Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit The Desert exhibit at the NC Zoo displays plants and animals superbly adapted to this fascinating environment. Th...
Author: Suzanna Floyd
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Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

The Desert exhibit at the NC Zoo displays plants and animals superbly adapted to this fascinating environment. The word desert makes one think of intense heat and sand, but deserts are richly diverse environments. These plants have many different adaptions to this harsh environment. Tall, columnar Saguaro cactuses are commonly associated with the Sonoran Desert, but many other species of cactus grow there; such as Organ Pipe, Barrel and Cholla cactuses. Gila woodpeckers, owls and many reptiles find protection among cactus spines. These long spines help shade cactuses from intense summer heat, while helping channel rainwater down to the roots. Most cactuses have root systems close to the soil surface so they absorb rainfall immediately. Most trees and shrubs have smaller leaves which help conserve water. During extreme drought, leaves and smaller limbs may drop, as seen with the Palo Verde and Creosote Bush. Even well rooted plants may look dead most of the year in order to conserve as much water as possible. Other plants have adapted their color to help conserve water. Both the Brittlebush and the Desert Mallow have lighter colored leaves, which reflect the sun’s heat. The Sonoran Desert is crossed by many rivers and receives around 10 inches of rain a year, more than any other desert in the world. This makes it the most lush and biologically abundant desert in the world.

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

Plant Guide Key 1. Chocolate Flower - Berlandiera lyrata 2. Arizona Yellowbells - Tecoma stans 3. Mescal Bean - Sophora secundiflora 4. Turpentine Tree - Bursera simaruba 5. Anacacho Orchid Tree - Bauhinia lunarioides 6. Feather Bush - Lysiloma watsonii 7. Fishhook Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus wislizeni 8. Creosote - Larrea tridentata 9. Banana Yucca - Yucca baccata 10. Mexican Boulder - Calibanus hookeri 11. Creeping Devil - Stenocereus eruca 12. Velvet Mesquite - Prosopis velutina 13. Queen Agave - Agave victoriae-reginae 14. Mescal Agave - Agave parryi 15. Pachycereus - Pachycereus pringlei 16. Cow Horn Agave - Agave bovicornuta 17. Hoary Yucca - Yucca x schottii 18. Organ Pipe Cactus - Stenocereus thurberi 19. Purple Threeawn - Aristida purpurea 20. Ocotillo - Fouquieria splendens 21. Prickly Pear - Opuntia phaeacantha 22. Mormon Tea - Ephedra nevadensis 23. Globe Berry - Ibervillea tenuisecta 24. Desert Globe Mallow - Sphaeralcea ambigua 25. Fourwing Saltbush - Atriplex canescens 26. Fire Barrel - Ferocactus cylindraceus 27. Boojum Tree - Fouquieria columnaris 28. Barrel Cactus - Ferocactus hamatacanthus 29. Whitethorn Acacia - Vachellia constricta 30. Desert Spoon - Dasylirion wheeleri 31. Totem Pole Cactus - Pachycereus schottii f. monstrosus 32. Claretcup Hedgehog - Echinocereus triglochidiatus 33. Blue Bear Grass - Nolina nelsonii 34. Crested Golden Barrel - Echinocactus grusonii f. cristata 35. Senita - Pachycereus schottii

36. Porcupine Hedgehog - Echinocereus stramineus 37. Utah Agave - Agave utahensis 38. Saguaro - Carnegiea gigantea 39. Grahams Nipple Cactus - Mammillaria grahamii 40. Turks Head - Echinocactus horizonthalonius 41. Desert Broom - Baccharis sarothroides 42. Jojoba - Simmondsia chinensis 43. Arizona Agave - Agave × arizonica 44. Snapdragon Vine - Maurandya antirrhiniflora 45. Paperflower - Psilostrophe cooperi 46. Brittlebush - Encelia farinosa 47. Wolfberry - Lycium andersonii 48. Elephant Tree - Bursera microphylla 49. Jumping Cholla - Cylindropuntia fulgida 50. Diamond Cholla - Cylindropuntia ramosissima 51. Teddybear Cholla - Cylindropuntia bigelovii 52. False Peyote - Ariocarpus fissuratus 53. Thompson's Yucca - Yucca thompsoniana 54. Wrights Bee Bush - Aloysia wrightii 55. Indigo Bush - Dalea greggii 56. Murphey Agave - Agave murpheyi 57. Fairy Duster - Calliandra eriophylla 58. Plumbago - Plumbago zeylanica 59. Dogweed - Thymophylla pentachaeta 60. Hummingbird Trumpet - Zauschneria latifolia 61. Purple Prickly Pear - Opuntia macrocentra 62. Desert Honeysuckle - Justicia spicigera 63. Blue Palo Verde - Parkinsonia florida 64. Turpentine Bush - Ericameria laricifolia 65. Baja Fairy Duster - Calliandra californica 66. Joshua Tree - Yucca brevifolia 67. Coral Tree - Erythrina flabelliformis 68. Lobelia - Lobelia laxiflora 69. Crimson Monkey Flower - Mimulus cardinalis 70. Southern Maidenhair Fern - Adiantum capillus-veneri

