Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

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

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

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

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

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

Quick Saguaro Facts:

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

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

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

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

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

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

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

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

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

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

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

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

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

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

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

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Yellow flowers of the real Mexican Bird of Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

red orange blooming bush flowers
Red Bird of Paradise desert shrub

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

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

How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods

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

peat pots

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

vermiculite

Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lantana Verbena in containers
Confetti Lantana and Purple Verbena desert plants

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

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

popular drought tolerant plant
Texas New Gold best lantana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas New Gold in a Pot

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

red orange lantana species verbena
drought tolerant red flowering lantana plant

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

Picture of Lantana Heaven!

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

Red and Yellow Lantana Plants, trailing mound

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

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:

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.

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.

Interesting Saguaro Cactus Facts

One of Arizona’s most majestic, lovable desert cactus plants is the Saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea. Being aware of the saguaro’s history and incredible internal design, it is an honor to walk close to the Giant Saguaro that is over 150 years old and standing tall.

Sonoran Desert cactus tall
Giant Saguaro Cactus of Arizona

These desert cacti are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age.

Saguaro Cactus can not tolerate freezing temperatures in the winter and this is what limits their range.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro FACTS:  Saguaros are a very slow growing cactus.  A 10 year old plant might only be 2 inches tall.

How tall can a Saguaro Cactus grow?  It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall.

Arizona Saguaro Giant Cactus
Saguaro Cactus on Mica Mountain
60 foot Saguaro Cactus plant
A Tall Saguaro Cactus

Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park.

Mica Mountain Saguaro National Park

Saguaro cactus roots are only 4-6 inches deep and travel out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep tap root that extends down into the ground.

A Saguaro Cactus can gather enough water through its remarkable root system, during a significant rain, to last a year!

holes in big cactus
Holes in Saguaro Cactus for birds nest

Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus?  The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.

Birds nesting in the Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.

red fruit of cactus
Saguaro Cactus Flowers bloom, then turn to fruit

When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.

white flower on cactus arizona
Saguaro cactus Bloom – Flower

A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.  Only a few bloom each night awaiting to be pollinated and close by late morning.

pollinated cactus flower to fruit
red fruit on Saguaro Cactus
dead saguaro cactus ribs
A living and dead Saguaro Cactus.

Because the major part of a desert saguaro cactus is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.

After the saguaro dies its wood ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.  The holes that birds nested in are called saguaro boots.

holes in cactus in Arizona
Saguaro Boot used by Native American

Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.

200 year old tall saguaro cactus
Saguaro Cactus next to a biker to compare the size

Saguaro branches normally begin to appear when the cactus reaches 50 to 70 years of age.

The average life span of a saguaro is approximately 175 years of age.  Experts have estimated that a Saguaro Cactus with more than 5 arms can be 200 years old.

nurse tree for saguaro cactus
Yellow Palo Verde Tree is a nurse tree

Young saguaro cacti can be very hard to find because they grow under the protection of a “nurse tree”.  The nurse tree releases nitrogen in the soil which the Saguaros and other desert cacti use to grow healthy and strong.

Saguaros sometimes grow in odd shapes or forms. The growing tip of the cactus occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.

rare arizona cactus
Cristate Saguaro Cactus

These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare.  Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.

Fan like shaped cactus rare
Crested, Cristate, Fan-like Saguaro Cactus from AZ
crested cristate cactus in Tucson Phoenix
rare Saguaro in Tucson

Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of  The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona. During building or construction, precautions must be taken to move every saguaro that may be affected.

Pruning Desert Bird of Paradise bushes and shrubs

flowering desert shrubs fern leaves Texas
AZ TX Desert Bushes with Red Orange Flowers fern leaves

When should you prune desert bird of paradise shrubs?

Caesalpinia pulcherrima plant with red flowers fern leaves
Red Bird of Paradise shrubs orange flowers and fern leaves in the AZ TX desert

Pruning your Red Bird of Paradise,  Caesalpinia pulcherrima , which is what I have, should be in late winter or early spring.

Arizona bushes with red flowers
Red Bird of Paradise is sometimes called Mexican Bird of Paradise

I pruned mine a few weeks ago with a sharp pair of garden sheers. Many people cut these plants almost to the ground. I don’t, I prune my Red Bird of Paradise bushes about 18 inches from ground level.

Red Bird of Paradise cutting
Trimming Caesalpinia pulcherrima – pruning desert Bird of Paradise bushes

Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise bushes, trees, and shrubs thrive in dry conditions; once established, they are drought tolerant plants, with fern looking leaves blooming with orange, red or yellow flowers.

