Pomegranate is One of the Healthiest Fruits On Our Planet

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.

healthiest juice to drink
Pomegranate Juice

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.

pulp and seeds of pomegranate
Pomegranate Seeds – Arils

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.

punica granatum red fruit
Fresh Ripe Pomegranate Fruit

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.

seeds of pomegranate
Pomegranate fruit cut in half
cereal with Pomegranates
Pomegranate Seeds in Food Dishes

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.

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Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park.  This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.

saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park in Tucson

**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

There are dozens of varieties of cacti;  short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.

Quick Saguaro Facts:

  1. Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
  2. The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
  3. After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
  4. The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.

In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactus has a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight.  During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract.  During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow.  Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old.  Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!

saguaro cacti over 100 years old
saguaro cacti over 100 years old

To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros.  Their woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

This cactus species is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.

You can find the majestic giant cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexica.

Yellow flowers of the real Mexican Bird of Paradise

What is the small tree with yellow flowers and round leaves in Arizona?  The Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise, is a flowering plant species in the pea family, Fabaceae. This drought tolerant, perennial tree is native to Mexico and the extreme lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

Caesalpinia mexicana
Mexican Bird of Paradise yellow flowering bush tree
bush with yellow flowers round leaves
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise

All parts of this Mexican plant are poisonous.  The showy Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub thrives in dry conditions.  Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.  

yellow flowers and round leaves bush shrub arizona texas
Mexican Bird of Paradise, caesalpinia mexicana

If you are looking for a small shade tree that is flowering and easy to care for; the Mexican Bird of Paradise is perfect for your yard and a good choice for xeriscape desert gardens.

Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Poinciana, does best in full sun.  It is a perennial flowering tree that is heat resistant; with rounded leaves and spikes of solid yellow flower clusters.  The fragrant yellow flowers of this Bird of Paradise are very showy and will bloom throughout the year!  The USDA Hardiness Zone is 9.

Texas yellow flowers round leaves bush
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise Plant
Arizona bush yellow flowers shrub
leaves and yellow flowers of Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Plants

In the photo ABOVE see the rounded shape of the leaves and the yellow flowers.

The “Red Bird of Paradise”, – commonly but mistakenly called (The Mexican Bird of Paradise), –  has Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers. See the Picture below.

red orange blooming bush flowers
Red Bird of Paradise desert shrub

The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree.

round leaves yellow flowers bush
Mexican Bird of Paradise tree, yellow flowers

How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods

Germinating the seeds for this Mexican Bird of Paradise will be easy! Simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 48 hours or like many people use a damp paper towel.  If you are using the paper towel method to germinate your seeds-when a white shoot appears-plant it with the white shoot facing DOWN.

peat pots

To plant and grow your bird of paradise — plant the seed in peat pots.  Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or your choice of a good soil.

vermiculite

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.

Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Mexican, Yellow or Red Bird of Paradise seedlings much easier. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant your Bird of Paradise just put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.

LANTANA is the best drought tolerant plant – Red, White, Purple, Gold, Perennial Flowers!

As I was going to the store I came across one of the greatest displays of The New Gold, White, Red and even Purple Trailing Lantana I have ever seen!  In our Arizona garden we have several species of Lantana because it is one of our desert favorites!

Best Drought tolerant plants, Lantana varieties
Purple Trailing Lantana, Texas New Gold, Red, Light Yellow Lantanas

White, Red (Texas), Purple Trailing and Gold lantana mounds in this picture – Gorgeous!

Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants in the VERBENA family, (Verbenaceae). They are native to tropical regions of Africa and here in the Americas.

Lantana Verbena in containers
Confetti Lantana and Purple Verbena desert plants

It comes in plants and shrubs commonly called Lantana and shrub verbenas. Some types are considered invasive; they spread easily because lantana leaves are somewhat poisonous to most animals.

This is precisely why Lantana is a large part of our desert garden. Not only is Lantana resistant to the hot temperatures in Southern Arizona, but also drought tolerant and all the small animals leave them alone!  Our dogs are not interested in our lantana plants or their poisonous leaves at all.

popular drought tolerant plant
Texas New Gold best lantana

The Purple Trailing Lantana looks beautiful dancing along side the Yellow New Gold and a lighter yellow lantana mound in the back.

Drought Tolerant flowering bush shrubs Lantana
Texas New Gold Lantana, Purple Trailing Lantana

Being somewhat toxic and rejected by herbivores, camara and trailing lantanas are very hardy, but once or twice a year mine become infested with pests.  Insecticidal soaps will damage this plant. Try using plain dish soap with water in a spray bottle.