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

1. CHOCOLATE FLOWER Berlandiera lyrata Family: Asteraceae Origin: Texas, SE Arizona, northern Mexico Non-edible candy This native perennial forms an open rosette and reseeds readily. During flowering, it is covered with small yellow daisy-like flowers which have the unmistakable smell of chocolate, thus the common name. The Native Americans call it green-eyes referring to the small green buds before they open to yellow flowers.

2. ARIZONA YELLOWBELLS Tecoma stans Family: Bignoniaceae Origin: Southwest US, Mexico and south into Argentina Trumpets in the desert The Arizona Yellowbell is a small evergreen shrub that blooms nearly year round in areas which never receive frost; and can be seen from a great distance in the desert. This plant was used by Native Americans for bow making, bee fodder and various diuretic medicines. The roots of the Yellowbell were brewed for a sort of beer. The slightly fragrant trumpet or bell shaped blooms have made this plant a popular house plant.

3. MESCAL BEAN Sophora secundiflora Family: Fabaceae Origin: Texas, New Mexico, northern Mexico Grape soda-scented Mescal Bean is a slow growing, large evergreen shrub that prefers rocky limestone soil. In the spring, it forms showy clusters of purple flowers that are highly fragrant and have been said to favor grape soda. Native people valued the brilliant (yet poisonous) red seeds for ornamental and ceremonial use.

4. TURPENTINE TREE Bursera simaruba Family: Burseraceae Origin: South Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean, Yucatan peninsula, Central America, and western South America The sunburned tree The Turpentine Tree looks as though it is sunburned due to its red, peeling bark. The bark is semi-transparent and enables the tree to photosynthesize during dry periods. This is one of the most flexible and adaptable trees in the world. It is found in southern Florida, Mexico and the West Indies to northern South America. In each habitat, it varies from being a weed, to a living fence, to a street tree and as welcomed shade in the desert. 5

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

5. ANACACHO ORCHID TREE Bauhinia lunarioides syn. Bauhinia congesta Family: Fabaceae Origin: Texas, Mexico Orchid-like flowering tree A small tree that is native to only a few areas in Texas and Mexico. It produces fragrant white to pink orchid-like flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

6. FEATHER BUSH Lysiloma watsonii syn. Lysiloma microphyllum var. thornberi Family: Fabaceae Origin: Arizona, Mexico White Puffball Tree This small, multi-trunk tree provides shelter for many birds and is a food source for butterfly larva. The Feather Bush produces small, white to cream-colored, puffball-like flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

7. FISHHOOK BARREL CACTUS Ferocactus wislizeni Family: Cactaceae Origin: Southern Arizona Cactus pointers This cactus gets its name from both its spines and its shape. The thick, hook shaped spines were used by native people for fishing. Massive stems of this plant stand anywhere from six inches to six feet tall when mature. The shaded side of the cactus (which is usually the north) grows faster than the exposed side. Thus, the cactus often leans or points south, earning it the local name “compass cactus”.

8. CREOSOTE Larrea tridentata Family: Zygophyllaceae Origin: Southern Arizona A bush by any other name would still smell Creosote bush is one of the most common plant species found in North America deserts. Its leaves have a shiny coating that reflects sunlight. This helps keep the plant from losing water from evaporation. The Creosote bush gets its name from the strong smell it gives off after a rain. In Spanish, the Cresosote bush is called hediondilla; which means “little stinker.” 6

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

9. BANANA YUCCA Yucca baccata Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Southwest US Desert bananas The Banana Yucca (yuck-ka) is called such due to its large fruits which can be four to nine inches long. These fruits were a staple food for many Native American tribes, who consumed them raw, cooked or dried for winter use. In fact, Native Americans consumed most of this plant; young leaves were cooked as flavoring in soups, the flowers were eaten as a sugary treat and flower stems were cooked as a vegetable.

