Spring in the Arizona Desert: Cacti in Bloom

Updated on June 20, 2018
Chuck profile image

Having lived in Arizona for over 30 years, Chuck and his wife enjoy the great outdoors of the American Southwest.

The Desert Blooms in Spring

Mention deserts and the image that comes to mind for many is a hot dry land with a barren and desolate landscape that is covered with sand and is almost totally lacking in vegetation.

While this image may be true for some desert areas in the world, such as the Sahara Desert in North Africa or the Gobi Desert in Asia, it is a far from accurate description of America's southwestern desert areas.

While the desert areas that extend over much of Arizona and New Mexico as well as parts of California and Texas tend to be hot, especially in summer, and full of sand they are anything but barren.

Prickly Pear Cactus in Boom

Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom
Prickly Pear Cactus in Bloom | Source

With few exceptions, such as the white sand area of the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico which is mostly barren white sand with very little vegetation and the Death Valley area of California which are mostly barren, the desert areas of the American Southwest do support a fair number of plants an animals that have adapted to the dry desert environment.

With the coming of spring these cactus and other desert plants burst forth in bloom turning the desert into a virtual flower garden of beautiful flowers.

Prickley Pear in Bloom

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.Yellow flowers blooming on a prickly pear cactus in the Arizona desert.Close up photo of flower on leaf of a prickly pear cactus.
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.
Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom. | Source
Yellow flowers blooming on a prickly pear cactus in the Arizona desert.
Yellow flowers blooming on a prickly pear cactus in the Arizona desert. | Source
Close up photo of flower on leaf of a prickly pear cactus.
Close up photo of flower on leaf of a prickly pear cactus. | Source

Cactus is King

While not known for the lush vegitation or thick forests that predominate in the eastern states of the United States, the southwestern deserts do have an abundance of their own unique vegetation.

In a previous Hub, entitled Springtime in the Arizona Deseert, I described how the winter rains bring forth an abundance of wildflowers that blanket the desert landscape in the spring.

While hardy, most of the plants that bear these flowers cannot handle the intense summer heat of the desert so they tend to sprout and bloom early in the spring when the temperatures are lower and water more abundant.

However, as the wildflowers wither and die in the increasing heat of late spring, the mainstays of the desert, the cactus and other succulent plants thrive and bloom during late spring and early summer.

Unlike the wildflower plants which need a supply of water in the ground to survive, cacti and their succulent cousins have, over the ages, evolved in ways that have allowed them to adapt to the hot and dry desert climate by holding moisture in and consuming it sparingly.

Since these plants are able to survive in the hot dry desert climate, they can afford to wait and bloom later in the spring when the days are becoming hotter. Just as the wild flowers put on a spectacular show of beauty when they bloom so too do the cacti and other succulents so that the desert is again awash in floral beauty.

Prickley Pear Cactus

The Prickley Pear is a common cactus that is found in many parts of the world.

It flowers in the spring and after the flower dies a fruit is produced which can be consumed by humans. The fruit is often made into a jam. Tourist shops in the southwest often carry prickley pear jam as one of their offerings.

The broad flat leaves of this cactus can also be cut up, boiled and eaten as a vegetable. These leaves are sometimes served with Mexican meals and are in sufficient demand among some consumers in Tucson that many grocery stores carry these leaves in their fresh produce section.

I have tried the leaves on a couple occasions at potluck luncheons at work and they have a taste and consistency similar to that of boiled green beans.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Leaf and bloom on a prickly pear cactus.Red and yellow flower on a prickly pear cactus.close-up of a bloom on a prickly pear cactus
Leaf and bloom on a prickly pear cactus.
Leaf and bloom on a prickly pear cactus. | Source
Red and yellow flower on a prickly pear cactus.
Red and yellow flower on a prickly pear cactus. | Source
close-up of a bloom on a prickly pear cactus
close-up of a bloom on a prickly pear cactus | Source

Another Variety of Prickley Pear Cactus

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Flowers on a purple prickly pear cactusA purple prickly pear cactus in bloom.
Flowers on a purple prickly pear cactus
Flowers on a purple prickly pear cactus | Source
A purple prickly pear cactus in bloom.
A purple prickly pear cactus in bloom. | Source

More Prickly Pear Flowers

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Orange flowers on a variety of prickly pear cactusFlower and buds on a variety of prickly pear cactus
Orange flowers on a variety of prickly pear cactus
Orange flowers on a variety of prickly pear cactus | Source
Flower and buds on a variety of prickly pear cactus
Flower and buds on a variety of prickly pear cactus | Source

Saguaro Cacti

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Giant Saguaro Cacti in Tucson, ArizonaDelicate white flowers on the arm of a giant saguaro cactus
Giant Saguaro Cacti in Tucson, Arizona
Giant Saguaro Cacti in Tucson, Arizona | Source
Delicate white flowers on the arm of a giant saguaro cactus
Delicate white flowers on the arm of a giant saguaro cactus | Source

Even the Mighty Saguaro Cacti Break Into Bloom in Spring

While various species of cactus can be found in desert and dry areas around the world, the saguaro is only found in the Sonoran Desert which stretches across parts of Arizona and California in the U.S. and parts of the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Thanks in large part to old west cowboy movies the saguaro cactus has become widely known and closely associated with the American West despite the fact that the Saguaro is only found in a small part of the West.

