What I brought home from my 2015 desert trip

I know you’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out what I brought home from the 2015 desert trip. I hope you didn’t get your hopes up too high because my haul is fairly modest. I could easily have gone crazy but my goal was to know what to do with each plant I purchase. And I succeeded, mostly.


What the backseat in the car looked like on the trip home

Oddly enough, the purchase that has me the most excited isn’t even a plant. Well, not a live one. For reasons I can’t quite fathom—maybe watching too many old westerns when I was young—I’ve always wanted a cactus skeleton. And I finally found one I really liked at Mesquite Valley Growers in Tucson. It has that classic two-arm look, too. It’s from a cholla, although I don’t know which species. At $25, the price was right.

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Cholla skeleton (4½ ft. high × 4 ft. wide)

In addition to the cholla skeleton, two plants rode in the back of the car: a nice-sized candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) I found at a Lowe’s near my hotel in Scottsdale, and a juvenile seed-grown ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) from the garden store at Tohono Chul Park. I’ll write more about these plants after I get them in the ground.

If you’re interested, here’s a rather sad story about the overharvesting of wild ocotillos in western Texas. It has gotten so bad that the migration patterns of hummingbirds (who depend on the nectar from the flowers) have started to change.

This big box rode in the trunk all the way:


It contained the rest of my purchases.

From Tohono Chul Park:

  1. Asclepias linearia (pineneedle milkweed; AZ native)
  2. Baileya multiradiata (desert marigold; AZ native)
  3. Fouquieria splendens (ocotillo; AZ native)
  4. Fouquieria columnaris (boojum tree; Baja California native)
  5. Zinnia grandiflora (desert zinnia; AZ native)

From Greg Starr:

  1. Agave kavandivi (recently described species from the Striatae group)
  2. Agave rzedowskiana (another recently described species from the Striatae group)
  3. Agave utahensis (from seed collected in Rachel, Nevada; probably var. nevadensis)
  4. Agave xylonacantha (a very interesting form with chunky wide leaves, curly spines and extravagant papery teeth)
  5. Calibanus hookeri (not exactly uncommon, but this one has pronounced fissures in the caudex, much like a Dioscorea elephantipes)

Here are all the plants after I unloaded them: 


I also brought home some small rocks I collected along Highway 177 on my way to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. I’ll use them as top dressing for potted succulents—maybe for that Calibanus hookeri (at the 9 o’clock position in the photo above).


I know it’s an odd assortment of items, but they will forever remind me of my trip.


December 2015 Desert Trip index


Brodsky said…
Are there any restrictions bringing plants into California?
Paul Douglas said…
I was going to ask the same thing, Brodsky.
Love that Ocotillo..... I've never seen any grown from seed for sale anywhere.
What a wonderful trip, Gerhard!
Renee said…
That cholla skeleton is cool! What are you going to do with it?
Luisa said…
I would have gone crazy ;~) Can't wait to read more about Tohono Chul Park: great haul from there. And those agaves...! The little hookeri looks wonderful, and I love the rocks and the cholla skeleton -- I want one for inside! Awesome haul, just awesome.
Kris Peterson said…
I love that cholla skeleton! Committing to bring home only what I can identify a place for is always my aim too - unfortunately, I don't usually keep to the plan.
outlawgardener said…
A very nice haul! I'm impressed by your sense and restraint. It's so cool that you also brought home rocks and the cholla skeleton is beautiful. Looking forward to seeing what you do with it!
Alan said…
Unlike Peter I am disappointed by your restraint. You have a whole lawn area to fill! ;)

Love the candelilla -- it's so much fun going to big-box stores in other states to see what their garden departments carry!
Denise said…
Very judicious haul! That cholla skeleton is a beauty.
I bring it plants everytime I return from out of state, and I've never had a problem. In fact, most of the time I don't get stopped. Many specialty nurseries in Arizona will give you a phytosanitary certificate if you ask--just in case you do get stopped. Although I think the agricultural inspectors are more interested in fruit and vegetables than succulents.
Paul, I think virtually all ocotillos that come in pots are seed-grown. The bare-root canes you see in nurseries and big box garden centers are field-dug and often hauled long distances. Their survival rate is shockingly slim.
Now THAT is the million dollar question. My wife asked the same thing. The honest truth is that I don't know yet, but I think it will go in the succulent mound that will replace the front lawn very soon.
The nursery at Tohono Chul Park isn't large but it's well stocked and it carried a large percentage of plants I was interested in. I had quite a few more plants in my wagon (especially desert shrubs) but I came to my senses and put them back. After all, I'm very short on garden space right now.
One of my resolutions for 2016 is to reduce the size of the pot ghetto and get as much as possible into the ground. Of course there's no guarantee that will happen, but in early January it's still OK to have good intentions.
Restraint is usually not something I'm known for but I tried.

In hindsight, I wish I'd picked up some larger rocks, too, but I'm happy with my top dressing.
That lawn may look large in a wide-angle photo, but in reality it's less than 400 sq.ft. Even before my trip I had more plants than I can possibly fit into the space.

I made a point of stopping at several Lowes and Home Depots because I wanted to see what selection "normal" gardeners have--the folks that don't go to full-service or speciality nurseries. Now winter is probably the worst time of year for such a check, but some garden centers still had some nice stuff, especially in the Phoenix area. I'll do a separate post about that.
I hope I'll find a way to work that cholla skeleton into the overall design without it looking like an afterthought.
danger garden said…
Perfect haul...some practical plants, some things just because. I've saved a chunk of one of my cholla that bit the dust, a 4" section that looks like what you've got (only not nearly as cool...of course). I don't know why exactly but there was no way I was going to toss it! I look forward to future posts as the haul gets worked into the garden.
Unknown said…
Had a Calibanus hookeri but I killed it with kindness.......over watered it during the summer
Great reminder! Thank you! I've killed more than one succulent that way.
I still have a small piece of cholla that I brought home from a trip, oh, 10 years ago? I love bits and pieces of nature that remind me of places I've been.

You're right about practical plants. I wanted some desert natives (esp. the desert zinnia and marigold) for the agave mound that will replace the front place, but they're impossible to find locally--and I've had no luck starting them from seed.
Hoover Boo said…
Good acquisitions--they'll remind you of a great desert vacation.

Tohono Chul had wonderful plants for sale when we visited--I was impressed.
I was impressed with their plant selection two years ago, and then again this year. It really is a nice plant. Not as sexy as the Desert Botanical Garden, but a tranquil desert oasis on the edge of the (sub)urban sprawl.