10. MEXICAN BOULDER Calibanus hookeri Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Mexico A Grassy Rock This plant produces a large woody stem or caudex that can get over 2 feet in diameter. Erect bluish-green, grass-like leaves sprout from the top of the caudex and as the leaves mature they begin to arch. It sometimes looks like a boulder with grass growing on top, hence the common name.

11. CREEPING DEVIL Stenocereus eruca Family: Cactaceae Origin: Mexico, Baja California Groundcover cacti These plants begin life growing upright and columnar. But soon they become heavy, fall over and root in. They continue to grow from the tip, creeping across the desert ground as the original plant base slowly dies. The spines on this plant are 1-2 inches long and barbed making it the creeping devil.

12. VELVET MESQUITE Prosopis velutina Family: Fabaceae Origin: Southwest US and Mexico Putting down roots Mesquite (mess-keet) is one of the most common and useful trees in the Sonoran region. It provides shade, shelter, and food for wildlife. Humans eat Mesquite fruits while the wood is important for construction and charcoal. The Mesquite’s roots can go as deep as sixty feet and there is often more wood underground than there is above. 7

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

13. QUEEN AGAVE Agave victoriae-reginae Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Northern Mexico Fit for a queen? This small, slow growing native of northern Mexico, is named for the English Queen Victoria. It is usually found on rocky canyon slopes. This striking solitary plant is armed with a sharp spine at the end of each leaf. It may take as many as 40 years or more before a 10-15 feet bloom stalk forms with green to cream-colored flowers; after which the plant will die. Unfortunately, it has become an endangered species because of collection for commercial use in ornamental trade.

14. MESCAL AGAVE Agave parryi Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico A most useful plant Agave (uh-gah-vay) is a plant that can provide fiber, food, drink, soap, weapons or medicine. These plants may have helped the western Apache to thrive in the Sonora region.

15. PACHYCEREUS Pachycereus pringlei Family: Cactaceae Origin: Northwest Mexico Giant Soil Builder The Pachycereus (pak-ee-KER-ee-us) is the tallest cactus species in the world with the largest recorded height being at 64 ft. This plant has a symbiotic relationship with bacteria which break rock down. These bacteria live in the roots of the Pachycereus and enable its seedlings to take hold on bare rock surfaces. As the plant grows, stone is broken down and turned into soil, enabling other plants to colonize previously inhospitable habitats.

16. COW HORN AGAVE Agave bovicornuta Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Arizona, northern Mexico Eye catching thorns This medium sized plant has bright green leaves with bright red spines along the edge and tip. The common name comes from the curved thorns which look like a bull’s horn. After many years, a large flower stalk is produced, bearing yellow flowers. The plant then dies unlike most agave which produce vegetative offshoots, known as pups, the Cow Horn rarely does. 8

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

17. HOARY YUCCA Yucca x schottii Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Southwest New Mexico, southeast Arizona, and north Mexico Mountainous tree yucca A natural occurring hybrid, the Hoary Yucca can grow as much as 10-15 feet tall with 3 feet long bluish-green leaves. Each leaf has a sharp spine at the tip. The plant produces creamy white flowers on a stalk about 3 feet tall. This yucca’s range extends to much higher altitudes than other tree yuccas.

18. ORGAN PIPE CACTUS Stenocereus thurberi Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, Baja California Stately cacti Organ Pipe is one of the most recognizable plants in the Sonoran Desert. This columnar cactus is the second largest in the U.S. (next to the Saguaro) growing as tall as 23 feet. This cactus grows in a cluster of 5 to 20 slender branches from a central point at ground level, curving gracefully upwards. These water-storing trunks are about 6 inches in diameter and have 12 to 17 deep-green, rounded ribs. The radial spines turn gray with age. This cactus has lavender-white flowers, which bloom at night, May through July. Fruits lose their spines at maturity, opening to display an edible red pulp. Native Americans have used this as a food source for centuries. The pulp can be eaten as is, made into jelly or fermented into a beverage.

