The world of plants is often one of strange beauty and pure wonder. Coming in many shapes and sizes, plants are all unique in some way, yet cacti are some of the most amazing plants in the world. Protected by an outer layer of spines, cacti endure some of the harshest and demanding environments. Relying on their incredible water storage abilities and thick skin to prevent water loss, cacti are hidden deep in the driest deserts and even up in the peaks of some mountains. While cacti are certainly unique amongst other plants, some are bizarre—even by cacti standards.
10. Agave Cactus
Known as the Agave cactus, Leuchtenbergia principis is unique because of the straight, finger-like protrusions from its main stem. These “fingers” are tipped with small clusters of spines that, in older specimens, can grow into a tangled, protective web on the top portion of the plant. The agave starts off as any normal cactus seedling would and soon develops its points. As it ages, these form into its thick photosynthetic “fingers”. Once the protrusions have formed, the agave maintains its shape and gets wider and sturdier but remains a single plant. This is abnormal because most cacti will either start to produce small offspring at some point, or even “arms” in taller plants.
9. Ariocarpus Fissuratus (“Living Rocks”)
Cacti are associated with spines, yet a few species have no spines or lose them once they reach adulthood. A. fissuratus is an extremely slow-growing example of spineless cacti. Some of them can take up to 50 years to reach 4-5 inches in diameter. As a seeding, these plants have very small, weak spines that grow from the points of its geophytic structure. As the plant ages, these spines fall off and no new ones grow to replace the original set. This results in a strange-looking plant with no defense, which seems counter-intuitive to the health of the species. Due to its lack of defense, A. fissuratus grows in hard-to-reach crevasses and similar locations and produces small amounts of psychoactive substances to prevent animals from eating it.
8. Astrophytum Caput-Medusae
One of a kind in form, A. caput-medusae grows as its name implies, like the snake hair of medusa. Recently discovered, A. caput-medusae was first put into its own classification until it was discovered that its flowers were identical to those of the Astrophytum genus, as well as its small tufts of soft wool-like hairs from its the stem. This secured its place as an Astrophytum species. Producing brilliant yellow flowers with red centers, A. caput-medusae readily produces some of the largest seeds among cacti, measuring between 1/8th and 1/4th of an inch across.
One of the most well known and well regulated cacti is the Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote. Illegal to grow or own, peyote is known for its powerful psychedelic effects thanks to high concentrations of mescaline. It’s only legal for use by members of Native American tribes because peyote has long been a central aspect of Nativa American rituals. According to these tribes, use of peyote would often result in the understanding of spirits and other intangible entities.
6. Discocactus Horstii
When mature, the discocactus develops a cephalium—a densely spiked growth—from which its large, white flowers bloom. While it is green in the early stages of its life, discocactus eventually develops a red tint. Although it looks like a standard desert cactus while young, they grow at elevations of around 304 meters (1,000 feet) above sea level. Discocactus can be difficult to grow since they have a tendency to rot if over watered and to dry out completely if left without water for shorter periods than what most cacti can endure.
5. Hylocereus Undatus
When someone brings up flowers, cacti don’t immediately spring to mind, even though cacti flowers can be enormous and beautiful. The H. undatus flower can exceed 35 centimeters (about 14 inches) in length and 23 centimeters (about 9 inches) across. The H. undatus blooms only at night, and each flower opens only once before seeding and becoming a dragon fruit or falling off and dying. The flowers give off an extremely potent vanilla fragrance that can be overwhelming if the flower is smelled directly.
4. Pereskiopsis Spathulata
Some cacti are in a primitive enough state that they actually have both leaves and spines. The P. spathulata is one of these: with small spines, gloichds, and leaves sprouting from a single point. Tropical and extremely fast-growing by nature, P.spathulata is often used as a grafting base to speed the growth processof seedlings of slow-growing species. While still capable of flowering, it’s rare to find a P. spathulata that is being grown for its appearance or flowers. Most specimens are simply cuttings that were rooted from a mother plant, resulting in numerous clones that can also be cut and replanted.