Texas shrubs with orange red flowers
Red Desert Bird of Paradise, drought tolerant plants
bushes with bean pods orange flowers
Red Bird of Paradise shrub in AZ TX CA Mexico

The Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise need very little pruning.

Caesalpinia gilliesii is a drought tolerant desert shrub
Yellow Bird of Paradise has red stamens and yellow flowers

Caesalpinia gilliesii, or sometimes called Yellow Bird of Paradise or Desert Bird of Paradise is a shrub that has been naturalized in Texas;  planted as to give an effect of wild growth and may some year be considered native in the rest of the southwestern US.  In the photo below see the yellow bird of paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii.

TX bush with yellow flowers and bean pods
Yellow flowering Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii

This yellow flowering desert shrub has clusters of beautiful yellow flowers with long red stamens.  The Yellow Bird of Paradise is a fast growing, upright shrub that is originally from Argentina.  Pruning your Yellow Bird of Paradise bush will encourage dense growth.

Caesalpinia gilliesii mistaken for Mexican Bird of Paradise
Yellow blooming Bird of Paradise desert bush in AZ TX CA

Yellow Bird of Paradise is drought tolerant and very durable, also cold and heat tolerant. Exposure to full sun is best for ALL Bird of Paradise Plants.   The yellow bird of paradise shrub is toxic.  

drought tolerant desert bush shrub
Yellow Bird of Paradise bush with Red Stamens bean pods

This Hardy Bird of Paradise shrub can grow to the height of 10 ft.

In the early Spring, prune to remove dead or damaged stems.  In the summer water your Yellow Bird of Paradise every week.  Water it deeply to stimulate an effective root system and tap-root.

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

Bushes with round leaves yellow flowers desert
Mexican Bird of Paradise bush yellow flowers round leaves
desert shrub with yellow flowers in Arizona
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise with yellow flowers round leaves

In the photo ABOVE see the yellow flowers and rounded shape of the leaves on the Mexican Bird of Paradise bush or tree.

Caesalpinia mexicana yellow flowers
Mexican Bird of Paradise tree shrub with yellow flowers

Whether you pick the Yellow, Mexican or Red Bird of Paradise shrubs or trees,  you are certainly choosing a winner for your desert garden!

shrubs with bean pods red flowers
Desert bush with orange red yellow flowers, bean pods

Our Desert is cascading with purple flowering bushes

This weeks rain invoked shrubs with purple flowers everywhere.  Arizona’s most popular perennial, drought resistant,  desert shrub is the Purple Texas Sage or sometimes call Texas Ranger Plant.

tucson purple bush
Purple Texas Sage

Texas designated Texas purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) as the official state native shrub in 2005.  The Texas Sage desert shrub is sometimes referred to in Phoenix, Arizona as Purple sage.

texas sage with red bird of paradise

While driving through the city of Tucson, Arizona I came across a field of purple, red, orange, and yellow blooming bushes.  The picture above is a Texas Ranger Plant, purple texas sage, next to a Red Bird of Paradise desert plant. What a perfect combination of two of the best flowering drought tolerant bushes available.

purple sage bush

This gray leafed desert shrub adds interest to your garden even when it is not in bloom because of the color of the evergreen leaves. Purple Texas Sage is deer resistant, heat resistant, drought tolerant and a good choice for xeriscape gardens.  Watch for purple blooms from May through October.  Your Purple Texas Ranger Plant does best with full sun.  This Purple flowering bush is a very hardy desert plant with low maintenance and is easy to find.

purple texas sage

Those beautiful dazzling purple flowers, pictured above, will come out after rain or when it is humid. You can also encourage flowering by giving them extra water. Let the ground dry out between waterings so you do not cause the roots to rot.

purple Texas Sage as a hedge

The main challenge for your Purple flowering desert bush is the fact you will want to prune them to keep your Purple Sage plant looking neat.  So if you want to trim your purple sage shrub into a hedge just remember – the best time to prune your purple Texas Sage is when it is NOT flowering.  It is best NOT to trim it when the purple flowers are in bloom.

Desert Shrubs – Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Lacy leaves and continually blooming red, orange with a splash of yellow flowers on my Bird of Paradise Arizona shrub. I was worried that the monsoon rains from this week would damage my young Red Bird of Paradise plant. No worries! I have new orange, yellow and red flowers decorating our driveway and the hummingbirds love it.

