Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
September, 2006
Regional Report

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Screwbean mesquite pods add visual interest and can be used in dried arrangements.

Plants with Unusual Features

Emboldened by the slight drop in temperatures that we've been enjoying recently, I went for a long march around the neighborhood. I was struck by the monotony of most front yards and community plantings. I wonder why we limit ourselves to so few choices? Most people don't want to be seen wearing the same outfit as their neighbors, so why should their landscapes be carbon copies? Seek out variety at full-service nurseries, botanical garden sales, and garden club plant swaps. Show off your sense of style with at least one lesser-known, but still well-adapted plant. Here are some possibilities:

Screwbean mesquite tree (Prosopis pubescens)
This native tree's visual interest is provided by clusters of unusual spiral seedpods that persist for months, starting out green, turning tan as they age. Don't worry about having to rake them: birds gobble these treats. Typically grows 15 feet tall and wide but can get larger. Will sprawl as a large shrub or can be trained as a multitrunked tree. Deciduous with 3/4-inch spines.

Pineleaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria)
Native to southern Arizona, this reliable butterfly lure adds a soft, delicate appearance to the landscape with distinctive green pine-needle-like foliage. However, it is a fairly rugged performer, requiring only excellent drainage and periodic deep soakings. Visual interest continues with white flower clusters from March to October, followed by papery tan seedpods. Grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. Mass several plants for maximum effect.

Prostrate and Watson's Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata and A. watsonii)
Not all plants have to make a big statement. Sometimes it's fun to crouch down and take a close look. These low-growing vining sprawlers have inconspicuous flowers shaped like what else: Dutchman's pipes. Watson's is native to Arizona with leaves shaped like tiny arrowheads. Prostrate has round, heart-shaped leaves displaying distinctive light veins. Both are host plants for swallowtail butterflies and will lure the adults to your yard.

Ghost gum (Eucalyptus papuana)
Native to Australia, this tree features smooth, white bark for a striking silhouette. This drought-tolerant tree doesn't have the amount of limb breakage and litter drop as some eucalyptus do. It grows fairly rapidly to 20 to 60 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide, so the drawback is that it may be too large for many small lots.

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