3. Turbinicarpus Subterraneus
When we think of cacti, we often think of tall, thick-stemmed plants that are coated in spikes, but (as this list has already shown) this is often not the case. With T. subterraneus, the true surprise is below the soil’s surface. The small, club-like heads are supported by a tuberous root—often the same size as the exposed stems. This root allows for the T. subterraneus to survive long periods of drought by storing large quantities of water. Being below the surface also allows it to be cold resistant enough to endure short periods of exposure to temperatures as low -4°C (28.4°F)]
2. The Artichoke Cactus
Commonly referred to as the artichoke cactus, it is the only species in the Obregonia genus. Similar to the Ariocarpus and Leuchtenbergia genus, the artichoke cactus grows in a geophytic manner, having its body points spiral from the growth point. While it does have spines, they often shed from the plant—resulting in sparse patches of spines on the ends of the areoles. This spiraling combined with the type of stem results in the signature artichoke shape. Smal flowers bloom from the tips of young growth in the summer, resulting in an edible, fleshy fruit when fertilized and ripe.
1. Blossfeldia Liliputana
Often growing between rocks in the Andes mountains, B. liliputana earns its name from the the land of Lilliput in the novel Gulliver’s Travels, where all of its citizens were tiny to Gulliver. This because B. liliputana is the smallest cacti, maxing out at 1.3 centimeters (half an inch) across. Their size, as well as their growth patterns, make these small wonders especially unique. Cacti often have a rounded growth point, yet B. liliputana grows from an indent at the center of the plant. Flowering during the summer months, B. liliputan self-fertilizes and produces seeds that are so small they easily blend in with the surrounding rock and sand.
John Winner is just a student writing what he can to get some extra pocket cash in while dealing with student debt.
There are many desert plant lovers living in wet climates, just as there are those who would like to have a tropical garden in the desert. Both desires are practical as long as you consider scale, placement, and plant selection in your design. For example, if you want a cactus garden in Florida, which has a rainy climate, you should plant the cactus in highly elevated beds filled with very porous material like gravel. You may also need to cover the cactus with fiberglass panels to divert most of the rain, while allowing sun light in. If you want a tropical garden in a climate that only gets 4 inches of rain per year, like Las Vegas, keep it very small, seasonal, and use plants that can handle the climate. They are many plant species that look tropical, but are quite drought tolerant.
Likewise, if you are in an arid climate that has freezing nights in the winter, such as Utah and Colorado, you’ll want to limit frost sensitive plants or keep them in pots, so you can bring them inside in the winter. However, if you use native plants or plants that are adapted to your climate, all the labor-intensive hands-on management and plant replacement go away.
Overview of American Deserts
Although deserts have an appearance from afar as being a stark, dead environment, they are actually quite the opposite. Deserts are some of the most vibrant and diverse habitats to exist. Hundreds of species of plants, insects, and animals have adapted to the desert’s unique environments. To make things more complex, there are many different kinds of deserts. There are cold deserts, hot deserts, dry deserts, and relatively wet deserts. Each of these deserts has it’s unique community of plants and animals. Some species are widely spread, others are endemic to tiny localities. For example, the Las Vegas Buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum) only grows in Clark County of Southern Nevada. It has just about become extinct from urban development. However, Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) is quite common in the southern deserts of the USA.
To simplify the vast diversity of the American deserts, and give you some useful information to use in planning your desert landscape, we’ll break it down into three desert climates: wet-warm, dry-warm, and dry-cold. Wet-warm desert describes central and southern Arizona and extends into the Mexican state of Sonora. It is called the Sonoran Desert. It has hot summers and relatively warm winters. It is the wettest desert because it has two rainy seasons, one in late summer, and the other in the winter. Some areas of the Sonoran Desert get as much as 15 inches of rain per year and have quite lush vegetation.
A dry-warm desert is basically the Mojave Desert, which goes from east of Anza Borrego State Park in San Diego county to just east of the Colorado River in north western Arizona. It also encapsulates all of Clark County in southern Nevada and the south western corner of Utah. It has hot summers, relatively warm winters, and scant unpredictable rain.