Arizona and Texas bushes
bushes with bean pods and orange flowers

The Southwest including California, Arizona, and Texas are cascading with these flowering desert plants and hardy drought tolerant bushes.

orange flowering arizona bushes
Bird of Paradise shrub with orange flowers

Some my even think the Red Bird of Paradise is a native plant of Arizona. Actually,  Red Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima,  is native to the tropics and subtropics of the Americas and is also the NATIONAL flower of the Caribbean island of Barbados, which is why you may hear it called Pride of Barbados.

This flowering perennial shrub is one of the easiest desert plants to care for. Red Bird of Paradise is very hardy, drought tolerant once established. (they can have very long taproots) With a little mulch at the base, they come back year after year.

The Red Bird of Paradise

I’ve heard many people in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona refer to this orange and red desert bush as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana). The real Mexican Bird of Paradise has yellow flowers and is larger. The Mexican Bird of Paradise is native to Mexico.

Mexican Bird of Paradise is native to Mexico and has yellow flowers
Red Bird of Paradise in Tucson

The Red Bird of Paradise is a deciduous (loses its leaves) shrub that thrives in  full sun and has bright red, yellow and orange flowers that grow on long, thin stalks. The leaves are lacy,  ferny-looking. The Red Bird of Paradise is a fairly fast grower, and can get large, so periodic trimming is suggested.

yellow and orange flowering bush

A few bean pods are appearing on the Red Bird of Paradise bushes in our yard.  I look forward to propagating the seeds later this season as I’ve already located a sunny spot in our xeriscape desert garden to grow more. Red Bird of Paradise plants are a species in the FABACEAE Family, more commonly known as the pea, bean or legume family.

Bean Pods on Bird of Paradise bush
Bean Pods on Red Bird of Paradise

To germinate the Red Bird of Paradise seeds, I simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 24 hours.  I put them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds. They germinate. Red Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

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

The Texas Ranger Sage shrub – bushes with purple or white flowers

What is that blooming sage shrub or plant that is overflowing with purple flowers in the AZ desert? Humidity from Monsoon season brings a purple explosion for the Arizona Desert. The Texas Sage, Texas Ranger Plants are in full bloom! Take a look at the gorgeous purple sage pictures.

Picture of The Texas Ranger Plant. In Arizona it is commonly called Purple Texas Sage.

One of the best drought tolerant, heat resistant desert plants is the Purple Texas Sage bush / shrub (Texas Ranger Plant). Texas Sage is mostly evergreen (meaning it keeps its leaves), drought resistant, perennial, cold resistant, hard to kill and fits well in a low maintenance xeriscape garden.  These blooming desert plants thrive in the hot, humid monsoon season of Arizona.

Flowering Texas Ranger Shrub (Texas Sage Bush) in our yard. Gorgeous Purple!

Because the showy purple flower display coincides with high humidity, Texas Purple Sage is sometimes nicknamed a barometer plant.

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering bushes in the desert

Mostly you will hear this Arizona desert plant referred to as Texas Sage.  Actually it is not a true sage.  Texas Ranger Shrubs are related to penstemons and snap dragons.  This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas.

Chihuahuan SageLeucophyllum laevigatum

The picture above is a variety of desert Sage bushes, called Chihuahuan Sage, Leucophyllum laevigatum. All of our sage bushes are blooming with brilliant purple flowers and lots of bees. These desert bushes are perfect for bees.

Arizona bush with purple flowers
Purple Sage Shrub Plant

I could even say that the Texas Ranger Shrub is the best plant to attract bees!  We have so many bees in our purple shrubs that you can hear the buzzing from across the yard. Texas Ranger plants and all the different varieties of sage would be a great benefit to bee hives.

Purple Sage bush, Chihuahuan Sage

Our Chihuahuan Sage, more commonly called Texas Purple Sage, is along the back of our yard where it receives full sun.  The hotter it gets the more this drought tolerant flowering shrub loves it!

The Chihuahuan variety of sage has an informal, relaxed growth habit. You can see in the pictures that I missed this seasons pruning. The best time to prune your Sage bush is in the spring because the summer desert heat brings a flush of new growth.

Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season. Once your Arizona Desert bush establishes a deep root system you can reduce the water.  Feed your Texas Sage with a general purpose fertilizer before the new growth in spring.

Our Purple Sage Bush alongside a Red Fairy Duster blooming desert plant

It is amazing to wake up and see your desert yard explode with purple flowers and the loud symphony of buzzing bees.  One of the best parts of Monsoon season is the blooming desert plants with our Chihuahuan Sage, Texas Purple Sage, Texas Ranger Plant, whatever you choose to call it, being at the top of our favorites list.

purple sage
Purple Texas Ranger Plant

To grow your sage bush – plant them in full sun with lots of room to grow.  If you prune your Purple Sage, do it in the spring.  They prefer well-drained soils and will rot if given too much water.  There are many different varieties of Texas Ranger Plants (Leucophyllum frutescens), Texas Sage, Sage bushes. Your desert landscaping will look beautiful with these fragrant lavender flowers.

