Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Tucson Botanical Gardens

The problem with visiting a botanical garden a second time is that you run the risk of having it not measure up to your memories. The bar was set pretty high for this one; after all when I first visited I hadn’t yet been to the Huntington Botanical Gardens, The Berkeley Botanical Gardens, or Lotusland. And it had been a couple of years since I’d visited the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I remember being in heaven. That first visit was in late July, 2008. It was a beautiful sunny day as I drove across town toward the garden, on the way I crossed a couple of busy intersections with small rivers of water gushing across the street. Odd, I thought. Had a fire hydrant been hit in an accident up the road? How careless! This is the desert…they really should cap that off faster! On to the garden I went. As I walked through the garden the sky started to turn dark, little lizards were running back and forth across the path, things were getting spooky. That’s when it hit me, it was a monsoon! I had about 1 minute to run to shelter before the sky opened...not an easy thing to do in an open desert garden. I found a small structure and I huddled there for what seemed like an hour with 7 or 8 others. We watched the powerful rain fall from the sky and rivers form all around us. I wondered who would be the first to dare to run for it. I didn’t know it at the time but I had seen most of the garden, it was a short run back to the gift shop, or parking lot. I was one of the last to go, my flip flops were sponges and worthless by the time I entered the gift shop. My problem was that I needed to get back across town to pick up my husband, and we were due in Phoenix for dinner…time was not on my side. I asked for their assistance in outlining the best route for me to take. I should also note that my only other visit to Tucson was a couple of years earlier in the company of my brother, a Civil Engineer. Civil Engineers find humor in things like road signs in the desert advising you not to enter the intersection in the event of a flood. I was VERY aware of the danger. Over the years my brother had reported several stories of stupid tourists being washed away in a flash flood. Stupid tourists pay for their rescue (and I imagine stupid tourists in rental cars pay for the damage to their rental car too!). I did not want to be a stupid tourist. I took it slow and safe, I watched others drive into virtual lakes and become stranded; I took the long route and got there safe. So really with all of that previous drama how could this visit hope to compare? It couldn’t, but still enjoyed the plants! Plus this time my husband was there with me.

Nolina matapensis, Tree Beargrass, from Sonora, Mexico Phoenix dactylifera, The Date Palm, from Northern Africa and Asia The Cactus and Succulent Garden Stenocereus thurberi, Organ Pipe Cactus, from the Sonoran Desert Dasylirion longissimum, Mexican Grass Tree, from NE Mexico Cylindropuntia bigelovii, Teddy Bear Cholla Agave victoriae reginae, Queen Victoria Agave Nolina nelsoni, from NE Mexico Agave vilmoriniana, Octopus Agave, Mexico Agave rustica, from unknown artist It's only a guess but I think this is a Yucca thompsoniana, or Thompson’s Yucca Agave scabra, Sharkskin Agave, from the Chihuahuan Desert (actually I believe the Sharkskin is a hybrid of Agave scabra and Agave ferdinandi-regis) Ocotillio fence Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis, Cow’s tongue Opuntia Can you see the tall arching bloom-spike? It’s from the Agave lophantha barely visable in the lower right. I believe this is an Agave ovatifolia, or Whale’s tongue Agave Aloe peglerae, from South Africa Aloe vanbalenii, from South Africa We hope to someday do a water catchment system like this for the rain that falls on the shade pavilion roof. The "plants" on the left are actually metal sculpture. Hesperaloe funifera, Coahuilan Hesperaloe, from Mexico The Tucson Botanical Gardens opened in 1975 and is the combination of the land of Mrs. Bernice Porter (who was looking for a way to preserve her house and gardens) and the vision of members of a nonprofit group that had its roots in a garden formed in 1964 by Harrison G. Yocum, a horticulturist and collector.

To end our visit here are a couple of trees that caught my eye, first Sophora secundiflora, the Mescal bean from Texas and N Mexico….love it! Ebenopsis ebano, Texas ebony, from S Texas and E Mexico Pittosporum phillyraeoides, Willow Pittosporum, from Australia And lastly the Araucaria bidwillii, or Monkey Puzzle tree from Australia. Which looks nothing like the Araucaria araucana, which is what I’m used to hearing called a Monkey Puzzle tree. This is why common names can lead to confusion…


  1. simply stunning! I hope one day my agave ovatifolia looks like that one!