The third desert climate encompasses the cold deserts to the north, the main one being the Great Basin Desert, which encompasses most of Nevada north of Clark County, California east of the Sierra Nevada Range, eastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, southern Idaho, and western Utah. It is characterized by short hot summers, long cold winters, and very low rainfall.
The Chihuahuan Desert of central and southern New Mexico and West Texas is a bit of a hybrid between warm and cold climates; the high average elevation range of between 4000 and 6000 feet tends to make winter nights quite chilly, with temperatures well below freezing possible between November and March; but the fairly southerly latitude mitigates the cold far more significantly than in the Great Basin Desert, which is both the most northerly and the coldest of our four North American desert regions. For practical purposes in this discussion, however, the Chihuahuan Desert can be considered a warm-summer and mild-winter region.
Within these deserts you’ll see characteristics of other desert climates and plant communities that are usually dependent on elevation. Here are three examples.
For example, west of Las Vegas, exists a mountain range, called the Spring Mountains, that peak at about 12,000 feet. As you go up the mountain, the plant communities transition from a low desert creosote shrub-land to a pine forest at the highest elevations. Many of the plant species that grow at higher elevations in southern deserts, also grow throughout colder deserts.
Most authorities classify the southeastern most portions of California, from about I-40 southwards to the Colorado River and the Baja border, as Lower Colorado River Sonoran Desert, not Mojave Desert. Anza-Borrego is really Sonoran, as are Imperial, eastern San Diego, and eastern Riverside Counties including the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley region; the transition to Mojave is very abrupt in this area and Joshua Tree NP is Mojave Desert, even though it’s located just north of the Coachella Valley.
Just north of Clark County, NV and east of Death Valley is a small desert called the Amargosa Desert. Being nestled between the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, it has characteristics of both. It has very cold winter nights, hot triple digit summer days and very low rain fall.
Being aware of your local desert’s climate characteristics helps you choose the correct palette of plants for your landscape to maximize beauty and minimize maintenance. We’ll further describe each of the three desert climates, then suggest some plants that would be suited for each.
The Sonoran Desert is both the warmest and the wettest desert, with mild winters. This tends to result in plant species and ecological structures in which the vegetation is both bigger and denser. It is a very lush desert, but distinctly different from other lush environments. The majority of the shrubs and trees have thorns. It is often referred to as a thorn shrub, or thorn forest habitat. The dominant tree families fall mainly into three categories: mesquite (Prosopis), cat claw (Acacia), and palo verde (Parkinsonia). These trees can grow to a size dependent on their exposure to water. All three tree families have spines.
This desert climate also has some very large cactus species that go by names such asSaguaro, Cardon, and Organ Pipe.
The largest cities in this desert type are Phoenix and Tucson. Tucson gets a little bit colder in the winter, but to keep it simple, we’ll treat the two cities the same.
Arizona (AZ) Landscaping
Northern Arizona is a cold climate. See suggestions below in the cold desert section for landscaping ideas.
Central and southern Arizona lie within the Sonoran Desert; this includes most of Arizona’s population which is situated either in the Phoenix or Tucson metropolitan regions. As noted earlier, it is the lushest of the four American deserts. However, it is distinguished from other wet climates by excessively hot summers, fast-draining sandy or rocky soils, and large desert shrubs which can’t survive in truly wet tropical climates. This area typically has two rainy seasons: late summer and winter. The summer monsoon rains come from a combination of the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, including the Sea of Cortez (aka the Gulf of California.) Winter rains originate with moisture and frontal systems developing mainly in the central and northern Pacific Ocean, including the Gulf of Alaska.
Because of the higher rainfall (in some places up to 16 inches per year), the vegetative canopy tends to be much denser. While it is possible to grow many exotic species of plants in the Sonoran Desert with enough artificial irrigation, there are so many amazing native Sonoran species to grow that we encourage using those first.
