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Cactus blooms in Tucson

Sahuaro cactus and young lady pointing.
Sahuaro cactus and young lady pointing.
copyright Joanne Burch

The cactus are blooming. Now is the time to take your children out for a day of viewing cactus blooms. If you have never stopped to look, you may be amazed at the variety of cactus natural to our desert, or grown in a garden.

Our Sonora Desert has a wide variety of cactus, agave and yucca, as well as other succulents. The tall saguaro (sa wa ro) is perhaps the most familiar - the state flower of Arizona. Growing to over 100 feet tall, it has white flowers on top of each arm and trunk. The fruit of these flowers are red, and split into quarters and fold back, making many people believe saguaros have red blooms.

Cholla (choy ya) grow in various sizes, and are more tree or bush like. Staghorn cholla have long skinny sections that begin to resemble spreading antlers of deer. The Teddy Bear cholla has thick, long, silvery needles or spines that give the impression of fur. People and pets brushing past quickly learn why it has the alternative name of “Jumping Cactus.” Any slight touch will pull a segment loose, which attaches to you via a crook-tipped spine. Blossom colors range from yellow to dark purple.

Also quite visible in our desert is the prickly pear, or “pancake” cactus, so nicknamed because they have flat, rounded pads. They have easily visible spines, but also fine, fuzzy thorns that can get into your skin and hurt or itch terribly. So beware touching them! Prickly pear have flowers ranging in color from pale yellow to pink.

The smaller cactus are more difficult to spot in the wild, but can be observed in gardens and parks all over town. Three places to visit are Tohono Chul Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Tucson Botanical Gardens. So get out and look around. The streets of Tucson are in bloom.