Christmas in the desert is much the same as it is around the world.  Christmas lights adorn homes and trees, with a few notable exceptions.  This is the desert after all….we sometimes do things a little differently.

Christmas in desert

First of all, we have a town Christmas tree made entirely out of tumbleweed.  It is painted white and really looks quite beautiful at night when lit up.  We have a huge celebration each year when the  lights are lit for the first time.

Christmas in desert

See…. I told you it was made out of tumbleweed.  For those of you who do not know what tumbleweed is, it is the light brown, prickly, round shrub that you see rolling through the town when you watch old Western movies. *Disclaimer – contrary to popular belief, it is rare to see tumbleweed rolling through the desert.

Christmas in desert

We desert dwellers also decorate our cactus whenever we get a chance.  Saguaro cactus is relatively easy to decorate.  There was a home we used to drive by that had 3 saguaro cacti and every year they would decorate them as the 3 wise men – they looked just great.

Christmas in desert

Water is a much celebrated natural resource and some landscapes have fake desert washes running through their front yard.  During Christmas, some decorate their washes with blue lights to signify water.

*Fake desert washes were extremely trendy, but are thankfully, on the decline.  I admit that I did design some for homeowners who insisted on having them, but I would use large boulders and embed them along the sides to imitate a natural creek bed.

Christmas in desert

Ocotillo make a great stand-in as a Christmas tree.  Just hang some ornaments and string the lights.  I may have to try this on my Ocotillo next year.

Christmas in desert

You know those nets of Christmas lights that you can spread over shrubs?  Look carefully, this homeowner spread his lights over his boulder.  I’m not sure where I stand on this one….

Christmas in desert

Agave Americana all lit up.  I love how this looks.

Christmas in desert

Some people feel that they have to throw lights on everything in their front yard.  They just do not know when to stop.  I’m not sure the lights make this Prickly Pear cactus look any better.

Christmas in desert

The majority of homes in the desert are beautifully lit and look like many of the homes where you live.  This is one of my favorites.  The arborist in me just loves how the lights define the beautiful tree trunks of the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees.

*None of these pictures are from my home.  My husband is somewhat of a minimalist when it comes to decorating the outside of our home for Christmas…a string of lights around the house is as fancy as he gets.  But, I get to go crazy with decorations indoors.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of what Christmas in the desert looks like.   

What does Christmas look like where you live?

beauty with age

 Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi ‘truncata’)

Our society usually doesn’t equate beauty with age.  Instead, we celebrate youthful beauty and spend our money on trying to stay looking younger than our years.  Thankfully, in the world of plants, maturity is something to be celebrated.

In the case of the agave, age equals beauty.  A leaf of an agave plant can live for up to 15 years.  The leaves are etched with beautiful patterns called ‘bud imprints.’   These delicate patterns decorate the leaves in numerous different ways depending on the species, as you can see in the photo of my Artichoke Agave (Agave parryi var. truncata) above.

beauty with age

 Cow’s Horn Agave (Agave bovicornuta)

Along the sides of agave leaves are small thorns, called ‘teeth.’  Agave leaves stay in bud for 2 – 3 years.  The teeth from the leaves imprint on the other leaves while they are held tightly within the bud, which is how their delicate patterns are formed.

beauty with age

Depending on the species, some bud imprints are more obvious, while others are more subtle.

The fibers from the leaves of the agave are used for weaving items such as bags and mats.  The leaves are also used to feed cattle in areas of Mexico.

beauty with age

 Agave ‘Durango Delight’ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)

Some agave leaves have filaments along the edges.  Most agave end with a sharp terminal spine, which should be taken into consideration when you decide where to plant them.  You do not want them in high traffic areas where people can be pricked, (believe me, it hurts). 

beauty with age

 Mescal Ceniza (Agave colorata)

Because agave store water inside their leaves –  their leaves are thick and succulent.  Some of my favorite agave species are Artichoke Agave, Mescal Ceniza, and Victoria Agave.

