Strange and Unusual Things Around Every Corner…

unique plants

One the most frequent comments that I receive from readers is that some of the plants that grow in the desert are so strange and unusual.  This is especially true for those of us who are not desert natives.  

Although I have lived here in the desert for over 24 years, I still find many of the plants unique and strange to my eyes.  

unique plants

As promised, this is a continuation of our visit to “The Living Desert” in Palm Desert, California.  Yesterday we looked at many of the beautiful flowering plants.  Today, I thought we would focus on some of the unusual yet beautiful plants that we saw.

unique plants

While we were walking, my sister (Daisy Mom) asked me if I knew what all the plants were.  The horticulturist in me would have loved to have said yes, but that would have been a lie.  Many of the plants we saw were collected from dry regions from around the world, including parts of Africa.  

The truth is is that you do not need to know a plant’s name to be able to enjoy it’s beauty, like the one above.


  Kokerboom (Aloe dichotoma)

Would you believe that the plant above is an aloe?

unique plants

Here is a beautiful aloe flower that we encountered.

Mexican Blue Fan Palm

 Mexican Blue Fan Palm (Brahea armata) This is a slow growing palm and this is a very tall specimen.  My nephew is 6 ft. tall.

My nephew (Monkey Boy) was a great companion.  Many times when I went to venture off of the main path, he offered to come along with me and was always excited about what strange plants we would find.   How many teenage boys would offer to hang out with their aunt?  I am truly blessed.

unique plants

A collection of various kinds of columnar cacti that are native to Baja California were very interesting to see.

unique plants

The cacti in the middle looks like the tentacles of a squid reaching out to catch something.

unique plants

Brightly colored barrel cactus.

Mr. Green Jeans

 My son idolizes his older cousin Mr. Green Jeans.

I enjoy spending time with my oldest nephew, Mr. Green Jeans, who also loves to take photographs as much as I do.  We were constantly walking behind everyone because we were so busy taking pictures of the beauty surrounding us.

 Prickly Pear

  Beavertail Prickly Pear (Opuntia basilaris) starting to form flower buds. In April they produce beautiful magenta flowers. 

A Boojum Tree

 A Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris)

The Boojum tree is closely related to the Ocotillo, which is not a type of cactus as many people believe.


 Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)

This beautiful specimen of an Ocotillo towered above my husband and son.  This time of year, Ocotillo are leafing out and beginning to produce their orange colored flowers. 

California Fan Palms

 California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera)

California Fan Palms, not surprisingly are native to this area of the desert.  They had very old and beautiful palms that dwarfed my nephew and daughter as they walked by.

unique plants

Not surprisingly, there are those plants that you would do well to keep your distance from.

My nephew

  My nephew (Monkey Boy) and my daughter taking a break.

I realize that it may look as if my daughter has a rattlesnake around her neck….and she does.  But, she didn’t pick it up out of the desert…it is a plastic one.  She has an affinity for toy snakes.  We are not sure why, but I am happy to give her all of the toy snakes she wants if it keeps her from wanting a real one.

Chainfruit Cholla

Chainfruit Cholla

We had a wonderful day.  I believe that my sister thought that we would spend 2 – 3 hours walking around.  But it was 5 hours before we finally headed back to our cars.  The fault lies with me….I had such a great time enjoying all of the beautiful plants and taking 500+ pictures.  My entire family was so patient and understanding, although next time I may need to bring my own car so I can stay late.

Soon, I will post about what we saw up above and was easily missed if we had just kept our eyes to the ground.

“Plant As I Say…..NOT As I Do”

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
24 replies
  1. Ami
    Ami says:

    Thanks for the tour! I am amazed by all the unique palnts you are showing us. Love that aloe blooming! I love cactus, and just sowed one seed pack two weeks ago. It is a mix package, will see what I will actually get. Some of seeds already sprouted.

  2. Hocking Hills Gardener
    Hocking Hills Gardener says:

    I have to confess that I always thought the desert was a barren an ugly place. That I would not like to live there at all. Reading your postings Noelle has really opened my eyes as to the beauty that can be found there.It is an all other world of flowers to me now. Thank you.

  3. Darla
    Darla says:

    Still amazed at the beauty in the desert and you have a way that makes one want to visit it. The children are all adorable, if all Aunts were as cool as you, all nephews would want to hang out with them. And yes, I was glaring at that snake around your daughter's neck muttering to myslelf, I know dang well Noelle knows better than that! Glad it was only a toy, which I don't care for either.

  4. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, The cacti are wonderful and so very varied not only in form but in flower also. What I so enjoy about your postings is the experience of an environment which is beyond anything I have known and yet, through your pictures and commentary, becomes very real.

    If I had to choose a favourite, then it would be the Prickly Pear which looked as though it had had its fingernails painted!

  5. ryan
    ryan says:

    Great photos in all three posts about the place. It looks like everyone enjoyed it. I've seen their website before, but never been. It looks great.

