The Sonoran Desert is one of the largest deserts in North America. The border between the United States and Mexico runs right through the desert, which spans over 100,000 square miles. Many people have an image of a barren, desolate area where it is difficult for man, beast, or nature to survive. A closer examination shows they are wrong.
April is the best time to visit the Sonoran Desert. Mary Lou and I are in Phoenix for a few days attending a meeting. During some off time, we have explored the desert and have been rewarded with a brilliant display of blooming beauty that is both unexpected and amazing.
In particular, a visit to the Desert Botanical Garden will show you how nature flourishes in such a harsh, unforgiving environment. The fact that this desert receives some rainfall during two seasons of the year has resulted in plants adapting to the combination of brief rainfall followed by extended period of extreme drought.
It is the only place in the world that the majestic saguaro cactus grows in the wild. Some of these large cacti can hold as much as 1,500 gallons of water, occasionally for years. Their plant structure is a great example of how nature adapts to different conditions.
I was particularly struck by the Desert Rose which at this time of the year is starkly bare, completely devoid of any leaves. At the tips of their intricately winding branches is a small beautiful flower. When the plant is full of the flowers it is stunningly beautiful.
The prickly pear cactus was showing out, with red flowers blooming along its edges. Many types of plants that we might lump together as a century plant, were shooting spires into the air, often with groups of blooms at the top. These are actually Agave plants, with dozens of varieties thriving in a small area.
The wildflowers were perhaps the most surprising plants, with all sorts of small vegetation displaying flowers of many different sizes and colors. Nothing too different from what we might find in South Georgia, but so unanticipated growing from the parched soil of the desert.
Another surprise were the hummingbirds we encountered. They were busy feeding on the nectar of all the blooming flowers in the desert. It turns out Arizona is the hummingbird capital of the United States with over 15 species identified. Only one species, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird lives east of the Mississippi River.
There are also over 1,000 bee species and around 400 butterfly species found in Arizona. Not exactly what comes to mind when you are asked to give your first thought about the state.
In fact, the entire experience of such beauty in such an apparently inhospitable place causes reflection of all kinds. Nature’s adaptation to changing conditions is such a wonder. These plants and animals survive not because of luck or hard work, but because over time they have adapted in a way that makes this a place that they can live and even thrive, despite all the odds.
The most surprising of all the wonderful things we saw in our visit to the Sonoran Desert this Spring was the blooming daisy. They were fairly common and in full bloom, reminding us of our home back in South Georgia.
I don’t think we could ever live in the Southwest and particularly not in the desert, but it is somehow comforting to know that the sturdy daisy can thrive in South Georgia and the deserts of Arizona bringing a bit of common beauty in two very different parts of the world.
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]