Through at least Summer 2021, all Chapter activities will continue to take place virtually via Zoom. Our virtual events will be announced at least two weeks in advance to our email list subscribers. To join our email list, please contact email@example.com.
Phoenix Chapter Book Discussion – Summer 2021 (Date TBD)
We will have a virtual Chapter meeting in late July or August (date TBD). The meeting will begin with Chapter announcements and business, followed by an open discussion on a book chosen by members to read.
The selected book is When the Rains Come: A Naturalist’s Year in the Sonoran Desert by John Alcock. If you would like to discuss the book, please locate and read it in the coming weeks. It is available at several local library districts, though you may have to place a hold. It is also available through online retailers and possibly at local bookstores.
Our events are open to Chapter members as well as the general public, unless stated otherwise. If you’re interested in becoming a Chapter member, please view the Membership page. Yearly membership is just $30 for individuals, $15 for students, and $35 for families.
Additional Chapter Announcements
Invasive Species Alert: Fountain Grass
Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a popular landscaping plant, but a dangerous invasive weed. Its seeds easily spread and invade roadsides, washes, and natural areas. As a result, Fountain grass pushes out native plants and wildlife, disrupts water flow and availability, and increases the risk and severity of wildfires. Therefore, it was listed as an Arizona noxious weed in early 2020 and is no longer sold by the nursery trade.
The Arizona Native Plant Society, along with several partners, created an informational pamphlet to help the community learn how to identify and control the spread of Fountain grass. Please download, read, and share this important information with others!
Fountain grass is a popular landscaping plant, but a dangerous invasive weed. If you have it in your landscape, please remove it.
To help prevent wildfires in our public lands, do not drive over dry grass, do not smoke in vegetated areas, and do not use fireworks. Also, take extra care to obey additional fire restrictions and notices that are in place.
Follow the AZNPS Phoenix Chapter’s Facebook page for more information about local native plants news and events!
We also invite you to follow our Chapter on Instagram and use the hashtag #aznativeplants to help us raise awareness of Arizona’s amazing native plants!
Seeking native plants to use in landscaping?
Native Landscaping Plants
If you would like to learn which plants are native to our area, we invite you to view our Chapter’s List of Recommended Native Landscaping Plants (draft version). It highlights plants that are: 1) native to the Phoenix metro area, 2) beneficial to wildlife, 3) low-water-use, 4) relatively easy to care for, and 5) generally available at local nurseries or seed suppliers.
Our Chapter President’s Top 20 Native Landscaping Plants for Metro Phoenix are presented in a webinar recording.
We’ve compiled a list of metro Phoenix nurseries that generally offer a selection of native plants. Some have more variety than others, and inventory changes frequently or may be seasonal. So, it is best to inquire with a few nurseries by phone or email to determine which one suits your needs. Due to precautionary measures currently in place, please contact a nursery directly to determine if they have special operating hours or procedures.
In addition, many local organizations hold plant sale fundraisers in the Spring and Fall. We’ll update this announcement when any local plant sales take place.
Monsoon season and fall are terrific times to add wildflower seeds to your landscape, assuming it rains! For a wide variety of Arizona native plant seeds, we recommend the following sources:
Maricopa Native Seed Library – This new local project offers native seeds for free! Similar in format to other seed libraries, the public may obtain up to 3 seed packets per month. Available at several Maricopa Community Colleges libraries.
An iNaturalist project focused on plants found in urban environments. There are also monthly EcoQuest challenges that focus on certain species. Add your photo observations to the project. Or, if plant identification is your superpower, help to ID what others saw!
During early spring, the young Cirsium neomexicanum has already grown about 1 foot on its way to 6 feet in late summer. This prickly member of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae) is often considered a weed, unwanted, and dangerous. Before looking for a scythe, let’s take some time to evaluate this native desert plant.
Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
Common names for C. neomexicanum include New Mexico thistle, Desert thistle, Foss thistle, Lavender thistle, and Powderpuff thistle (Southwestern Desert Flora, 2020). It is scattered throughout most of Arizona as well as CA, CO, NM, NV, UT, and northwest Mexico, residing in multiple habitats, such as plains, hillsides, washes, roadsides, and even urban alleys.
From March to September, it produces pink, purple, lavender, or white fragrant and showy flowers up to 3 inches. The flower head is composed of many small flowers (florets) surrounded by modified or specialized leaves (brachts). The lower, outer brachts point downward, while the upper, inner bracts point upward and are somewhat twisted.
Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
True thistles have spines along the leaf margins (Sivinski, 2016). New Mexico thistle’s spiny green or greenish-gray leaves have the lobes arranged on either side of a central axis like a feather (pinnately lobed) and can be up to 7 inches long.
Arizona and New Mexico each have 19 species in the genus Cirsium (Southwest Desert Flora, 2020). Native thistles support a wide variety of native pollinator and plant-eating insects, such as bees, butterflies, and moths by providing important habitat and food sources. Because native Cirsium spp. can be annual, biennial, or perennial, their nectar can help support pollinators year-round. In addition to drawing nectar and pollen from the flowers, many insects feed on the leaves, stems, and seeds.
Also, many songbirds are attracted to thistle seeds. A symbiotic relationship exists between American goldfinches and native thistles. Seeds and thistle down are food and nest building components critical to the bird’s survival. The timing of seed production and thistle down is related directly to the goldfinch breeding season. Because thistles are late bloomers and American goldfinches breed late in the summer, these birds have an abundance of seeds and thistle down to line their nests (Deane, n.d.). In return, the birds spread the thistle seed to additional areas.
