Monsoon Desert Bloom – Mammillaria

For those who are unfamiliar with the Sonoran Desert around North Phoenix, let me explain what happens during the heat of the summer through the middle of September.

The desert often creates strong dust storms and rain storms. These are customarily referred to as “monsoons” although technically they probably do not meet the necessary criteria for such a designation. Read more about our desert monsoons HERE!

During these storms, the Sonoran Desert receives much of its yearly rainfall. This past week, we had some very strong storms with winds and much rain.

When the “monsoon” storms arrive, there are desert plants that respond by soaking up the moisture and using the opportunity to bloom and produce seeds.

The picture below shows one such plant across the street from our house which is basically “the desert”.

desert plants after a rain 

Plants in the desert after the rain

The large plant in the center/top of the photograph that looks like it has antlers is a cholla. This is one plant that people try to avoid because it is segmented with a multitude of needles. The needles grab on to clothing, skin, leather or almost anything and a segment then breaks off and goes for a ride with the bearer. This is one way the cholla propagates.

In front of that large pant is a smaller cluster of cacti. This is a mammillaria and it produces a variety of pinkish flowers that nearly look artificial. They are very attractive and seem as if they would be at home in a tropical drink at the local brew pub.

Here is a closer look…

mammilaria blooms from above 

This mammailaria cluster has dozens of flowers which create a colorful bouquet

This is a non-cultivated plant that grew on its own. We do enjoy having it in our neighborhood!

Taming the desert rain!

After our 2007 relocation from the east coast to the Phoenix Valley, we were surprised to learn that we were in a flood plain! This was soon apparent within a few months when a monsoon storm hit, and a large portion of our “top soil” (aka “sand”) ended up in the adjacent property. We decided to construct a “wadi” (a gully or streambed in northern Africa and southwest Asia that remains dry except during the rainy season) and ordered approximately six tons of “rip rap” (fist sized stone) from a local rock yard. Landscape cloth and pins were used as a weed barrier, and then each rock was carefully laid over a period of several weeks. The wadi is approximately 70 feet by 10 feet (average) and runs diagonally across the southeast corner of our 1.5 acre parcel. It has dramatically decreased soil (sand!) loss. A year after installation, we opted to construct a wall at the wadi’s headwaters comprised of eight large boulders that have served to further diminish the rapid flow of monsoon rains. Occasionally, debris must be removed from the rocks, and it is interesting to speculate on the origin of plastic wrappers and plush pet toys that meander downstream with the rains!

Building a Wadi in the Sonoran Desert
This is the corner that was washed out after the first heavy rain

Building a Wadi in the Sonoran Desert

We started constructing the wadi by the base of the trees where the water first enters our property.

Building a Wadi in the Sonoran Desert
On the right-hand side are several boulders we purchased to add interest and further slow the flow of water.

Building a Wadi in the Sonoran Desert
The project moved along as we developed the protocol for laying the weed barrier, sandy gravel and the rocks.
Building a Wadi in the Sonoran Desert
Here is an approximately east-west view near completion of the project.