The Blooming Desert

Exploring off trail at Saguaro National Park West

One of my favorite things to do is wander the Sonoran Desert checking out all the plant life. There is so much growing in the deserts of Southern Arizona that it is truly a feast for the eyes. This is the kind of place that you have to constantly watch your feet when you walk because things are sharp here! A few times I have pulled a small cactus spine out of my foot that found its way into my shoe and dislodged pieces of cholla cactus that hitched a ride on my pant leg. Although I should stay on the trails, I can’t help but wander off to see an interesting cactus, bush or tree. Enjoying nature for me means getting right into the middle of it (often to my driver’s amusement). In the photo above it almost looks like I am sitting on a cactus!

Strawberry Hedgehog

Exploring the Sonoran Desert at the end of March and early April was the perfect time for spring bloom. I thought I would share some of the beauties we found on our wanderings. The hedgehog cactus was the most colorful and eye catching with bright violet or pink blooms clustered on top. This one was particularly vibrant. One hedgehog called the claret cup is a beautiful reddish color.

Claret Cup Hedgehog

The ocotillo puts on a lovely show with orange/red flames at the tip of its long spiny stems. Since arriving in Tucson, we have watched the flowers change from a dull pale color to a more vibrant one toward mid April.

Blooming Ocotillo at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Below is a close up of another ocotillo. This is one of the more unusual and less attractive desert plants as throughout the year the stems can be bare of leaves. I sometimes think they just look like a bunch of long sticks jutting from the ground. Then after winter rains, small green leaves start forming on the stems. During hot weather droughts the plant loses its leaves until the monsoon rains come in the later summer and new leaves form once again. With its stems a leafy green and red flowers bursting from the tips, the ocotillo transforms into one of the more attractive desert plants.

Ocotillo in bloom at Saguaro National Park West

The brittlebush is one of the more common blooms we have seen growing in profusion along the roadways in both the East and West sections of Saguaro National Park. We have seen masses growing on most of our walks; they are a bright ray of sunshine in the desert.

Brittlebush at Saguaro National Park East
Brittlebush at Saguaro National Park East

Speaking of yellow, one of my favorite desert wildflowers is the desert marigold which has such pretty, showy flowers that grow in clumps.

Desert Marigold at Saguaro National Park West
Desert Marigold at Saguaro National Park West

While staying in Tucson I was hoping to see saguaro cactus blooming. But I found out they usually don’t start until closer to the end of April or first part of May which would be after we planned to leave the area. As we drove around I could see buds forming on some of these cactuses, signaling flowers to come including a few saguaros near our RV site. So, I was pleased when we took our last drive in Saguaro National Park a few days ago and off one of the scenic roads saw two saguaros just beginning to flower.

Saguaro flowers bloom for only 24 hours, opening at night and blooming through the next day. They have only that short time frame to be pollinated by bats, bees or birds so they can produce fruit. The fruit has a juicy red pulp which can contain up to 2,000 small seeds! It is enjoyed by a number of desert birds and animals. The Tohono O’odham Indians have been harvesting the fruit for a long time. It is also the state flower of Arizona.

Saguaro cactus beginning to bloom

Sometimes a landscape can be so lovely in person, but the camera just doesn’t catch the beauty of what you see with your eye. That’s how I felt when we were taking a walk on one of the trails in Catalina State Park outside of Tucson. I found some of the hillsides covered with lupine flowers with a backdrop of the Catalina mountains. The late afternoon light seemed to fade the color from the lupine in the photos. Of those photos, I liked this one the best of lupine surrounding a barrel cactus.

Lupine at Catalina State Park

On several of our outings I kept seeing this bush covered with fluffy looking pink flowers. I couldn’t figure out what it was called until I visited the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum and saw a sign identifying the plant as a “fairy duster.” It seems like an apt name for these delicate, airy looking flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Fairy Duster

Yucca flowers were also in bloom. The bell shaped flowers are large and I just learned they are edible. In fact, I found several recipes posted on the internet for frying the flowers in a tempura batter. I would definitely try them if I ever get a chance in the future.

Blooming Yucca

I hope you enjoyed these desert blooms and will get to enjoy some spring weather wherever you are.

Hedgehog Blooms, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Owl’s clover and poppies at Catalina State Park

3 thoughts on “The Blooming Desert”

  1. Absolutely stunning shots. I agree on the lupine picture, really amazing shot. So beautiful. I have to go one day!

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