Although I did not see any berries in this orchestra of multi-colored lantana plants … the berries are edible ONLY when they are ripe.

Yellow, Purple, Red, White Lantana
Varieties of colorful Lantana, Verbena bushes shrubs

Though the stems of lantana are thin, the wood is very tough and durable and thus useful for crafts and wickerwork.  This is one heat resistant, hardy evergreen lantana shrub!

Texas New Gold in a Pot

Planting, Growing and Caring for lantana is easy. They like a lot of sun and lantana is not picky about their soil.

red orange lantana species verbena
drought tolerant red flowering lantana plant

Half of our garden lantana are growing in pots and containers, the other half is in the ground by cacti.  We do water the potted lantana once a day when the temperature is high. Last week we reached 110 degrees and my pots / planters needed a small amount of water in the morning and then in the evening. This is unusual and was due to the bone dry heat.

Picture of Lantana Heaven!

Lantana stems are HOLLOW so overwatering will cause your lantana roots to rot.  Try NOT to prune or trim your lantana until the end of the season. Remember the lantana stems are hollow.

Red and Yellow Lantana Plants, trailing mound

On average, the ground lantana need a DEEP soaking twice a week. A good indicator is the leaves. If your lantana is wilting, then water but be careful NOT to get water on the leaves. Most of the lantana we have planted are in full sun.  Watering at the roots prevents the risk of burning the leaves.

Bougainvillea can take the Arizona heat!

Bougainvilleas are tropical plants that thrive in outdoor areas with low rainfall and intense heat, someone say desert!  They need lots of sun and are happy with Arizona temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. They have thin roots that are somewhat delicate and we find our Bougainvilleas take more of our attention in the garden.

pink bougainvillea
pink bougainvillea

My conclusion and my gardening experience with Bougainvilleas is that they are happier growing in large pots with good drainage.

Bougainvillea growing in a pot
Bougainvillea growing in a pot

In this picture above,  the stem looks bare because I recently removed the dead leaves and new blooms are just arriving. The Bougainvillea loves this planter and will fill out in no time!

The amount of watering needed for your bougainvillea is directly related to your area and the local weather. There are some basics – Bougainvillea is a drought resistant plant, and requires very little water once established and mature.  Let the soil dry between waterings; if your Bougainvillea’s roots stay continuously wet it will promote a weak and shallow root system. Wilting is the best indicator that watering is needed.  Don’t let it dry out completely as this will cause bracts and foliage to drop.

Bougainvillea in Arizona
Bougainvillea in Arizona

For Bougainvilleas planted in the ground:  At the time of watering, do it thoroughly – making sure that every inch of root gets watered!  I use long bamboo garden stakes to measure how far down the watering has reached and I soak until it reaches 8 inches.  This will create a stronger root system for your bougainvillea.  Deep watering is the key!

Blooming Bougainvillea growing in a pot

In Florida, landscape professionals commonly perform a hard cut at the first sign of summer, and keep on a regular trimming schedule all summer long to maintain size.  Pinching is the method of removing the soft tips of young plant stems to encourage fuller growth.  This hardy plant will send out several new stems just below the pinched tip. I am going to prune/pinch all 6 of our Bougainvilleas this week. My Arizona Garden keeps me busy, and I love it!

The more regularly you pinch, the more your bougainvillea will branch and bloom.  The best time to prune or pinch is after the flush of color or flowering cycle is completed.  Flowering cycles are typically four to six weeks. Lets get pinching!

bougainvillea shrub
Bougainvillea bush

Sage bushes with Purple Flowers bring life to the desert!

It is difficult to imagine that a flowering plant can thrive in hot desert temperatures; but, these vibrant purple sage bushes love the heat!

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering sage bushes – Texas Ranger Plant

Also known as Texas Ranger Plants, these lavender flowers fill the sage bushes that adorn the streets of the Sonoran Desert.

heat tolerant purple bush tjs gardenowers
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

Our Texas Ranger Plants, Leucophyllum frutescens, are blooming with butterflies and bees promenading between the purple flowers.

heat tolerant plant with purple flowers
purple sage bush with butterflies

The bees are buzzing noisily as they work their way in and out of the purple blooms.

phoenix purple flowering shrubs bush
purple flowers of the Texas Ranger plant

When it comes to drought and heat tolerant plants, Purple Sage is right at the top of the list.  The hotter it gets in the desert, the happier this flowering shrub is!

texas ranger plant sage Tucson
Purple flowers – Texas Sage Shrub in Arizona

As humidity rises during the start of Arizona’s Monsoon season, the Purple Sage bushes will bloom right before it rains.  The purple flowers are a built in barometer!

