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.

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Encountering a Gila Monster or Mexican Beaded Lizard – lizards protected by law

The exotic color pattern of the gila monster (pronounced – Hee la) is black with pinkish or yellow spots and bands.  Its unusual skin is beaded in appearance. Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico, the Gila Monster is a species of venomous lizards.  This lizard is named for the Gila River in Arizona where they used to be abundant.

pink and black stripes marks fat lizard
Gila Monster desert lizard

Towards late summer, gila monsters become active after thunderstorms. Although this lizard is venomous, it moves very slow and represents very little threat to us humans.  People often kill gila monsters due to fears; even though it is protected under Arizona state law.

If you encounter a Gila monster remain calm. This lizard will move on if left alone.  Alert anyone in the vicinity and keep your pets away.  For questions or advice call your Game and Fish Department.

 arizona slow lizard gila monster
pink and black lizard – gila monster

Do not worry or have fears; the Gila monster tries hard to avoid humans and other large animals. To warn off potential predators, gila monster lizards will open their mouth very wide and hiss.

poisonous lizards venomous
gila monsters open mouth and hiss as a warning

What to do if you are bitten by a gila monster?  —  A Gila monster bite is painful to humans but rarely causes death. The biggest problem you will have is trying to get the lizard to release its grip!  The bite is strong,  you may need to fully submerge the biting lizard in water to break free from the bite.  If there is no water, you can use a stick to pry the gila monster’s jaw open. Be careful after you have dislodged it.

black striped large lizards - arizona
slow moving gila monster lizard

Remain calm if bitten and get to a medical facility immediately.  Remove all jewelry from the bitten limb and keep it below heart level.  DO NOT use a constriction bandage or a tourniquet on a gila monster bite.

picture of beaded gila monster
gila monster lizard face

The Gila monster eats primarily reptile eggs, frogs, insects and worms – feeding only five to ten times a year in the wild. They have poor eyesight but an extremely acute sense of smell which they use to locate prey. The sense of smell of the gila monster is so keen that it can accurately follow a trail made by a rolling egg.

They live in burrows, thickets, and under rocks with ready access to moisture.  Gila Monsters are solitary and live in desert and semidesert areas.  They are inactive much of the time.  When spring arrives, gila monsters begin to hunt again. During the summer the lizards only come out in the evening.

lizard looks like a dragon
gila monster beaded skin lizard

Breeding season for Gila monsters is usually early summer. The female digs a hole, lays a clutch of oval-shaped eggs. Four months later, the baby Gila monsters break out of their eggs and crawl to the surface. The Gila monster may live up to 20 years in the wild, or 30 in captivity. This heavy, slow-moving gila monster, is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in the world, the other being its close relative, the Mexican Beaded Lizard.

mexican beaded lizard
mexican beaded lizard

The beaded lizard is larger (2-3 feet in length) than the Gila monster (up to 2 feet in length);  but has duller coloration with black and yellowish bands.  The Mexican beaded lizard’s venom contains enzymes used in manufacturing drugs to treat diabetes. Once again people kill these lizards because of fears and superstitions.  The beaded lizard is protected by Mexican law and it dwells within the range of several protected areas.

protected desert lizard species
Mexican Beaded Lizard

In 1952, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, became the first venomous animal in North America to be given legal protection;  it is illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect the Gila Monster.  Gila monsters are listed as Near Threatened. 

Protect your yard from rattlesnakes – tips for snake proofing

Safeguarding against Rattlesnakes is not easily done; but protective measures can be completed.  Several of the following steps not only divert venomous but also non-venomous snakes.

deadly snakes in tucson phoenix
dangerous rattlesnake

1)  A rattlesnake proof fence is not cheap but it is one of the best ways to keep snakes out!  If you compare it to the cost of emergency medical bills, a snake proof fence is well worth the investment.

protecting against rattlesnakes
snake proofing using 1/4″ construction wire

The experts recommend your fence be at least 3 feet tall with the bottom section of the fence buried 4 inches or more.  Use no more than 1/4″ x 1/4″ construction cloth or you can choose a smooth, solid material.  Rattlesnakes are not able to climb on smooth surfaces.

More steps to snake proof your yard:

2)  Snakes can’t hide well in a short lawn.  Mow your lawns and fields around your home.

snake repellant sprinkle granules
products to keep snakes away

3)  Remove the debris and piles that Rattlesnakes like to call home, such as: wood piles, trimmings and leaves.  Always be cautious and on the lookout for snakes while you are cleaning the area.

