When I first moved to New Mexico, I expected the desert to be a dead place, a palette of browns with few plants to bring it to life. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Here’s the view from my backyard in Las Cruces:

The foothills in the Organ Mountains.
The foothills in the Organ Mountains.

Here are a few cool plants I’ve discovered so far:

red cactus blooms

These beauties were in bloom last week, scattered in and around the creosote bushes as far as I could see.

river willow

I thought this was an orchid tree. It’s called a river willow, a tree that has spread all along the banks of the Rio Grande and other seasonal creek beds. Tough enough to bloom and grow despite long dry spells.

pear-cactus

I see pear cactus everywhere here. My friend showed me how to peel and eat the fruit, which grows to about kiwi-sized once the flower falls off. Some are ruby red, others are yellow like these. Deer and javelina snack on them too.

ocotillos

The ocotillos pictured above are one of my favorites. They look like dead brown sticks most of the time, but after even the slightest rainfall, their bark turns green and they bloom red within a day. We ran into miles of them on the Sierra Vista Trail.

barrel-cactus-in-bloom

I met these fabulous barrel cactus on the Dona Ana Trail. Fat, huge and healthy, probably 100 pounds or more a piece. Barrel cactus naturally point to the south, which is how they’ve earned the nickname of “compass cactus.” Good to know when you’re lost…

I’m blown away by the diversity of plant life here. The desert is teeming with growth. I wish everyone could walk these trails and experience this raw energy for themselves.

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