  2. Another beautiful desert garden. I love that (presumed) Agave gives my small one from Fry Road Nursery something to aspire to. I had to laugh at the picture you painted of yourself in your sodden flip flops making a break for the gift shop. Why do those of us from Rainland have such a fixed idea of it always being dry and sunny in the southwest desert? I'm guilty, too!

  3. Nice pictures. We had so much repair to do in the gardens this year after our freeze. Looks like you got to see some of the new plantings of cacti and agave:) Glad your visit was less exciting:) This year a man was washed away by the sudden rains. His body was found 3 days later. He was just going on a walk like most of us do, but the water were sudden and he had nowhere to run! You'd be surprised how many people drive thru flooded washes. There are parents in a rush to get home with their kids who don't use their heads. Their vehicle gets stranded and so do their kids.....very dangerous stuff. It should be called the "The Stupid Parent's Law"

  4. Not that I care much about such nasty, spiky plants.....but my guess is your Sharkskin Agave / A. v.r. X A. f.r. is that, not Agave scabra, as the latter is curvaceous. The one you say is Whale's Tongue / A. ovatifolia looks somewhat like Big Bend Agave / A. havardiana...but maybe not?

    Anyway, great pics to the one remaining botanical garden there I must visit! And with "whale" and "shark" in their names, that means they may be a natural in a seafaring place like PORTland OR.

  5. Thanks for sharing those pictures.

    That kind of garden is so alien to what I see around here. I guess that the world is a big, old place with lots of different climates supporting lots of different kinds of plants.

    I am still undecided what is favourite kind of spikie plant. I have always had a thing for Nolina and Beaucarnea, but I also have a soft spot for Agave and Yucca because I can actually grow some some of them outside here!

    Your photos have just confused me even more about my favourite type, ha, ha!

  6. I'm loving the metal sculpture plants...and talk about low maintenance!

  7. This looks like a garden worth visiting ! Nice tour Loree..

  8. love the perf. steel Agave and cistern!!

  9. Louis, me too! (mine, and yours)

    MulchMaid, during this last visit my nephews little league game was called off because of lightening. We had nothing but blue sunny skies our entire 2-week vacation except for that night. The storm came out of nowhere and lit up the sky. Where we were maybe 3 drops of rain fell but a mile or two away where we went for dinner it had really poured. Such a different rain experience from here!

    Roherbot, I had forgotten you were in Tucson! (I just now put your blog in my goggle reader so I can keep in touch with your goings on). You say "we" do you work at this garden too?

    DD, I was thinking the same thing about their names...not at all desert-y! You should plan a visit, fun place...and thanks for the alternate i.d.'s...research time!

    Adam, no need to choose! You wouldn't make a parent pick their favorite child would you? Just go with "all spiky plants"...

    ricki, with our cold winter rains they'd be perfect right?

    ks, thank you!

    Lauren, with your metal work capabilities perhaps we need to talk! I need a perforated metal agave for my garden! ( art, yikes!)

  10. I'm overcome with plant lust!
    Have been in the process of planning a winter getaway to Tucson so your gorgeous photos are particularly enticing - have added the Botanical Garden to on my itinerary. Lately it's desert flora that I find most compelling, along with So. African & Aussie low-water plants.
    Have you been to Tohono Chul Park in Tucson? It's a tip someone just passed along. I'm anxious to see it and do some hiking, too.
    Now I've got to 'refresh' so I can tag along on your visit to the Chinese Garden... I'll never make it to PDX at this time of year. Your visit must suffice;-]

  11. What a fascinating garden and great photos. Particularly intrigued by the Tree Beargrass. The Sophora Secudiflora is even more amazing when in bloom.

  12. Nice bot garden. An ocotillo fence is one of those things I've always wanted to put in a design, but can't unless someone hires me to do a garden in their range. Sigh. I like that Nolina a lot too.

  13. Thank you for naming your plants. I cannot post an image if I don't know it's name. I want to know what to call it as well as admire. I can use your information/names to identify images I find on the Internet.

  14. Thanks for finally writing about >"The Tucson Botanical Gardens" <Loved it!


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