Visiting Jeff Moore's Arid Adaptations Nursery in Tucson, Arizona

My first Tucson stop on my recent Arizona trip was at Arid Adaptions Nursery at the foot of the Tucson Mountains. Owner Jeff Moore grows a wide variety of succulents on his 3-acre property—far more species than I'd realized. He sells them at farmers markets in the Tucson area, to private collectors, and to wholesalers in Tucson and Phoenix. (To clear up potential confusion, Arid Adaptation's Jeff Moore and Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents Nursery in north San Diego County are two different people and not related.)

As I was driving to Jeff's place, the sky was filled with the big puffy clouds I so love:

Getting closer:

And here are we are, being greeted by Jeff's dogs:

Jeff's nursery, Arid Adaptations, doesn't have regular hours and isn't set up for walk-in retail traffic. It's off the beaten path so chances are slim that customers would just stop by. But people interested in buying plants can set up an appointment, and Jeff will show them around. There's a lot to see: more than 200,000 individual plants!

When Jeff bought the property in 2005, it was unimproved and had nothing but desert shrubs and a few eucalyptus trees on it. Through years of back-breaking labor, he transformed the lot into a thriving desert garden filled with trees, shrubs, cacti, agaves, aloes and all manner of heat-loving perennials. 

And then there are the nursery structures—temporary hoop houses, permanent greenhouses, and outdoor growing benches—, all added by Jeff through persistent hard work. He's a one-man operation doing the work of two or three people.

Ferocactus rectispinus

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) outside one of the greenhouses

I had expected Jeff to grow a wide variety of New World succulents (especially cacti and agaves), and he does. But I was surprised by how much more he has, especially Old World plants: from aloes and euphorbias to South African bulbs and caudiciforms (adenias, adeniums, alluaudias, pachypodiums—you name it).

Echinocactus platyacanthus and Mammillaria spinosissima

Mammillaria spinosissima and Ferocactus latispinus

Thelocactus hexaedrophorus and Echinocereus pailanus

Gymnocalycium baldianum and Parodia elegans

Parodia elegans and Mammillaria spinosissima 

Gymnocalycium baldianum and Mammillaria hahniana

Gymnocalycium baldianum and Astrophytum ornatum

Mammillaria perbella and Astrophytum capricorne

Parodia erubescens and Mammillaria boolii 

Mammillaria boolii

Agave chazaroiAstrophytum myriostigma seedlings and Leuchtenbergia principis

Peniocereus fosterianus

Peniocereus fosterianus and Peniocereus rosei

Arrojadoa rhodantha

Peniocereus greggii

Ferocactus pilosus seedlings

Here are some of the plants I hadn't expected to see:

Sansevieria masoniana

Kalanchoe luciae

Agave ocahui, Aloe aculeata, Aloe bulbillifera 

Mother of thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana) growing outside one of the greenhouses. Once you have one plant, you soon have ten, a hundred, a thousand.

Exploring the motherlode in the greenhouses was great fun. But seeing what Jeff has growing outside in the ground was just as interesting.

Agave zebra

Aloe ferox

Aloe ferox

Aloe sinkatana

Echinocactus platyacanthus

A curious form of the fishhook barrel (Ferocactus wislizeni) from the Chiricahua Mountains in Southern Arizona. Instead of the regular cylindrical shape, it looks like the barrel is half buried. This is the first time it's flowered, and I'm hoping Jeff will get viable seeds.

Ferocactus wislizeni

You can't walk far without coming across more production plants:

Trichocereus hybrids

5-gallon cacti lined up like soldiers outside Jeff's house:

Ferocactus herrerae

More plants on the other side the house:

Cactus cuttings waiting to be potted for rooting

And another greenhouse

Seed-grown Agave colorata × bovicornuta aka Agave 'Mad Cow'. It looks much different than my own 'Mad Cow', which has wider leaves.

Murcott mandarins and Lisbon lemons

Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) and Lisbon lemons—a pretty combo

Jeff's private collection and stock plants

A particularly glaucous form of Pedilanthus macrocarpus

A heavily variegated Ferocactus hybrid

Variegated Ferocactus hybrid

Thelocactus bicolor looks great combined with mustard-yellow rocks Jeff got at the world-famous Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

Agave victoriae-reginae with particularly striking white markings. It's still offsetting prolifically but it will stop once it fully matures. At that point, it will no longer be useful as a stock plant—it'll “just” be a beautiful specimen.

Ferocactus gracilis

Ariocarpus scaphirostris

Truck load of plants for the next farmers market

One of the saguaros growing naturally on Jeff's property

More surprises were waiting outside the biggest greenhouse. I had never seen (or expected to see) Aloidendron dichotomum growing in the ground in Tucson. Sure, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix has them, but Phoenix has milder winters. In Jeff's experience, though, Aloidendron dichotomum is fine to 25°F.

A closely related relative, Aloidendron ramosissimum, is growing nearby: 

More aloe surprises 20 feet away, a pair of Aloe ortholopha, both of them pushing inflorescences (only one is visible in the photos below):

Aloe ortholopha, one of my favorite aloes

Aloe ortholopha

This greenhouse, the largest, contains a trove of treasures from Africa. They're Jeff's babies—few of them, if any, are for sale.

Not from Africa, but a rare beauty nonetheless: Agave victoriae-reginae 'White Rhino'. Mature plants stop pupping, at which point they're no longer useful as stock plants, they're “just” show-quality specimens.

A few more random snaps:

Lots of Ferocactus rectispinus

Unfortunately, the weeds are outpacing everything else at this time of year

Outdoor shower

Nice clump of totem pole cactus (monstrose form of Pachycereus schottii)

Adolescent saguaro

Jeff knows his stuff. In fact, he knows far more than somebody who grows succulents professionally should know (and that's a lot already). He's one of those folks who are able to store a seemingly unlimited amount of knowledge for immediate retrieval when needed—a quality I envy greatly. But then, he's not exactly a newbie. He's been growing plants in Tucson since 1992 and spent 10 years working as a horticulturist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. 

I mentioned earlier that Arid Adaptations is a one-man operation. That's true in the sense that there's only one human. But Jeff isn't alone. He has help:

Four of Jeff's six dogs. The other two don't get to roam freely because they are accomplished escape artists. Mr. Fluffy (reflected in the puddle) tends to steal the show.

By the time I loaded my purchases into the Prius and said goodbye to Jeff and the dogs, I realized to my amazement that I'd been there for nearly four hours. Time flies when you're hanging out with a fellow plant nerd!

If you're in the Tucson area and want to buy plants from Jeff, visit him at these farmers markets. If you're looking for a particular plant, contact him ahead of time, and he'll bring it for you.

The website for Arid Adaptations has a huge plant list. It's not entirely up to date, but it gives you an idea of what Jeff has got growing.


December 2019 Arizona trip index

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  1. Amazing that Jeff looks after everything on his own. Just looking at all those cacti seedlings needing repotting is overwhelming. Can see how you could spend an extended period of time with so many cool plants and an expert to boot. What treasures did you come home with?

  2. Based on your introductory paragraph, I'd envisioned a small-scale operation but this one is anything but that! I'm very impressed by the scale, the obvious quality of the plants and the sheer number and diversity of them. For a one man/4 dog operation it's incredible.

  3. It's really impressive that one guy can keep track of all those plants ! I have enough trouble keeping track of my small assortment !

  4. OMG!!! You must have been in heaven, not just for the plants but for the photo opportunities.

  5. Must be a high-energy guy or super-organized (or both!). Beautiful plants. Also adorable pups. Will have to go look now for Aloe ortholopha...


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