Growing and caring for Purple Sage is easy if you plant them in full sun.

varieties of sage bush shrubs purple white
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas and needs very little maintenance. Texas Sage is incredibly heat resistant and will not be harmed by moderate frost in the winter.

white cloud flowering white sage
white flowering shrub is White Cloud Texas Sage

The Sage bush variety with white flowers is called White Cloud Texas Sage.  It is exactly like the purple sage but with white blooms.

Texas Cloud Sage with white flowers bush
White Cloud Sage with Red Bird of Paradise Flowering shrubs
Mexico purple sage flower bush
Purple Texas Ranger Sage Plant

The best time to prune your Texas Sage is in the Spring.  Over pruning your sage bush will reduce the amount of flowers and cause the plant to use more water.

Desert Bird of Paradise quick facts

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.

drought resistant shrubs with flowers
drought tolerant bushes with red flowers

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.

drought tolerant shrubs
Desert Bird of Paradise with red flowers

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

Looking for detailed information on the Mexican Bird of Paradise pictured below?

drought tolerant desert shrub
Mexican Desert Bird of Paradise with yellow flowers

Caring for your Desert Bird of Paradise:

  • Exposure: full sun,  gets leggy in shade and blooming is reduced
  • Water:  deep irrigation; twice a week while blooming; height & growth rate determined by water supply
  • Propagation: been pod seed, very easy; peat pots provide easy transplanting
  • Soil: very tolerant, needs good drainage
  • Hardiness: damaged at 32°F, with increasing damage as temperature decreases
  • Leaves: fern-like, normally bright green turning red in winter, sometimes leafless in winter
  • Range:  common throughout Arizona Sonora desert, Mexico and naturalized in Texas
  • Maintenance:   pruning every year; sometimes pruned to ground in winter, periodic trimming to keep it shaped
Texas yellow bird of paradise
Yellow Desert Bird of Paradise with long red stamen

More details for the Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub pictured below.

tucson texas bushes with yellow flowers
Yellow Bird of Paradise bush with red stamen

PROPAGATION:

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.

germinating seeds
dissolving pots for Bird of Paradise seeds

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 root DOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.

germinating and planting seeds
planting the seeds from the bean pods

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.

phoenix heat tolerant plant with flowers
Red Bird of Paradise shrubs with cactus

These resilient desert bushes THRIVE in intense heat and look stunning with cactus, succulents, Lantana, even Bougainvillea!

Native Arizona Mesquite Trees – growing tips – Velvet mesquite trees, The Tree of Life

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.

Mesquite Tree Arizona
Honey Mesquite Tree

There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees:  Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ),  Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).

Native Arizona Trees, Mesquite
Native Desert Tree – Honey Mesquite

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.

yound mesquite tree
Arizona Native Mesquite Tree

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.

Honey Mesquite Tree variety species
Tree with large needles, spikes in Arizona

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.

tree ties for young mesquite
Staking your mesquite trees

The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!

 Mesquite tree for shade

 

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.

staking your tree
staking your honey mesquite tree helps prevent wind damage

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.

mesquite tree seeds bean pods
Mesquite tree leaves and bean pods 

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 became manna 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 Sonoran deserts of Mexico.

Tree with ferny leaves and sharp thorns
Native Desert Trees, Velvet Mesquite Tree

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.

Mesquite Trees
Velvet Mesquite Trees in Arizona

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.

Salvia darcyi, a hardy, heat resistant desert Garden Flower in a container!

RedSalvia 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.

Salvia Darcii arizona plants
Red Salvia plants in containers
red salvia desert plant
remove the spent flowers from Salvia plants

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 heat resistant plant
growing Salvia plants in pots
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.

Honeysuckles made # 5 – in the top Ten Heat Resistant plants for Arizona

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.

heat resistant honeysuckle
heat-resistant orange honeysuckle

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.

common honeysuckle
Japanese honeysuckle is considered invasive

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.

honeysuckle
honeysuckle flower

Tree, fence, trellis or wall; honeysuckle vines will climb on anything to seek out the sun.

orange honeysuckle flower
orange honeysuckle flower

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.

Honeysuckle bush
Arizona heat-resistant Honeysuckle plant
Honeysuckle and Salvia plants for hummingbirds
Honeysuckle and Salvia plants for hummingbirds, butterflies

These heat tolerant honeysuckle plants did well even in full desert sun as long as they received their daily water.

native arizona honeysuckle
Lonicera arizonica Arizona honeysuckle

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.

Blue Weber Agave is used to make the best tequila!

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.

tequila blue agave plant
farming blue agave for tequila

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.

agave cactus used for tequila
agave field for making tequila

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 silver tequila.