4)  Keep your garbage cans covered.  Pick up fruit off the ground to help control the rodents in your yard.  Birdseed also attracts small critters that rattlesnakes prey on.

rattlesnake proof yard
1/2″ construction cloth lets rattlesnakes in

5)  Block holes and spaces around the foundation, walls, fence, steps, and under your house where snakes could hide.

use to keep garden safe from snakes
1/4″ construction cloth to snake proof yard

6)  Keep the area against your fence clear of anything a rattlesnake may use to crawl over.

Some snakes are beneficial to have around your yard.  Gopher snakes are very protective of their territory and will deter rattlesnakes from staying around.

snake descriptions chart
difference between gopher snake and rattlesnake

Equipped with enzymes to breakdown the poison from snakes, the common KINGSNAKE is immune to viper venom!  Kingsnakes kill and eat copperheads, rattlesnakes, and even coral snakes.

good snakes
Kingsnakes eat rattlesnakes

Stay calm If you do discover a rattlesnake!  Get pets and children indoors immediately.     Rattlesnakes only attack in self-defense. The best way to avoid being bitten is to leave the rattlesnake alone.  Call a professional snake removal service if you are concerned that the rattlesnake may be taking up residence.

call poison help number
National Poison hotline

If you need help with a poisonous bite, call your Poison Center immediately. If the bite victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911.

Drought Tolerant shrubs with Orange, Red and Yellow Flowers

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

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

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

arizona texas shrubs
orange flowering bushes can take the heat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bushes shrubs with bean pods
Yellow Bird of Paradise

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

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

Caesalpinia gilliesii, yellow bird of paradise

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

Red Bird of Paradise, red, orange and yellow flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What insect looks like a green leaf? – true katydids – leaf bugs

Those green bugs that look like leaves are called true katydids.  Katydids enjoy all the leafy plants in our front yard.  We were so close to this wondrous green bug that we observed its mouth and eyes moving.

green leaf bug
Green bug that looks like a leaf

The British often call these leaf insects bush crickets.  Katydids or bush crickets are in the family Tettigoniidae.  They are not grasshoppers, katydids are related to crickets.  Grasshoppers have shorter antennae while family member tettigoniids have very long antennae.

katydid leaf bug
green bug that looks like a leaf

Katydids, True Katydids or Northern Katydids are insects that really do not like to fly!  To avoid danger they may leap out of a tree and parachute to the ground.  Katydids will walk to a vertical surface and start climbing.

The most common color of katydids is leaf green.  As a matter of fact, this bug is a master at camouflage with veins on its wings that look just like leaves.  Katydids eat flowers, stems and leaves of plants.  Some species will even eat other insects.

katydid
katydid green grasshopper like bug

Many species are commonly found throughout the southern part of the United States. These bush crickets, katydids are most active at night.

green katydid
green leaf insect – katydid

True Katydid species come in a variety of sizes from 1 to 4 inches.  Their antennae can be two times the length of their body.

katydid
True Katydid also called Bush Cricket, Northern Katydid

Male and female katydid sounds are made by rubbing their wings together to produce a song that is used as part of the courtship.  It sounds a bit like your fingernails moving across a comb.

green and pink katydid insects
true katydids are bugs that look like leaves

Interesting fact:  The Katydid’s hearing organ, tympana, ears, are on their front legs.

katydid
katydids look like a leaf insect

click on the short youtube video to hear the sounds of the katydid bugs

The life cycle of the katydid goes through three stages of development:

  1. egg
  2. nymph
  3. adult

The katydid egg is laid in the fall and hatches in the spring.  It will hatch as a nymph.

katydid nymph
katydid nymph, baby

The katydid nymph looks like the adult but without wings.  It will shed its skin several times as it becomes an adult.  The lifespan of the katydid is about 1 year.

young katydid baby
young katydid nymph

You may be the lucky few who get to see the rare pink katydid.  The lack of dark pigment, melanin, is the major difference between the pink and the green katydids.

pink katydid
rare pink katydid insect
pink and green leaf bugs
Pink Katydid with a green katydid

Melanin, is the same pigment that makes a panther black.  Like the pink katydid… would the lack of pigment make it similar to a pink panther?  No wonder The Pink Panther was bad at hiding; he had no camouflage!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox – activities in Arizona

Apple Annie’s is a you pick orchard in Willcox, Arizona.  It is about 1 1/2 hours from Tucson through the exhilarating countryside.  A must see for travelers or anyone looking for a gladdening family activity.  The farm is well marked and easy to find.

This WILLCOX ORCHARD was started in the 1980’s by a husband, wife and their 2 young children.  They humbly began with only tasty apples and their famous apple pie.

orchard in Willcox - activities in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Orchard in Arizona

Nowadays you can pick juicy peaches, Asian pears, bell peppers, corn, etc… Apple Annie’s is a farmers’ market fan’s dream! 

