Killdeer’s Empty Nest in our Front Yard

Mother Killdeer

Readers of JBRish know that we have been hosting a mother Killdeer while she incubates eggs in her nest. A couple of days ago, the mother was off the nest for a moment while we were working in the front yard and I noticed that only three of the four eggs remained.

This morning, I did not see the mother on the nest so once again I walked over to the nest to see that there were no eggs or remnants of eggs.

I think perhaps that the eggs were eaten by a predator since there were no broken shell pieces to be found. I looked for chicks, but could not find any. I will continue to search for baby Killdeer, but they may have become part of the “circle of life.

(The eggs were to the right and just below the single weed we let grow in deference to the bird. As is customary with Killdeer, she lined the nest with small pebbles; nothing soft)

Abandoned Killdeer nest

To read the other JBRish posts about our Killdeer visitors:

Birds of Arizona – Killdeer ( Charadrius vociferus )

Killdeer Eggs in Our Yard; Oh My!

For more information about the Killdeer’s rearing process, you can read The Precocious Killdeer. originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

See previous Life in the Desert posts HERE

See previous JBRish posts about birds HERE

Native Datura (Jimson Weed) Pretty with a Punch!

The first day we moved into our new house in N. Phoenix, AZ, we noticed a plant on the side of our yard that had dark, rather large, green leaves with tubular white flowers; also large. We had no idea what this was, but it was an impressive looking plant.

I have certain criteria for growing plants and one of them is the size of the flower in relationship to the size of the plant and leaves. I want a plant to offer color or a unique presentation. There are times when a plant provides other reasons for cultivation such as unique form, colorful leaves, etc., but I digress.

After doing a bit of research we found out that this plant was a native Datura or Jimson Weed.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

The plant pictured above isn’t the original plant, but it is a native Datura we grew from seed. As you will note it is rather large.

Here is a picture of a couple of the flowers in bloom.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

The flowers open in the evening because their natural pollinator is a Hawk moth which is out and about during the late afternoon and evening hours.

A close up of a single flower shows how inviting this might be for a moth or other pollinators such as bees. Every morning there are bees visiting the flowers to gather whatever pollen they can. The Hawk moth prefers the nectar and it has been noted by others that some of the moths seem to be a bit “high” as the Datura has hallucinogenic properties. Read more about that HERE.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

While this particular specimen is very white, I have seen others that have purple-to-pink tinges and, if my memory serves me correctly, I think one had purple stripes in the throat.

One of the positive characteristics of this plant from a gardeners point of view is that the mammals living in our yard, i.e. rabbits, squirrels, mice, packrats, javelina, etc. tend to leave it alone.

One of my favorite forms of the flower, because of its beautiful and unique form, is the swirled bud shape that it assumes the day before it opens.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

This particular plant wasn’t this robust its first year, but with every subsequent year, it has gotten larger and larger. The seed of this plant was harvested from a sprawlingly huge specimen. Now that it seems to have taken hold, we anticipate that it will remain a sturdy perennial.

This spring, once the blooms began to mature, I have been greeted with a dozen or more flowers nearly every morning. The flowers only last a few hours after daybreak and with the heat of the Arizona desert sun, this bloom interval will shorten.

I remove the spent blooms each morning and create a “dead head” bouquet.

Datura (Jimson Weed)

This seems to extend the bloom time by preventing the formation of the prickly seed pods.

Datura (Jimson Weed)
Photograph courtesy of

If you live in an arid area with the appropriate temperature range and you would like to grow an interesting plant that is mostly pest free, I think the Datura would be a good candidate.

Killdeer Eggs in Our Yard; Oh My!

Several days ago, I reported about the Killdeer that have taken up residence near our house in North Phoenix, AZ. We saw them for days as we worked outside early in the morning tending our plants and preparing for the warmer, or more appropriately, hotter weather. You can see that initial post HERE.

Well, now we know why they were hanging around. They found a spot on the side of our landscape that they felt was just right for their “nest” although it is far from comfortable or nest-like from my obviously non-avian point of view. It is actually a depression they created by moving some of the landscape stones to the side. The mother must also bear the brunt of the intense sun for the entire day. Our attempt to set up a shade barrier frightened her and had to be removed for fear of having the nest abandoned.

Killdeer eggs

Four Killdeer eggs in a hard-packed nest

Killdeer mother tending the nest

Killdeer mom tending her nest in the hot Arizona sun

It is amazing to see how well both the mom and the eggs blend with the surroundings. Each morning we must strain our eyes to find her once again!

Streets of Gold in the Phoenix Desert (Gardening)

Palo Verde Tree in flower

As you can see from the photograph above, the desert is decked in gold this time of year. The Palo Verdes (along with some other flowering trees snd shrubs) produce an abundance of yellow blooms. There are streets that are lined with these trees and they build a seasonal hallway of gold.

