Arizona Fairy Duster

Arizona Fairy Duster (Calliandra eriophylla) is a low shrub found in the southwestern states and neighboring Mexico. As is the case with many plants of this region, it belongs to the pea family (Fabaceae). Other well-known plants of this part of the country belonging to the pea family include the Ironwood, Palo Verde, and the Mesquites. In fact, another name for the Fairy Duster is False Mesquite. This one was photographed in Cochise County, Arizona.

Parry’s Agave

Agaves are native to the Americas with their epicenter of diversity in Mexico. A number of species flourish in the southwestern United States. This variety, Parry’s Agave (Agave parryi) is distinctive with its compact and symmetrical form. It is also more cold tolerant than most agaves, able to survive temperatures down to about -5°F. These were photographed in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico at an elevation of about 6,700′ where it can get quite cold.


Prickly Pear and Brittlebush

The silvery leaves of the Brittlebush against the green of the Prickly Pear Cactus creates an interesting contrast. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of form: the delicate, leafy Brittlebush  draped over the sturdy pads of the cactus. This photo is from the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona.

Teddy-bear Cholla

The Teddy-bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) gets its name from it’s furry appearance. It is, of course, anything but cuddly. What appears to be fur is actually an extremely dense covering of spines, forming an impenetrable defensive barrier that may look like hair but is stiff enough to puncture a boot. Have a comb handy in case one of its easily detachable joints gets stuck in your leg. The Teddy-bear grows in very sunny and dry locations below about 3,000′ in the Sonoran Desert. These cholla were photographed in an area known as The Rolls looking east toward the Four Peaks in central Arizona.

Arizona Fishhook Cactus

This tiny and inconspicuous cactus is easily overlooked except when it is in bloom. This individual is only about the size of a golf ball. Arizona Fishhook Cactus (Mammillaria grahamii) is also called Graham’s Nipple Cactus. This one is from Corona de Tucson, Arizona.

Cow Parsnip

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is a large herb. It is in a family of aromatic plants which includes such familiar species as celery, parsley, and carrot. This plant was photographed near Camp Bird, Ouray County, Colorado.



Blind Prickly Pear

This species of prickly pear cactus is restricted to the Chihuahuan Desert. The Blind Prickly Pear (Opuntia rufida) lacks the obvious spines of most other prickly pears. It does, however, have numerous glochids (very small, very fine barbed hairs) which easily become airborne when livestock bump into the pads as they forage. They can get into the animals’ eyes and result in blindness. This individual was photographed in Big Bend National Park in Texas.


The Sonoran Desert has a rich diversity of plant life and a number of species are found only here. The Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa), however, is not one of those plants limited to the American deserts. In fact, Hopbush has a cosmopolitan range; it is found from warm temperate to tropical areas of the Americas, Africa, Australasia, and southern Asia. This one was photographed in the Superstition Mountains, Arizona.

A cactus growing epiphytically on another cactus

Epiphytes are plants that grow harmlessly on other plants, using the larger plant’s structure for support. They are not parasites and are able to derive all that is necessary for their survival without damaging the host plant. A familiar example of a true epiphyte is Spanish Moss of the southeastern United States. Unlike Spanish Moss, the Prickly Pear Cactus shown here is not by nature an epiphyte, although in this case it is growing epiphytically simply through random chance. Apparently, the central stem of the Saguaro was at some point broken off, probably from wind. Later on, the Prickly Pear took root in the resulting cavity, probably from seed deposited at some point by a bird. The result is the incongruous sight of one cactus growing on another cactus. This photograph was taken in the Santa Catalina Mountains of Arizona.