The start of the Fall season is complete with PUMPKINS of all sizes, shapes and colors that are available for picking at Apple Annie’s HUGE pumpkin patch.

Arizona places to visit - farmer's market
Apple Annies Orchard cider donuts

One of the best parts of Apple Annie’s Orchard is that they sell “cider donuts” and your tummy will thank you! If you are adventurous, try a taste of the zesty jalapeno honey mustard, horseradish pickles and other oddly paired condiments.

Apple Annies Orchard - Willcox, Arizona
Farmer’s Markets in Arizona

For anyone traveling to Phoenix or Tucson, AZ the drive to Apple Annie’s Orchard is a great way to spend a relaxing, memorable day in the country.  Remember to bring your camera and keep in mind fall days on the farm can be cold in Willcox.

giant Sunflower field in Arizona
Sunflowers at Apple Annie’s Farm

Before planning your trip to Willcox, you can call Annie’s Crop Hotline at 520-384-2084 to hear a list of what the farm is currently harvesting.

Annie's Arizona farmer's market
pick your own vegetables – Apple Annie’s Farm

Children can choose a wheelbarrow or bucket and pick their own vegetables while learning about farming.

pick your own fruit vegetables in Arizona
Apple Annie’s Farmer’s Market – pick it yourself
Apple Annie's orchard in Willcox, Arizona
Corn Maze activities at Annie’s Farm in AZ

For extra thrills make a reservation at the CORN MAZE.  Apple Annie’s added 3 levels of difficulty waiting to gobble you up!  Halfway through the maze is a high bridge with a great view of the farm; but, it will not give away the solution.

Apple Annies in Willcox Arizona
Annies Orchard farmer truck ride activity

Rest your feet by relaxing on a tractor pulled hay ride in “Farmer John’s truck”. God bless you Apple Annie’s for all your hard work and dedication to the community.  Oh and of course the YUMMY home made foods!

Arizona Farmer's markets and activities
pick your own Apple at Annies Orchard in Willcox

here is the link to  Apple Annie’s Orchard and Farm 

“When we planted the first apple trees we asked God for His blessing and guidance in this new venture, but we never envisioned the plans that He had for us! We planned for a commercially harvested crop, but His plans were for us to share our orchard, the farm experience, and the lifestyle that we love, with thousands of families from around the state. We consider it a real privilege to be able to offer an old-fashioned farm experience to today’s busy families!”  ~ John and Annie Holcomb

Cormorants, crested ducks, cottonwood trees and more… at Fort Lowell Park in Arizona

Our Arizona travels brought us not only to a gentle bird refuge; but the historical Fort Lowell Park in Tucson.  This wildlife oasis streaming with ducks, cormorants, turtles and dragonflies was an United States Army post from 1873 till 1891.

City of Tucson Ft Lowell historic park
Fort Lowell’s wildlife pond in AZ

The most prominent building at Fort Lowell was the hospital, the adobe remnants still stand under a protective structure.

Arizona parks for wildlife, bird watching
Tucson’s historic Ft Lowell in 1900

Ft. Lowell lay in ruins for numerous years. The City of Tucson eventually converted the bulk of the former post into Old Fort Lowell Park, which features ball fields, tennis and racquetball courts, a large public swimming pool, and the Fort Lowell Museum dedicated to its days as an active military installation.

**This is a superb choice if you are looking for Tucson activities.

Tucson Parks with history and wildlife birds
adobe remains of Fort Lowell military installation

A lane lined with cottonwood trees, aptly named Cottonwood Lane, glorified the area in front of the officer’s houses.

Historic Cottonwood Lane in Tucson Arizona
large Cottonwood Tree at Ft Lowell Park

Following World War II, the Fort Lowell area grew into a small village which the predominantly Mexican local residents called El Fuerte.

The Fort Lowell Museum is located in the reconstructed Commanding Officer’s quarters.

Stroll from the remains of the Ft Lowell Hospital towards the wildlife pond to enjoy crested ducks with the latest updos.

ducks with hair on their head in Tucson
Brown colored Crested Duck

Catch a glimpse as a pigeon tries to remember the secret code to get passed the duck security.

Fort Lowell park in Tucson, AZ
pigeon stand off with ducks

Dedicated community members adopted Fort Lowell Park to keep it clean and build a protected area for birds.

During our visit we spoke with some of the impressive volunteers with “Friends of Fort Lowell Park” as they were planting trees and tidying up the nesting area.