19. PURPLE THREEAWN Aristida purpurea Family: Poaceae Origin: California Wet seasons show The Purple Threeawn is a short lived perennial grass which is most noticeable during warm wet periods. It is characterized by fine leaves and very attractive flowers heads that range in colors from green to purple during the rainy season. In undisturbed areas, this is important as forage and cover for small mammals. Native bees use the root structure to build their nest. However, in disturbed areas, this plant can become a nuisance due to how quickly it seeds.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

20. OCOTILLO Fouquieria splendens Family: Fouquieriaceae Origin: Southern Arizona Natural barbed wire Ocotillo (o-ko-TEE-yo) is unique to the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its stems have heavy thorns that make an almost impenetrable barrier. Travel is very difficult across areas where this plant is abundant. Ocotillo plants growing close together make an excellent living fence.

21. PRICKLY PEAR Opuntia phaeacantha Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, Utah, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico Tuna from a cactus? There are several different types of Prickly Pear cactus. They vary greatly in height and spine length. Flower color can range from white to yellow to purple to red. Prickly Pear produces large numbers of red or purplish fruits, called “tunas”. These fruits are a valuable food source for many desert animals and people.

22. MORMON TEA Ephedra nevadensis Family: Ephedraceae Origin: Most of the southwest Green and tea but not green tea Native Americans brewed a beverage from the stems of this plant. Early Mormon settlers likely borrowed this practice giving this plant its common name. The seeds of Mormon Tea can be ground into flour and also used as a coffee-like beverage. Mormon Tea is valued for its green color in a somewhat dull sagebrush environment.

23. GLOBE BERRY Ibervillea tenuisecta Family: Cucurbitaceae Origin: Southwest US, northern Mexico Melons from stones The Globe Berry has a thick root stem that resembles a stone emerging from the ground with a vine growing from it. This is a climbing perennial that produces tiny yellow flowers in the summer. But more noticeable are the red to orange melons that mature in autumn. Unlike its relative, the cucumber, these are not edible.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

24. DESERT GLOBE MALLOW Sphaeralcea ambigua Family: Malvaceae Origin: Southern Arizona and Mexico A spring show This wildflower makes a nice mass along the flats and mountainous uplands of the desert. Most of the dry season it is a clump of dry twigs, but with the rainy season come flowers and new growth. The leaves are fuzzy; grayish green and it is covered in flowers ranging from pink, red, and orange.

25. FOURWING SALTBUSH Atriplex canescens Family: Amaranthaceae Origin: Southwest US Salty leaves The Fourwing Saltbush is a woody shrub that has developed an interesting means to conserve water in the desert environment. Young leaves are covered with scales to prevent water loss, while older leaves have tiny hairs that concentrate and seep salts. When grown in high saline environments, the leaves become completely covered with salt.

26. FIRE BARREL Ferocactus cylindraceus syn. Ferocactus acanthodes

Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, California, northern Mexico Is that barrel burning? This slow growing solitaire cactus will reach up to 8 feet tall. Young plants tend to have deep red spines giving the appearance of a very spiky ribbed barrel that is perhaps on fire. Those red spines will turn lighter after a few decades. The Fire Barrel cactus favors rocky locations, especially the sides of canyons. Blooming occurs on the top of the cactus with yellow flowers.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

27. BOOJUM TREE Fouquieria columnaris Family: Fouquieriaceae Origin: Mexico Desert Carrot This bizarre-looking, very slow growing plant will form a tree-like succulent as much as 60 feet tall and can live over 200 years. It is thick-stemmed and develops a huge, water-storing base that tapers up towards the top and is especially noticeable while young. It has twiggy branches with many sharp spines. It is leafless during dry periods, however; it will grow tiny leaves after a rain. It produces cream-colored flowers that some say smell like honey. It was given the name “Boojum” after Lewis Carroll’s poem,The Hunting of the Snark. In the poem, a very dangerous form of snark is referred to as a “Boojum”. When a hunter comes upon a Boojum they will “softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again”. After encountering our Boojum let’s hope you don’t “vanish” away also! Carroll, Lewis. The Hunting of the Snark. London, MacMillan and Co., 1876

28. BARREL CACTUS Ferocactus hamatacanthus Family: Cactaceae Origin: Southeastern New Mexico, southwestern Texas, northern Mexico A hidden treasure The barrel cactus is most often found in grasslands, which can make it difficult to see unless the plant is in bloom or has maturing fruit. It is characterized by spines that are often longer than the plant is wide and huge yellow flowers that adorn the top of the stem.

