Quick Yucca Facts

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 similar and belong to the same subfamily, Agavoideae.

tall yucca cactus plant
Yucca plant called the Joshua tree

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.

yucca cactus tree with spike leaves
large Yucca desert tree

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.

desert plant yucca in pots
growing a yucca plant in pots

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.

arizona yucca cactus plant
Yucca Blooms
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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.

How to grow Cactus from cuttings – propagating cactus – roots and planting

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.

propagating cactus paddles grow cactus
items needed to cut and grow cactus

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.

grow your own cactus plants prickly pear
air drying your cactus cuttings

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.

grow cacti and cactus plants
waiting for cacti cuttings to form a callus

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.

grow cactus plants from cut
cactus plants form a callus over the cut

Pick a good container with drainage holes for your callused cactus cutting.

pipe cactus plants with roots
organ pipe cacti cuttings have healed and started roots

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.

grow cactus plant from cut
Prickly Pear cactus plant from cutting

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.

Mourning Doves are building their nest

It is spring and the male mourning dove labors hard to set up his territory.   When this male bird is ready to mate, he circles in a courtship flight and chases other doves from the area he desires to nest.

To attract a female mourning dove, this determined handsome bird perches in an open area and sings a “passionate” coo sound that is louder than his usual call.

difference of male and female doves
Male Mourning Dove

The Coooo bird call is mostly voiced by the male mourning dove and not the female. Once he has charmed a mate, the doves pair for life.

To hear the dove’s coooOOO sound, click on the short YouTube video below:

Doves mate primarily from spring to fall but are able to mate year round and produce several clutches of young.  These love birds are tranquil and elegant. 
doves birds mate
Mourning Doves seem to be the true love birds
  **Unfortunately, the Mourning Dove Nest can hardly be called a “nest” – generally these beautiful birds just throw a few twigs somewhere and begin setting up their flimsy nest.
tan bird with spots
dove nest on our porch

The nest is constructed over the course of 2-4 days with the male and female mourning doves working together.

bird nest with 2 eggs
mourning dove nest with 2 white eggs

With a hanging basket on our porch, it didn’t take long before a couple of mourning doves took up residence.  AKA Turtle Doves have been known to reuse the same nest over and over. Commonly raising 2 – 3 broods per season.  Researchers found that the basics for constructing the bird nest are mainly instinctive, but birds can improve their skills with experience.

flimsy bird nest with twigs and white eggs
when do the 2 dove eggs hatch?

So, you spotted a dove’s nest with two milky white eggs.  When will the dove eggs hatch?  The incubation period for Mourning Dove eggs is 14-15 days. Then another 2 weeks for the squabs to leave the nest.

One white egg is laid in the evening, and the female dove lays the second egg in the morning.

dove bird nest two eggs
Mourning Dove’s Nest with 2 white eggs

The day shift is handled by the male dove and the female incubate during the night shift.  If you do not see the doves change shifts, it can seem that the same dove has been on the nest the entire time. 

***In our experience, we have seen the male and female doves change places around sunrise and sunset.

The dove chick, “hatchling”, squab pictured below is one day old.  Both eyes on the newborn bird are closed.

one day old baby bird
a newborn baby dove is called a squab
two baby birds in a nest
2 to 3 day old dove newborn

Males and female doves work together to feed their newborns crop milk or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. The dove’s Crop Milk is rich in fat and protein.  Adult mourning doves secrete the milk and regurgitate it to their little ones.

The dove parent opens its mouth wide permitting the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food.

mourning dove in the nest
The Male dove daddy caring for his squab

How do you tell if the male or female dove is in the nest?

With a trained eye you will be able to tell the difference.  Male Mourning Doves have a bluish crown and nape, and a rose wash to the throat and breast.  The crown and nape of the female dove is grayish brown, and the throat and breast has a brown or tan wash.

dove nest with 3 birds
female mourning dove with her squabs
Mourning Dove Nestlings will fledge in about 12-14 days. The bird parents continue to care for the dove fledglings for about another 16-20 days.

**Please NOTE:   Doves are more flighty than other birds and may abandon the eggs or nest if you bother them too much.

Pomegranate is #1 in our TOP 10 Heat Resistant Plants!

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!

punica granatum red fruit
Pomegranate tree

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.

fruit of love pomegranate
Juicy pomegranate seeds

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!

leaves of the pomegranate
Pomegranate seedlings 3 months old

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.

p granatum blossoms flower
bright red pomegranate flowers

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.

red seeds in pomegranate
white membrane inside of a pomegranate

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.

red pomegranate
ripe pomegranate

HARVEST:

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.

pomegranate fruit
over-ripe pomegranate with cracks

EATING:

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.

seeds of p granatum
sliced pomegranate fruit

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.

flowering desert shrubs red
Pomegranate is a heat resistant plant

Another reason Pomegranates ranked #1 on our list:

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!

