Palm Springs, Part 3: Joshua Tree

Fun facts about Joshua Tree National Park!

  • U2’s album photographs were not from Joshua Tree National Park, but rather the band found this lone Yucca brevifolia out near Darwin, CA along Route 190, which is some 250 miles north of the park.
  • The nearly 800,000-acre National Park is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
  • The whole big place is zone 8a-8b.  Maybe a couple of 9a spots on the fringes (Palm Springs is 9b with a couple 10a micros).

I’ll let you research the rest of what may be of interest; let’s get to pictures.

From where we stayed in Palm Springs it took maybe 45 minutes or so to get to the west entrance of the park.  From there, we drove in (with a couple stops along the way) to Hidden Valley where we took a roughly one-mile hike.

Et voilà.  The park’s namesake, Yucca brevifolia.  And indeed the leaves are indeed shorter than the familiar Y. gloriosa and Y. filamentosa and whatever else we might see more frequently.

I read somewhere that in parts of Joshua Tree, the natural plant combinations can have the look of an intentionally designed and planted garden.  Turns out that’s true! I was immediately drawn to this plant against that plant, time and time again.  It’s like Oudolf was here…

Okay, this next is just one plant but I loved it against the rocks with its excitement of flower stalks.


At one point, I kept noticing a very lovely honey-like fragrance, but I couldn’t see any flowers.  In fact, it seemed to emanate from this dead-looking Senegalia greggii (I think) with all the odd growths on it.

Turns out those growths are indeed a different plant: Phoradendron californicum, one of the many mistletoes native to North America. See the tiny yellow bits? Those are the flowers and they are deliciously fragrant.  It’s a hemiparasitic plant which means that it does its own photosynthesis but it gets water and nutrients from the host plant.


Aside from ubiquitous Yucca brevifolia the creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, is one of the most common shrubs here.  It’s reminiscent of Scotch broom and a tiny-leaved Ceanothus at once.

For some reason I like this growth habit.

Neato black stripes on many of its branches.  Are those scars? Growth “rings”? Is this thing really that old? I have no idea but I like it.

Pinus monophylla made an appearance.

And there was quite a bit of Quercus cornelius-mulleri, a very satisfying evergreen oak which I found was generally shrubby with good form., often growing in very rocky areas.

I’m going to let the rest of this post be a photo essay and not bother you with any more words.


Ok I lied.  I’ll come back and label all of these once I get positive IDs for the plants.

I hope you enjoyed these pics.  Back to the wet, gray Northwest for a while now!

Wednesday Vignette: Dripping

Befitting a drippy rainy day (after so many days of relative dry), I present you with this (slightly blurry; it was raining) lovely sedum which appears to have dripped itself right off the top of this rock wall and into the soil below at the base.  I was struck by the idea that this little happening is indeed an experience of movement in the garden, albeit slower movement than, say, a water feature.


Though we gardeners are usually quite aware of them, casual observer or one-time visitor might not notice the seasonal migration of things like self-seeding annuals or creeping perennials.  This is certainly an instance of that sort of plant migration, and I love how this scene shows it so clearly.

Also, this is actually in a friend’s garden; my own has similar rocks but no such elevation – yet.  I’ll get to it.  Maybe…

The Wednesday Vignette concept came from Anna at Flutter & Hum:

Palm Springs, Part 2 of 3

On Thursday morning in Palm Springs, we took a tour of Moorten’s Desert Land Botanical Garden.  It was either that or Sunnyland, and after perusing a few photos online of both places, I opted for the messier and crazier botanical garden.  I can appreciate the serenity in a highly orderly formal landscape, but if you know me at all you know that my preference is a more chaotic natural garden.

Arriving at the Moorten Botanical Garden, you just park on the street; it’s not a big place, although it’s been around for some time, according to this plaque which states it was established in 1940.

Cactus Slim sounds like someone I wouldn’t mind hanging out with.  I’m sure Patricia was cool too.

Despite the smallish size of the garden (about one acre apparently), it is absolutely packed with plants.  The most memorable aspect of the garden was the emergence of many excellent vignettes that presented themselves again and again as we wound our way through garden paths. Individual plants were often quite striking, but it was the combinations of textures and forms and colors that fascinated me more than anything.

Looking through my 200 or so photos as I’m putting together this blog post, I’m thinking “how can I organize this?” I’m just going to go through the way I walked through the garden so you can have a sense of what it was like to tour the place.

At the entrance quite a few paths converge, and the cooing of doves is the dominant sound along with occasional voices talking softly.  There is a small sign that says something like “start here and go this way” but of course we went the opposite way for whatever reason, and immediately came across this collection of aloes and euphorbias and other fine things:

I mean how ’bout that.  Right out of the gate.

Euphorbia stenoclada, here as large as a small tree, appears to be considering making some flowers:

I’d never seen Aloe dichotoma before.  This also gets to be a tree! You can see the Euphorbia stenoclada above/behind it.


I didn’t see a label on the lovely aloe above.  This has been a great year for me with aloe flowers (which I adore). I got to see tons of them in Australia last June, and now this!

As mentioned this garden is full of fascinating scenes, little (or big) vignettes.  Layers upon layers.  And sticks! Dead branches, logs, and sticks  featured quite prominently in this garden.  I believe I can honestly confess that I have a bit of a thing about dead branches; they make a garden feel “real” to me.


I’m on the lookout for some kind of piece of old farm machinery, or really anything suitably rusty, for a friend.  She would have loved these mining relics!