29. WHITETHORN ACACIA Vachellia constricta syn. Acacia constricta Family: Fabaceae Origin: New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and northern Mexico Sweet yet sharp The Whitehorn Acacia is called such due to a pair of 2 inch, white, straight spines which occur at the stems of each leaf. This small tree is most noted for its intensely sweet, fragrant flowers which resemble fuzzy yellow to orange balls. 12

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

30. DESERT SPOON Dasylirion wheeleri Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Arizona Many uses for a “spoon” Desert Spoon has strap-like, bluish leaves which resemble stiff grass. Native people make a beverage known as sotol by roasting and fermenting the flower stalks. The tough leaves make good thatching, mats and baskets. The Desert Spoon makes a good ornamental plant that can survive in North Carolina landscapes.

31. TOTEM POLE CACTUS Pachycereus schottii f. monstrosus Family: Cactacea Origin: Baja California Not for pictures This very unusual cactus appears bumpy and lacks spines. This native of Mexico and down into South America, grows in multiple heads which can reach from 6-10 feet. The lack of spines has made this plant endangered in nature, as it has no natural defense against desert animals. However, this has made it very popular in collector gardens, which help to preserve the plant.

32. CLARETCUP HEDGEHOG Echinocereus triglochidiatus Family: Cactaceae Origin: California down to Arizona and Mexico A sticky situation These cacti look soft and fuzzy, but they are not for petting. They are covered in hundreds of spines. They form dense mounds comprised of up to 76 heads depending on age. These heads give rise to scarlet, red, cuplike flowers in spring and summer, which give this plant its common name.

33. BLUE BEAR GRASS Nolina nelsonii Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Mexico Tough grass to mow This plant resembles a large blue grass for many years of its life. However, as it ages, it develops trunks that can make this plant up to 8 feet tall. The leaves are an inch wide and can be up to 3 feet long. These are very flexible but also very sharp due to tiny sharp teeth along the leaf edge. When this plant is mature, it develops 4 foot spikes with thousands of yellow flowers that persists for months. 13

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

34. CRESTED GOLDEN BARREL Echinocactus grusonii f. cristata Family: Cactaceae Origin: Nursery produced Collector cactus This is a most unusual barrel cacti that really catches the eye. It is a mutation of the more common golden barrel. This crested barrel forms a brain-like head that spreads in rows. Some say that it looks like a snake chasing its tail. It is covered all over with light yellow spines and though rare, can have yellow or red flowers along the crest.

35. SENITA Pachycereus schottii Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, northern Mexico and Baja California The bearded cactus The Senita cactus is one of Arizona’s rarest cacti due to its intolerance of frost. Its name is the Spanish word for old. It is called this due to the tufts of dark hair found at the top portion of each stem which resemble an old man’s beard. Unlike other cactus which bloom only at the top of their stems, the Senita flowers the length of its stem.

36. PORCUPINE HEDGEHOG Echinocereus stramineus Family: Cactacea Origin: Arizona, New Mexico, Mexico A sticky situation This low growing cactus is found in a variety of locations including flats and rocky outcroppings. It can form mounding colonies made up of many heads; each being 4-10 inches tall and covered with spines. The showy flowers range in color from pink to red during warmer months.

37. UTAH AGAVE Agave utahensis Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Southwestern United States Striking flower spike This blue-green agave has sharply, spined leaves. It produces yellowish flowers on an impressive flower spike that can reach up to 12 feet. Native American’s used this plant for food and fiber. 14

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

38. SAGUARO Carnegiea gigantea Family: Cactaceae Origin: Southern Arizona Nature’s water tower Saguaro (sa-WAH-ro) are huge tree-like cacti found only in the Sonora Desert. They may reach 40-60 feet tall and live over a hundred years. White flowers bloom in the spring but only open at night. The Saguaro is pleated, and these expand with water after a rain. The pleats contract as the cactus uses the stored water during dry periods.

