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Cacti and Other Succulents: Landscaping for Desert Wildlife
 

A succulent is a plant that stores water in its leaves or stems (or occasionally in its roots). All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

These are leafless, spiny, hardy desert plants with large, colorful flowers. They range in height from a few inches to 40 feet or more tall. Cacti have relatively large fruit with many seeds. Fruit is produced mainly in spring and summer, but some remain on plants into winter. Many are relished by fruit- and seed-eating animals. Cactus flowers offer nectar for bats and hummingbirds, while insects on flowers attract birds.

 

Cholla (Opuntia species)

 
Agave (Agave species) Rosette of succulent leaves grows from base of plant. An impressive, tall stalk with whitish or yellow flowers appears once toward end of long life of plant. Different species vary in size. Evergreen, toothed leaves. Good accent plant, good for open areas. Flowers are important summer nectar source for bats and hummingbirds. Insects on flowers attract other birds. Javelina eat developing flower stalk.
     
Cholla (Opuntia species)
Cholla (Opuntia species)
 

Cholla (Opuntia species) Highly branched cacti. Large species are favorite nest sites for cactus wrens, thrashers and verdins. Packrats use spiny “joints” to armor their nests.

Prickly Pear (Opuntia species) Large, thick, flat pads grow from one another to form branched plant with large, colorful flowers and fruit. Form varies from sprawling to upright, depending on species. Most are spiny. Good escape cover. Those producing juicy fruit in summer are prized by many birds, mammals and some reptiles, including desert tortoise. Javelina eat pads and fruit.


Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) Very tall, massive, succulent green trunk with several branches when mature, a single pillar when young. Large white flowers near tips of branches in May and June. Saguaro cactus flower is Arizona's official state flower. Large, juicy red fruit in June and July. Up to 40 or rarely 50 feet tall. Spiny, slow-growing. Takes the place of large tree trunks in the desert for cavity-nesting birds; woodpeckers dig nest cavities in trunk, which are later used by other hole-nesting species. Nectar and pollen eaten by bats and birds; fruits and seeds eaten by many animals. One of the most valuable wildlife plants in the Sonoran Desert.

 
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea)
 
Landscaping Information
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Related Information
- Living with Urban Wildlife
External Resources [More]
- Desert Botanical Garden
- Arizona Native Plant Society’s Invasive non-native landscape plants information
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association information about conserving water while landscaping
- Tucson Botanical Gardens
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