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Spring Comes to Wickenburg

I spent the day at home yesterday, resting up after some surgery. But of course, I can’t sit still all day long. So I spent a while walking around our small walled-in side yard, looking at the plants I’ve been neglecting for so long now. When we moved in, our yard was completely barren. We did our best to fill it with examples of native vegetation, including plenty of cacti. The idea was to minimize water usage. Although we have our own water source (a well we share with neighbors), it just doesn’t make sense to us to waste water in a desert environment.

Cholla FlowersSpring has sprung in Wickenburg, but it wasn’t a showy spring like last year. We’ve had very little rain and I don’t recall seeing a single California poppy — usually the first sign of spring — in my yard. But some of the cacti are in bloom now, as you can see from these two different examples. The first example shows yellow flowers on what I think is a staghorn cholla cactus. (Cholla is pronounced choy-ya.)Prickly Pear Flowers The second flower is also yellow, but it appears on a red variety of prickly pear — sorry, but I don’t have my reference book handy to identify it for you. This cactus’s pads are a reddish green color, normally quite round in appearance, with nasty little spines that often just look like harmless fuzz. If you see one of these cacti while out in the desert, don’t be fooled by it’s harmless appearance — you’ll be very sorry if you touch it.

A quick word about planting cacti in your yard. All of the cacti in our yard (except for two saguaros and three barrel cacti that we purchased) were planted from clippings. Take a pair of garden shears (we use long-handled ones) and visit a friend with cacti you like. Trim a single pad or segment off the cactus. Use a pair of tongs (like grill tongs) to pick up the pad or segment and put it in a box. Don’t touch it, even with gloves on! Fill the box with a number of varieties. Now go home and use a spade to dig a hole deep enough to bury the bottom 1/3 of the pad or segment. Fill in the dirt all around it and give it some water. Water occasionally over the next month or so. The best time to do this is in the spring, but you can do it almost any time of year. Our cow’s tongue prickly pear came from cuttings like this that we took from a church that was planning on tearing them all out. What started as 12-20″ pads are now huge plants, taller than me, that produce flowers or fresh pads in the spring and delicious fruit in the summer.

A word of caution: don’t steal cactus plants from the desert. You can get arrested and fined.

BrittlebushAmong the plants that grow wild in our yard is the brittlebush plant. I think it’s a weed, but it’s an attractive one, with gray-green leaves and plenty of relatively small yellow flowers. They spring up occasionally in the yard and I just let them grow. If they die, I pull them out by the root (if I can) to make room for other plants. We let desert marigolds and globemallow grow like this in our yard, too. We’ve also planted various types of plants that spread their own seeds. So when they die off in the winter, their seeds are already sown and, if there’s enough moisture in the spring, they start growing all over again. Penstemen is a good example of one of these plants.

Bird Nest in CactusOther interesting things in my yard yesterday included a number of bird’s nests in various cacti around the yard. These nests have been under construction for some time now, always getting bigger and bigger, but I have yet to see any birds at or in the nests. It’s interesting to see what the birds use to build the nest. One nest includes pieces of gauze we had used to bandage our dog’s leg. He got bored outside one day and chewed it all off. Sure enough, piece of that gauze are in the bird nests. I recall other nests that included horsehair we’d left on the ground after brushing down our horses. They shed in the spring, so there’s always a lot of hair coming out. The hair must make warm, comfortable nests.

Gila MonsterBut the big excitement yesterday afternoon was the gila monster. (Gila is pronounced hee-la here in Arizona.) This 18″ lizard is not a common sight out in the desert — I think I’ve only seen one about half a dozen times. It prefers rocky areas and frankly, I’m not sure what it was doing in my sandy yard. But there it was, with the dog barking at it. It took us about 30 minutes to “herd” it out of the walled enclosure and away from the house. While it would be nice to have it around as a sort of pet (we kept a rattlesnake under our chicken coop for rodent control until it decided to move on), I didn’t want it bothering the dog or getting into the house.

That’s all I have for now in the way of photos. As I said, this spring has been pretty disappointing as far as flowers go. But it’s good to see the cacti flowering; I’ll try to get more examples to share here. If you have some photos you’d like to contribute to the site, use the Contact Us link above to contact the webmaster.

Last 5 posts by Maria Langer

1 comment to Spring Comes to Wickenburg

  • Scott

    The second picture is of a Santa Rita Opuntia. The most interesting thing about these cacti is that it often plays host to the cochineal scale. It appears as small white tufts on the pad of the cactus. If you scrape one of these off and squeeze it, it leaves a bright red stain on your fingers. Cochineal scale was used by the Mexicans and Indians as a dye for their clothing. When the Spanish first arrived they were amazed at the bright red of some of their clothing. Prior to the advent of aniline dyes Europeans only had plant material to dye clothes and the colors were not very intense. Nothing that the Spaniards had ever seen came close to vividness of their red cloth. They were quick to find out what they used. When they found out, the Spaniards developed large tracts of Santa Rita Opuntia for the express purpose of harvesting the scale and sending it to Europe for dye. The Redcoats that the British Army wore was dyed with Cochineal Scale.