During late spring and early summer, the saguaro produces white or red flowers.

The flowers produce a fruit which is popular with birds and bugs and is also harvested by the local Tohono O'odham indians in June and July and made into wine for their centuries rain ceremony.

Despite their natural majestic beauty and the way they beautify the Arizona landscape throughout the year, their flowering adds additional beauty to springtime in the desert.

Tohono O'odham Harvesting Saguaro Fruit

Sign describing Arizona Tohono O'odham Indians harvesting fruit of a Saguaro cactus
Sign describing Arizona Tohono O'odham Indians harvesting fruit of a Saguaro cactus | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Saguaro cacti in the desert of Southern ArizonaDelicate white flower on a Saguaro CactusFlowers and buds cover the tip of this Saguaro Cactus.
Saguaro cacti in the desert of Southern Arizona
Saguaro cacti in the desert of Southern Arizona | Source
Delicate white flower on a Saguaro Cactus
Delicate white flower on a Saguaro Cactus | Source
Flowers and buds cover the tip of this Saguaro Cactus.
Flowers and buds cover the tip of this Saguaro Cactus. | Source

Saguro Fruit for Birds and Humans

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Dark Red fruit atop a giant Saguaro Cactus Dove sampling the fruit of a Saguaro CactusSaguaro Cacti attract birds and bugs which enjoy dining on its sweet fruit.Dove enjoys view after eating some of the red fruit on a Saguaro Cactus
Dark Red fruit atop a giant Saguaro Cactus
Dark Red fruit atop a giant Saguaro Cactus | Source
Dove sampling the fruit of a Saguaro Cactus
Dove sampling the fruit of a Saguaro Cactus | Source
Saguaro Cacti attract birds and bugs which enjoy dining on its sweet fruit.
Saguaro Cacti attract birds and bugs which enjoy dining on its sweet fruit. | Source
Dove enjoys view after eating some of the red fruit on a Saguaro Cactus
Dove enjoys view after eating some of the red fruit on a Saguaro Cactus | Source
Sign describing the ribs and bumps that make up a Saguaro Cactus
Sign describing the ribs and bumps that make up a Saguaro Cactus | Source

Other Cacti Flower As Well

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Thelocactus Cactus - a very small cactus (4 to 5 inches in height) with white prickers that look like fur.Purple flowers on a little Thelocactus CactusStar Cactus in BloomCactoceae Cactus  in bloom
Thelocactus Cactus - a very small cactus (4 to 5 inches in height) with white prickers that look like fur.
Thelocactus Cactus - a very small cactus (4 to 5 inches in height) with white prickers that look like fur. | Source
Purple flowers on a little Thelocactus Cactus
Purple flowers on a little Thelocactus Cactus | Source
Star Cactus in Bloom
Star Cactus in Bloom | Source
Cactoceae Cactus  in bloom
Cactoceae Cactus in bloom | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cholla Cactus in bloom with yellow flowersAnother variety of Prickly Pear Cactus in bloomYellow flower blooming on a Star Cactus
Cholla Cactus in bloom with yellow flowers
Cholla Cactus in bloom with yellow flowers | Source
Another variety of Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom
Another variety of Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom | Source
Yellow flower blooming on a Star Cactus
Yellow flower blooming on a Star Cactus | Source

Spanish Bayonete

Click thumbnail to view full-size
white flowers on Spanish Bayonet Spanish Bayonet succulent in full bloomClose-up of the bell shaped flowers on a Spanish Bayonet succulent plant Spanish Bayonet in bloom with Tucson's  Tortolita Mountains  in the distance.
white flowers on Spanish Bayonet
white flowers on Spanish Bayonet | Source
Spanish Bayonet succulent in full bloom
Spanish Bayonet succulent in full bloom | Source
Close-up of the bell shaped flowers on a Spanish Bayonet succulent plant
Close-up of the bell shaped flowers on a Spanish Bayonet succulent plant | Source
Spanish Bayonet in bloom with Tucson's  Tortolita Mountains  in the distance.
Spanish Bayonet in bloom with Tucson's Tortolita Mountains in the distance. | Source

Other Succulent Plants

Cacti are not the only plants designed by nature to survive in the desert.