 

Growing Sunflowers in Pots – facts about sunflowers

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!

sunflower in Arizona
sunflower in Arizona

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.

happy sunflower field
common sunflower

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.

Sunflower in pots
Arizona Sunflower in a container

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.

species of sunflowers
Large Sunflower Head of “LEMON QUEEN” variety

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.

sunflower with multiple buds, blooms

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.

wild sunflowers arizona
SONJA sunflower variety

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.

sunflower in container
sunflowers in pots

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.

Typically, sunflowers, Helianthius annuus, require absolutely no pruning at all.

sunflower seeds to harvest
sunflower seeds to harvest

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
seeds ready
sunflower seeds ready to harvest

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.

The best time to see the Saguaro cactus bloom

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.

flower buds on desert cactus
large white flowers on the saguaro cactus

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.

Arizona state flower
Saguaro Cactus Blossom

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.

Arizona state flower
yellow stamen inside the Saguaro Cactus flower

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.

Tucson Arizona saguaro blossom
yellow stamen inside the creamy white Saguaro flower

Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.

Arizona state flowers
white cactus flower attracts birds

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.

 Gila woodpecker inside the saguaro flower

bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom

pollinated Saguaro Cactus red fruit
Red fruit of the Saguaro Cactus

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.

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

What are the VARIETIES OF SUNFLOWERS?

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?

species of sunflowers mirasol
Dwarf Sunflower variety SUNGOLD
Sunflowers
SUNGOLD is a dwarf sunflower
sunflowers in the desert
SUNGOLD aka TEDDY BEAR Sunflower variety

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.

Sunflower variety
Holiday Sunflower variety

The variety called “Holiday Sunflower”  has uneven heights and multiple blooms.

common sunflower in desert
Sunflower species HOLIDAY SUNFLOWER

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!

sunflower varieties
Dwarf sunflower species – Ring of Fire

The variety called Ring of Fire is another dwarf sunflower species that is very uniform and under 3 feet in height.

species of sunflowers with red
RING OF FIRE Sunflower variety

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.

sunflower variety
Big Smile sunflower species

The variety called Big Smile Sunflower is under 2 feet in height, has multiple blooms and is a Dwarf Sunflower Plant.

small dwarf sunflowers for pots
Sunflower variety BIG SMILE

The sunflower stem is rough and hairy with a circular head of flowers. The head has hundreds of individual flowers which mature into seeds.

sunflower species
Red, Orange and Yellow sunflower – AUTUMN BEAUTY

The sunflower species called Autumn Beauty branches out with a variety of yellow, red and orange colors.

multiple blooms sunflower
Sunflower variety AUTUMN BEAUTY

In the 16th century, sunflower seeds from the Americas were brought to Europe along with sunflower oil and they became a popular cooking ingredient.

ornamental type of sunflower
Tohokujhae Sunflower varieties

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.

teddy bear sunflower species
Sunflower variety TOHOKUJHAE aka Teddy Bear

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.

sunflower species
Variety of Sunflower – SONJA

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.

wild sunflowers arizona
SONJA Sunflower variety

TIDBITS: The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, USA.  American Indians had various uses for sunflowers, such as in bread, medical ointments, dyes and body paints.

Best Pond filter system – All in One Lifegard Pump with UV Algae control

This is the best Pond pump we have ever used and our fish are healthy and thriving.  This All in One Pond Filter system is a compact filter for water gardens and ponds with Koi and fish.  It is extremely easy to install and easy to clean.  See the photos I posted from cleaning the pump today.

Lifegard Pond Pump and Filter
cleaned the Lifegard Pond filter

With the Lifegard All in One pond filter you have a choice of 4 different fountain spray patterns for your pond. To help control algae this efficient pump includes an ultraviolet sterilizer that has a separate plug so you can operate it only when you need to.

running the pond pump

The pond filter unit will float.  I need to put a few heavy rocks on top to hold the pond pump in place.  After years of using various pumps for our small Arizona pond, this is by far the absolute best pump system and I highly recommend it.  Even more so if you have fish and Koi in your pond.

healthy large goldfish

Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion – Largest scorpion in North America

We found several bark scorpions in our Arizona yard but this is the first time we found a Giant Desert Hairy ScorpionHadrurus arizonensis.  This giant scorpion is the largest scorpion in the United States.

Scorpions are related to spiders, ticks, mites, etc… They are venomous arthropods in the class Arachnida.   Scorpions have over 1,300 species throughout the world.  They have four pairs of legs and pedipalps with plier-like pincers on the end.

giant desert hairy scorpion
Hadrurus arizonensis, Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion

Three species of scorpions are commonly found in the Arizona Desert:

  1. Small Bark Scorpion, Centruroides exilicauda
  2. Striped Tail or Devil’s Scorpion, Vaejovis spinigerus
  3. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus arizonensis

Arizona is home to more than 30 species of scorpions but the only truly “life threatening” one is the small Bark Scorpion.  Unlike the other species, Bark Scorpions like to climb.