We’ve seen many great landscaping ideas in Phoenix. Most start with a desert concept, then the sky is the limit. Many residents from other climates move to cities like Phoenix, and try to grow the same type of landscape they did back home. After one or two unsuccessful attempts, they seek help from desert landscaping experts. Once they find the correct palette of plants and some basic desert landscaping principles, they begin flexing their muscles. Some pay a professional landscaper to design and install the landscape because they are too busy with their careers. Others do it themselves, through trial and error, until they find a winning combination of design, plants, and irrigation. Then they become hooked.
Some Suggested Plants for Southern Arizona Landscapes
These plant species are very common in the southern Arizona natural landscape. They should also be readily available from local independent plant nurseries in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.
Dalea Species (Indigo Bush)
Fouquieria splendens (Ocotillo)
Opuntia santa rita
Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’
Tagetes lemmonii ‘Compacta’
This list does not even scratch the surface of species adapted to the Sonoran climate. However, it’s a good palette of plants, large and small, to help get you started creating a low water use, nature friendly landscape.
Sonoran Desert Landscape Resources
Here are links to more information from Arizona organizations.
The natural and home landscapes of central and southern Arizona are some of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the world.
The Mojave desert, which consists of Southern California east of San Diego and San Bernardino, Southern Nevada, and Northwestern Arizona, is much drier than the Sonoran Desert. It also has much warmer average winter temperatures than the Great Basin Desert. The valleys and alluvial fans tend to have very scant vegetation. The valleys are sometimes dry lakes that have turned white from the build up of salts, alkali, and Boron. Not much can grow in these dry lakes except for plants that are adapted, such as salt bush (Atriplex species).
However, as arid and seemingly lifeless as the Mojave Desert is, there are a wide variety of plant communities and diversity that is highly elevation dependent. Driving up a mountain road is like driving north. The vegetation changes to more cold hardy and wet tolerant. Homeowner in the cities of Las Vegas, Victorville, Needles, Kingman, Lake Havasu, Borrego Springs, and Lancaster can create beautiful desert landscapes using plants that are adapted to the harsh Mojave climate.
Its good to get out see the unique beauty of the Mojave desert. Fortunately there are many large national parks and refuges in southern California and Nevada, where you can go to get many great landscaping ideas.
Las Vegas Landscaping
Las Vegas has been very attractive to visitors and long term residents moving in from non-desert areas for the past 30 years. Most of the growth in population has been during the past 15 years. When people buy a home in Las Vegas metro area, they want to landscape the yard to their liking and familiarity. They see the large man-made fountains, lakes, palm trees, and rivers on Las Vegas Boulevard and they want to duplicate it in their own yard. Then they get the water bill and think, something has to change.
Here are some suggested plant species for home landscape in the Mojave Desert. They are available from local community colleges and botanical gardens in major Mojave cities.
Dalea Species (Indigo Bush)
Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii
Mojave Desert Landscape Resources
Here are links to more information from Mojave organizations.
Springs Preserve of Las Vegas The original site of Las Vegas (The Springs) has been restored to its original habitat, along with all LEED certified buildings, and spring and fall native plant sales.
The natural landscapes of the Mojave desert are beautifully unique. Take a look at some native flowering plants throughout the Mojave desert to get some home desert landscaping ideas.
These climates have short hot summers, long freezing winters, and not much in between. Rainfall levels are very low, typically, below 10 inches per year. They receive more than 300 days of sunshine. The region is often referred to as the Intermountian West, and it includes a vast expanse of parallel mountain chains separated by broad, gently-sloped valley floors. The region encompasses part or all of at least 7 states, including California east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, southern Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, all of Utah, all of Nevada outside of the southern tip/Clark County, southwestern Wyoming, western Colorado, and much of northern Arizona.
Another region that exhibits a similar climate (albeit somewhat milder in winter and with better summer rainfall) is central and southern New Mexico and West Texas between El Paso and the Pecos River, including the Big Bend region. This area lies within the northern Chihuahuan Desert.
