• Deborah Kade

Desert Botanical Garden

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

It was cloudy the other day so I decided to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Cloudy days are perfect for taking pictures of flowers. The temperature was a wonderful 70 degrees. Even though the garden is a short 30 minute ride from the house, it was a sunnier and warmer day there.

The Desert Botanical Garden is separated into 5 different trails. I only visited the first three.

1. Desert Discovery Loop Trail - "Stroll through the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust Desert Terrace Garden into the heart of Desert Botanical Garden."

scarlet hedgehog cactus

2. Harriet K Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail - "Revel in the explosion of desert wildflowers and blooming cactus along Garden trails during the height of the blooming season. You might even spot three species of hummingbirds that live in the Garden. Unfortunately, I only saw one.

3. Center for Desert Living - "Immerse yourself in the colors and fragrances of this trail, which demonstrates ideas and strategies for efficient, sustainable and harmonious ways to work with nature in our desert environment."

4. Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail - "Hike to the top of this trail for a great view of the mountains that surround Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix."

5. Plants & People of the Sororan Desert Loop Trail - "Explore this loop trail to see how Sonoran Desert plants have been used by native people for food, medicine and building materials. This trail is one of the largest exhibits of its kind dedicated to helping people understand the complex cultural relationships between people and plants in our region. The trail is brought to life through cultural examples of the Tohono O’odham, Western Apache and Hispanic households."

The Desert Discovery Loop Trail Pictures

Palo Verde Tree - The name is Spanish and means "green stick". The bark of a palo verde tree is green because it's filled with chlorophyll. Unlike most trees, this plant gets a lot of photosynthesizing done through its bark. According to The Arizona Native Plant Society, only about a third of the palo verde's food is produced by the leaves.

The palo verde is the Arizona state tree. Designated as the Arizona's State Tree in 1954, the palo verde joined the ranks of the cactus wren, bola tie and saguaro cactus blossom as a state symbol.

Arizona hosts two native species, the Foothills Palo Verde and the Blue Palo Verde. The Foothills Palo Verde (Cercidium microphyllum) can be found mostly on rocky slopes. They have a yellow-green trunk, tiny leaves and pods that constrict around the seeds. The Blue Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum) are usually spotted next water sources, like washes, and have a blue-green trunk.

The Foothills Palo Verde can live to be about 100 years old. Some can even age up to 400 years.The Blue Palo Verde can grow up to 30 feet. The height and low-water maintenance of these trees makes them perfect for landscaping. The Foothills Palo Verde can grow up to 20 feet.

A story written in the Star Newspaper, in 2011, says most palo verdes cause few or no allergy symptoms. The pollen produced by the plant is sticky and heavy, making it difficult to travel far in the wind. However, the large quantities of dried fallen yellow flowers are known to do some damage.

You can eat these yellow bursts raw. Sprinkle some in your next salad. You can eat the seeds Harvesting happens just before monsoon season. Pick them when the pod is green and the seed tender. Eat them like you would peas or edamame. They've been know to be a little sweet. You can also wait to harvest them until the seed is fully developed and the pod is dry. At this stage they're best eaten sprouted.

According to a fact sheet from the Desert Museum, the palo verde is the primary nursing plant for baby saguaros.

There's also a species called "Desert Museum". It's named after the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. According to a Los Angeles Times article, the name was created about thirty years ago when staff members at the museum began to notice thorn less palo verde trees that bloomed throughout the summer. 


An ocotillo is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months. Individual stems may reach a diameter of 5 cm at the base, and the plant may grow to a height of 10 m (33 ft). The plant branches very heavily at its base, but above that, the branches are pole-like and rarely divide further, and specimens in cultivation may not exhibit any secondary branches. The leaf stalks harden into blunt spines, and new leaves sprout from the base of the spine.

The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in Spring, Summer, and occasionally Fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

The ocotillo are one of easiest plants to identify in the desert. They are a large shrub with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk. Small 2 inch leaves will grow from the stems when there is enough moisture. Dense clusters of red tubular flowers grow from the end of the stems from March through June.

