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Special Species That Dig the Desert

By Rachel Kupfer

Nicholas Staddon, plants and marketing manager at Mountain States Wholesale Nursery in Glendale, likes to compare plants to children. Kids, like seedlings, he says, may be similar to their parents, but they never look exactly the same. Through programs created specifically to identify plants with unique characteristics, the nursery is able to crossbreed and grow new varieties of plants derived from more common parent species.

Here, Staddon helped break down some of the species that Mountain States has developed over the years.

Sierra Red firecracker bush™ (Hamelia patens ‘Sierra Red’)

An eye-catching plant, the Sierra Red is a hardy bush with oval-shaped leaves and clusters of red flowers that resemble coral. The radiant blooms attract a myriad of pollinators, including hummingbirds and honeybees. At 3 feet high by 4 feet wide, it is larger than other similar species, but more compact. Edible dark purple fruit follows flowering, so if you’re looking for a plant you can depend on for a midday snack, then this is your best bet.

Durango Delight agave™ (Agave schidigera ‘Durango Delight’)

Created by local agave enthusiast Greg Starr, the Durango Delight is a stand out because of its symmetrical and compact shape. When mature, it measures 2 feet high by 2 feet wide, and it blooms once with dark purple flowers. White filaments curl off of its dark green swordlike leaves providing dramatic contrast. While the coloration and fibers are not exclusive to the Durango Delight, they’re interesting to see on a succulent of its size.

Purple prickly pear ™ (Opuntia ‘Santa-rita Tubac’)

This color changing prickly pear is another of Starr’s creations. During the hot summer, its rounded pads are a soft blue-grey, but as the weather gets chillier, they turn a deep amethyst hue. Although it will mature to a large plant–up to 4 feet high by 6 feet wide–it has less spines than other opuntia varieties. In the spring, this plant blooms yellow flowers that later produce purple fruits, making it a cheerful addition to a neutral desert landscape.  

Dwarf orange bulbine ™ (Bulbine frutescens ‘Tiny Tangerine’)

An offshoot of orange bulbine, a native to South Africa, the Tiny Tangerine’s bright orange flower differentiates it from other bulbine species, which tend to feature softer, yellower blossoms. Remaining true to its name as a dwarf form of the original–at only 12 to 15 inches high–it still produces masses of blooms. The leaves on this understory plant are a vibrant green and, when paired with its vibrant flowers, create sunny centerpieces in shaded beds or beneath trees.

Brakelights red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ Brakelights P.P. #21729)

Brakelights, a variety of red flowering yucca, is one of several yuccas the nursery has cultivated over the years. Smaller than other members of the genus, it grows to 2 feet high by 2 feet wide, making it ideal for plant beds and containers. Its bright red blossoms attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. Because this type is 99 percent seedless, it has a longer bloom season than its counterparts.

Lavender Spice shrub ™ (Poliomintha maderensis ‘Lavender Spice’)

This small evergreen shrub–growing to 3 feet high by 3 feet wide, features showy clusters of lavender-hued blossoms beginning in April and lasting through September, especially when planted in a full sun position. Its fragrant blossoms and bright green leaves attract bees, butterflies and birds with an oregano aroma, giving the perennial its nickname, “Mexican oregano.” Whatever you call it, it’s sure to add some zing to your garden.


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