Photo Essay: Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum

Located in Tucson, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum is unlike most museums, in that it is almost totally outside. By walking along the different paths, you can see the variety of Sonoran Desert plants and animal species.

The Sonoran Desert has an amazing variety of flora and fauna. One common species is the palo verde (“green stick” in Spanish), a tree whose bark is green. The leaves of the palo verde are so tiny that they cannot photosynthesize enough energy to sustain the tree, so the trunk and branches also undergo photosynthesis.

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It was Christmastime, and perhaps it was fitting that some palo verde trees had mistletoe clinging to them.
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Actually, the mistletoe is a parasite that can damage or even kill the palo verde tree.

The ocotillo (left) blooms in the springtime. It makes good material for fences. Be careful with the cholla cactus (right) – if you get too close, a piece of it may come off and stick to you!
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Fence made with the ocotillo plant – some of it continues growing!

Yucca plant and prickly pear cactus:KODAK Digital Still Camera

Desert plants can be very prickly!

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Silver cholla

Can you guess why this plant is called “octopus agave”? *

octopus agave
The octopus agave has a large flower stalk.*
Octopus Agave flower stalk
*Note: Images of the octopus agave downloaded from Google Images. Although I saw them at the Sonoran Desert Museum, I did not get a picture of my own.

Another interesting plant is the jojoba. There is actually a separate plant for the male and the female! The female jojoba produces a small nut which is edible. The male produces the seeds that fertilize the female plant.

female jojoba tree (with javelina resting underneath!)
female jojoba tree (with javelina resting underneath!)

The male jojoba bush has flowers like this:

Image downloaded from Google.
Image downloaded from Google.

The most well-known and ubiquitous cactus of the Sonoran Desert is the majestic saguaro cactus. This cactus can live to be 200 years old. It grows into a giant plant from a tiny black seed:

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The saguaro grows very slowly. You often see them growing among palo verde or mesquite trees. This is because the tree provides shade for the tender plant until it grows tall enough to survive on its own.

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Sonoran Desert landscape. Note in the foreground a saguaro cactus growing among the branches of a palo verde tree.

When the saguaro is about 60 years old, it may begin to grow “arms” which make it such a famous image.
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The arms of this saguaro are covered with bags to protect it from freezing weather.

The saguaro is the “tree of life” in the Sonoran Desert. Many species live in and around it.

Woodpeckers peck holes in the saguaro, and make their nests inside. When the woodpeckers move out, other birds, such as the elf owl, take their place.
Woodpeckers peck holes in the saguaro, and make their nests inside. When the woodpeckers move out, other birds, such as the elf owl, take their place.

The Tohono O’odam Indians (formerly known by whites as the Papago) use the saguaro for many things: they eat the fruit and the flower, which scatters the seeds, and when the saguaro dies, they use its spines for building material…

This dead saguaro's spines are used for building materials.
Dead saguaro

such as ramadas…

Ramada

or roofing.

Roof made of saguaro spines
Roof made of saguaro spines

The Tohono O’odam even used the “boot” of the saguaro, which is the hardened scab that formed around the hole made by the woodpecker.
saguaro bootsThis picture comes from the web site of Allyson Latta.

There are many examples of desert animals here, too, including the javelina:

Javelinas look like pigs, but actually are not in the same family. They are peccaries, a species native to the Americas. What we are familiar with as “pigs” came from Europe.

There are coyotes…
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mountain lions (cougars),
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lynx, an ocelot, wolves, bears, and a variety of bird species.
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KODAK Digital Still CameraWe saw a demonstration of birds of prey…
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KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera The museum also has a small aquarium displaying the marine life that lives in the coastal waters where the Sonoran Desert borders on Baja California in Mexico.

Unless you come early in the day, it is impossible to see everything in this expansive outdoor museum. There are always the paths not taken.

 

 

 

 

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