Did You Know: Arizona Desert Botanical Garden Is Nationally Recognized

October 04, 2013

Prickly Pear, Agave, Cholla. These familiar names are cactuses we often see in the desert, and there are hundreds more cactuses of various types in Arizona and across the Western hemisphere.

cactus Cactuses in a bed at the Desert Botanical Garden. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)

The Valley is home to a place nationally known for its unique collection of desert plants, the Arizona Desert Botanical Garden. It first opened in 1939. The garden was created to save desert plants at a time when the Valley’s population was starting to swell.

Did You Know that today the Arizona Desert Botanical Garden is home to the National Collection of Cacti?

“What it means is that we have a really robust and important collection of cactus,” said Kimberlie McCue.

She holds a couple of titles at the Botanical Garden including acting director of the Research Conservation and Collections Department.

“We know where they came from, when they were collected. We make them available for research as well as for education and we publicize that fact across the botanical world," McCue said. 

We walk through the garden’s main entrance, and McCue told me how unique this garden really is.

“In terms of the numbers of kinds of cactus here in the Arizona Desert Botanical Garden there are about 1,500 different types, and that’s represented by over 23,000 plants," McCue said.

She explained cactuses are native to North, Central and South America, and all the plants here are from countries in these western continents. For the first time, the Botanical Garden recently conducted an extensive inventory all of its plants and discovered that it has 978 Saguaros, the cactus native to our Sonoran Desert. McCue said the center took a year to identify them.

“We have been mapping all of our cactus, every single one of them, and if you go to Livingcollections.org, you can search for all different kind of cactus, and it will show you a map of where that cactus is,” said McCue.

A handful of the plants have been here since the garden first opened. There is the 30 foot tall Cardon and the Creeping Devil. It grows parallel to the ground and looks like a snake with needles that slithers over other plants.

The garden is also home to many noisy birds that love desert plants. It is also a place where you can see up close two endangered species. They are located in the oasis pond. They are the Huachuca Water Umbel aquatic plant with long and narrow leaves that grow under water and the two inch Desert Pupfish.