Texas Ranger plant
purple flowering shrubs

In the photo below I included a picture of our Red Fairy Duster plant. Fairy Duster, Calliandra,  is an evergreen, desert shrub that I recommend for people who want plants that are perennial (you need to plant them only once), low maintenance, hardy, drought tolerant, and provides lovely color next to your sage bush.

White Cloud Texas Tanger Plant
White flowering Texas Sage bush
Purple Sage and Fairy Duster, blooming Arizona Desert plants

Once these desert plants bloom, get your camera and take pictures. The sage flowers do not last long especially if an AZ monsoon rain comes.

Phoenix desert plants purple
Texas Sage
Texas Ranger Shrub
Purple flowering sage bush

   

Bushes with Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers in Arizona – Red Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima

What is the desert bush with Red, Yellow and Orange Flowers?  This common Arizona and Texas desert shrub is called the Red Bird of Paradise.

desert bird of paradise
desert shrubs with red orange flowers
orange and yellow flowering bush
Bird of Paradise bush with orange yellow flowers

The botanical name for Red Bird of Paradise is Caesalpinia pulcherrima, it is a species in the FABACEAE Family, more commonly known as the pea, bean or legume family.

bean pods on arizona bushes
Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Red Bird of Paradise bean pods

This is one of the easiest desert flowering plants to grow and take care of in the Phoenix, Tucson area; along with Texas and California.  It is deciduous (loses its leaves seasonally), but will bloom constantly through the summer.

bushes with yellow orange flowers
Red Bird Of Paradise plants attract butterflies

The Red Bird of Paradise makes a favorable hedge.  The orange and yellow flowers are one of the best plants to attract butterflies & hummingbirds!

 

arizona bush with yellow orange flowers
orange and yellow flowering bushes

 

Caesalpinia pulcherrima bushes with orange flowers
Red Bird of Paradise, Pride of Barbados

The Red Bird of Paradise plant is also the NATIONAL flower of the Caribbean island of Barbados, which is why you may hear it called Pride of Barbados.  Please note:  when purchasing this plant I have seen it labeled as “Pride of Barbados”.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima bush in Tucson
orange and yellow flowers continually bloom in the desert

This desert beauty is very hardy and drought resistant once it’s established; they can have a very long tap-root. With a little mulch at the base, your desert bird of paradise will come back year after year.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima
common bushes with red-orange flowers

The leaves are delicate lacy,  fern-looking. You may see this desert plant’s leaves fold up at night,  no worries; it is called Nyctinasty and is completely natural.   Bird of Paradise are fairly fast growers, and can get LARGE, so periodic trimming is suggested. The better water drainage you have the healthier this flowering plant will be.

Some people refer to this orange and yellow desert bush as the Mexican Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia mexicana). The actual Mexican Bird of Paradise has only yellow flowers and rounded leaves.  For more Mexican Bird of Paradise info

Tucson flowering bush Pride of Barbados
vivid orange, red and yellow blooms
Orange yellow flowers on Red Bird of Paradise Shrub
Orange flowers on the Red Bird of Paradise Shrub

Check out our article link: If you are interested in growing your own Bird of Paradise plants from the bean pods.

Red Bird of Paradise Bean Pods
Bean Pods and Orange, Yellow Flowers

 

shrub with orange yellow red flowers
young Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia pulcherrima

Pictured above is one of our young plants we are watering often until their tap-root is well established.

Mexican Bird of Paradise bush
fern looking leaves of the Pride of Barbados

 

Red Bird of Paradise
Orange flowering bush in Arizona and Texas – Red Bird of Paradise

Here are some landscaping ideas to add colors to your garden area. 

Ocotillo cactus and Red Bird of Paradise landscaping.
Ocotillo cactus and Red Bird of Paradise landscaping
purple flowering bush red flowering shrub
Purple Texas Sage and Red Bird of Paradise Bushes

TIDBITS:  The Amazon Rainforest Medicine men had some medicinal uses for Red Bird of ParadiseCaesalpinia pulcherrima. Four grams from the root was used to induce abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy.  The bean pods and seeds of the Bird of Paradise plant are toxic / poisonous and will cause abdominal symptoms and vomiting.