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!

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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.

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.

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.

 

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 and many 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.  The saguaro’s 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

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

dead saguaro cactus
dead saguaro cactus

Saguaro cactus can be found in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico.

 

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.

 

The difference between drought tolerant and drought resistant plants?

Define drought tolerant.  What is a drought resistant plant? Here is the difference between drought tolerant (true desert plant) and drought resistant (originated in semi-arid places).

A flower or plant that has naturally evolved to survive periods of drought with little water and has the ability to tolerate substantial dehydration of their tissues and organs is drought tolerant.  Xerophytes are the BEST drought tolerant plants, shrubs, trees, and cacti.

cactus plants use little water are heat tolerant
Drought tolerant Saguaro Cactus and Prickly Pear Cactus

Cacti and many plants survive on little water and make Xeriscape not only essential but pleasing to the eye. Derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning “dry” and combined with landscape, xeriscape means gardening with less than average water.

drought resistant landscape yard
flowering, hairy cactus with drought tolerant agave plants

Many xerophyte plants have specialized tissues for storing water, as in the stems of cacti and the leaves of succulents. Others have thin, narrow leaves, or even spines, for minimizing water loss.  Xerophyte leaves often have abundant stomata to maximize gas exchange during periods in which water is available, and the stomata are recessed in depressions, which are covered with fine hairs to help trap moisture in the air.

drought resistant tolerant bushes in yard design
xeriscape yard with XEROMORPHIC plants like cactus, yucca, ocotillo

Drought tolerant plants have adapted by making use of either C4 Carbon Fixation or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions.

xerophyte plants best drought resistant
A drought tolerant Joshua Tree and Yucca Cactus in this photo

In a plant using full CAM, the stomata, in the leaves, remain shut during the day to reduce the loss of water as vapor, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored and then used during photosynthesis, which is the process of capturing the suns energy.

what is drought tolerant and resistant plants
Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde Tree are well – adapted drought tolerant plants.

CAM is particularly good for arid conditions because CO2 can be absorbed at night, allowing the pores on the leaves to stay closed during the day and thus reducing water loss. A easy way to explain it is drought tolerant plants can slow down metabolism.

Blue agave cactus plant with spike leaves in desert
Lovely Agave titanota BLUE variety

High elasticity of the cytoplasm and the capacity to withstand compression of the cells during dehydration are characteristic of drought-tolerant plants. What is cytoplasm? An easy definition of cytoplasm is a gel-like casing, covering – containing all the contents of the cell’s organisms, except the nucleus. Most metabolic (chemical reactions) pathways occur in the cytoplasm.

ocotillo tall cactus for drought tolerant yard arizona
Ocotillo Cactus plant in the desert

Not to be confused with drought-tolerant plants, Drought Resistant plants are not true desert plants. Many have originated in semi-arid regions, the area around the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Sahara.

Here are pictures of drought resistant plants that are not native desert plants.

color ideas for your desert low water, garden
colors of flowering lantana drought resistant plants next to oleander bushes

Lantana

drought tolerant and heat resistant flowering plants of the desert
The New Gold Lantana along with Trailing Purple Lantana plants
drought tolerant flowering lantana plants
White, Red (Texas) and Gold Lantana drought resistant desert plants

Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.

drought tolerant and heat resistant purple lavender plant
lavender shrub is drought resistant

Lavender

top best drought tolerant flowering plants
young lavender drought resistant plant

This plant has it all: Drought resistant, it looks great, it smells wonderful, and it’s as tough as nails (as long as it’s not too wet).  Lavender is in the mint family and originated in the Old World around the Canary Islands, Africa, India, and Asia.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow, yellow flowering drought resistant plants

Yarrow

Not only does yarrow tolerate heat and drought like a champion, but this easy-growing perennial is also a great cut flower.  Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, originated in regions of Asia and Europe.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) drought resistant plants

There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.