Streets of gold

The ground is carpeted with spent yellow flower petals adding even more color to the street. While the neighborhoods aren’t paved with gold, they are covered with pretty yellow hues.

Below is a picture of the branches of the Palo Verde tree laden with its delightful burden of yellow flowers.

Palo Verde Tree flowers originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Wild West Weeds

Desert weeds along the roadside

Prior to moving to the North Phoenix area of the Sonoran Desert, I never thought about having a problem with weeds in such an arid region. After all, it is the desert with little water so there shouldn’t be a lot of weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside


It turns out that desert plants, which naturally includes weeds, are pretty resilient. Winter rains from the end of December through February provide enough showers to enable the weeds to germinate; the more water, the more weeds.

Desert weeds along the roadside

This field at the end of our street has many, many weeds and among them are some very pretty willdflowers such as the orange Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) in the foreground of the photo below.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Globe Mallows grow well along the roadsides and in open fields and have a color range from light to dark orange. Once in a while one can discover a rare pink Globe Mallow or an even more rare red variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

The Globe Mallow in the photograph above adds variety in the desert weed landscape of silver, greens and yellows.

Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea) is an abundant weed found in many open spaces.

Desert weeds along the roadside

In fields that are left untended for a number of years, a tree may take hold. This appears to be a Mesquite of some variety.

Desert weeds along the roadside

Yes wildflowers are pretty, but weeds can be more than a nuisance. As weeds dry out, they create a fire hazard. When the temperatures rise to above the ninety degree threshold and the rains become more scarce, spent wildflowers and weeds become tinder.

Desert weeds along the roadside

It is recommended that there is a defensible space around homes to help avoid fire spreading to dwellings. There was more to know about the desert ecosystem and weeds than I ever imagined prior to my residency in Arizona. originally published this post

See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Gardening in the Desert – You Dirty Rat

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona can be quite a challenge. It is hard to imagine that, at one time, people lived here without air conditioning. We normally receive between 10-12 inches of rain a year in our particular area of Arizona near Cave Creek. This isn’t a lot of rain and this adds to the challenge of gardening in the desert.

Add to that problem the competition with the natural desert denizens including snakes, scorpions, tarantulas and a host of rodents.

This is the time of year when I make a daily round to look at all of the plants in our landscape to monitor their condition. When temperatures can spike to more than 90 degrees, the tipping point for some plants is very small.

For several days, I noticed that two of our plants were being nibbled. They weren’t being eaten, just ripped and the detritus left behind. From previous experience, I figured this was one of our most prevalent pests, the desert pack rat.

Rather than set a killing trap, we try to capture them with a Have-a-heart trap and relocate them. Out came the trap and at dusk I set it and placed it where I had seen the nibbling.

My most successful lure in the past had been peanuts or peanut butter. I had no more of the nuts so I put some peanut butter on a saltine cracker. Sure enough, prior to bed time I checked and we had trapped a pack rat.

Left to their own devices, pack rats have been notorious for chewing through wires and other human necessities in search of nest building materials and food. While they definitely look like rats, they are a bit, and I emphasize the word bit, cuter than your average rat (see iPhone pictures below – apologies, but these were taken in pitch black desert).

The pictures show the pack rat just before we released him so he could take up residence in a more rural part of the desert!

You can read more about pack rats HERE.

Desert Pack Rat Arizona

Desert Pack Rat Arizona originally published this post

See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Spring Cactus Bloom in Arizona – The Claret Cup

We have had a wetter than usual winter and early spring and thus we are having a beautiful wildflower bloom. Our landscape cactus are showing their appreciation as well with a living bouquet for our enjoyment.

One of our courtyard features is a round planter that has hosted a Claret Cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) for more than ten years. At one time it had plenty of room, but as you can see below, it will need to be divided and replanted within a year or so.

Claret Cup Cactus

In years past, it wouldn’t have this many blooms open at once, but its stinginess vanished this year and we are being treated to a full orchestration of its floral beauty.

Upon closer inspection you can see the juggernaut of thorns it sports that will present quite a challenge when it comes time to move or transplant it. We have a long pair of tweezers or tongs that we use to remove spent blooms or any debris that gets caught amid the needles.

Claret Cup Cactus

In the photo below, the pollen can be seen on top of the stamens. While this adds color to the picture and pollen to the air, it also seems to attract woodpeckers. For some reason they like to eat the center of the flowers and my assumption is that it is because of the pollen. After inspecting where they have been, the pollen sacks are gone — who knew?

