The Desert Museum

 

Even in fruit, this barrel cactus is quite colorful.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, commonly the Desert Museum, is a gem in Tucson, AZ.  It is a  top flight family activity with the incorporation of a minor zoo’s worth of desert animals along with the plant exhibits of the botanic garden.  They have a stingray exhibit going now, which shows they know what kids like.  I liked the bighorn sheep.  They had a coatimundi exhibit, but I was more impressed by the wild coatimundi I saw when I was coming home from the Desert Museum.

The bighorn sheep are superb.

For a botanically inclined guy like me, the most exciting plant is actually out by the parking lot.  They have a rare crested saguaro.  Such plants are incredibly rare mutations.  Don’t expect to find one just walking about in the lowland desert.  Most visitors have no idea it is there.   You just have to look around in the parking area as you approach the entry to find this one.

The Desert Museum also has a really great agave garden.  The  contorted one with wavy leaves got my attention, but the drought last year also seems to have coaxed a number of agaves into bloom.   Agaves are monocarpic.  They bloom once, then die.   The bloom spike can go 15′ or more into the air.   They start out as what looks like a giant asparagus spear.   I was able to capture a couple of photos at that stage.   It does not really take 100 years for a  “Century Plant” to bloom, but they are long lived and only bloom at the end of life cycle.

The emerging agave flower spike is like a giant asparagus spear. Lovely, and denotes the end of the life cycle for the plant.

This crested saguaro cactus is a very rare specimen.

Of course, cacti are the kings at the Desert Museum.   If you have not grown cacti, consider doing so.  They are amazingly colorful blooming plants that are very easy to please.  They also can look fabulous when just in fruit and not in bloom, as shown by the yellow fruited barrel cactus. 

So bring the family or wander the garden solo, either way it will be a hit.  The Desert Museum is mostly a botanic garden, partly a zoo, partly a concession haven, and completely colorful and fun.

This contorted agave was a lovely giant specimen plant with saguaros in the background.