Giant Arizona Scorpion
the largest scorpion in the US

Scorpions have mouthparts called chelicerae that enable it to rip and tear its prey while feeding.  They have a sensitive antennae along with the pincer-like pedipalps that are used to hold the prey while inflicting venom or eating.  The Scorpion’s body has two main parts; the cephalothorax and the abdomen.

Hadrurus arizonensis
the largest scorpion in North America, Hadrurus arizonensis

According to the book Scorpions: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, in order to measure a scorpion; start from the tip of the telson, stinger, to the prosoma, head.  Our Arizona scorpion was just over 5 inches!  Giant Hairy Scorpions have a dark back.

scorpion tail stinger
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion Tail, metasoma

The metasoma (tail) of the scorpion is actually an extension of the abdomen. It consists of five segments, each one longer than the last; at the tip is the telson (stinger).

All Scorpions are nocturnal and leave their shelters at night in search for prey.  A Giant Hairy Scorpion burrows deep in the desert soil.  This large scorpion follows the moisture level in the soil and can burrow as far as 8 feet below the surface!

home / nest of the scorpion
Scorpion burrow opening

Scorpion burrows are commonly oval or crescent-shaped.

large Arizona Scorpion
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion in Arizona

Although this scorpion is very large, the sting is somewhat mild and feels similar to a bee sting.  The sting is not life threatening.  If by some chance you experience an allergic reaction to a Giant Hairy Scorpion sting,  seek medical attention immediately.

Scorpions give birth to live young during the summer months and the babies safely ride on mom until their first molt, approximately 2-3 weeks.

If you really want to observe these ancient nocturnal arachnids, take a black light to the desert on a moonless, warm night.   In the dark you will be able to see scorpions dig burrows, capture prey and possibly witness a unique mating ritual.

How do we try to keep our home scorpion free?  By keeping our windows and doors closed!  When opening a door in the desert, make it a habit to look at the bottom.  It is known that scorpions have poor eyesight and tend to walk along walls.  Glue boards placed by doors and windows are good ways to catch scorpions inside the home.  Bark Scorpions are smaller and more common in homes.  Bark Scorpion stings can be fatal so we have a contract with Truly Nolen that helps to keep our home safe. 

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.

Diseases of trees – mistletoe growing on a tree – infected Mesquite trees

Does your tree look like it has a disease?  It is common for Mistletoe to invade a host tree and become a parasite.  Desert mistletoe is a true evergreen plant and is an obligate (binding) parasite on its host.

Mistletoe is one of the main causes of diseases in mesquite trees and is native to much of the eastern third of the U. S.  Mistletoe plant berries are said to be poisonous, but birds do eat them.

mesquite tree disease, infected with mistletoe

Desert Mistletoe or mesquite mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, is a parasitic plant native to southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Baja California. It can be found in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts under 4000 feet elevation.  The female Mistletoe plant produces red seeds that the birds love to eat.

disease growth on desert trees
Desert Mistletoe on trees, birds eat the berries

Mistletoe seed and red berries are an important part of the desert bird’s diet.  The seeds are “sticky” and birds bring them to branches of trees where they perch.   The seeds germinate and grow inside the tree. The species most affected are the leguminous trees in the low desert including:

  • mesquite,  Prosopis
  • palo verde,  Cercidium
  • ironwood, Olneya
  • acacia,  Acacia greggii  

The mistletoe seeds germinate and grow into the tree with sinkers (organs acting much like the roots of a plant).  The mistletoe sinkers absorb water and nutrients from the tree host.  These mistletoe roots grow inside the tree for some time eventually producing the conspicuous growth of stems, leaves and bulges.

witches broom infection on a desert tree
tree infected with Mistletoe – called a witches broom

Mistletoe takes a long time to kill a tree but certainly causes decline.  Mistletoe infections cause swelling and witches’ brooms  (what is called the growth of stems seen in the photo below).  Old severe infections may result in swollen areas of dead wood that are brittle and break easily.  These limbs should be removed if they pose any danger.

honey mesquite tree with disease growth
mistletoe growing in tree, wear some gloves and remove the growth manually

The only way to control mistletoe is to remove it manually.  Put some gloves on and remove the mistletoe growth and stems with your hands.  Manual removal does not kill the mistletoe because it is growing inside the trees tissue; but good control can be achieved by removing it.

Pruning out heavily infected branches may help… but that decision is usually based on how much can be pruned without destroying the beauty of the tree.  Also, it is impossible to know if you have pruned far enough away from the infection to get all the mistletoe that is growing inside the host.

mistletoe disease in tree

Wrapping pruned sites is not recommended since such procedures do not kill the mistletoe and may easily cause more harm than good to the tree. Sprays sold for mistletoe control will remove the outside growth just as pruning, but they do not kill the part of the mistletoe plant inside the tree.