You cannot take a 5-gallon Agave americana on the airplane.  I checked.

More plants for sale.  There were quite a few of them over in the south end of the garden, some with “Sold” tags on them.  Like a botanical art gallery.

While we’re on the subject of plants for sale, you have to see the tables of little succulents they had – such cuteness and oh so colorful! I am really starting to understand the appeal of plants like Echeverias for their waxy glowing pastel shades.

looking back toward the entrance through the tables of small plants for sale


$1 table

Considering how easy these things are to propagate this seems like a great way for the garden to make some money.

moving up – $3 table


the $5 table

See the bird coop behind the $5 table? The doves in there were cooing constantly, a lovely sound.

Cooing, “etc”

So many suggestive shapes.  Euphemisms and jokes became irresistible with some of these.  I’ll leave it to your imagination.

weird focal point, sorry


aaahhh these COLORS

Also for sale was some interesting garden art.  I rather like these peacock things, especially the mostly green one over on the left in back.

I did not locate Tank nor Boris. Hibernating for winter, maybe

More plants:

Not labeled but I think Opuntia robusta

David models for size comparison:


NOID unlabeled awesome cactus

I cannot get over this next scene.  It has everything.


Sigh.  There’s more…


It says something like “Various Echeveria hybrids”


I promise I will get IDs for all these things eventually

Tallest Opuntia I’ve ever seen on the right in the above pic.  Those agaves are labeled “Blue Agave” which should be A. tequilana and I’m sure you can guess what they are grown for.

From the other side.  These are not small plants – 6 feet tall and wide.

My friend Kate, who loves desert plants, said “I just want to be the guy who rakes this.”  CAN RELATE

Hey guess what! Found the fabled Cactarium! I know just about NONE of these plants so I’ll just let you see with minimal commentary.

if anything in the desert can be dank, it’s this.
I have no evidence to support or disprove this claim.


I can only imagine how hellishly hot this gets in the summer

OMG Welwitschia!


something var monstrosa probably… most of these were not labeled


I have no words

There’s quite a bit of this sort of snaky ground cactus around in here.

This tall thing pushing through the roof reminds me of the story of the agave that flowered and punctured the roof of the glasshouse it lived in in Kent:


No really it’s going right through


Despite admonishment I do wish I had touched this


Agave victoriae-reginae maybe ‘Golden Princess’


No idea. But oh man.

Using a finger as a “visor” for the iPhone camera lens is a trick I figured out works pretty well when the light is too bright or the sun is shining into the lens.  Sometimes I miss and photobomb with finger, as above.


Caudiciforms: not the sexiest plants IMHO.

They just seem, I don’t know, uncomfortable I guess.

Various fun cacti:


All right, that’s it for the Cactarium.  Let’s go back outside…

A particularly ribbon-y Agave americana variegata, taller than me

Another beautiful vignette:

Agave salmiana is my guess, based on a tag on another that appears to be same species.  Looks like a big lily-flowered tulip


for scale (this is the one marked as A. salmiana)

More impressive Opuntia:

Calliandra… californica?


Hey I have this plant! Mine looks much the same as this one:


Now we’re in this lava rock area.  Nice little plantings here:

It says “native to the volcanic areas of central Mexico” or something similar

Guess what my favorite part of the next picture is?

If you said, “the dead tree” I will hand you 50 cents the next time I see you.


Only hardy to about 25F, Caesalpinia cacalaco nonetheless fascinated me with its weird spine-bumps on the trunk and its thick coin-like leaves.

The internet tells me the bumpy things get much denser and larger than this.


Those leaves tho


What is Ironwood you ask? It’s Olneya tesota.  I found one over here…  Like most Eucalyptus and many desert trees, it does not cast a dense shade.


A cactus in the Petrified Ironwood area

Another plant I recognized, Dasylirion wheeleri.  There were several here (and I saw quite a few of them around town).  This isn’t a great picture but you can see how nicely they go with Opuntia for textural contrast:

Speaking of Opuntia, here we go again…

I just adore any purple Opuntia. This is labeled as O. violaceae


I never knew what Jojoba was!

Look at those leaves! Its like a dang manzanita

Bursera microphylla.  What a neato tree.  Purple twigs!

This was the only one I could reach. They are quite strikingly purple.

More vignettes…

Look at that soft-serve ice cream twist over on the left there


Cactus here is labeled as Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum


Who knew the desert could look like a jungle?


And that brings us back to the entrance of the garden.  Whew! One last plant, this gleaming vermilion Euphorbia milii, which seemed like an appropriately cheery-but-armed greeter for this spiky desert garden.


If you made it this far I salute you!  There were so many faptastic plants here that it took three siftings through my photos to finally decide on the 79 selections included this post.  Maybe this is indicative of how much I’ve been craving some color lately!

To recap my favorite things about this botanical garden:

  • Many, many beautiful vignettes with broad ranges of texture and form, with multiple layers and varying elevation.  My favorite element.
  • The use of dead branches! My second favorite element.  Might be tied for first.
  • 5 gallon Agaves for the low low price of $25! Not that it helps me any.
  • I didn’t say this yet but I found the hand-painted signs really charming
  • Overall the place has a sort of whimsical, weird, out-west-roadside-attraction sort of feel, which was unexpected but I liked it a lot.

Next up: Joshua Tree.  Previously I’ve also posted about plants I encountered in and around town in the gardens and front yards of Palm Springs.