Arizona in Bloom

November 3, 2012
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Arizona 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.

Arizona in Bloom

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.

Arizona in Bloom: prickly pear

Prickly pear cactus bloom

Arizona in Bloom: prickly pear cactus

Prickly pear cactus bloom

Arizona in Bloom: Old fruit on prickly pear cacti at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

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.

Arizona in Bloom: Cholla at Park of the Canals, Mesa, AZ

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.

Arizona in Bloom: Hedgehog cactus at Boyce Thompson Arboretum

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 in bloom


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 yellow 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. Check Desert Wildlflower Reports.

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.

Saguaros amid a desert landscape 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.

white saguaro blossom

PIN ITAssorted Arizona spring blooms

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  • Reply
    Susan Moore
    September 19, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Beautiful ~ I want to see the cacti blooms too! What dates where you there?

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      September 19, 2016 at 11:46 am

      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.

      • Reply
        Susan Moore
        September 20, 2016 at 11:02 am

        Good info! I would have thought March, but will aim for April when I visit Arizona again.

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