Bloom Watch #2

June 2, 2022

Sounds of the Sonoran Desert

It’s 4 o’clock in the garden, and the hustle and bustle of early afternoon is over. I relinquish my post at the greenhouse and head for the Desert View Trail. Startled by my sudden presence, a quail family scampers single file across the path. The landscape is painted with chartreuse creosote bushes. They’re covered in fuzzy ripe fruits that split into segments at the touch. The yellow of spring palo verde flowers have given way to plump bean pods. Burs stick to my shoes as I crouch near a night-blooming cereus (Peniocereus greggii) nestled under a tree. I’m looking to see what our Garden Supervisor, Chris Kibler, is talking about.

Chris has watched and deciphered the progress as the pointy buds have grown up to 3 cm – just over an inch. He explained that if buds are clearly rounded (left) this is a characteristic of new branches, while pointed buds (right) become flowers. The twelve special plants that have held onto their buds despite herbivory from woodrats and squirrels are scattered throughout the trail. There is no sign of blooming yet – the big night is at least two weeks away. The Queen is waiting patiently for the right time.

As I walk through the desert, I hear a buzzing… tch tch tch tch tch tch. The sound strangely seems to be coming from more than one direction. As I get closer, it pauses until I stop moving. After a while, I discover that cicadas are taking turns calling from the same palo verde tree. They blend in perfectly with the pale green bark.

Okanagodes gracilis is one of four dozen species of cicada that can be found in the state of Arizona.

My water bottle is empty now, which means it’s time to turn back. This time of year, water takes on an importance like that of oxygen on the moon. A precious thing.

While we wait for Bloom Night, I encourage you to go on a scavenger hunt. You can check out the buds and blooms currently covering the snake cactus (Peniocereus serpentinus) in front of the La Galeria Museum Shop. You can catch the open blossoms at 7 a.m. when the gardens open. Admire the diverse collection of potted night-bloomers under the patio of the Education Center. Enjoy a meditative hike on the Desert View Trail and search for the cylindrical cages that contain the delicate silhouettes of the night-blooming cereus, Queen of the Night.

Peniocereus serpentinus, snake cactus bud

— Tracey Till, Retail Greenhouse & Propagation Associate, Tohono Chul