Tucson Arizona wildlife park with water
nesting area created by Friends of Fort Lowell Park

A regal Neotropic Cormorant bird was standing by to make sure we didn’t decide to jump in and go swimming.

bird watching parks in Tucson Arizona
neotropic cormorants at Ft Lowell Park

Many species of cormorants make a characteristic half-jump as they dive and under water cormorants propel themselves with their feet.

wildlife oasis park in Tucson Arizona desert
community effort at Fort Lowell Park

Thanks to the collaboration of The Friends of Fort Lowell Park and Tucson Parks and Recreation for giving residents and guests a place to enjoy outdoor activities and wildlife in the Sonoran Desert.

tennis handball swimming park in the Arizona desert
Parks to visit in Tucson – Ft Lowell Park

Local historians have found evidence that Fort Lowell Park sits on a site endowed with a continuous supply of underground water and has been occupied by humans since ancient times.

Great Blue Heron in AZ – Facts and pictures about this Wading Bird

The Great Blue Heron is sometimes seen flapping casually over the desert. It hunts in typical heron fashion; standing by the water’s edge to skewer fish or clinch other aquatic creatures.

Ardea herodias,  North American herons
Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona, Ardea herodias

This towering bird is the most common and largest of North American herons. The Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, is in the family, Ardeidae.

grey blue wading birds Arizona
Great Blue Heron bird fishing

This wading bird is found as far north as the southern Canadian provinces.  ** From the southern United States southwards and on the Pacific coast,  Great Blue Herons are year round residents.

Arizona desert birds by water
Great Blue Heron, tallest Heron bird

As a rule, Great Blue Herons feed while standing still or leisurely wading in shallow water; it strikes at small fish swimming by with its spear-like bill.

blue heron bird exhibit
Great Blue Heron exhibit at Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

You will find Great Blue Herons close to bodies of water and routinely nesting in bushes or trees.

AZ tall Wading birds with blue gray feathers
Great Blue Heron bird

These stately herons are expert fishers. Great Blues capture their prey by walking slowly, or standing still for long periods of time and waiting for fish to come within range of their long necks and blade-like bills.  Talk about patience!

It is not uncommon for a heron to make a 20 or even 30 mile round trip in its quest for a worthy foraging site.

tall wading birds in Arizona Desert
Great Blue Heron at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson

A Great Blue Heron’s deathblow is delivered with a quick thrust of their sharp bill, and then the prey is swallowed whole. Though these birds are best known as fishers;  mice and frogs are also part of their diet.

  • How tall is a Great Blue Heron?  Their height is 3.5 to 4.5 ft  (1.2 to 1.4 meters).
  • What is the Great Blue Heron’s wingspan?  Up to 6.7 ft  (2 meters).
grey birds that look like dinosaurs
wingspan of the Great Blue Heron

How fast can the Great Blue Heron Fly?  This large heron can cruise at 20-30 miles per hour.  (32 to 48 kilometers)

fishing birds flying in Arizona
wing span of the Great Blue Heron

The mature Great Blue Heron has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season.

Below is a short,  incredible video of a deer with a Great Blue Heron.

A heron’s bill is dull yellow, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season.  Their lower legs which are gray will also become orange at the start of the breeding season.

wading bird with long legs and gray feathers
older Great Blue Heron bird with long feathers

Young Great Blue Herons are duller in color, with a blackish-gray crown, and the pattern on the flank only weakly defined; the young herons have no plumes, and the bill is dull gray-yellow.

Great Blue Herons breed in colonies. The male chooses the nest site and displays to attract a female.

pair of heron birds  in Arizona
Male and Female Great Blue Herons with orange bill for breeding season

Great Blue Herons prefer their nest site in a tree 20 to 60 feet above the ground, although shrubs are sometimes used.  The female lays 2 to 7 eggs in a platform made of sticks.

Great Blue Heron in a nest of sticks
nest of the Great Blue Heron

The eggs, which are protected and incubated by both parents, hatch in 25 to 30 days. Herons feed their young regurgitated matter.  Chicks can survive on their own by about two months of age.

large heron wading bird
a young Great Blue Heron in Tucson Arizona

These dignified birds have exemplary eye sight and that is how they locate their food.  Great Blue Herons feed at the water’s edge both day and night; typically dawn and dusk.

When does Monsoon season start? What causes Monsoon?

The official start date of the Arizona Monsoon season is June 15.  In 2008, the National Weather Service determined the AZ Monsoon starting date along with the ending date of September 30.

Tucson Phoenix Monsoon weather
storm clouds Monsoon season

What causes monsoon?

Traders sailing the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea used the word monsoon to describe a system of alternating winds which blow from the northeast during the northern winter and from the southwest, during the northern summer. Therefore, the term monsoon refers solely to a seasonal wind shift, and not precipitation.

