Cacti at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Continuing my series of posts from our Southwest trip this summer, I’d like to take you back to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) outside of Tucson and show you some of many cacti growing there.

The most famous plant of the Sonora desert is the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) and they are everywhere on the west side of Tucson. This is what you see as you crest Gates Pass:


Gates Pass, Tucson, AZ

Inside the ASDM, there are plenty of opportunities to see saguaros as well:


Saguaros reaching into the sky

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Juvenile saguaros in front of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)


Unbranched saguaro (50+ years old) amidst other cacti



More young saguaros

However, the most common type of cactus, both inside the ASDM and outside, is the prickly pear in its various incarnations. Judging by the number of fruits on some specimens, the blooms must have been spectacular this past spring. The fruit, often called tuna after its Spanish name, is frequently used to make jam and candy.


Opuntia engelmannii with dark red fruit


Opuntia engelmannii with purple fruit


Opuntia engelmannii with purple fruit


Opuntia littoralis (according to the plant tag but it doesn’t look much different from the
Opuntia engelmannii above)

According to the ASDM Sonoran Desert Digital Library, there are many other Opuntia species in the park but I’m not enough of an expert to identify them by sight.

Therefore, let’s move on to other cactus genera and species that were clearly labeled. That makes life much easier for lay people like me! Plus, the goal of this post is to show you the beauty of cacti, not to be an encyclopedic resource.

Similar to the Agave Garden (featured in this post), all plants in the Cactus Garden are native to the Sonora desert and the adjacent biotopes interpreted by the ASDM.


Cactus Garden entrance




A veritable cactus smörgåsbord


Ferocactus rectispinus


LEFT: Ferocactus cylindraceus
RIGHT: Ferocactus diguetii


Ferocactus peninsulae

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Ferocactus emoryi


Ferocactus emoryi


Ferocactus emoryi


Echinocereus nicholii


Echinocereus nicholii


Echinocereus engelmannii


Echinocereus brandegeei


Stenocereus eruca


Stenocereus eruca


Stenocereus eruca


Bergerocactus emoryi


Organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi). Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
southwest of Tucson has spectacular stands of this cactus.


Stenocereus thurberi


Lophocereus schottii, regular form


Lophocereus schottii, monstrose form,
commonly called “totem pole cactus”


Cylindropuntia thurberi

120728_ArizonaSonoraDesertMuseum_Cylindropuntia-x-fosbergii_01 120728_ArizonaSonoraDesertMuseum_Cylindropuntia-bigelovii_01

LEFT: Cylindropuntia × fosbergii
RIGHT: Cylindropuntia bigelovii

As painful as a cholla (Cylindropuntia sp.) encounter can be for a human, birds seem to have no problems getting up close, as evidenced by this nest.


Bird’s nest in a cholla

I admire chollas from a distance, for the obvious reasons, but this cholla skeleton is completely harmless—and beautiful.


Cholla skeleton

But the most fun cactus in the entire Desert Museum has got to be this one:

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Organ pipe cactus fountain next to the Warden Oasis Theater

Believe me, when it’s close to 100°F, even a splash of water makes a difference :-).



  1. Some beauties there for sure, and some weird ones. I really want a totem pole cactus... wish I had a sunroom!

    I can't see photos of a cholla without thinking about the teddy bear cholla video I saw on YouTube. Not for the squeamish.

    1. That crawling Stenocereus eruca certainly would qualify as weird :-).

      You can always overwinter your totem pole cactus in the house...

      This is my favorite teddy bear cholla video on YouTube. Caution: There's some serious cursing going on :-).

  2. Wow what a great place! I love your photos Gerhard they are super and clicked on many of them to see larger. It was neat to see that cholla acting like the mother plant to that juvenile saguaro!

    1. I only photographed the plants. There are tons of animals at the Desert Museum as well: javelinas, coyotes, prairie dogs, not to mention snakes and gila monsters, a cool humming bird house, an aviary, etc.

  3. Oh my i was there 4 years ago and took the most wonderful pictures and lost them all when my PC crashed.......I love Tucson

    1. Sharon, so sorry to hear to lost all your photos. I think I'd go crazy if that happened to me. I hope my post brought back some good memories.

      I love Tucson, too. I think I could live there...

  4. What a great looking place Gerhard, Cacti porn! They're such an architectural group of plants, vicious but can imagine how lovely it must be when they're in bloom too.

  5. WOW! So Cool! A great walkabout via photo. I really can't get enough of these old growth cacti, and that photo of the montrose Lophocereus schottii, probably the best one online. I recently bought a small cutting of one at the cactus center in L.A, maybe in 20 years it will be that amazing! Thx for sharing!

    btw, the Manfreda are finally starting to wake up.

  6. WOW! So Cool! A great walkabout via photo. I really can't get enough of these old growth cacti, and that photo of the montrose Lophocereus schottii, probably the best one online. I recently bought a small cutting of one at the cactus center in L.A, maybe in 20 years it will be that amazing! Thx for sharing!

    btw, the Manfreda are finally starting to wake up.

  7. Thanks for your web pages ; i am from Australia and I went through the area about 10 years ago. I hope to go through again next year and your photos etc and comments will help a lot in planning my next trip!

    1. Great! I'm very happy to hear that you found my posts to be useful. Also check out my series of posts from my December 2014 Arizona trip:

      Where in Australia do you live? We have good friends in Sydney and were lucky to visit a few years ago.

  8. Many thanks for your photos and comments. I am from Australia and went on a "cactus" trip about ten years ago and I am now planning another next year so your photos and comments will help a lot!

  9. The image labeled Echinocereus engelmannii is likely Echinocereus websterianus


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