Return to Tucson's Pima Prickly Park

When I was in Tucson, Arizona last December, I swung by Pima Prickly Park one cold morning to see how it had changed from my January 2019 visit.  The good news: It's still there, and the plants are doing their thing, growing slowly but steadily. The bad news: There isn't any. And that's a wonderful thing for a public garden run entirely by volunteers on virtually no money.

The 7-acre park is owned by Pima County and run by the Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society. The TCSS signed a 15-year operating agreement with Pima County in 2010, and the park was officially dedicated in 2012. As I said in an earlier post, TCSS members have volunteered countless hours and donated countless plants to create a desert habitat park that highlights desert plants. The park is not fenced so it's basically open anytime, although technically the hours are from sunrise to sunset. There is no fee for parking or admission.

I first visited Pima Prickly Park on New Year's Day 2015 when it was still very much a work in progress. My second visit was exactly four years later, New Year's Day 2019, and my third December 29, 2019. 

The web site for Pima Prickly Park hasn't been updated since 2018, but the “before,” “during” and “after” photos are super interesting to see. Between early 2015 and late 2018, TCSS volunteers put in 3000+ additional hours that made an enormous difference. Anybody who has ever been involved in a club dependent on volunteer work can appreciate what a monumental achievement that level of participation is, even for a club as large and active as the TCSS.

I didn't have a lot of time last December, so I simply followed where my eyes led me. The photos below are not a systematic exploration of Pima Prickly Park, just a collection of “pretty pictures,” mostly of cactus. I always get a thrill seeing how happy cacti look in their native habitat!

Chain-fruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) strapped to a metal gate while rooting. It looks a bit like a back-surgery patient in a medical contraption.

Cholla forest

Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and diamond cholla (Cylindropuntia ramosissima)

Hybrid barrel (Ferocactus emoryi var. covillei × rectispinus)

Hybrid barrel (Ferocactus emoryi var. covillei × rectispinus)

Cotton-top cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

Cotton-top cactus (Echinocactus polycephalus)

Fire barrel (Ferocactus gracilis)

Not quite sure what this is, but it's very pretty

Ferocactus rectispinus

Coville barrel cactus (Ferocactus emoryi ssp. covillei)

California barrel cactus (Ferocactus acanthodes var. lecontei)

California barrel cactus (Ferocactus acanthodes var. lecontei)

Ocotillo, juvenile saguaro, and saguaro skeleton

Dogweed or fiveneedle pricklyleaf (Thymophylla pentachaeta)

Agave lophantha

Agave lophantha

Agave franzosinii and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)

Gosselin's pricklypear (Opuntia gosseliniana)

Chenille pricklypear (Opuntia aciculata)

Pima Prickly Park isn't anywhere near as polished as the other public botanical institutions in Tucson, including Tohono Chul Park, Tucson Botanical Gardens, and most especially the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, but that's why it's so near and dear to my heart. It's run entirely by people who care about desert plants and volunteer their time (and I'm sure quite a bit of their money) to share their passion with the public.

Pima Prickly Park is located at 3500 West River Road next to the offices of the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department.

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  1. I love the wide shot that includes the saguaro skeleton. Art works created by nature.

  2. That's a very prickly selection of plants indeed. The beauty of backlit chollas can't be beat.

  3. Talk about a "danger garden", but that's so great it's a volunteer effort. There seems to be a good spirit of volunteerism in Tucson--many well educated retired people putting their time to good use. When we visited the airplane museum there we talked to a volunteer guide and he told us how much fun it was, and how educational.

  4. The red spines of the Ferocactus are beautiful. Imagine they glow when backlit. The park is well named as their occupants are well armed. Obviously a labour of love for the volunteers. Long may the park survive and prosper.


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