Like its cousin the artichoke, New Mexico thistle is edible! Thistle stalks and taproots are sources of food for humans, but harvesting time is critical. Before the flowering stalks emerge, the taproots of young first-year plants can be dug up. At this early stage, the roots are tender and can be eaten raw or chopped up and added to soups or stews. Their texture has been described as crisp and crunchy with an almost nutty flavor. The stalks can also be consumed, but must be harvested when they are only about 1 to 2 feet high. (Beyond about 2 feet high the stalks are too fibrous and tough to eat.) Stalks can be peeled and eaten fresh or as a cooked vegetable. No significant medicinal uses for New Mexico thistle have been documented (Kane, 2020).
Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
Most southwestern native thistles, including the New Mexico thistle, are non-aggressive and non-invasive (Karr, 2017). Native Cirsium spp. pose no fire risk and do not destructively displace native plants, thus remaining in equilibrium with other native flora. However, native thistles do reduce opportunity for invasive non-native thistles to populate a location.
Despite their benefits, native thistles are either knowingly or unknowingly killed simply because they are considered spiny “weeds.” In some areas, native thistle species are in danger of being complete eradicated. So, please, “stop before you chop!”
The theme of the Winter 2020 issue of The Plant Press is invasive and toxic plants in Arizona. At our Chapter meeting in January, we had an engaging discussion about the articles and our experiences with invasive and toxic plants.
It was no surprise that most of us have experienced issues with stinknet (Oncosiphon pilulifer/piluliferum). To try to control stinknet on your property, our recommendation is to continually be on the lookout for it during the winter/spring season and take immediate action when you find seedlings. The top methods methods we’ve used to try to control stinknet and other invasives are:
hoeing or raking;
applying a layer of mulch, landscape fabric, or cardboard; and
natural herbicides, such agricultural grade vinegar.
Stinknet plants flowering. Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
Oleander (Nerium oleander) is a toxic plant that has been problematic for some of us. We also felt more could be done to inform the public about which landscaping plants and weeds are toxic to humans and animals. Therefore, our Chapter plans to provide more information about toxic plants in the future.
Oleander is a common ornamental plant. Beware, it is poisonous to humans and animals. Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
If you couldn’t attend our meeting, you can still learn about Arizona’s invasive and toxic plants by reading the latest issue of The Plant Press, particularly pages 1-24 and 27-31. The publication is freely available to everyone.
What plant with stunning petals could you see growing in an alley, a xeriscape garden, and the Sonoran Desert? Most likely the correct guess is Sphaeralceaambigua, more commonly known as desert globemallow or apricot mallow.
The genus Sphaeralcea(globemallows) contains about 50 plants primarily in North America, and most have flowers in the orange to red range. The most drought tolerant member is the desert globemallow. This largest-flowered globemallow blooms most heavily in the spring, but continues to flower through November. Each bowl-shaped flower has five petals that are up to 1.5 inches long. Once the flowers have faded, small green cups will form, sometimes containing hundreds of seeds. This low-maintenance plant will re-seed itself and can provide surprises in color production; the seed you plant one year may produce plants with a different color the next.
Desert globemallow in bloom. Photo credit: Lisa Rivera
This perennial subshrub’s foliage is a characteristic silvery color with tiny star-shaped wooly hairs, two adaptations that conserve moisture and reflect sunlight. With slightly woody stems restricted primarily to the crown, each desert globemallow grows in a large, rounded clump to a height of 20-40 inches, and may have over a hundred stems growing from the same root. Transplanting globemallows may be difficult and disappointing. The plant above ground may have lateral roots that extend three feet below the ground. If the root is not completely intact when digging up or putting the plant back into the earth, the plant may be mortally wounded.
Desert globemallows can be found in parts of AZ, CA, NM, NV, and UT, as well as Sonora and Baja California in Mexico. You will most likely find this plant growing in desert scrub below 3500 feet on dry, rocky slopes, edges of sandy washes, roadsides, and disturbed areas. It requires full sun and well-drained soil.
This drought-adapted plant can be used in range revegetation. Desert globemallow is an early colonizing species and may suppress invasive species in areas affected by fires. Seeds can be used on construction sites for erosion control or to restore the native plant community. Seedlings have been used to revegetate abandoned mine sites.
Although desert globemallow is edible, it unfortunately does not have a taste to match the brilliance of its flowers. However, it is a food source for the desert tortoise and provides browse for bighorn sheep and livestock. In addition, the large number of flowers produced throughout the year provides a steady source of pollen and nectar to many pollinators, such as hummingbirds, native bees, honeybees, butterflies, and moths.
The hardy desert globemallow has a prominent history in the Southwest. Its stems were used by the Yavapai to create trays for drying saguaro fruit or slabs of pounded mescal. Our ancestors also discovered that desert globemallow relieved and/or cured many disorders. Native Americans have used its leaves and roots to make medicine and eyewashes. Due to its high mucilage content, the plant has been used orally for coughs, colds, diarrhea, and the flu. As a poultice, globemallow has been applied to cuts, burns, snake bites, and swellings like rheumatism.
This lovely native plant is neither threatened nor endangered. The only “problem” is that once established, they and their abundant progeny may aggressively take residence in spaces reserved for other plants in the garden. Most desert globemallows spread by rhizomes. If you plan to contain them, be prepared to pull up lots of suckers. The desert is another matter; stand back and watch the plant spread its glowing blossoms as far as the eye can see.