  6. Rosie
    Rosie says:

    Noelle you seem to have a lovely close knit family which is a real blessing.

    I love the architectural qualities that these plants have along with the boulders beside them and oh such thorns – I did recognise quite a few of the flowers in the previous post but only the prickly pear in this post. These plants fascinate me……… the snake doesn't thats for sure!

    Haworthia's – do you grow them Noelle ? If you do could you do a post someday on them and show me some big ones as I am used to having tiny little ones in 9 cm pots and I would love to see how they really grow. Thanks Rosie

  7. Kyna
    Kyna says:

    Awesome tour! 🙂 I love all of your pictures, I think my favourite is the one with the 'squid tentacles' 🙂
    My older brothers used to have a snake when I was about 8 years old. A ball python names Damian. My brother Kurt brought it into my class for show and tell…all the kids in the class squealed when he put it around my neck LOL. That was an awesome memory 🙂

  8. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    I really enjoyed the walk through this living desert. So many unusual shapes and textures! It really is a foreign concept to us here. Often our botanical gardens will have a "desert" area cut out on a slope somewhere, but nothing of that magnitude.

  9. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    Noelle, I share your fascination with the desert plants. I actually checked out a book from the library last week about cacti and succulents. The columnar ones are most stately! However, you made my day when you provided me with the best "mott" ever! Your statement that one does not need to know the name to enjoy its beauty is my "out"!!! Thank you!!!! 🙂

  10. debsgarden
    debsgarden says:

    Amazing plants, but i wouldn't want to weed around them! Ouch! Actually, I didn't see any weeds in your photos. Maybe weeds don't survive in the desert, at least the weeds I am familiar with. I can see how you spent 5 hours and took 500 pictures in this place. Thanks for sharing your visit to this wonderful place!

  11. jodi (bloomingwriter)
    jodi (bloomingwriter) says:

    Such a Suessian garden! This is why I never, ever get weary of plants, because there is such a huge, dizzying array of them to look at and learn from. I was fascinated with that aloe that had yellow-orange flowers that, at least to my eyes without their glasses on, look just like redhot poker (tritoma, Kniphofia. I would so enjoy visiting a garden like this, you'd have to drag me out at closing time or chase me with a rattlesnake.

  12. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    That is an absolutely fantastic flower on the Aloe plant Noelle. I've never seen one in bloom ~ just had the little ones (as houseplants) that I usually kill! So many noteworthy plants & scenery ~ I can see why you spent 5 hours here. The barrel cactus photo is particularly beautiful ~ so colorful ~ I don't grow many succulents so I never knew they had that much color. It's also so wonderful your families can spend so much time together.

  13. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    ps we were never allowed to have "fake" snakes as kids ~ my dad had a theory that we would get accustomed to seeing them around then not react fast enough to a real one.

  14. Liisa
    Liisa says:

    What a wonderful collection of images from your tour. The barrel cactus are one of my favorites in addition to the fan palms. That first photograph is just beautiful. What an enjoyable day. I wonder how old some of the cacti specimens are. I love the flowers of the Acacia saIigna, and recently read that the wood of the catclaw acacia is so hard and dense that nails were once made of it to hold ships together.

  15. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    What an interesting post. There are so many neat looking plants, almost like someone just made them up using their imagination. As much as I enjoyed the tour I also liked seeing the cousins together. Kind of reminds me of my kids and my niece and nephews together. About the toy snake, my daughter loved the toy ones too, and now has been begging for a real one. I told her when she had her own place she could have one 🙂

  16. Ceara
    Ceara says:

    I grew up in a semi-arid location in the USA before moving to Canada. It's amazing how many beautiful plants will grow in such conditions. There is also a really neat desert garden just outside Las Vegas, Nevada (right beside a chocolate factory) and another one not far from Carlsbad, New Mexico.
    The desert can be gorgeous, especially at sunset. But I still love green hills and mountains with lush growth. It's amazing how nature provides us with so many environments to explore and enjoy.

  17. Evelyn Howard
    Evelyn Howard says:

    I enjoyed looking at these interesting plants very much. I went to the Melbourne Botanical Garden today, and checked out the succulent/cactus section – gosh, it felt like another world. I thought of you and wondered if those are the plants you see in your neighbourhood everyday! I will share those pic soon.

    Thanks for sharing these fantastic photos.

  18. camissonia
    camissonia says:

    The Living Desert is always a must stop destination for me whenever I'm in the Palm Desert area. My employer happens to be a corporate sponsor, so we are really lucky to have free annual passes. You've taken some amazing photos of the wide variety of desert plants they have on the grounds.

  19. Peg
    Peg says:

    Hello! Nice blog. What is the plant/tree with all the thorns? Pic #14, the one you captioned,”Not surprisingly, there are those plants that you would do well to keep your distance from.”

Comments are closed.