Claret Cup Cactus

You can read more about Claret Cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) by clicking HERE. originally published this post
All photographs are Copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross with ALL Rights Reserved

See more JBRish gardening and desert gardening posts here HERE

Cactus Ghosts in the Desert

Life in the Desert

Cactus appear as ghosts in the desert
Photograph copyright by Jeffrey B. Ross – © All Rights Reserved.

Living in the desert will often present a real life oxymoron which will make us stop and take notice. Although people think of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as a very hot place, it does have a winter season. During this period of time, from December through February (approximately), we have cloudy days with intermittent rains. This year, we had more rainy days in January than any time in the last ten years that I can remember.

Another surprise to some is that we get snow on top of the mountains surrounding the Phoenix valley and we have a frost every once in a while. In our neighborhood so far this year, we had one day with light frost, but there have been years when we have had several days with a bit more than a light frost. When that happens, we need to protect some of our sensitive plants. This is often done by covering them with frost blankets.

Once the cloth is placed over the plant, it needs to be anchored at the bottom so the cold air, that is heavier than the warmer air, does not get under the cloth.

THE PICTURE ABOVE – There are certain cactus species that people use in their landscape in the desert that are more sensitive to the cold than others and nurseries can’t take the chance of having them damaged by cold or frost. To protect the plants, they wrap them in frost cloths during the colder months. The picture demonstrates this phenomenon. When I passed by this nursery in N. Phoenix, the bundled cacti reminded me of ghosts.

See previous posts about life in the Desert, HERE

In the Desert, Its Beginning to Look Like…

As most people can imagine, there isn’t too much in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona that would innately remind the casual visitor of the overall Christmas/Winter Holiday Season. It does get cool during the late fall and winter evenings. We hit temperatures in the forties many nights during the end of November and through December. We can also get more rain this time of year, but generally not as much as January.

So residents of the Phoenix area use their creativity to devise ways of decorating for the winter holidays.

Here is a photograph of a variegated agave we had in our landscape at one time. The plant has thick leaves with sharp edges and each leaf has a sharp point on the end. That is how it survives in the desert. Without all those sharp edges and points, it would be eaten to death by rabbits, javelinas and other denizens.

Agave with sharp edges and points

People have discovered that those sharp tips at the ends of the leaves have another good use!

Gold colored Christmas balls create a crown-like appearance on top of this agave in the front yard. They play well against the green of the agave and the rest of the residential desert landscape.

Gold balls on a green agave

If solid gold is too regal for you and you want more of a standard Christmas color scheme, a variety of colors would work just as well.
Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

Colorful variety of Christmas balls on an agave

The increased color palette (above) plays well with other holiday ornaments such as the foreground cactus with Santa hat.

Instead of plain poinsettias, how about faux poinsettia leaves attached to the branches of the Ocotillo?

Ocotillo with Poinsettia leaves

(BTW – If you want to see what an Ocotillo looks like during the active growing season with leaves and without fake ornamentation, click HERE)

For a more subtle spot decoration, smaller colorful Christmas balls can be uniquely placed in planters.

Planter with small, colorful Christmas balls

Yes, it really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Sonoran Desert in 2016!

Sonoran Winter Holiday at the Desert Botanical Garden – Phoenix

The Schilling Entry Arbor and Tranquility Fountain beckons seasonal guests to enjoy the winter holiday season in Sonoran Desert style.

Holiday Cheer at the DBG Entrance

Traditional festive decor can be found in many areas including the membership kiosk. While these items would be at home in any holiday display in the United States, they take on a special nuance when surrounded by nearby saguaro cacti and succulents.

Traditional Holiday accents at the DBG

It was somewhat strange to see the poinsettias taking their place next to traditionally xeric plants, many of which are native to the Sonoran Desert and other arid regions. The colors of the temporary plants play well off of the green aloes in the raised bed.

Poinsettias seem right at home next to their cacti neighbors

This yellow/white poinsettia with a bib of white cyclamen was strategically positioned near the main ticket booth. A swath of burlap is used to cover the less decorative standard pillar base.

Less traditional yellow/white poinsettias lend a nice accent when placed against the white cylcamen

During the Las Noches de las Luminarias celebration, the Desert Botanical Garden boasts – Eight thousand hand-lit luminaria bags and thousands of white twinkle lights will set the Garden aglow this winter for 21 magical evenings” – but I don’t think they were counting this rebar candelabra waiting patiently for the evening visitors and its chance to shine.

Candelabra in waiting for the evening display

The Las Noches de las Luminarias event is one of the major valley attractions this time of the year with a variety of music venues, holiday themes and a wonderful seasonal ambience set against the beautiful Sonoran Desert backdrop. If you attend, dress warmly and bring gloves!

Candelabra in waiting for the evening display

Above photograph courtesy of a screen shot of the Desert Botanical Garden website

It is a wonderful time of the year in Phoenix at the Desert Botanical Garden.