Agave salmiana

 Agave salmiana

I saw this agave (above) next to my gym, and I was very impressed by its teeth.  They remind me of ‘claws.’

Beauty With Age

There are between 200 – 250 different species of agave, in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some of my favorite features of agave are how beautiful they are with their leaf shapes and imprints.  Secondly, their low-maintenance and drought-tolerance also make them a favorite in my garden.

Victoria Agave

 Victoria Agave (Agave victoria-reginae)

Agave is amazing plants, and I am a huge fan.  There is much more information to cover, which I will address in a future post.  But, I will answer the most common question that I am asked about agave, “No, they do not live for 100 years.”  You may be surprised at the real answer…

But, that is for a later post…

Winter Flowers, Fragrance and a Funny Name

Skeletons in Desert

As I began my trek through the desert, I found beautiful specimens of cacti, plants and even some wildlife, but I also found a few skeletons as well…..

Skeletons in Desert

 Mature Saguaro

This beautiful Saguaro was one of the first cacti that greeted me on my walk.

Skeletons in Desert

The first skeleton I came across was from a Saguaro cactus; part of it still standing upright.  You can see where top part of the skeleton has fallen to the ground.

Skeletons in Desert

Here it is close up.  The decay is till present as you can see inside.  The woody remains of the saguaro are called ‘ribs’ and are what supports the Saguaro cactus.

Skeletons in Desert

Above, is a photo of a Saguaro that had just fallen.  You can easily see the ribs.  Whenever a Saguaro cactus would fall in a landscape setting, we would move it to an out of the way area where it could decay.  Then we would take the ribs and put them back into the landscape as a display.  Saguaro ribs are considered a beautiful accent in the desert landscape and are prized by many.

Skeletons in Desert

Native Americans used Saguaro ‘ribs’ to build roofs, walls and even furniture.  Another use was that they would make long poles that they used to knock off the Saguaro fruit, which is edible.

Saguaro are not the only types of cacti that leave behind skeletons….

Teddy Bear Cholla

 Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

 Teddy Bear Cholla (above), also has an interesting skeleton.

Teddy Bear Cholla
Teddy Bear Cholla

Above, is a photo of a segment of Teddy Bear Cholla that is in the process of decaying.  You can see the woody skeleton starting to show.

Cholla skeletons

Cholla skeletons are sometimes used as walking sticks.  Artisans also use cholla skeletons to make southwestern forms of art.

It is illegal to remove Saguaro and Cholla skeletons from the desert, unless you have permission from the owner.  Specimens can sometimes be purchased at certain plant nurseries that specialize in cacti.

So do as I do…..enjoy them out in the desert and take lots of photos.

Care of Cacti

 Agave macroacantha with ‘Firesticks’

Succulents are some of my favorite types of plants. I especially like the smaller agave species such as Agave parryi, Agave victoria-reginae, and Agave bovicornuta to name a few.

Let’s talk a little about how to care for cacti and succulents. 

Care of Cacti

 Silver Spurge (Gopher Plant)

Agave, cactus, yuccas, as well as other succulent plants, can continue to be planted during this month. Warm soil temperatures are necessary for succulents to grow and they do best when planted during the warm season.

Care of Cacti

 ‘Baby Rita’

Contrary to popular opinion, newly planted succulent plants need to be watered in order to become established and grow a healthy root system.

Care of Cacti

Established cacti appreciate some supplemental water during the summer months, (especially this summer with our non-existent monsoon). I typically water large cacti with a garden hose about once a month in the summer unless we have had a lot of rain.

Lophocereus schottii 'Monstrose'

Care of Cacti, Lophocereus schottii ‘Monstrose’

Some cacti and agave plants may show signs of yellowing in the summer. This is usually due to high temperatures. Be sure to give them some supplemental water if you notice the yellowing. Usually, the yellow color disappears once temperatures cool down in the fall.