Mexican monsoon cloud
Arizona Mexico Border storm clouds

Arizona happens to be located in the area of the United States that experiences a monsoonal circulation. During the summer months, winds shift from a west or northwest direction to a south or southeasterly direction.

Monsoon weather for Arizona
Microburst clouds during Monsoon

This wind shift allows moisture from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico to stream into Arizona.  A monsoonal circulation produces a radical change in moisture conditions throughout the entire state.

Arizona thunderstorm dark clouds
Monsoon storm clouds over Coronado Mountains

Thunderstorm or cumulonimbus clouds are very familiar during monsoon season.  These storm clouds cause lightning, hail and heavy rain.

Arizona desert Monsoon Storms
dark thunderstorm burst clouds

What Arizona experiences during the summer months is only a small part of a larger circulation that encompasses much of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. Thus, it sometimes is also known as the Mexican monsoon. The National Weather Service calls it the North American Monsoon.

microburst monsoon storm cloud
Monsoon clouds Mexican Arizona Border

This adjustment in wind direction is the result of two meteorological changes:

  1. the movement northward of the huge upper level subtropical high pressure system, known as the Bermuda High,
  2. and the intense heating of the Mohave Desert creating rising air and surface low pressure, called a thermal low
severe dark thunderstorm cumulus cloud
Monsoon Storm clouds on top of mountains

The southerly low-level winds help to bring in moisture from Mexico. When this moisture encounters the higher terrain of Arizona mountain ranges, it gets lifted and forms thunderstorms.

dark storm Clouds on arizona border
Monsoon storm Coronado Mountains

Small driving factors such as: atmosphere interaction, land elevation, soil moisture and vegetation all play a part in what drives the Arizona Monsoon; but it is also why predicting storm intensity is so difficult.

When such high volume rain descends upon the Arizona desert the ground and the surface streets flood. Quite often the rain pools on streets during monsoon storms causing dangerous driving conditions.

cumulus thunderstorm cloud
Storm burst clouds at Arizona Mexico Border

The monsoon circulation does not produce thunderstorms every day during the summer months, but rather monsoon storms occur in a pattern known as “bursts” and “breaks”.

best Microburst storm cloud photo
Monsoon microburst cumulus cloud

This cycle of bursts and breaks will continue from the onset of the monsoon (typically June), until the time when cold fronts begin to move across the state of Arizona (typically September), which will return our winds to a westerly or northwesterly direction.

We hope you enjoyed this article.  Our goal was to make Monsoon Season easier to understand.

Sage bushes with Purple Flowers bring life to the desert!

It is difficult to imagine that a flowering plant can thrive in hot desert temperatures; but, these vibrant purple sage bushes love the heat!

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering sage bushes – Texas Ranger Plant

Also known as Texas Ranger Plants, these lavender flowers fill the sage bushes that adorn the streets of the Sonoran Desert.

heat tolerant purple bush tjs gardenowers
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

Our Texas Ranger Plants, Leucophyllum frutescens, are blooming with butterflies and bees promenading between the purple flowers.

heat tolerant plant with purple flowers
purple sage bush with butterflies

The bees are buzzing noisily as they work their way in and out of the purple blooms.

phoenix purple flowering shrubs bush
purple flowers of the Texas Ranger plant
Texas Sage purple flower blooms
Tucson – Phoenix purple sage heat tolerant bushes shrubs

When it comes to drought and heat tolerant plants, Purple Sage is right at the top of the list.  The hotter it gets in the desert, the happier this flowering shrub is!

texas ranger plant sage Tucson
Purple flowers – Texas Sage Shrub in Arizona

As humidity rises during the start of Arizona’s Monsoon season, the Purple Sage bushes will bloom right before it rains.  The purple flowers are a built in barometer!

bushes with purple flowers in desert Texas
flowering purple sage in Tucson and Phoenix

Texas Purple Sage is one of our favorite xeriscape plants because the purple flowers bloom throughout the Arizona summer.

Purple heat resistant bush desert Arizona
Phoenix and Tucson – Purple Texas Sage flowering shrubs

Growing and caring for Purple Sage is easy if you plant them in full sun.  This purple shrub will rot if given too much water therefore it needs well drained soil.

varieties of sage bush shrubs purple white
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas and needs very little maintenance. Texas Sage is incredibly heat resistant and will not be harmed by moderate frost in the winter.

white cloud flowering sage
white flowering shrub bush is White Cloud Texas Sage

The Sage bush variety with white flowers is called White Cloud Texas Sage.  It is exactly like the purple sage but with white blooms.

