Iconic Plants of Arizona – Pt. 3

Katelyn Preston September 2, 2016

In the final installment of our three-part Iconic Plants series, we decided to look at three more cacti (the Giant Prickly Pear and Organ Pipe cacti and Octopus Agave), the Blue Yucca succulent, and the Sago Palm Tree.

Giant Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia robusta): This species of cacti typically grow with flat circular “paws” and are covered in long prickles. They are known for growing in quite dense number and the spines are able to easily penetrate skin and detach from the main plant. Prickly pears are a source of food for the giant desert tortoises and many wild rabbits. When flowered, the prickly pears form a fruit that many restaurants have made into jam, jelly, and honey-like substances- great to eat!

Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi): Many plants in the desert grow by a “nurse tree”, which is a huge tree that provides water and shade for the plant to grow under. Organ Pipes are the exception and will grow in the harshest conditions in the desert. Bumpy or wavy pipes of the cactus are stories of each frost or winter the plant battles, almost like a record keeper. In the summer it protects itself from the blazing sun by storing large amounts of water inside of its shell.

Blue Yucca succulent (Yucca rigida): Beautiful baby blue leaves give way to a sharp tip, for these succulents. In the summer the blue foliage sprouts a 5 to 6 feet stalk of white flowers. These Yuccas can add both texture and color to a landscape but it is not advised to plant near human or pet activity, as the leaves can grow very long and are at the risk of harm.

Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana): This is by far the weirdest cacti in all of the Sonoran Desert. This low growing plant gives way to twisting and turning stems that are pleasing to the eye.  Homeowners can plant in an isolated container for texture inside a home or in a desert landscape for texture. After 10 years the cacti sprouts a 10-20 feet spike of yellow flowers. After this sprouting, the plant begins to die but replenishes the soil with needed nutrients for its seedlings that have already been planted.

Sago Palm (Cycas revolute): Do you want a palm tree but without the hassle? The Sago Palm is a perfect solution and a popular houseplant. It’s feathery but spiny foliage and bright green color is perfect for beginners and can fit in well to any style room. The plant is super easy to take care of due to its low need for water, the only element needed is sunlight and there you go!

All photos are credit of the Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert online edition, developed by AMWUA Regional Water Conservation Committee.