Is Purple Texas Sage edible? Eating a Texas Ranger Plant

Can you eat purple sage, Texas Sage?  This perennial evergreen shrub with grayish leaves and budding purple flowers is actually not sage at all.

shrub with purple flowers arizona
Purple flowering Texas Ranger Sage Plant

Rarely called Silverleaf, this popular bush is predominately specified as Texas Ranger Plant or Purple Texas Sage.

purple flowering shrub
Leucophyllum frutescens, Texas sage

Leucophyllum frutescens is the scientific name for this Sage Bush, and it is a member of the figwort family.

white cloud sage bush
white flower, White Cloud, Texas Sage

Texas Sage shrubs with white flowers are called White Cloud.  According to the National Gardening Association, Texas Sage is one plant that is most often ignored by deer unless they are starving.

bushes shrubs with white flowers
Purple and White Texas Sage bush varieties
Phoenix shrubs with purple flowers
Purple Flowers Texas Sage bushes in AZ TX CA

Rabbits and other small animals in the desert will not eat this Purple Sage either.  It is safe to say that this white or purple flowering bush is critter proof!!

texas purple flowering plant
purple flowering bush in AZ, TX

After several hours of research we were not able to find any evidence of the Texas Sage plant being edible.  Looks like it is best to leave this luscious purple shrub to the bees and the butterflies.  

purple flower bus
Texas Sage bush, Leucophyllum frutescens

Eating Texas Sage is not recommended.  Nonetheless, it is a gorgeous addition to your sun-filled garden!  White or purple Texas Sage is a popular ornamental plant that does best in dry, warm locations.

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering bushes sage in the desert

This flowering desert bush can grow up to 8 feet high!  In Arizona, Purple Sage is often used as a border or hedge for yards.

Texas Ranger shrubs plants
Purple flowering Sage Bushes

To learn more information regarding care and pruning your Texas Sage; check our sage category.

Drought Tolerant shrubs with Orange, Red and Yellow Flowers

The flowers on the Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise bushes are thriving in the sweltering heat.  Vivid energetic colors of this drought tolerant shrub are sure to catch the eye of any passer-by.

desert plant with red and orange flowers
drought tolerant flowering shrub in the desert

This is one of our favorite desert shrubs we recommend to people who want flowering plants that are perennial (you need to plant them only once), hardy, low care, and drought resistant.

arizona texas shrubs
orange flowering bushes can take the heat

With an abundance of fern-like leaves these delightful shrubs can add a tropical perspective to any desert landscape!

orange red yellow flowering shrubs
Mexican and Red Bird of Paradise bushes

Pruning your Red Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima , should be in late winter or early spring. Use a sharp pair of garden shears.  Our Bird of Paradise bushes are pruned about 16 inches from ground level.

Phoenix Tucson bushes shrubs flowers
Pride of Barbados, bushes with red orange flowers

Caesalpinia gilliesii, Yellow Bird of Paradise or sometimes called “Desert Bird of Paradise” is a shrub that has been naturalized in Texas.

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

The signature long red stamens adorn the clusters of charming yellow flowers. Originally from Argentina, this Yellow Bird of Paradise upright shrub is very fast growing.

varieties of bird of paradise plants
long red stamen on Yellow Bird of Paradise plants

This long-lived, drought tolerant plant is very durable along with cold and heat tolerant.  Exposure to full sun is best!  All parts of the bird of paradise plants are toxic.  Yellow Bird of Paradise can grow to the height of 10 ft.

bushes shrubs with bean pods
Yellow Bird of Paradise

Plant your Bird of Paradise in full sun locations.  These bushes do fine in any well-drained soil including rocky, native soils.

In the Spring, prune to remove dead or damaged stems.  In the summer water your Yellow Bird of Paradise every week.  Water it deeply to stimulate a long taproot.  Once established the Yellow Bird of Paradise will need less water.

Caesalpinia gilliesii, yellow bird of paradise

These desert favorites are easy to find, inexpensive, and provide exciting color over and over throughout the year.  All Bird of Paradise plants are winners for your Arizona or desert landscape!