39. GRAHAMS NIPPLE CACTUS Mammillaria grahamii Family: Cactaceae Origin: Northern Mexico, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas Who needs a friend? Grahams Nipple Cactus is a small plant which is quite easy to overlook in the desert. It has adapted to protect itself from the harsh sun, frost and trampling by hiding under a nurse plant; such as the Creosote bush. After the summer rains, the cactus is encircled with purple blooms that last for five short days.

40. TURKS HEAD Echinocactus horizonthalonius Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, New Mexico, northern Mexico Living rock These plants are short and wide, typically just 6 inches tall but up to 12 inches wide. They are a dull, greenish grey color, resembling a rock. The spines are downward curving like a hook, but they do not completely cover the surface. This is perhaps one of the most spectacular flowers found in the desert. They are found on the very top center of the cactus, showy and pink while appearing throughout the summer months.

41. DESERT BROOM Baccharis sarothroides Family: Asteraceae Origin: Southwestern United States & northwestern Mexico Household sweeper Desert Broom is a relatively fast growing twiggy shrub with small leaves that can grow to a height and spread of 10 feet. It is a dioecious plant, having male and female flowers on separate plants. The creamy-white female flowers are attractive; however; the male flowers are not so much. Native American’s used this plant medicinally and made brooms out of its stems hence the common name. Some consider it a weed for it germinates easily in disturbed areas and is difficult to remove once established. 15

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

42. JOJOBA Simmondsia chinensis Family: Simmondsiaceae Origin: Southern Arizona, Sonora Wax fruit? The fruit of the Jojoba (ho-ho-ba) is about fifty percent liquid wax. This substance is quite useful as it does not wear out easily. Jojoba “oil” goes into a variety of products like cosmetics, cooking oils, car wax and lubricants. The pressed fruit is useful as livestock feed.

43. ARIZONA AGAVE Agave × arizonica Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Arizona Threatened hybrid This very, slow growing agave is a small rare hybrid native to Arizona. Its leaves have a dark mahogany-brown margin or edge. The flowers are yellow. It is threatened by illegal collection and cattle grazing.

44. SNAPDRAGON VINE Maurandya antirrhiniflora Family: Plantaginaceae Origin: Texas and California A hummingbird beacon This perennial vine is characterized by arrowhead-shaped leaves and purple, yellow throated snapdragon-like flowers. These flowers are a favorite for desert hummingbirds. You will find this vine growing under trees in washes or twining through shrubs in the uplands.

45. PAPERFLOWER Psilostrophe cooperi Family: Asteraceae Origin: Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico Perennial paper The Paperflower is a showy little perennial that is covered in yellow rays of flowers. It is called the Paperflower because the flowers persist after being pollinated and turn tannish-yellow while resembling paper. 16

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

46. BRITTLEBUSH Encelia farinosa Family: Asteraceae Origin: Southern Arizona A store of goods Leaves on this shrub are covered with soft white hairs which help it cope with desert life; the more arid the conditions, the smaller and whiter the leaves produced. Stems have an aromatic gum that people chew or use for incense. Native Americans heated the resin and used it as a glue. And in the old days cowboys used brittlebush stems as toothbrushes.

47. WOLFBERRY Lycium andersonii Family: Solanaceae Origin: Western US and northern Mexico Desert Tomatoes The Wolfberry is a spiny shrub, with blue green, hairy leaves which are a backdrop to lovely lavender blossoms in the spring. Orange-red berries are produced in the summer which resemble tiny tomatoes and are a favorite food for Hummingbirds, Chukars and Quail.

48. ELEPHANT TREE Bursera microphylla Family: Burseraceae Origin: Southwestern Arizona, northern Mexico A desert plant fit for bonsai This tree has a nice shape with striped bark. It gets the common name from the short stout trunk which grows slowly over many years. It will eventually make a six to eight foot tall tree with an interesting branching pattern and nice tiny leaves.

