Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona: Part 3 (2014 edition)

This post concludes my three-part series on the Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in Phoenix, Arizona. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

We’re now at the spot indicated by the green arrow in the following trail map (borrowed from the DBG web site) and will be exploring the paths inside the perimeter of the Desert Discovery Loop Trail, including Quail Run Path.


Trail map © 2015 Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ


Ferocactus pottsii


This prickly pear is definitely waiting for rain!


A small water feature like this fountain is all it takes to create an illusion of abundance in the desert


My favorite bench in the entire garden. I love this huge toothpick cactus (Stetsonia coryne).


Backlit cactus with impressive spines. Not sure what it is.


Brittle bush (Encelia farinosa) and totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii forma monstrosus)


This tangle of cactus stems…


…reminds me of a viper’s nest


More backlit cactus. The late afternoon sun really makes them stand out.


Desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata), one of my favorite native perennials

Now we’re at the edge of the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries, just across the path from the Berlin Agave Yucca Forest (to be covered in my agave post). This is where you find the DBG’s impressive aloe collection. Unfortunately, the lighting was so harsh that I didn’t take many photos, and most of the ones I did take weren’t good enough to show here. But I have a few to give you a taste.


Interpretive display highlighting the differences between agaves and aloes


Aloe confusa (I don’t know what botanists mean when they use the word “confused,” but this aloe didn’t look confused to me; in fact, it was quite happy)

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The massive plant on the left is Aloe marlothii, the flower aloe on the right is Aloe cryptopoda.


Aloe elgonica


Aloidendron dichotomum (previously Aloe dichotoma), the fabled South African quiver tree. Its flowers remind me of lupines. I think they’re among the prettiest of all aloe flowers. This tree aloe is one of six that has been moved from the genus Aloe to a new genus called Aloidendron (see this post for more information).


Aloidendron dichotomum


Aloidendron dichotomum


Aloe dhufarensis. I’d never heard of this species before, but I was immediately drawn to the ghostly white color of its leaves. This native of Oman is usually solitary and can grow to 2 ft. across. I’ll be looking for one! Hardy to the mid-20s; needs full sun.


Aloidendron ‘Hercules’. I lost count of how many ‘Hercules’ I saw at the DBG but they’re clearly thriving there.


Yucca rigida


Spiky goodness


Dioon spinulosum


My favorite combination in the entire Desert Botanical Garden: diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima) in front of totem pole cactus (Lophocereus schottii forma monstrosus)

The double-arch steel canopy in the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries still takes my breath away. I love the soaring steel-mesh roof (28 ft. at its highest point—enough for even the tallest cactus specimen in the beds below) and the pillars with rectangular windows painted a shade of red called Spiced Rum. This kind of structure doesn’t come cheap; construction cost $500,000 according to this article.


Double-arch steel canopy in the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries


Euphorbia tirucalli 

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There are so many interesting cacti and other succulents in the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus and Succulent Galleries that I could have done several posts on this section alone. But I’m sure you’re reaching the saturation point so I’d better stop.


There’s no better way to wrap up this series on the Desert Botanical Garden than with a few photos of Arizona’s most iconic plant: the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).


Here are some fun facts about saguaros (various online sources):

  • A typical saguaro can live 150-200 years.
  • A saguaro isn’t considered an adult until it’s 125 years old.
  • Arms don’t grow until the saguaro is approx. 70 years old.
  • Flowers don’t appear until the saguaro is at least 35 years old.
  • The saguaro’s roots are just 4-6 inch deep. There is only one taproot that goes straight down for 2-5 feet in search of water.
  • The saguaro is one of the world’s heaviest plants. Because it contains so much water, an adult can weigh up to 6 tons.


A finally a human-interest story involving a saguaro that is too quirky not to share (source):

Although the saguaros are awe-inspiring, they've also got a mean streak, according to local lore:

A Phoenix man must have been having a bad day when he pulled into his driveway, brushed past the saguaro in his front yard and went into his house for his gun. He took his frustration out on the plant, using it as target practice as he emptied the bullet chamber.

In a last bit of self-defense, the saguaro toppled over on top of him, crushing him under the weight of the tons of water stored in its branches.

Urban legend or not? The story could be true. It jives with this story of an idiot who did some target shooting at a saguaro when a 4-foot arm broke off, fell on top of him, and killed him. Revenge of the cactus!



  1. The spirit of the saguaro can certainly seek revenge if it needs to ;)

    Spectacular, and just breathtaking how tall a lot of the specimens are!

  2. Great photos. Thanks for sharing your tour of this impressive botanical garden (which I liked more than Sunnylands). As California's drought appears determined to draw out indefinitely, I'm adding more and more succulents to my own garden every year.

    1. Succulents are great for so many reasons. They need little water AND little care and look good year round.

  3. Love the photos and the stories, true or not. Seems my brother (in Phoenix) has shared similar tales (so they must be true, right?).

  4. Ditto for me on Aloe dhufarensis--what a beauty. Some of the Arabian peninsula Aloes seem to sport that delicious ghostly look.

    The Saguaro story seems to be justified self-defense.

    Your post could have gone on and on as far as I am concerned. Now, the Agaves!

    1. I wonder how many more aloes might be discovered on the Arabian peninsula. Or course most of them are not hardy enough for my climate...

      The agave post will take a few more days. Many photos to go through!

  5. "Confusa" in botanical terminology may mean "confused," but also means "uncertain, might be taken for another species" which is probably the case here.

    1. Good point, Jane! I bet that's exactly why they gave it this name.

  6. $500,000 for the canopy? I'll take two! [Seriously, I'm coveting that rusty steel ramada you photographed in Civano.] Beautiful photos -- my want-list of aloes is getting longer and longer. The Arizona Tourism Board should pay you a lot for post like these!

    1. LOL, I should write to the Arizona Tourism Board. Do what I love for money, what a novel concept that would be!

  7. My favorite thing about these posts is being reminded of how diverse the desert flora is. I really love seeing colonies of plants that I usually can only see as tiny individual potted specimens. So nice!

  8. I love it, revenge of the cactus! This is a wonderful botanical garden...what a great collection and the arches and canopy such perfect contrast. Thank you for sharing!


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