Red Bird of Paradise, red, orange and yellow flowers

The Red Bird of Paradise is a fast grower, and will get large!  It is hardy and does well in any soil; but, the better drainage you have the healthier the plant will be.

Texas bushes with orange red flowers
Red bird of paradise shrubs grow large

Bird of Paradise plants look bare during the winter but they always come back strong and healthy! The seeds and bean pods are poisonous so be careful your children and pets don’t eat them.

heat tolerant bushes with red flowers
Bushes with orange and red flowers

Red Bird of Paradise is very hardy and drought tolerant once the taproot is established.  With a little mulch at the base, they come back year after year.

Texas bushes with orange flowers
Red Bird of Paradise is also Pride of Barbados Bush
bushes with red orange yellow flowers
Arizona red flowering desert shrubs

Many people refer to this red and orange desert bush as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana). The actual Mexican Bird of Paradise has all yellow flowers and is larger.

yellow flowering bush heat drought tolerant
desert shrub with yellow flowers and round leaves

Being native to Mexico, Caesalpinia Mexicana  is the real Mexican Bird of Paradise.  It is larger with ROUND leaves and can be pruned into a small tree.

Mexican Bird of Paradise bush
round leaves and yellow flowers of the Caesalpinia mexicana

Asparagus Fern is my # 8 in the top Ten heat resistant plants

Introducing the dramatic Asparagus densiflorus.  Even when southern Arizona reaches temperatures above 100 degrees the asparagus fern thrives!  Our desert garden has a subtropical ambience thanks to the ornate asparagus fern. This customary name is somewhat deceiving because the asparagus fern is not a fern at all; but a member of the Liliaceae, or Lily family.

Growing these ferns in containers is easy and low maintenance.  This plant develops large tuberous roots and can become potbound in a relatively short period of time.  Asparagus Ferns are vigorous, fast growing plants that can take extreme heat as long as it receives regular watering.

top heat resistant arizona plants
asparagus fern tropical looking asparagus fern with berries

To encourage new growth I give our asparagus ferns a trim every so often.  In the photo above you will notice several green berries that will turn red by winter.  Since these plants are dioecious, not all of your asparagus ferns will grow berries.

What does dioecious mean? Plants that are dioecious have their male and female parts on separate plants. Both male and female plants must be present for pollination to occur. Asparagus Ferns are toxic to cats and dogs.  Contact with the skin may cause dermatitis so I recommend wearing gloves.

heat tolerant Fern in Arizona desert plants
Asparagus Fern in pots and containers

From a distance, the asparagus fern, Asparagus densiflorus, looks very soft and delicate. This can be attributed to its fine, needle-like leaves.  Make no mistake, putting your hands into an asparagus fern will give you little scratches.

Asparagus Fern is native to South Africa and is an evergreen perennial that is commonly used as a groundcover or in hanging baskets for its showy foliage.

Asparagus Fern and orange honeysuckle in planters
Arizona garden with asparagus fern – tropical plants

An easy way to propagate new Asparagus Ferns is by division.  Using a large serrated knife, you can easily divide up the root ball into half or quarter sections for more new plants.

tropical desert plants in arizona
asparagus fern plants in the Arizona heat

The photo above is one of our potted asparagus ferns that is located in the full Arizona sun.  Other containers are nestled in part shade.  All of the plants are growing well with my only complaint being I need to plant more!

Yellow needles develop on asparagus ferns for different reasons such as rapid temperature change, under watering, over watering, spider mites and possibly a change in light.  Your asparagus fern will need less watering during winter and in low light conditions.

Arizona heat tolerant asparagus ferns in pots
growing asparagus ferns in part shade

Asparagus ferns can be trained to grow as a vine or cascade down a hanging planter. Note:  Sprenger’s Asparagus has been declared a noxious weed in Florida, Hawaii and New Zealand.   Listed as a Class One Invasive by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s Pest Plant List (FLEPPC).

We love Asparagus Ferns and have grown them in hot, hot Arizona for years with no behavior problems.