49. JUMPING CHOLLA Cylindropuntia fulgida syn. Opuntia fulgida Family: Cactaceae Origin: South Arizona and northwest Mexico Attack Cactus! The Jumping Cholla (choy-ah) is characterized by extremely spiny, segmented branches. These barbed spines are painful and extremely difficult to remove. Due to its segmented branching habit, this cholla separates easily. Some say that it appears to jump out and attack passersby. Despite the spines, this is a favorite source of food and water for cattle and deer. 17

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

50. DIAMOND CHOLLA Cylindropuntia ramosissima syn. Opuntia amosissima Family: Cactaceae Origin: Arizona, California, Nevada and northern Mexico Diamonds in the desert The Diamond Cholla (choy-ah) is grey-green with yellow flowers and lives in the hottest regions of the Sonoran. It has distinctive diamond-shaped nodes at the base of each spine. All other cholla have smooth surfaces.

51. TEDDYBEAR CHOLLA Cylindropuntia bigelovii syn. Opuntia bigelovii Family: Cactaceae Origin: California, Nevada, and Arizona and NW Mexico Deceiving looks Teddybear Cholla (choy-YA) may look fuzzy and soft but this cactus is far from cuddly. The barbed spines detach easily and stick into the skin of passing animals. Pliers or other tools may be necessary to remove them from human skin. Some desert pack rats place the spines around their burrow entrances as a defense against predators.

52. FALSE PEYOTE Ariocarpus fissuratus Family: Cactaceae Origin: Northern Mexico, Texas, New Mexico A living rock? False Peyote is a slow growing, small spineless cactus that forms a rosette close to the ground with most of the plant, (being its thick taproot), growing beneath the soil surface. The plant will shrink during dry periods and become even less noticeable. Usually they are overlooked until they produce their bright pink flowers. They are also known as “Living Rock Cactus”.

53. THOMPSON'S YUCCA Yucca thompsoniana syn. Yucca rostrata Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Texas, Mexico One cool blue yucca The Thompson’s Yucca is a slow growing, tree-like plant reaching to about 10-12 feet tall with narrow grey-blue foliage. It produces large attractive spikes of white flowers.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

54. WRIGHTS BEE BUSH Aloysia wrightii Family: Verbenaceae Origin: Southwestern US and northern Mexico A taste of the Sonoran Wrights Bee Bush blooms white throughout the warm season. Its fragrant flowers attract butterflies from April into October and its nectar is an invaluable food source for native bees. This plant is also very flavorful to people, as its hairy leaves have the taste of oregano.

55. INDIGO BUSH Dalea greggii Family: Fabaceae Origin: Southwestern US and northern Mexico The soil holder The Indigo Bush is actually a groundcover that grows six to twelve inches tall and roots to the ground by long trailing stems. It has attractive purple flowers only noticeable up close, which attract butterflies. It is currently being cultivated as a native plant to control erosion and aid in soil stabilization.

56. MURPHEY AGAVE Agave murpheyi Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Arizona Cultural footprints The Murphy Agave was cultivated by Native Americans as a source of food and fiber. This plant is typically found around archeological sites, on rock piles, which keep roots dry and free from rodents. Even today in the Sonora, there are no “natural” or “wild” occurrences of this plant, though many have dug pups from these agaves and planted in their yards.

57. FAIRY DUSTER Calliandra eriophylla Family: Fabaceae Origin: Southern Arizona, northern Mexico A seasonal show Fairy Duster is a small inconspicuous shrub for most of the year. In spring the plant makes a showy transformation when it blooms. The fluffy flowers provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds; while quail eat the seeds.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

58. PLUMBAGO Plumbago zeylanica syn. Plumbago scandens Family: Plumbaginaceae Origin: Arizona, Texas, southern California and New Mexico Nectar day and night This Plumbago is a woody, vine-like, evergreen groundcover with white, star-like flowers and long sticky seed pods. While the flowers are not very showy for people, they are very attractive to butterflies and moths. The leaves of this plant are an important habitat for moth larvae.

59. DOGWEED Thymophylla pentachaeta syn. Dyssodia pentachaeta Family: Asteraceae Origin: New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico A smell like no other The Dogweed is a desert annual which appears during the wet season. Its blooms are golden-yellow and daisy-like. These are a favorite for butterflies. However, most people find the strong, lingering odor of the flowers to be unpleasant, hence the name Dogweed.

60. HUMMINGBIRD TRUMPET Zauschneria latifolia Family: Onagraceae Origin: California Fall feeding The Hummingbird Trumpet is a woody perennial which spreads rapidly. When it’s not in bloom, the plant looks like a tangle of woolly leaves and stems. However, at the end of summer and into autumn, this plant erupts with intense scarlet, trumpet-shaped blooms which last till frost. The nectar is an important food source for hummingbirds at a time when most things are no longer blooming.

