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The newest member of our animal family is unique in that he isn’t furry and just happens to carry his house on his back.

 
I’d like to introduce you to “Aesop”.
 
Aesop is a desert tortoise who make their home in the deserts of the Southwest .
 
You may be wondering why someone would want to adopt a desert tortoise and how the process works.
 
As for the why, as a child, my best friend’s family had a tortoise who lived in their backyard.  His name was “Lopez”.  I always enjoyed watching him munching on grass as he slowly made his way through the backyard.
 
 
In my career as a horticulturist who has spent a lot of time in the desert, I’ve come in contact with these special animals including helping one cross a busy road.
 
Due to loss of habitat in the desert as well captive tortoises breeding, there are many looking for homes.  
 
My husband and I had always liked the idea of getting a tortoise, but with our dogs having free run of our backyard, it wasn’t feasible.
We recently created a dog run along our rather large side yard, so our dogs no longer have access to the backyard.  So, our dream of acquiring a desert tortoise could be fulfilled.
So how do you get a desert tortoise?
 
First, if you live in Arizona, California, Nevada or New Mexico, you visit your state’s Game & Fish Department’s website, where you learn about desert tortoises and then fill out an application.
 
Guidelines on creating a tortoise shelter is found on the website, which must be completed before you till out the application.  
 
The application itself is fairly simple.  You need to take photographs of your backyard space and tortoise shelter, which you submit along with the application.
 
Once you are approved, you are invited to pick up your new tortoise.
 
 
My husband, daughter and I headed out to the nearest desert tortoise adoption facility, which for us was at the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s facility off of Carefree Highway in Phoenix.
*There are several other adoption facilities throughout other areas in Arizona and other Southwestern states.
 
 
We arrived on an adoption day where they were trying to have 50 desert tortoises adopted.
 
We showed them our application, gave a donation and went inside the gates.
 
 
There were several adult tortoises, sitting in boxes just waiting for someone to pick them and take them home.
 
But, we passed them by so that we could see the baby tortoises.
 
 
There were several young tortoises walking around in a plastic swimming pool
 
 
The smaller tortoises in this photo were about 3-years old.
 
 
This tiny tortoise was the size of a cookie and was 1-year old.
 
We weren’t in the market for a baby tortoise, since our new home for our tortoise was not enclosed and we were afraid that they would get lost.
 
It was fun to see them though and get a better understanding on how slowly these reptiles grow.
 
 
We walked back to the row of boxes to examine the adult tortoises inside.  
 
 
There were a few young females, which we decided against since they can carry sperm for up to 4 years and we didn’t want the chance of having baby tortoises.
 
 
And another tortoise who had three legs.  He got along fairly well on his three limbs and we asked whether he was a male or female.
 
 
At that time, we were given a lesson on how to tell the difference between males and females.
 
 
The underside of males are slightly concave while females had a flat underside.  This tortoise was a male.
 
While we liked this one very much, we were worried that the may have trouble navigating the concrete curbing around our lawn, filled with Bermuda grass, which is a favorite food of desert tortoises.
 
 
As we moved down the row of tortoises, we finally found one that was perfect.
 
 
This male tortoise was a good size and was very active…for a tortoise 😉
 
 
 
We took our tortoise and loaded him up in the car.
 
I don’t know who was more excited, my husband or my daughter, Gracie.
 
When you adopt a desert tortoise, you don’t ‘own’ them.  You are caretakers and aren’t allowed to take them outside of the state where you adopted them from.
 
Tortoises live up to 100 years, so people often hand them down to friends of family members.  Of course, you can always take them back to the facility where you adopted them from.
 
 
Once we arrived home, we showed Aesop his new home.
 
We created it out of an old plant container that we cut in half and buried with several inches of soil, which helps to insulate it against extreme cold and heat.
 
 
Aesop was curious about his new home.
 

We decided to name him “Aesop” in a nod to Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

After a minute of looking in his shelter, Aesop headed out to explore his new habitat and then wWe stood and watched him slowly walk around.
 
 
He nibbled on a few red bird-of-paradise leaves as he walked by.
 
 
Grass is a favorite food of tortoises and he was happy to walk on our lawn.
 
**The unevenness of our lawn is a rather recent development since our 13-year old son is learning how to mow.  As you can see, he has a bit more practicing to do before he gets it right.
 
 
Exploring the areas against our block wall, Aesop soon found my globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), which is found on lists of plants that they like.  Our desert willow will also provide him with some of his favorite flowers too.
 
In the 3 days since we adopted him, he had spent a lot of time exploring the entire backyard including the patio and the areas underneath our shrubs and vines.
 
In the morning and late afternoon, we see him grazing on our lawn, taking a stroll on the patio before heading to his favorite spot…
 
 
Underneath our purple lilac vines, where he likes to spend the night.
 