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.

blue agave base
base of the agave used for tequila

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.

agave for tequila
sexy harvester for tequila

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.

worm in tequila
worm larva in cheap tequila

The worm is actually a larval from the agave plant and it indicates an INFESTATION and a product of lower quality.

The top 3 – Best Tequilas in the World are:

1. Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave Ultra Premium Tequila – is hard to get.

Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave
Casa Noble 100% Blue Agave

2. Don Eduardo Anejo or blanco Tequila

Patron Silver Tequila
Patron Silver Tequila

3. Patron silver Tequila – pricey but worth the 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:

Ingredients

  • 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

pom margarita

Directions

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.

ENJOY!

 

Can I cut my yucca plant? Trimming your Yucca

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.

yucca cactus and desert plants
yucca revechonii desert plant

If its craggy look doesn’t bother you then it is not even necessary to prune it.

white flowers on yucca plant
Torrey yucca species

 

desert yucca plants cactus
blooming yucca plants on Arizona highways

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.

desert cactus round with blue gray blades leaves
Yucca rigida, blue yucca desert plant

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.

cut back my yucca
the trimmed bottom of a desert yucca plant

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.

large stalks with cream white flowers
creamy white Yucca flowers

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.

What is a Century Plant? Maguey – aka Agave Americana Plant

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.

several species of Agave

 

agave cactus good for containers pots
Blue Glow Agave looks like a flower

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.

The largest Century Plant in the World

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.

Mescalito, Agave felgeri

 

pruned agave

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.

100 year old cactus Century Plant
Agave Century 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.

different cactus agave species
Agave potatorum Kichiokan

 

cactus plant for making tequila
Tequila Blue Agave

 

century cactus plant with blooms
smaller species of Agave americana

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!

the cactus that dies after it blooms
century plant, agave cactus in the desert

See the photo below of a field in Jalisco, Mexico, overflowing with blue agave plants, ripe for harvesting and used in tequila production.

cactus used for tequila
Blue Agave Field used to make Tequila alcohol

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.

stalk of the century cactus plant
bottom of a century plant, Agave americana

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.

blue glow agave in a container

Mexican, Yellow, Red Bird of Paradise plants are poisonous

Many have asked – Is the Red Bird of Paradise plant toxic?

Poisonous Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub
Red flowering bush is poisonous

All 3 of the bird of paradise flowering bushes are poisonous.

desert plant with fern like leaves is red bird of paradise
caesalpinia pulcherrima is a bush with orange red flowers

The orange and yellow flowers of the Caesalpinia pulcherrima, make a stunning bush.

the desert Caesalpinia pulcherrima poisonous bush
Mexican, Yellow and Red Bird of Paradise flowers

The true Mexican Bird of Paradise tree has yellow flowers and round leaves.

shrub with yellow flowers and round leaves
round leaves and yellow flowers of the Mexican Bird of Paradise

The Yellow Bird of paradise plant has clusters of yellow flowers with a long red stamen.

bushes with long red string things
Yellow Bird of Paradise Flowering Bush

All of these beautiful desert bushes belong to the genus Caesalpinia.  But DO NOT eat any part of the 3 Bird of Paradise plants.

desert bush with red stamens, yellow flowers, bean pods
poisonous Yellow Bird of Paradise shrub

Caesalpinia is a genus of flowering plants in the legume family, FABACEAE.  The fruit of these Bird of Paradise desert bushes is a long, flat seed pod.

The seed pods are toxic!  Watch small children and pets around these shrubs.

The level of toxicity for the bird of paradise plants is low.   The leaves contain hydrocyanic acid.  The toxins in the bean pods are tannins. The role of tannins in many species of plants is to protect it from predators.

Ingesting any part of  bird of paradise plants can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are symptoms of bird of paradise poisoning.

yellow flowering small tree with round leaves
Mexican Bird of Paradise with yellow flowers

While the Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise’s toxins are not life-threatening; keep in mind that diarrhea and vomiting can produce dehydration. These symptoms should be taken seriously and you should seek medical treatment.

 

The Saguaro National Park

While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson.  The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro National Park in AZ
Saguaro National Park in AZ

The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.

The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert
The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert

After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!

the saguaro expands with water
the saguaro expands with water

A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.

saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom
saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom

In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.

The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!

Saguaro Cactus Flowers
Saguaro Cactus fruits and blooms

The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night.   During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and  honeybees pollinate them.

saguaro red fruit
saguaro red fruit

Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
nursing trees for saguaros
Palo Verde and Mesquite Trees are shelter for young Saguaros
nursing tree for saguaro cactus
nursing trees provide nitrogen for cactus

The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall;  reaching heights of 50 feet.  The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.