Texas Cloud Sage with white flowers bush
White Cloud Sage with Red Bird of Paradise Flowering shrubs
Phoenix desert plants purple
large sage bushes with purple flowers
Mexico purple sage flower bush
Purple Texas Ranger Sage Plant

The best time to prune your Texas Sage is in the Spring.  Over pruning your sage bush will reduce the amount of flowers and cause the plant to use more water.

Meet your clouds – Cirrus, Stratus, and Cumulus

Most of us have fantasized while admiring clouds; but have you ever wondered why clouds float?  As long as the cloud is warmer than the outside air around it, it will float.

angels in the sky
cloud that looks like an angel

The height of the cloud in the atmosphere depends on the temperature and amount of water vapor of the rising air.  For example, drier air has to rise higher to cool enough to start condensation.

Microburst Monsoon cloud
vertically developed – cumulonimbus clouds

Cumulus clouds can grow into cumulonimbus clouds which are larger and often spread out in the shape of an anvil or plume. Cumulonimbus may produce heavy rain, lightning, severe and strong winds, hail, microbursts, and even tornadoes.

Clouds are grouped by their shape and by their height in the atmosphere.

Arizona storm clouds monsoon
Nimbostratus – rain bearing clouds

The characteristics of clouds are established by the elements available, including amount of water vapor, temperatures at the height, wind, mountains and other air masses.

The names of clouds come from Latin words that describe their characteristics. The main types of clouds are:

  • Cirrus means “curl” or “fringe”,
  • Nimbus means “rain-bearing”,
  • Stratus means “layer”,
  • Cumulus means “heap” or “pile”
arizona desert clouds
Cumulus cloud

Cumulus clouds are probably the most recognized clouds. These clouds form below 6,000 feet but in some extreme cases they can be in altitudes as high as 39,000 feet! They look like white, fluffy cotton balls. The reason cumulus appear fluffy is because bubbles of air, called thermals, linger in the cloud.

In mountainous areas, clouds may form lines at an angle to the wind. Wave clouds do not move downwind as clouds usually do, but remain fixed in position relative to the obstruction that forms them, for example: mountains.

clouds and wind
cumulus wave clouds by a mountain

Lenticular clouds form on the downwind side of mountains and are lens-shaped. Wind blows most types of clouds across the sky, but lenticular clouds seem to stay in one place.

clouds that look like UFOs
lenticular clouds are lens shaped

Strato-cumulus clouds form in altitudes below 6,000 feet.  Below photo shows a low layer of strato-cumulus clouds spreading the remains of larger cumulus clouds.

cumulus and stratus clouds
Stratocumulus clouds

Alto-cumulus clouds differ from Strato-cumulus  because they are slightly smaller. One easy way to determine if the cloud is alto-cumulus or strato-cumulus is to hold your hand up to the sky,  alto-cumulus clouds are about the size of a human thumb nail while strato-cumulus clouds are the size of a fist.

cumulus clouds
Strato-cumulus and Alto-cumulus clouds

Stratus clouds belong to the low cloud (surface-2000m, below 6,000 ft) group.  They are uniformed layered, gray in color and can cover most or all of the sky

stratus fog clouds
stratus clouds can look like fog

Stratus clouds can look like a fog  and are associated with overcast weather. Only drizzle comes from stratus clouds, if heavier rain falls then their title is changed to nimbostratus.

clouds in arizona
Stratus clouds
storm rain clouds tucson
Nimbostratus clouds

The most common of the high clouds is Cirrus.  These clouds are composed of ice and are thin, curly, wispy, feathery clouds. 

long cirrus clouds
wispy CIRRUS clouds

Cirrus clouds are usually white and predict fair weather even though they are so cold and composed entirely of ice.  They are the fastest moving cloud because the wind current is very strong at that high altitude.

identify clouds white long
Cirrus clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds belong to the thunderstorm clouds or clouds with vertical growth group. Reaching heights to 10km, high winds will flatten the top of a cumulonimbus cloud out into an anvil-like shape.

monsoon cloud in arizona
Thunderstorm clouds

Cumulonimbus clouds, also called Storm Clouds, cause heavy rain, lightning, hail, snow and tornadoes.

Cumulus Monsoon clouds weather in Tucson
Thunderstorm Clouds

Cumulus clouds, which indicate low-level atmospheric moisture often precede storms. In this picture of a Cumulonimbus cloud or thunderstorm cloud, much lightning was occurring with the winds increasing rapidly.