There are other plants which, like cacti, are designed to store and use water sparingly thereby ensuring their survival in the harsh dry climate of the desert.

Like Cacti, these succulent cousins also burst forth in bloom every spring. Here is a sampling of some of these plants.

Ocotillo

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Descriptive sign in succulent garden section of Tucson Botanical GardensOcotillo in bloom along Finger Rock hiking trail in Tucson
Descriptive sign in succulent garden section of Tucson Botanical Gardens
Descriptive sign in succulent garden section of Tucson Botanical Gardens | Source
Ocotillo in bloom along Finger Rock hiking trail in Tucson
Ocotillo in bloom along Finger Rock hiking trail in Tucson | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Various cacti and wild flowers in bloom in the Arizona DesertYellow flowers of a Paloverde tree in bloom serve as a backdrop for the thin stalks of an ocotillo with its red flowers.Dark yellow flowers blooming on a cholla cactusPurple Prickly Pear and other cacti in foreground with yellow blooming Paloverde trees in background.
Various cacti and wild flowers in bloom in the Arizona Desert
Various cacti and wild flowers in bloom in the Arizona Desert | Source
Yellow flowers of a Paloverde tree in bloom serve as a backdrop for the thin stalks of an ocotillo with its red flowers.
Yellow flowers of a Paloverde tree in bloom serve as a backdrop for the thin stalks of an ocotillo with its red flowers. | Source
Dark yellow flowers blooming on a cholla cactus
Dark yellow flowers blooming on a cholla cactus | Source
Purple Prickly Pear and other cacti in foreground with yellow blooming Paloverde trees in background.
Purple Prickly Pear and other cacti in foreground with yellow blooming Paloverde trees in background. | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Chuck Nugent

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      • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

        Chuck Nugent 

        2 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

        aesta 1 - Welcome to Arizona and I hope you enjoy your stay.

        The cacti won't be blooming again until spring but when they do they are a beautiful site. Another spectacular sight can be during the winter when we occasionally get a light snowfall over night. For a few hours n the early morning the snow covered cacti (especially the saguaros) is another beautiful sight - but it only lasts a few hours after sunrise as the sun quickly melts the snow.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        We are in Arizona now and though the cacti are not in bloom, they are still beautiful. We look forward to seeing the desert bloom. I hope we see this before we go home.

      • hi friend profile image

        hi friend 

        6 years ago from India

        A great effort and a nice hub.

      • john000 profile image

        John R Wilsdon 

        6 years ago from Superior, Arizona

        Such beautiful photos. The blooms on the desert are certainly spectacular. I recently learned that the term "yellow rose of Texas" refers to the prickly pear blossom.

        It is a rose of a cactus. Good hub.

      • Stephanie Henkel profile image

        Stephanie Henkel 

        7 years ago from USA

        Although we've spent a lot of time visiting deserts in Arizona, we have not been lucky enough to see all the cacti in bloom. The few that we've seen are beautiful, and I truly enjoyed looking at your beautiful pictures of the ones we have not caught in bloom.

      • susanmarion profile image

        susanmarion 

        8 years ago from Bunnell

        I'm living in Florida, moved here from Tucson to be closer to my aging parents. I so miss hiking, enjoying the beauty of the desert there including the cactus. Thank you for helping me visit a little bit.

      • laringo profile image

        laringo 

        9 years ago from From Berkeley, California.

        Cacti are not the most beautiful plants but they do yield the most beautiful flowers. A different take on Spring but a very good pick.

      • G-Ma Johnson profile image

        Merle Ann Johnson 

        9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

        These are such beautiful plants loved them all and thanks for such an in depth hub...I was once in Mexico in the desert watching the roadrunners....the birds you showed were so cool..I even have a hard time growing a cactus  Loved the one with the big white  blossoms although they all have their own beauty...G-Ma :O) Hugs & Peace

      • C.S.Alexis profile image

        C.S.Alexis 

        9 years ago from NW Indiana

        This took me back to Texas! I was thinking last night about the beautiful early wild flowers there. I so enjoyed this hub and am happy to have some time to explore what everyone is writing about. This is a great hub and might inspire some folks to head for the dessert to see how beautiful it is when the cacti are blooming. The flowers are very vivid with color and you have good photos here to show. Thanks for sharing.

      • Princessa profile image

        Wendy Iturrizaga 

        9 years ago from France

        Those cacti are awesome. It is funny we never think about deserts when we think about spring. Yet, deserts can also be very beautiful and colourful!

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