Ocotillo prefer a habitat that is open and very rocky, and where the soil is well drained. Areas such as rocky slopes, mesas, washes and desert grasslands. Ocotillo are common in most areas of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. They are also found in western Texas through to southern California.There is much discussion on exactly how old Ocotillo can live. A good estimate is 60 years although some studies indicate they can live well over 100 years. They can reach heights of up to 20 feet.

Cactus, plural cacti or cactuses, is a flowering plant family with more than 2,000 species and about 175 genera.

Cacti are succulent perennial plants. Cacti generally have thick herbaceous or woody chlorophyll-containing stems. Cacti can be distinguished from other succulent plants by the presence of areoles, small cushion like structures with trichomes (plant hairs) and, in almost all species, spines or barbed bristles (glochids). Areoles are modified branches, from which flowers, more branches, and leaves (when present) may grow.

In most species, leaves are absent, greatly reduced, or modified as spines, minimizing the amount of surface area from which water can be lost, and the stem has taken over the photosynthetic functions of the plant. The root systems are generally thin, fibrous, and shallow, ranging widely to absorb superficial moisture.

Cacti vary greatly in size and general appearance, from button like peyote and low clumps of prickly pear and hedgehog cactus to the upright columns of barrel cacti and the imposing saguaro.

The primary method of reproduction is by seeds, Flowers, often large and colorful, are usually solitary. All genera have a floral tube, often with many petal-like structures, and other less colorful and almost leaf like structures; the tube grows above a one-chambered ovary. A style topped by many pollen-receptive stigmas also arises from the top of the ovary. The fruit is usually a berry and contains many seeds. Soon after pollination, which may be effected by wind, birds, insects, or bats the entire floral tube detaches from the top of the ovary to leave a prominent scar.

The male Gila Woodpecker enjoyed eating the flowers.

These woodpeckers are noisy. The male also likes to drum on things specifically to make noise to proclaim his territory. That can get quite disturbing if he picks your house, especially the metal duct work of an evaporative cooler. In our case, the Gila Woodpecker likes to drum on our chimney as soon as the morning sun shines on the metal.

Not all the cactus were in bloom. Sculptures are interspersed throughout the loop.

black spiked prickly pear cactus blooms

Mexican honeysuckle

The Gila Woodpecker was everywhere.

This woodpecker has a body length of about 9 inches and a wingspan of 16 inches. Its body is brownish gray and its back and wings have black and white bars. It has white wing patches that are visible in flight. The male has a large red spot on its head. They have strong head and neck muscles, and the skull is adapted to absorb the shock as the birds drive their chisel-shaped bills into the tree.

Can you find the hummingbird?

Can you spot the morning dove nesting in the Madagascan ocotillo?

The cardon towering over the man is one of the Botanical Garden's very first plants: more than 75 years old. When director George Lindsay collected these cardons in Baja, they were less than five feet tall.

This is not a saguaro but a cardon. Cardon, is native to the Mexican states of Baja. It is the tallest cactus species known, with a record height of 63’ tall.

The Cardon is not as frost tolerant as the Saguaro.

Parents were flying in and out of the nest

The Cardón resembles the Saguaro in growth form but it is much more massive. It develops a very thick trunk and the branches are closer to the ground and often more numerous than those of a typical Saguaro. In sheltered locations plants may exceed 60 feet tall. Young stems are armed with stout spines; mature stems are nearly spineless and have bluish epidermis between the rows of closely-spaced felty areoles on the external ribs. The flowers are similar to those of a Saguaro, but with more and narrower tepals. The ovoid fruits are densely covered with felty areoles; on different plants they range from spineless to very long-spiny. The juicy pulp of ripe fruits ranges from white to red and contains large, hard seeds—very different from the tiny seeds of the Saguaro.”

The cardon is a slow-growing plant with a lifespan measured in hundreds of years. Most adult cardon have several side branches that may be as massive as the trunk. The resulting tree may attain a weight of 25 tons.