Tucson microburst storm clouds
Monsoon storm clouds in Arizona
Arizona monsoon weather storm clouds
Cumulonimbus cloud – Thunderstorm clouds
cumulus and mammatus storm clouds
Mammatus clouds

Mammatus clouds are pouches of clouds that hang underneath the base of a cloud. They are usually seen with cumulonimbus clouds that produce very strong storms.

storm clouds cumulus
mammatus clouds

Mammatus clouds look like a field of tennis balls, melons, or like female breasts. That is where the name comes from.  

main types of clouds photo
Cirrus, Stratus, and Cumulus clouds

Cirrostratus clouds form in the 18,000 feet and above. The refraction of light by the ice crystals in the Cirrostratus clouds cause a halo around the sun or moon.

stratus clouds
Cirrostratus clouds

You can not see the halo when this happens but the sun or moon will be less visible because the Cirrostratus clouds condense too much for clear visibility. Clouds are usually white and predict fair weather. These clouds often follow Cirrus clouds therefore Cirrostratus clouds are indicators of good weather.

White-winged Doves pollinate Giant Saguaro Cacti

An essential bird pollinator and seed dispenser for the saguaro cactus plant is the white-winged dove.

The white-winged dove, Zenaida asiatica, is a large grayish brown stout bird with the renowned white stripe on their wings.  This bird’s distinctive white wing bars are visible at rest and in flight.

birds with white tip on wings
White winged dove in the desert

The dove sexes look much the same, but the young white wings have a duller and grayer plumage than adults.

white winged dove baby bird
juvenile white winged dove has brown eyes and no blue ring

Juvenile white-winged doves have no blue orbital ring and their legs are brighter pinkish red. These young doves also have brown eyes instead of the adult bird red eyes.

White winged Dove

Adult white-winged doves have a patch of blue, featherless skin around each crimson red eye.

adult male dove bird with red eyes
Male White Winged dove – red eyes w blue ring

Adult males and females look-alike; except male doves are larger in size along with an iridescent sheen on their head and neck.

male white winged dove arizona birds
Male doves puff their chest to show dominance

The white-winged males show various dominant behaviors.  He may crow around.  This means the male dove puffs his chest up and walks around making cooing noises and bobbing his head up and down.

white winged doves in the desert
Male and female doves with red eyes and blue ring

The female white-winged birds don’t usually exhibit this commanding behavior.

dove birds in Arizona at birdfeeder
white winged dove’s white stripe

White-winged doves feed on a variety of seeds, grains, and cactus fruit.  The doves occurring in the Sonoran Desert rely heavily on the pollen, nectar and red fruit of the saguaro cactus, Carnegeia gigantea, for nutrition and water.

white winged dove bird feathers
dove with white tail tip feathers

In the photos above and below you can plainly see this bird’s white tail tips.

bird with white feathers on tail
white winged dove birds in the desert

Male doves seek areas with easy access to food and water; they will defend their breeding territories against intruders and competitors.

These tenacious birds can fly 25 or more miles to find water!

dove bird with white stripe
wing span of white winged dove

Their lifespan in the wild is about 10-15 years.  It is routine for white-winged dove pairs and families to stay together for life.

dove birds in the desert arizona birds
White winged dove tail and wings

The white-winged dove has a bold white band that appears as a brilliant white crescent when flying.

white stripe of the dove bird in arizona
white bar of the White winged dove

When the dove’s wings are closed, this area looks like a white bar on the lower edge of the wing.

arizona desert dove at bird feeder
tenacious birds – white winged doves

In the sweltering desert, white-winged doves are able to draw needed moisture from saguaro cactus fruit.

saguaro cactus with bird pollinating
White winged dove eats Saguaro cactus fruit
birds live on saguaro cactus flowers and fruit
white winged dove with saguaro cactus fruit

White-winged doves are a familiar sight at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona. The doves migrate to the desert when the saguaro cactus are blooming.  These birds nourish themselves on the buffet of saguaro cactus blossoms and fruit.

Bean pods on bushes with orange, yellow and red flowers – Growing tips

Using bean pods to grow your bird of paradise plants is uncomplicated and well worth the effort.

Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Red Bird of Paradise, is a species of flowering plant in the Fabaceae, pea family.

bird of paradise plants with bean pods
common desert bush with orange and red flowers

Other common names are Poinciana, Peacock Flower, Mexican Bird of Paradise, Dwarf Poinciana, Pride of Barbados, and flamboyan-de-jardin.

arizona bushes with red orange flowers fern leaves
Red Bird of Paradise drought tolerant shrubs

This is especially true for the Red Bird of Paradise bushes, genus Caesalpina,  along the roads in Tucson and Phoenix, also common in TX, Mexico and CA.

