Last year I found one of my favorite plants, Elephant Food (Portulacaria afra). It has reddish brown stems and the leaves are a beautiful emerald green. When grown to a full bush they will grow to about 8-12 feet. BUT, they do not tolerate a freeze. This I found out the hard way.
When I purchased these from the local nursery I explained that I did not live in Tucson proper but a bit higher. Elephant Food will do just fine with a little cold, they said. Not to worry they said. This past winter was cold for the area (cold is a relevant term of course). According to my backyard weather station we went down to 25 overnight about 5 times. The Elephant Food kicked the bucket. It did look pretty good right after it was planted (to the right of the aloe).
This winter taught me that there were a number of plants that I thought would be fine with a little bit of cold. Aloe do not like the cold, and neither do mangave. The fairy dusters were a mixed bag (three died and two are hanging on by a leaf). I dug up the aloe and mangave before they were a complete loss, but I really didn’t want a house full of plants for the winter.
Now that it is April the temperatures with start to climb and I can put everything back outside. Well, after tomorrow night…it’s supposed to go down to 35 overnight. That’s cold for these parts!
A couple of years ago we moved to the Tucson area where the cactus grow tall and their needles are in Mother Nature’s sewing kit to pierce heavy leather. Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) are the world’s largest cactus so we’ll dedicate this post them. These gentle giants of the desert are amazing. Not only do they grow to 40 feet tall, but they also have arms that can curl around to look like a hug, or even a chair. Be aware though, if you sit on one you will never sit anywhere else for quite sometime. Their two inch needles will leave you with many holes in your backside.
Here are a few fun facts about the saguaro:
Saguaro is pronounced suh-waa-row.
They grow slowly. Only about 1-2″ per year.
When fully hydrated a mature cactus can weigh 3,200 – 4,800 pounds
The root system is pretty shallow (5-6 inches deep), but it stretches outward as far as the plant is tall. It does have a single tap root that will extend into the ground a few feet. Considering how tall these gentle giants are, that’s not very deep.
The woody skeleton can be used to thatch a roof, build a fence, or furniture parts.
“Saguaro Boots” (holes that birds built their nests) can be used as a water container.
A saguaro can have anywhere from zero arms to over 25 and usually curve upward.
One particular saguaro that I love to see is the crested saguaro. This is something that a few saguaro like to do, but not all. It is unclear why this happens but every now and again a saguaro’s growing tip (that’s the top) produces a fan like form. They are somewhat rare, and there are a few “hunters” who have spent years documenting and counting these amazing cactus. There are a few right near Tucson and I have (so far) seen three out of the thousands that are in the area.
After waiting over a year my single orange has fallen from the tree. When it broke from its branch into my hand I had a giddy moment with the feeling of holding a new puppy. An orange was born!
Way back in May of 2019 was the first little bud of an orange and today I have savored its sweet taste. I did not have an orange from the store to do a straight comparison, but IMHO I think my orange was the best I’ve had in a long time. Of course, any fruit or vegetable that is picked fresh always tastes so much better!
Below are the last few images as my orange ripened then finally was ready to eat.