Nov 032012
 

cacut in bloom

Arizona cacti and flowers in springtime

This spring I witnessed something I’d been hoping to see for years, the cacti and flowers of the Arizona desert in bloom. We’ve being visiting Mesa, Arizona for years now, usually in late fall. I’ve come to love the Sonoran desert landscape. The diversity, varied shading and shaping of the vegetation shattered my preconceptions of a barren flat sandy terrain. Instead I found richness and strength. I began to wonder what the plants looked like when they flowered.

I was not disappointed. I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw the intense colours and graceful quality of the blooms amid the thorns and prickles.

Prickly pear cactus

Delicate flowers in vibrant colours adorned the edges of the prickly pear paddles, their tissue-like appearance a stark contrast to the spiny base upon which they grow.

Prickly pear cactus bloom
Prickly pear cactus bloom
Prickly pear cactus bloom
Prickly pear cactus bloom
prickly pear fruit
Old fruit on prickly pear cacti at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

When the prickly pear blooms fade, the edible fruit forms. The bulbous fruit is normally ready for harvest in the late summer or fall. Its culinary uses include jams, jellies, juices and candy.

 

cholla in bloom
Cholla at Park of the Canals, Mesa, AZ

I was delighted by all the colours and varieties of cacti blooms – burgundy blooms on the gnarly cholla, yellow flowers poking through the barbs at the top of the barrel cactus and red flowers standing on the endangered Arizona hedgehog.

Hedgehog cactus
Hedgehog cactus at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

There were plants other than cacti in the bloom – tall spiky flowers on the aloe, brilliant waves of orange fanning out on the ocotilla and wispy blooms on the fairy duster.

Ocotilla
Ocotilla

Thousands of yellow blossoms covered palo verde trees, Arizona’s state tree known for its greenish coloured bark. The flowers drop and scatter easily covering the ground and things around them. This can be amusing, attractive or a nuisance, depending on your point of view. We needed to vacuum my brother-in-law’s Miati after we parked it under the shade of a palo verde tree, top down, in a mall parking lot.

A canopy of palo verde blooms
A canopy of palo verde blooms

When searching the Internet prior to our visit, I discovered groups of people that hunt for the first wild flower blooms and report sightings. The Arizona State Parks Ranger Cam provides updates on wildflower and cactus blooms in Arizona State Parks.

Blooms at Mesa's Park of the Canals
Blooms at Mesa’s Park of the Canals

We saw a range of plants and blossoms at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The arboretum was founded in the 1920s to showcase the desert environment. I highly recommend visiting this park. Another good choice would have been the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. We also visited the Park of the Canals in Mesa, where the small free Brinton Desert Botanical Garden was in full bloom. Many communities have their own garden area. We strolled through the one near us frequently. It changed from day to day as new blooms started and old ones faded.

Saguaro bloom
Saguaro bloom

A highlight of the visit was unexpectedly stumbling upon saguaro blooms in a field beside the highway on the east side of Mesa. The coy pure white blossoms open up in the dark of night. By mid-day the following day, they die.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Saguaros amid a desert landscape Boyce Thompson Arboretum

The saguaro cactus is the the plant most often associated with the area and is found exclusively in the Sonoran desert. It grows very slowly, but can reach heights of 40 – 50 feet. A ten year old plant may be only 1.5 inches tall. It can take 50-70 years for the first arm to appear, longer in areas of very low precipitation. The saguaro blossom is the Arizona state wildflower. The cactus is protected by the Arizona Native Plant Law. There are strict regulations about harvesting, collecting or destroying.

Saguaro blooms

  3 Responses to “Arizona in Bloom”

  1. Beautiful ~ I want to see the cacti blooms too! What dates where you there?
    Cheers,
    Susan

    • The photos in this post were taken in early April after a warm winter. Blooms were a little earlier that year than some other years. I’ve visited in other years and anytime in April seems to be good for seeing blooms. Wildflowers may be in bloom in late March. I’ve not visited in May, but I think there are some cacti more likely to be in bloom then.

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