Great Basin Desert
Several species of plants dominate the Great Basin desert, which we can call signature plants. They are Juniper trees (Juniperus) and Sagebrush (Artimisia tridentata). Huge sagebrush steppe colonies grow in the valleys. Above 3000 feet in the hills surrounding the valleys are very large juniper tree forests. There are many other species of low to medium growing shrubs that are adapted to this climate. There are also many annuals and short lived perennials that produce spectacular colour. Here’s a short list to get you started with your high desert landscape.
Juniperus osteosperma (J.utahensis)
Great Basin Desert Landscape Resources
Here are links to more information from Great Basin organizations.
Great Basin Natives Located in central Utah, this plant nursery is a great source for seed grown Great Basin native plants.
The USA part of the Chihuahuan Desert has many great landscape accent plants that do well in almost any other cold climate; even wet climates. Signature accent plants in the northern Chihuahuan desert are mainly Yucca (sometimes called Spanish Bayonet). In addition to having large trunks and canopies, these cold hardy yucca develop vast swollen root tubers underground, which are especially well developed in Yucca elata, the so-called soaptree, which is the state flower of New Mexico.. Some of the large urban areas include Albuquerque, and El Paso.
Cold Hardy to
Yucca rostrata is a very elegant cold hardy palm tree looking plant that has soft, pliable blue leaves.
Tree yucca, growing slowly up to 12 feet tall (3.6 m)
Blue Yucca, Palmilla
Similar to Yucca rostrata but leaves are wider and stiffer. Branches nicely from upper trunk. Grows like several trees growing together. The dead leaf skirtcan be trimmed or left on the trunk.
Grows to 15 feet tall (4.5 m)
Similar to Y. rostrata but does not grow as tall and has more ridged leaves. It is very versatile and easy to grow, and is one of the most reliable trees you can find. It is very cold hardy and can withstand humid cold.
Grows to 10 feet tall (3 m)
Yucca faxoniana has very long pliable but stiff leaves forming a huge rosette to 7 feet (2 meters) wide. It mostly grows as a very stout single trunk tree, but can be found with multiple trunks.
Can grow to 15ft (5 meters) tall
To 10°F, takes lower temps for a short time
Several other species of succulent plants also characterize the northern Chihuahuan desert. They are Agave harvardiana, A. neomexicana, A. lechuguilla, A. parryi, and A. gracilipes.
In addition, there is a long list of trees, shrubs, cacti, herbaceous perennials, and wildflowers native to the area. Most of these plants are also adaptable to other cold climates. Here’s a short list to get you started.
Eriogonum fasciculatum v. poliofolium
Chihuahuan Desert Landscape Resources
Here are links to more information from Chihuahuan organizations.
Xeriscaping is not just a desert landscaping term, it can be applied to just about any landscape. It basically means minimizing maintenance and irrigation by selecting plants that are from or adapted to your climate. It also means designing the layout of your landscape so that it takes advantage of the resources that are given for free. By living in concert with our environment, we become resource contributors, rather than resource depleters. When we give back to our support system, it rewards us abundantly.
For instance, rather than burning your fallen tree leaves in the fall, allowing them to decompose to mulch and then nutrient rich soil, will reduce or eliminate your need to fertilize in the spring. The mulch will slow soil evaporation, reducing your irrigation needs. When the plants absorb the nutrients, they they’ll be much stronger and better defend against pests, reducing your pesticide needs.
Thanks to http://www.1001-home-efficiency-tips.com for great ideas!
Develop the landscape you want by following these eight strategies for the perfect design plan.
The traditional view of landscape design is a detailed drawing specifying the location of each shrub and flower bed. In truth, each time you bring home a plant from the nursery you are engaging in the design process, either intentionally or unintentionally.Judging from the results I see, there are an awful lot of unintentional designers out there. Many landscapes look like a collection of randomly chosen and haphazardly placed plants. Not only do they lack cohesion, but even worse, the poorly placed plants become liabilities, requiring expensive pest treatments, frequent pruning or complete removal long before they have fulfilled their natural life spans.
Although an overall plan is a valuable tool, there’s nothing wrong with designing on the fly. Experienced gardeners do it all the time, usually with great delight. Whichever method you choose, here are a few tips for creating a landscape that stands out from the crowd and minimizes future headaches.
