Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

A highlight of my trip was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It’s a botanical garden/zoo/aquarium/museum. Really great. Basically, it’s a botanical garden showcasing the different plant communities associated with the Sonoran desert, but it’s combined with a zoo of Sonoran animals, plus a reptile house and a couple of aviaries, plus a great display of the different minerals found in Arizona, plus a new aquarium, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. The aquarium isn’t especially big and takes only about a half an hour to see, but it has some nice salt water tanks with things from the Sea of Cortez and some fresh water tanks with less showy species from the riparian areas of the desert. The zoo has a porcupine, fox, cougar and bighorn sheep, not the most exotic animals I’ve ever seen in a zoo, but still pretty interesting and the garden setting kept away that negative vibe that zoos sometimes collect. It made me wonder why humans ever made zoos and botanical gardens separate in the first place. I was hugely impressed.

The garden has some nice plantings, including ones with desert plants set against concrete walls in that style southwest designers do so well. Tucson, in general, seems to have the native Sonoran plants well integrated into the landscaping, and then the Desert Museum does a good job of taking those plantings to the next level.

Nighttime lows were in the teens when I went to the Desert Museum, so plants from areas to the south were bundled with various things to protect them from the cold. I always find improvised frost protection kind of charming. The styrofoam cups on the cactus make it look like the garden had hosted a frat party.

The garden has a few Boojum trees, including one tall specimen. I would love to see the Boojum forests down in Baja. Anita and I were just a little too far south when we were down there a couple of years ago. Going back to see them is just about the highest thing on my horticultural ‘to do list’.

Palo Brea, Parkinsonia praecox, was a new one for me. Really beautiful. The garden also has beautiful Palo Verde, Palo Blanco, and Ironwood specimens, including a semi-circle of Ironwoods as shade trees for a patio.

Has anyone seen a Palo Blanco growing in the Bay Area? I don’t think I have, but it seems as though it should be possible to grow one out in Contra Costa.

These photos just scratch the surface. It’s one of the best botanical gardens I’ve ever visited. Really great, highly recommended.

One Response to “Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum”

  1. February 18th, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    James says:

    When I visited there I was going only because that’s what you do when visiting the area. But man, it knocked my socks off. Great place.

    Love your frat party comment. Pretty doofie looking cactus for sure. I never though about how the plants get placed against walls. It would make sense for cold-tender plants, but I wonder if all that reflected heat gets to be a problem 8 months of the year.

    The boojum forest is on my life list too. Richard Misrach did some night photography in the 70s in baja, including a few great portratis of boojums. But really, I don’t think there’s a way mess up a picture of a great plant.

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