Shelpe's Aloe

Aloe deserti

This is a boojum tree, a tall spiny long-lived desert tree native to northwestern Mexico and related to the ocotillo. If you are a fan of Lewis Caroll you hear of the word boojum in his poem, "The Hunting of the Snark". The poem describes several varieties of snark. Some have feathers and bite, and some have whiskers and scratch. The boojum is a particular variety of snark, which causes the baker at the end of the poem to "softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again".

Sunset Aloe. It is critically endangered.

Desert Spiny Lizard

It seemed to pose for me.

It needed to rest for a minute. You certainly have to watch where you step in the desert. The lizards blend into their surroundings so well.

Scattered around the Garden, you come across "information tables". A woman was showing the ribs of a saguaro.

Inside of a saguaro.

Gila woodpeckers nest in saguaro cacti in holes they excavate. The woodpecker removes the pulp of the cactus, usually between the skin and the cactus ribs (the larger gilded flicker also excavates holes in saguaros). The cactus forms a “scab” on the wound that prevents water loss and infection. Because of the thermal mass of the water in saguaros, the nests are temperature controlled, often 10 to 15 degrees cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Eventually, the woodpeckers abandon the nest to seek a new abode, and the nests are then appropriated by other cavity nesters such as small owls. Females typically lay two broods a year of 3 to 5 eggs, which incubate for 14 days.

In the arid Arizona desert, where cacti thrive but trees are scarce, the Gila Woodpecker and the Gilded Flicker carve out nest cavities in living saguaros. A scab forms inside the cactus. Tall, old saguaros may be pocked with twenty or more nest holes, bearing witness to decades of woodpecker families. The woodpeckers excavate a new nest every year, leaving the old, now-empty cavities behind. They don't stay empty for long. Elf Owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, Purple Martins, and Brown-crested Flycatchers all find the slightly used woodpecker cavities superb nest sites.

Center for Desert Living Pictures


Jerusalem Sage

Angel Face

Honey Perfume

Desert Rose

Pomegranate bushes grow in Arizona. Pomegranate seeds get their vibrant red hue from polyphenols. These chemicals are powerful antioxidants.Pomegranate juice contains higher levels of antioxidants than most other fruit juices. It also has three times more antioxidants than red wine and green tea. The antioxidants in pomegranate juice can help remove free radicals, protect cells from damage, and reduce inflammation.

Pomegranates have an impressive nutrient profile — one cup of arils (174 grams) contains:

Fiber: 7 grams

Protein: 3 grams

Vitamin C: 30% of the RDI

Vitamin K: 36% of the RDI

Folate: 16% of the RDI

Potassium: 12% of the RDI

Pomegranate juice can reduce inflammation in the gut and improve digestion. It may be beneficial for people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases.

The pomegranate is a fruit bearing deciduous shrub. The name pomegranate derives from medieval Latin pōmum "apple" and grānātum "seeded". Possibly stemming from the old French word for the fruit, pomme-grenade, the pomegranate was known in early English as "apple of Grenada". It is cultivated in parts of Arizona and California.

Mexican sunflower

California Quail Quail prefer open country and brushy borders. In spring the hen lays about 12 roundish eggs, which the male may help incubate. The young remain with their parents the first summer. Quail eat mainly seeds and berries but also take leaves, roots, and some insects. Their flesh is considered a delicacy, as are their eggs.

Harriet K Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail

Came across another "information table".

Desert Bluebells - Desert Marigold - Baja Fairy Duster - Cordia Mountain Olive

Learn about insect hotels.

The Spring Butterfly Exhibit is also located along the route. Hundred of butterflies native to the Southwest greet you once you enter the exhibit. You have to be very careful where you step! Butterflies are everywhere. You can learn more about the butterfly life cycle in the caterpillar nursery. There are butterflies emerging from their chrysalis, too.

This butterfly just emerged. It will take a few hours for the wings to dry and firm up.

I saw many children playing the game. I believe there is a prize if you bring the sheet back to ticket booth.


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