Plan for Equipment Access
“It’s important to anticipate future access,” advises Liz Dean of New Leaf Landscaping in Durham, N.C., “whether it be mowers or stump grinders, or future building projects such as a porch or patio.” At some point in the life of your home, you will be faced with a project or repair that requires some loud, monstrous machine to get into your backyard. Plan for it in advance, or be faced with having to tear out some of your precious plantings.
Start With (and Maintain) the Focal Points
Stated simply, a focal point is something that “makes you look,” says Dr. Pat Lindsey, a landscape design professor at North Carolina State University. At its best, however, “it directs you visually and makes you feel surprised, moved or engaged, moving you through the garden experience.”
Although we typically think of using a specimen tree or statue as a focal point, there are many other possibilities. Lindsey says the key is to find something that is “slightly to very different from the rest of your landscape in form, texture or color.” It could be an architectural feature of your house or even a borrowed view.
The trick is to make them stand out, yet not stick out. It should be somehow connected to the rest of the landscape, either through a repeated shape or color, or a connection to the overall style of the landscape. Scale is also important. If your landscape is several acres with broad vistas, then perhaps an ancient oak would play the role quite well. In a small urban lot, an ornate garden bench or small statue might be the perfect size.
Leave Formal Landscapes to the Rich and Famous
A formal landscape is one of the most challenging to create, and the upkeep can be arduous. “Symmetry is very difficult to maintain,” notes Dean. If, for example, you have two identical evergreens at the corners of the house and one dies, it could be very difficult to find a matching replacement. “Sometimes,” she continues, “the only choice is to replace both, which adds to the expense.” One of the most common dilemmas is the hedgerow or foundation planting where one or two shrubs have succumbed to a plague. Be wary of putting all your eggs in one basket.
Keep Curves in Check
Incorporating curves will add interest to your garden, but don’t overdo it. A collection of amoeba-shaped beds would be overkill, as would a curvy path that takes you far out of the way of your destination. Long, subtle curves are often best.
Lindsey also advises gardeners to “limit the geometries so that one dominates.” If you incorporate curved lines in beds and walkways, for example, repeat those shapes in the third dimension with the shape of the plants you choose and the way you arrange them.
A landscape without movement is like a painting. Paintings are fine for hanging on a wall, but a garden needs movement to add life and interest. No garden is complete without some ornamental grasses to sway in the breeze. Add flowers to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and several berry producers for the birds.
Accent Your House
Unless your house is an architectural masterpiece, it could benefit from some thoughtful plantings to soften the edges and help it blend with the surroundings. But take care not to end up at the other extreme, a house that is hidden by overgrown shrubbery. Even the smallest starter home usually has some interesting architectural feature. The best design will highlight that feature.
Take Nothing for Granted
When you live in a place for a while, you tend to accept existing features as obstacles, sometimes without completely noticing them. Rather than designing around the overgrown shrubbery, established trees, or worn-out deck, consider removing them. You may discover new possibilities, such as a sunny spot for a vegetable garden or rose bed.
Right Plant, Right Spot
On the outside chance that someone reading this has not heard the old adage “right plant, right spot,” I urge you to adopt it as your personal gardening mantra. The phrase should be repeated constantly during each visit to the nursery. In addition to knowing the full-grown size, Liz Dean cautions us to consider growth rate as well. Since they get large more quickly, fast-growing plants may seem like a bargain. In the end, however, time and money spent on pruning and other maintenance may outweigh the initial savings.
Dean also observes that “proper spacing allows air circulation to prevent fungal and insect problems.” But won’t the finished landscape look sparse? Easy, she counters, simply “fill in with annuals.”
Finally, keep in mind that you needn’t have a five-figure budget to achieve an exceptional landscape. Whether your landscape venture is a two-month multiphase project, or a Saturday trip to the nursery, the key is to select your plants purposefully and place them thoughtfully. The result is sure to bring you years of enjoyment.
Paul McKenzie is a horticulture extension agent in Durham, N.C., and has managed the Durham County Master Gardener Volunteer Program.