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.

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

Honeysuckles love the Arizona heat and the hummingbirds love the honeysuckle.  Now that is a desert garden delight!

As long as I water this thirsty honeysuckle shrub it will produce abundant blooms most of the year.  The narrow, orange, tubular flowers give enthusiasm to the garden with their bright colors.

heat resistant honeysuckle
heat-resistant orange honeysuckle

Our orange honeysuckles are fast growing perennial plants that are low maintenance.  Care for your honeysuckle with regular watering and pruning to keep the growth under control. With 180 species of honeysuckles, genus Lonicera, you can pick from pink, yellow, white, orange, red, etc., flowers.  Honeysuckles belong to the Caprifoliacea family which includes all types of woody shrubs and fragrant vines.

When choosing a honeysuckle to grow, be sure to check the label as some varieties are hardier than others and can cope with frost.  Also, there exists a few species of honeysuckle that are considered invasive such as Japanese honeysuckle.

common honeysuckle
Japanese honeysuckle is considered invasive

Pruning tips for honeysuckle vines:  Prune your plant in later winter when it is dormant.  With pruning shears, remove dead blooms from your honeysuckle as soon as you see them.

honeysuckle
honeysuckle flower

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

orange honeysuckle flower
orange honeysuckle flower

Our garden has become a very busy place.  It is October in the Arizona desert and our honeysuckles are still blooming.  What a joy to sit quietly and watch the butterflies and hummingbirds feast on the bright tubular flowers.

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

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

native arizona honeysuckle
Lonicera arizonica Arizona honeysuckle

In the photo above is Lonicera arizonica which is a native Arizona Honeysuckle.  It is a perennial vine or shrub that you find in the open at elevations of 6,000 – 9,000 feet.  According to Northern Arizona University, this native honeysuckle was used by Native Americans to cleanse the bowels.  Navajo tribes used the leaves of the Lonicera arizonica  to induce vomiting.  Can I eat the red berries from the Arizona honeysuckle?  Yes you can eat the berries but it will have a purgative effect.

Pomegranate is One of the Healthiest Fruits On Our Planet

The health promoting attributes of Pomegranates put it in the category of “SUPER FOODS”. Pomegranate contains potent and unrivaled antioxidants called punicalagin and punicalin.  The juice of the Pomegranate has greater antioxidant activity than acai juice, green tea, cranberry juice or red wine.

healthiest juice to drink
Pomegranate Juice

Pomegranate is one of the earliest cultivated fruits throughout history.  It appears in Egyptian tombs, Greek mythology and even in the Bible.  Pomegranate is a symbol of abundance and faith in many cultures.  Recorded history shows that over 2000 years ago Pomegranate was used to treat an assortment of illnesses.

Inside the fruit are hundreds of tiny seeds called arils; this is what we eat or make into juice.  The aril is delicious with a sweet, tart flavor that is high in vitamin C.  Pomegranates originated in Iran and are commonplace throughout the Middle East.  The unique flavor and exceptional health benefits are making it increasingly popular in the United States.

pulp and seeds of pomegranate
Pomegranate Seeds – Arils

Pomegranate Health Benefits:

  • Pomegranate has anti-inflammatory effects that help protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Research showed patients with prominent carotid artery blockage showed a 30% reduction in atherosclerotic plaque after one year of drinking one ounce of Pomegranate juice per day.
  • Pomegranate is high in vitamin C and is a good source of fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin K and protein.
  • Studies conducted showed patients with memory issues that drank pomegranate juice every day performed better and exhibited increased brain activity on their MRI.
  • The antibacterial and antiviral properties of Pomegranate help reduce dental plaque.

Research and clinical studies continue to investigate pomegranates and their antioxidant effects. The experts state that drinking Pomegranate juice whole and unprocessed is the best way.

punica granatum red fruit
Fresh Ripe Pomegranate Fruit

The 2009 article “Pomegranate juice: a heart healthy fruit juice,” published in Nutrition Reviews states, “Observational studies and clinical trials investigating the cardiovascular health benefits of fruits and vegetables, attribute these effects to the combination of phytochemicals, fiber, and other nutrients in whole food intake, rather than the sole effects of an individual component.”

An easy way to eat the seeds, arils, of the Pomegranate is to slice the fruit in half.  Using a bowl of water, hold the half upside down and beat gently with a wooden spoon so the seeds drop down in the water.  The arils (seeds) are delicious alone, in cereals, or in your favorite dish.

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

Before adding Pomegranates to your diet consult your physician.  The high vitamin K may counteract blood thinners.  It is always best to speak to your pharmacist or physician first.

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.

Desert Bird of Paradise quick facts

Arizona’s well-known desert bird of paradise shrubs burgeon with vivid red flowers or delightful yellow blooms.  The red bird of paradise, Caesalpinia Pulcherrima, is our favorite and we have several constituting a border.

drought resistant shrubs with flowers
drought tolerant bushes with red flowers

This Red Bird of Paradise is a drought and heat tolerant shrub that relishes full sun with its lively red- orange flowers cultivating out of long, thin stalks.

drought tolerant shrubs
Desert Bird of Paradise with red flowers

All the Desert Bird of Paradise bushes are Perennial (only plant them once).  Pruning and trimming is standard since these desert plants are easy growers; reaching over 10 feet tall.  PRUNING your Desert Bird of Paradise

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

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

Caring for your Desert Bird of Paradise:

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

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

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

PROPAGATION:

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

germinating seeds
dissolving pots for Bird of Paradise seeds

To germinate Bird of Paradise seeds,  soak the seeds from the bean pods (pods need to be brown) in water for 48-72 hours.  Next plant them in peat pots, barely cover the seeds.  You may prefer to use the paper towel method to germinate your seeds; if so, when a white shoot (root) appears, plant it with the white root DOWN. Cover the seeds lightly with damp soil.

germinating and planting seeds
planting the seeds from the bean pods

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

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

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

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

Mexican, Yellow, Red Bird of Paradise plants are poisonous

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

Poisonous Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub
Red flowering bush is poisonous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

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

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

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

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

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

Quick Saguaro Facts:

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

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

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

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

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

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

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

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

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

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

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

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

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

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

dead saguaro cactus
dead saguaro cactus

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

 

The Saguaro National Park

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

Saguaro National Park in AZ
Saguaro National Park in AZ

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

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

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

the saguaro expands with water
the saguaro expands with water

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

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

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

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

Saguaro Cactus Flowers
Saguaro Cactus fruits and blooms

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

saguaro red fruit
saguaro red fruit

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

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

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

 

The difference between drought tolerant and drought resistant plants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lantana

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

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

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

Lavender

top best drought tolerant flowering plants
young lavender drought resistant plant

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

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

Yarrow

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

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

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