Red Bird of Paradise plants and shrubs
beautiful bushes with orange red flowers in the desert

This drought tolerant plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

Are the Bird of Paradise Bean Pods edible?  NO, all Bird of Paradise plants and bushes are poisonous if ingested.

desert bush with red flowers and bean pods
bean pods on caesalpinia pulcherrima

Bean Pods on the Bird of Paradise bushes and shrubs need to turn brown before you can germinate the seeds.  The green bean pods pictured above and below are too young and need more time to dry on the desert plant.

desert bush with yellow flowers and bean pods
Yellow Bird of Paradise bush with bean pods

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.

red bird of paradise

PLANT AND GROW – How to grow bird of paradise plants, bushes, shrubs from seeds.

To germinate the seeds of your bird of paradise perennial plant first step is to score the hard outer coating.  I use sandpaper to lightly scrape the seeds then soak them in warm water for 24-48 hours.  They will germinate quickly like most seeds in the bean, Legume family, do.

To grow your Red Bird of Paradise, plant the soaked seed in peat pots.  Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or a good soil.

best way to grow seeds in peat pots
germinated seedling of bird of paradise bush

You should have bird of paradise seedlings in a few days to a week depending on how hard the outer coat of the seeds are.

peat pots
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.

arizona orange red yellow flowers desert shrub
large flowering red bird of paradise desert bush

The Red Bird of Paradise is a deciduous (loses its leaves) shrub that thrives in  full sun and has bright red and orange flowers that grow on long, thin stalks. The leaves are lacy,  ferny-looking.

phoenix desert bushes red orange yellow flowers
grow Bird of Paradise shrubs from bean pods

This is an extraordinarily heat resistant, drought tolerant flowering bush that is a perfect addition to any yard.  The Red Bird of Paradise is a fairly fast grower, and can get large, so periodic trimming is suggested. See the photo above of large flowering bushes commonly seen along the streets in Tucson and Phoenix Arizona along with Texas and California.

What insect has one of the most PAINFUL stings? – meet the Tarantula Hawk wasp

Tarantula hawks, aka – pepsis wasps, are impressive with bright orange wings on a large velvety black body.  They feed on nectar from flowers but are most famous for their battles with tarantulas !!  The fearless tarantula hawk female that is ready to reproduce searches for a tarantula burrow…

tarantula hawk wasp fights spider
huge black wasp with orange wings

This tenacious pepsis wasp will tap and strum the web at the burrow entrance trying to coax the tarantula out.  If the tarantula responds, a long battle will begin!

Most often the tarantula hawk wins by delivering a paralyzing sting to the tarantula. The paralyzed tarantula is dragged to a pre-dug burrow and dropped in by the large female wasp.

black bug with orange wings fights tarantulas
male Tarantula Hawk aka pepsis wasp with orange wings

The tarantula hawk then lays a single egg on the paralyzed tarantula and leaves. The wasp larva will hatch and feed on the tarantula spider.  After completing its metamorphosis, in about 3 weeks, the adult pepsis wasp will then dig its way out of the underground burrow and start its life cycle anew.

tarantula hawk black wasp orange wings
large black bug that fight tarantulas are female pepsis wasps

Tarantula Hawks, have the second most painful sting of any insect.   Just how painful is the sting of the Tarantula Hawk?  The Schmidt Sting Pain Index rates insect stings from 1-4.  Africanized bees and hornets register 2.  Bullent Ants and Pepsis wasps register 4 !!

Only the female Tarantula Hawk stings because the stinger is derived from the ovipositor, the egg-laying organ.

huge wasp orange wings
pepsis wasp aka Tarantula Hawk

In the deserts of the southwestern US two species of Tarantula Hawks are common, pepsis formosa and pepsis thisbe.  The most common in Arizona is pepsis formosa wasp with the orange wings.

Hundreds of Tarantula Hawk Wasp species exist worldwide.  The color of the wings may very from species but the sting of the this killer wasp is described as blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric.  Simply unbearable pain, lasting 3 minutes.  A long 3 minutes!  Not lethal to humans unless you are allergic to pepsis wasps.

tarantula hawks huge bug with orange wings
pepsis black wasp with orange wings eats pollen

How to tell the difference between the male and female pepsis wasp?

  • The antennae of the male tarantula hawk is tightly curved while the FEMALE wasp is only SLIGHTLY curved.
giant wasp insect
female tarantula hawk wasp
  • Tarantula Hawk females grow larger than the males, and can reach up to 3 inches in length.

This youtube video is a battle between the Tarantula Hawk and Tarantula Spider.

Both female and male pepsis wasps are nectarivorous.  The male does not hunt but fills himself with the nectar of plants while watching for female tarantula hawks that are ready to reproduce.

Other than Roadrunners and Bullfrogs, most predators avoid the Tarantula Hawk wasp.

Little TIDBIT:  The tarantula hawk wasp is the state insect of New Mexico. 🙂