61. PURPLE PRICKLY PEAR Opuntia macrocentra syn. Opuntia violacea Family: Cactaceae Origin: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico National pride The purple prickly pear actually becomes more beautiful during times of stress. During the winter months and periods of drought, the pads of this plant turn violet. These violet pads become a backdrop to brilliant yellow flowers when spring arrives. During colonial days, Spaniards discovered a scale insect that feeds on the purple prickly pear. These scale insects were used to make crimson dye reserved for the King. 20

Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

62. DESERT HONEYSUCKLE Justicia spicigera Family: Acanthaceae Origin: Mexico south to South America Nectar for you, tea for me The Desert Honeysuckle blooms orange to red for nearly nine months a year. This plant is a favorite for hummingbirds and butterflies. Native Americans used all parts of this plant for dietary medicinal purposes and as a pigment. Modern people continue to use this plant as a means of anticancer, typically by making a tea or a simple syrup from the leaves and blooms.

63. BLUE PALO VERDE Parkinsonia florida syn. Cercidium floridum Family: Fabaceae Origin: Arizona, California, northern Mexico Life without leaves Palo Verde (pa-lo VER-day) is Spanish for “green stick”. That is what this plant looks like because Palo Verde do not have leaves during dry periods. Their green branches and twigs contain chlorophyll so the plant can convert sunlight and nutrients into food without leaves.

64. TURPENTINE BUSH Ericameria laricifolia syn. Haplopappus laricifolius Family: Asteraceae Origin: Texas and northern Mexico What’s that smell? The Turpentine Bush received its name due to its distinct smell. When the tiny, closely spaced leaves of this plant are crushed and rubbed together, they smell strongly of turpentine. This plant has all yellow flowers that form on the main stems.

65. BAJA FAIRY DUSTER Calliandra californica Family: Fabaceae Origin: Mexico It’s a red puff-ball! Hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the puffy red flowers on this semievergreen shrub. It is also a larval food plant for some butterflies.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

66. JOSHUA TREE Yucca brevifolia Family: Asparagaceae Origin: Southwestern North America Among the desert's oldest living plants According to one legend, early Mormon settlers, while passing thru the Mojave Desert, spotted this plant and called it “Joshua Tree”, after the biblical figure Joshua, with his arms uplifted in prayer and directing them west. This slow-growing, evergreen tree-like plant can grow to 40 feet and live for 150 to 300 years or more. A few are estimated at 500 to 1000 years old. It produces clusters of creamywhite flowers which are pollinated by the Yucca moth. Native American’s utilized the leaf fibers, consumed flower buds and seeds and used its wood in construction.

67. CORAL TREE Erythrina flabelliformis Family: Fabaceae Origin: Arizona, northern Mexico Beauty without leaves Coral Tree is a unique medium-sized shrub with arching stems. During rainy times it is covered with bright green diamond shaped leaves. The plant’s really put on a show in early spring before the leaves emerge. The bare stems are covered with long spikes of red tubular shaped flowers. Hummingbirds and butterflies cannot get enough of this plant.

68. LOBELIA Lobelia laxiflora Family: Campanulaceae Origin: Mexico and Central America Tricolor interest This perennial is found in oasis areas of the desert. Its loose blooms are orange to red with yellow throats from spring through fall, against a background of lush, dark green leaves and red stems. It is a favorite of hummingbirds. Currently, scientist are looking into this plant due to its anti-inflammatory properties.


Plant Guide for the Desert Exhibit

69. CRIMSON MONKEY FLOWER Mimulus cardinalis Family: Phrymaceae Origin: West Coast and southwestern US Hummingbird’s favorite This perennial plant with bright red-orange flowers is usually found near seeps or stream banks. Hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar-rich flowers and aid in pollination by carrying pollen between flowers on their forehead.

70. SOUTHERN MAIDENHAIR FERN Adiantum capillus-veneris Family: Pteridaceae Origin: Temperate and tropical regions worldwide A fern in the desert, REALLY? Yes, the Southern Maidenhair Fern can be found in the desert growing in shaded limestone cliff seeps and other wet areas away from direct sunlight. This fern is found worldwide.