We have fun walking outdoors and looking for him to see where he is.
In October, Aesop will hibernate until spring, but in the meantime, we will enjoy the privilege of hosting one of these desert animals.

**For more information on desert tortoise care and how to adopt them, click here.** 

Have you ever seen a desert tortoise or know someone who has one?

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Do you remember that song from Sesame Street, where they would show 3 things that were the same and one thing that was different?  Then you had to pick the thing that didn’t belong with the others?

I love watching Sesame Street with my younger sister and I always liked that song.

Well, I decided to borrow the song’s theme and apply it to the 4 pictures below to see if you can tell which one doesn’t belong.

In other words…..you are getting a “pop quiz”.

Are you ready?  Let’s get started….

Okay, which one of these doesn’t belong with the others?

#1
#2
#3
#4
So, could you tell which one doesn’t belong?

Do you want a hint?

They are all cacti, but one is found in Baja Mexico, while the others are found in the Sonoran Desert.

Give up?

#3 doesn’t belong.

Why not?
Well, while it looks an awful lot like a Saguaro cactus (Saguaro carnegiea), it is actually a Cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei).
I admit, that it can be awfully hard to tell the difference to the casual observer unless you look carefully.
Cardon on the left and a Saguaro on the right.

Cardon cacti are the largest in the world and reach heights up to 70 ft. and can weigh 25 tons.  They are only found in Baja, Mexico and can live up to 300 years.


Cardon arms grow lower down then those of a Saguaro cactus and they do not have as many spines.
Also, if you look carefully, their ‘folds’ are deeper and wider then those of the Saguaro.  The color of the Cardon cactus is also a grayer color of green then the Saguaro.

Cardon cacti are available in cactus nurseries for those who want to grow them.

So next time you see a Saguaro cactus in a landscape setting; look closely, it may not be what you think.


How about you?  Have you ever seen a Cardon cactus before?

I apologize, but life is kind of crazy this week, so I promise that I will get to back to my ‘Tree Planting’ posts soon.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you one of my favorite posts that I wrote about 1 1/2 years ago.  I was rather new at blogging at the time so most of you probably have not read it.  I hope you enjoy it 🙂

When people think of a desert, most envision a place of intense heat, sparse plants, snakes and lots of sand.  Well, some of that is true, but there is much, much more which I have discovered.  I am not a native desert dweller.  In fact, I was born and raised near the beach in Southern California and I never thought that I would live in the desert.  However, here I am, having lived in Arizona for over 23 years and I wouldn’t have it any other way….

All of the photos were taken in an area about 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix.

The desert that I live in is called the Sonoran Desert and it occupies over 120,000 sq. miles covering parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.  Although deserts around the world do not receive much rainfall, the Sonoran Desert receives more then any other desert in the world.  We have two seasons of rain.  In the winter our storms come from the west from the Pacific coast and the rains are usually gentle.  In the summer our rains come up from Mexico and are called “monsoons”, which means “wind shift”.  These summer storms are sporadic and result in torrential rainfall and high winds.  Often, when we receive these torrential downpours, my kids and I just stand inside our front door, just watching the rain.

By the way…..you know you are an ‘official’ desert dweller when you rejoice whenever it rains.

Because of our dual rainy seasons, the Sonoran Desert has the most animal and plant species of any North American desert.  We have over 2,000 native plant species alone.  In the spring, the desert is awash in wildflowers and cactus blooms.  The rain brings out the distinct, yet pleasing, scent of the Creosote bush (if you rub the leaves in your fingers, it smells like the rain).  I live in zone 8b and we do experience occasional freezing conditions during the winter. 

Interestingly, the western part of the Sonoran Desert, located in California (Palm Springs and surrounding area), is regarded as a sub-desert called the Colorado Desert.  It differs in appearance and in that the soils are sandy, there is less rainfall in the summer and as a result there is less plant density and native plant species.  The Saguaro cactus does not grow naturally in the Colorado Desert.  If you have a chance to drive across the California – Arizona border, you can see the difference as you cross over the Colorado River.  This sub-desert has a beauty of it’s own and I enjoy visiting this part of the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place with cactus and snakes  (I rarely see them), but is also filled with trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.  Far from being a barren wasteland, this desert is full of life and beauty.


It is my home….

The saguaro cactus is one of the most iconic plants of Arizona, (Carnegiea gigantea), it is perhaps the most recognizable trademark of the Sonoran desert with their tall arms reaching toward the sky.

Although, saguaros are only in some regions of the Sonoran desert. The vast majority are found in Arizona and Mexico. They are often found growing on the south side of the mountains due to the warmer air temperatures.
Another iconic Sonoran desert plant is the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) with its leaf covered canes topped with brightly colored flowers. Sometimes, people, mistake ocotillo as a type of cactus, but they’re actually a type of shrub.

Ocotillo produces beautiful vermillion blooms that attract hummingbirds and their canes leaf out occasionally in response to humidity and rain.