In 1931 the opulent white blossom of the Saguaro Cactus was designated as Arizona’s state flower. The best time of year to see these cactus bloom is April through June.
The Saguaro cacti mainly grow in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. When a Saguaro cactus reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce blossoms. Amassed near the ends of the branches, the green buds bloom into milky-white flowers. The Saguaro flower blooms after sunset and last only one day.
At the top of the flower tube is a compact group of yellow stamens. The saguaro cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other cactus. If conditions have been favorable for the Saguaro you could see hundreds of blossoms on a cactus.
Pollinators like birds, insects, and bats are attracted to the nectar that collects at the bottom of the flower’s 4 inch tube. A Saguaro blossom can only be fertilized by cross-pollination.
Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.
This elegant desert pageant occurs for about 2 months. From living in this area, we have to say it is hard to decide the exact dates but end of April to mid June would be notable.
bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom
Pollinated flowers form a vivid red fruit filled with thousands of black seeds. The fruit is eaten and digested through which its dispersed throughout the desert.
Yucca is an evergreen, perennial plant with spine-tipped leaves that grow in a rosette around a thick central stem. More than 25 species of Yucca live in the arid regions of the southwest. One of the finest aspects of this desert plant is that it is low maintenance.
If its craggy look doesn’t bother you then it is not even necessary to prune it.
Trimming the Yucca plant is commonplace, especially for ornamental purposes. The best time to prune those rugged leaves is spring. While early spring is the ideal season, a yucca can be trimmed anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering.
Cutting back a yucca may look harsh, but it is an attractive way to keep your plant manageable. When the Yucca completes flowering cut the stalk all the way to the ground with a sharp pair of lopping shears. To prevent cuts and scratches, wear heavy garden gloves.
Keep in mind that cutting the top off the yucca encourages the root system to push up new growth and more plants, called “pups” will appear. Hire professionals to do your yucca trimming if you are short on time.
Tidbits: The Apache Indians preferred the flowers of Yucca elata, a thin-leaf yucca, to those of the thick-leaf banana yucca. We know that these flowers were eaten thousands of years ago because unusually large amounts of yucca pollen have been found in some dried human feces collected from Hinds Cave.
Maguey or Agave americana is a native plant from Mexico, but is now cultivated in many parts of the world. This drought tolerant plant, also known by the name century plant or American aloe, is neither an aloe nor a cactus, but pertains to the Agavaceae family. The unique architectural Agave is one of the best xeriscape plants for your garden.
Maguey Plant is one of the many species of agave plants (commonly called cactus) that exist in the Americas. They grow in semi-arid environments from sea level to an altitude of about 9000 feet.
Above, is one of the largest Agave Americana Plants, Maguey Plant or Century Plants in the world. (photo courtesy of statesman.com)
In ancient Mesoamerica, (Middle America), maguey or agave, was first collected and then cultivated for many uses. Native people used the agave leaves to make ropes, construction materials and textiles. See the picture below of Agave felgeri, also called Mescalito. Mescalito is native to Mexico and is found in many desert gardens especially in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona.
Ancient Mayans used Agave thorns in bloodletting rituals, Royal Maya Blood Sacrifices, to communicate with the gods. However, the most important product the Mayans obtained from maguey, agave, was a mildly alcoholic beverage called pulque, obtained by the fermentation of the sweet, milky juice extracted from the agave plant.
Agave americana(aka Century Plant) is a massive plant. There are many varieties of agave in cultivation, with some being excellent for smaller gardens or pots, and some being too large; therefore used for botanical gardens or ranches.
Agaves are called century plants since some species take 100 years to flower in the wild. However, in cultivation with adequate summer moisture, most agaves flower between 10 and 15 years of age. When they do flower, the tall bloom stalks attract many hummingbirds!
Agave americana grows wild in Europe, India, Australia and South Africa. It has become naturalized in many areas such as California. In southern California there are massive plantings of Agave american, Century Plants, along the highways. This Century Plant, Agave american, is a common species of agave that is beautiful but very aggressive. Many gardens in California and Mexico use Agave americana as a living fence.
When Century plants or other agave cactus are grown in pots, they will grow to the size of the container. Please note that containerized century plants must be brought indoors when temperatures drop below freezing. Below is one of our agaves growing in a pot next to other cacti. Two Maguey, Agave americanas are in the top right of the picture below.