Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Posts Tagged ‘cactus’

Saguaro NP and Organ Pipe Cactus NM

I got back from my road trip a little while ago. It was great. Much colder than I expected, but Anita says it was also cold around here. I started in the Tucson area, visiting a friend and doing a little bit of climbing. I spent a couple of days hiking at the lower elevation parts of Saguaro, a couple more hiking at higher elevations in the Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, and one day hiking in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour south. I also went to Kartchner Caverns and Colossal Cave State Park, and spent a day at the Sonora Desert Museum. The Desert Museum was great; I went to several botanical gardens on the trip, but I’ll put those photos in separate posts. These photos are all from Saguaro and Organ Pipe.

It was my first time in that part of Arizona. I found there was a lot of overlap with plants I knew from Baja or Southern California, but with subtle differences. I hadn’t seen saguaros before, just Cardons, the Baja equivalent. I like the saguaro skeletons almost as much as the living ones. I was surprised at how many of the plants I recognized when I went up to higher elevations, to the grass and oak woodlands. There was an Arizona version of sycamore, rhamnus, rhus, and madrone, and more species of scrubby oaks than I could keep track of.

The Ocotillos were my favorite plant there. I know them from when I went to school in San Diego and would hike in Anza Borrego State Park. I think they’re the first desert plant that I ever loved.


After Saguaro and the other Tucson parks, I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the border with Mexico. It has a lot of the same species as Saguaro, but it’s also the one part of the US where Organ Pipe Cactus and Senita Cactus make it up across the border. It might sound strange to call the desert lush, but the area where I camped, Alamo Campground, was noticeably more lush than where I hiked in Saguaro, with more foliage on the plants and a lime-green cast to to the silver-leaved foliage. It was also the one place in Arizona where I saw leaves on some of the ocotillos. It could be because the soil was redder, with more iron in it, or maybe the area had received a little more rainfall. The weather had warmed up after the cold snap in Tucson, so it felt almost tropical.

I hadn’t thought too much about Organ Pipe being on the border, but in the past decade the park has had a lot of problems with drug traffickers. There doesn’t seem to be as much trouble now, but that’s because just about every third person or vehicle in the park is Border Patrol. There are a couple of checkpoints just outside the park and one guy came around to my campsite and spent some time questioning me about what I was doing in the area and what was in my truck and so forth. And while I was hiking I found a stash of about forty empty water bottles that were obviously used either by drug runners or undocumented immigrant groups, so there is obviously still activity. At first I was happy to be the only one at the little campground, but by the time I left I had much less confidence in my solitude. Rather different from my usual national park experience.

While the Border Patrol guy was filling out his report on me, I made a sketch of his truck.

It’s one of the prettiest little patches of desert I’ve ever visited, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. The photo above is pretty representative. It’s best if you click to see it larger.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden — Summerized

Here are the rest of my Ruth Bancroft Garden photos, mostly from my second visit to the garden, after the cold frames were taken down. Most of the plants outside of the cold frames are fairly common in Bay Area dry gardens these days, but I didn’t know a lot of the cactus species that had been under the frames. It was definitely worth the second visit to see them out of their plastic winter wrappers.

This photo and the next three are plants that don’t need winter protection in the Walnut Creek, so they were outside of the cold frames my first visit.

Even without the frames, there’s still a funky desert aesthetic created by some of the homemade staking.

The garden has some cool big yuccas.

This tree aloe was in the cold frame on stilts. Someone told me that in a single year they once lost 5 or 6 tons of aloes from a frost, hauling away whole dumpster loads of them.

NY Times and SF Gate did articles with photos of Ruth Bancroft and the garden when she turned 100 last year.

— The San Jose Mercury News has an article about some new work going on at the garden, with photos of the garden throughout the years.

The Succulents of Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado with Elephant Tree

Cerro Colorado in the distance with Volcan las Tres Virgenes beyond it

I mentioned that we started bicycling from San Ignacio, an oasis town about half way down the Baja peninsula. Before we started riding, we spent a few days exploring the desert and checking out the plants there, and especially checking out the succulents on Cerro Colorado, a volcanic hill a few kilometers from town.

Various Succulent Plants

Closer to the hill

If you’re interested in succulents, Cerro Colorado is the place. The Center for Sonoran Desert Studies/Desert Museum did a survey and found 44 unique species, which they claim is the highest number of succulent species of any spot in the southwestern U.S. Would that then make it the highest number of any spot in the world? I don’t know, but there’s a ton of succulents there, regardless. Anita and I did our own personal survey and identified 19, which we’ll obviously have to improve before we can start leading botanical bicycle tours of Baja (now accepting reservations for winter 2031). Looking at the species list for the hill, I see that it broadly defines a succulent as just about any plant that has tissue designed for storing water. The list includes a couple of Asclepias species and a bunch of caudiciform shrubs and vines: cucumber relatives, shrubby euphorbias, a wild fig, and two species of elephant trees (Bursera). Some of those are plants I wouldn’t have considered succulents, but then I’m not a botanist, and with 24 species of cactus, it’s not exactly lacking in conventional succo’s.

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Cardon Cactuses


Cardon Forest

More Cardones

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus

I think these are two different species of barrel cactus. I lost track of all the chollas. We could tell there were several different types, but the desert museum lists eight, including hybrids. A couple were jumpers.

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Fouquieria trunk with Cardon Trunk

Fouquieria Trunk with Cardon Trunk

Adams Tree, Fouquieria diguetii and Cardon Cactus, Pachycereus pringlei

Fouquieria Trunk with Organ Pipe

Agave cerulata subcerulata

Agave cerulata subcerulata

It’s probably the spiniest place I’ve ever been, but plants are spaced far enough apart that we could make our way through it as long as we occasionally pulled spiny branches out of our way. I found that walking with all those spines everywhere kept my attention always focused on my immediate area and each plant immediately in front of me, so that I was constantly looking up to discover yet another awesome specimen in front of me, over and over and over.

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant trees get the nod as my favorite plant down there. Has anyone seen or grown one in the Bay Area?

Bursera hindsiana, Red Elephant Tree Trunk

Red Elephant Tree, Bursera hindsiana

This is probably the best trunk I saw on a Red Elephant Tree while I was down there.

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata, in the Euphorbia family

There were two kinds of Jatropha. The other one, J. cinerea, looks a lot like the mexican redbud, but with somewhat swollen-looking branches and twigs.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

The hill had great palo verdes. They aren’t a succulent, but they have chlorophyl and photosynthesize on their wood, which seems like justification for getting in with the succulent photos.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado from the bridge near San Ignacio

Cactus Incognito


Hello Neighbor!

For three years, there’s been a fifteen foot tall cactus in our neighbor’s yard, six feet away from our back door, but Anita and I never noticed until it bloomed. To be fair, most of the plant is behind a garden shed and fence, and we have to stand in rather contorted positions to view or photograph it, but I would have expected us to notice it before now. Though, this is a phenomenon I’ve observed before; some plants just are low-profile until they bloom. Hellebores, for instance, usually manage to stay below the radar and avoid detection until they finally bloom. I didn’t expect the same thing to happen with a fifteen foot tall cactus.

the view through our fence

the view through our fence