Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (Tucson, AZ)
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) has a special place in my heart. This was my fifth visit, and any fear that I might be bored—especially since I’d just been there the summer before—were quickly allayed.
Founded in 1952, the ASDM encompasses 21 acres of Sonoran Desert west of Tucson. According to their website, there are “two miles of walking paths, 16 individual gardens, 1,200 native plant species and 56,000 individual plants.” If I had to venture a guess, I’d say most visitors, especially families, come for the animals. Others, like me, come for the plants.
Last year, I wrote three detailed posts about the ASDM (see links at the bottom). Please check them out to see the full range of botanical sights that await visitors.
The current post covers some of the same territory but I’m mainly focusing on sights I hadn’t shown you before. This post looks at agaves at the ASDM.
Right at the entrance are beautiful specimens of ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde (Parkinsonia ‘Desert Museum’). This is the hybrid I planted at our house this fall.
The landscaped areas around the buildings are excellent examples of what can be done using native plants.
In container: saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) and ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Our lord’s candle (Hesperoyucca whipplei)
Now let’s step out into the desert for some natural scenery before we return to see more examples of xeric landscaping.
The natural areas are dominated by the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). You can see the entire spectrum from young plants to stately specimens in their prime to dying and dead cacti. Each life phase has its own special beauty.
Near the Ironwood Gift Shop there even is a rare crested saguaro I’d never seen before:
One favorite native is the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). In the rainy season it’s covered with small green leaves, and in the spring and early summer you can spot its brilliant orange flowers from quite a distance. In the winter, though, it looks like a collection of fiercely spined dead sticks.
Another plant that never fails to attract attention is the boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris). This Baja California relative of the ocotillo can grow to a height of 60 ft. At the ASDM you can see a few larger specimens and many juvenile plants.
Here are some more photos I took along the trails:
Great horned owl
Barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp). and prickly pear (Opuntia sp.)
Palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.)
Palo verde (Parkinsonia sp.)
The Desert Garden and the plantings in the gallery/restaurant complex showcase regional and climate-appropriate plants that thrive in Tucson.
Palma virgen (Dioon edule)
Slipper flower or candelilla (Pedilanthus macrocarpus)
Totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii)
Plantings near the Ironwood Gallery
Astrophytum ornatum and Euphorbia resinifera
Rock fig (Ficus palmeri)
LEFT: Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia ‘Santa Rita’) RIGHT: Rain chain and barrel
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) leaving out after recent rains
Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoria-reginae)
Cardon with babies (Pachycereus pringlei), sometimes called the “saguaro of Baja California”
Cowhorn agave (Agave bovicornuta)
Arizona is a wonderland of natural treasures, and to me the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum—together with the adjacent Saguaro National Park—ranks right up there in the top 5 with the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, Vermillion Cliffs and the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans.