Nurturing Biodiversity: Pollinator Pathways, Corridors, Patches, and Stepping Stones in the Sonoran Desert – Part 2

Creating Bee-Friendly Spaces: Pollinator Patches and Stepping Stones in Sonoran Desert Neighborhoods

In Part 1 of this series we looked at how creating corridors, patches and stepping stones can enable pollinators in residential and commercial areas where their habitat has been grossly fragmented.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are the leading cause of reduced biodiversity, and this affects native bees to a larger degree than it does the honeybee.

As the sun beats down on the Sonoran Desert, a bustling community of small bees seeks out sustenance amidst the arid landscape. Their journey is not without its challenges, but with a little help from conscientious residents, we can make a big difference. In this blog post, we’ll explore how pollinator patches and stepping stones play a crucial role in aiding these tiny navigators in their quest for food.

Understanding Bee Foraging Range

When it comes to bee foraging, two key factors come into play: body size and sociality. Large bees have the advantage of covering greater distances, enabling them to access patches and stepping stones that are further apart. This ability makes them more resilient in the face of habitat fragmentation.

Sociality, or the level of community within a bee species, also influences foraging behavior. Colonies, characterized by their complex communication strategies, can cover larger forage ranges compared to solitary bees. This enhanced communication allows them to efficiently navigate through fragmented habitats, ensuring a steady supply of nectar and pollen.

The Role of Stepping Stones

Imagine a small bee in a residential neighborhood, faced with patches of flowering plants scattered across the area. Without some strategically placed “stepping stones,” this journey can be a daunting task. Stepping stones act as intermediate stops, providing resting places and additional food sources for bees in transit.

For small bees, these stepping stones are a lifeline. They break up the long stretches between patches, offering much-needed respite and sustenance. By creating these intermediary stations, we can significantly enhance the chances of these pollinators successfully navigating our neighborhoods.

Social Bees and Resource Management

Highly social bee species, with their sophisticated communication networks, take resource management to a whole new level. Scouts are dispatched to identify and recruit nest mates to patches and stepping stones rich in high-quality resources. This collective effort ensures that the entire colony thrives.

However, it’s essential to note that large colonies, while efficient, can also locally deplete food sources due to their substantial population. This motivates them to venture further in search of sustenance. This behavior highlights the importance of maintaining a diverse range of flowering plants to support the diverse appetites of these generalist foragers.

Bee Friendly Neighborhoods

By understanding the unique challenges small bees face in our Sonoran Desert neighborhood, we can take steps to make their journey a little easier. Through the creation of pollinator patches and stepping stones, we provide vital support to these essential pollinators. Together, we can transform our residential areas into vibrant, bee-friendly habitats that benefit both nature and our community. Let’s join hands in nurturing these tiny navigators on their quest for food!

In Part 3 of this series we present the interactive game Bee Savvy: Pollinator Pathways

For a visual of foraging ranges for some bee genus (not focused on native Sonoran Desert bees), here is a graph published in the National Library of Medicine. Note that the x-axis is on a log-10 scale, so 0.1 represents about 4100 feet.


The potential and realized foraging movements of bees are differentially determined by body size and sociality

Nurturing Biodiversity: Pollinator Pathways, Corridors, Patches, and Stepping Stones in the Sonoran Desert – Part 3

Bee Savvy: Pollinator Pathways – An Interactive Board Game

You’re a solitary native bee who needs to make nectar stops on the way from the desert to your subterranean nest. You also want to bring pollen back so you forage along the way.

At every stopover point you draw a card from the deck – if you select a Stepping Stone or Patch card, you are able to refuel and move forward.

If you select an Obstacle card a role of the die determines if you go back a stop or move forward.

  • Move your game piece to the first stopover and draw a card. Stepping Stone or Patch cards move you forward. Obstacle cards require a role of the die.
  • Continue drawing a card at each stopover until you move your game piece to the FINISH.

Plant for Pollinators

Beyond Beauty: The Ecological Significance of Pollinator Gardens

In today’s world, our gardens have the potential to be so much more than just a collection of pretty plants. By intentionally selecting and arranging our green spaces, we can transform them into vibrant havens for vital pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Let’s explore what it truly means to plant a garden to support these invaluable creatures, and the steps you can take to create a pollinator-friendly oasis, whether it’s a backyard haven or a collection of potted plants on your balcony.

The Importance of Pollinators

Before delving into the how-to, it’s crucial to grasp why supporting pollinators is so vital. These tiny creatures play a monumental role in our ecosystem by facilitating the reproduction of flowering plants, including many of the fruits and vegetables that make up a significant portion of our diet. Without them, our food systems and natural landscapes would be drastically altered.

In addition:

  • Pollinators contribute significantly to the biodiversity of an ecosystem. By facilitating the reproduction of a wide range of flowering plants, they help maintain a diverse array of plant species. This, in turn, provides habitat and food sources for countless other creatures.
  • Pollinators are at the heart of the food web. They serve as a link between plants and many other species, including insects, birds, and mammals. Predators, like birds and insects, rely on the insects that feed on plants, which, in turn, rely on the plants themselves.
  • The movement of pollinators from plant to plant facilitates genetic diversity within plant populations. This genetic diversity is essential for a species’ resilience to environmental changes, diseases, and pests.
  • Plants that are pollinated and produce seeds help stabilize soil and prevent erosion. This is crucial for maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, particularly in areas prone to erosion.
  • The presence of vibrant, blooming plants and the activity of pollinators enhance the beauty and aesthetic value of natural spaces. This, in turn, contributes to the well-being and enjoyment of humans who interact with these environments.

Steps to Creating a Healthy Pollinator Habitat

Step 1: Research and Select Pollinator-Friendly Plants

The foundation of any pollinator garden is the plants themselves. Opt for native species whenever possible, as they are best adapted to the local environment and the native pollinators that rely on them. Include a diverse selection of plants that bloom at different times, ensuring a steady supply of nectar and pollen throughout the growing season.

Step 2: Plan for Variety and Color

Think beyond aesthetics; choose plants with a variety of flower shapes and colors to attract a diverse range of pollinators. Different species are attracted to different colors and shapes, so providing a diverse palette will entice a broader spectrum of visitors.

Step 3: Provide Water and Nesting Sites

All living things need water, and pollinators are no exception. Include a shallow dish with rocks for them to drink from. Additionally, consider leaving the structural remains of annuals and perennials because they serve as nesting sites for some bees. Leave patches of bare soil for ground-nesting bees.

Step 4: Avoid Pesticides and Chemicals

To truly create a sanctuary for pollinators, it’s crucial to avoid the use of pesticides and harmful chemicals. These can harm the very creatures you’re trying to support. Instead, opt for natural pest control methods and let nature find its balance.

Step 5: Maintain and Monitor Your Garden

Regular maintenance is key to a thriving pollinator garden. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming, weed regularly, and keep an eye out for any signs of stress or disease in your plants. By staying vigilant, you can address issues before they become major problems.

Step 6: Educate and Share

Spread the word about the importance of pollinator-friendly gardens. Encourage your neighbors, friends, and community to join in this vital effort. Together, we can create a network of pollinator oases that make a real difference for these crucial creatures.

Nurturing Biodiversity: Pollinator Pathways, Corridors, Patches, and Stepping Stones in the Sonoran Desert – Part 1

Unlocking the Secrets of the Sonoran Desert Ecosystem

In this 3 part series we’ll look at how you can help native bees survive in a Sonoran Desert that is increasing fragmented by development. Part 3 presents an interactive game that illustrates the opportunities and obstacles that native bees face while foraging for food.

The Sonoran Desert, a place of stark beauty and remarkable biodiversity, stretches across the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

Despite its harsh conditions, this desert is home to an incredible array of plant and animal species, many of which rely on pollinators for their survival.

As human activity encroaches on natural habitats, creating pathways and corridors for pollinators becomes crucial for preserving the delicate balance of this unique ecosystem.

Understanding the Importance of Pollinators

Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other insects, play a vital role in the reproduction of flowering plants. They facilitate the transfer of pollen from the male parts (anther) to the female parts (stigma) of flowers, allowing for the production of seeds and fruits. This process is fundamental for the survival of many plant species and provides the foundation for a diverse range of wildlife, including mammals, birds, and insects.

In fragmented landscapes like the Sonoran Desert, providing pollinators with adequate food, water and hosting resources is essential for maintaining healthy populations and preserving biodiversity. These interconnected networks, called Pollinator Pathways, Corridors, Patches and Stepping Stones, serve as vital channels for pollinators to travel, find food, and establish new habitats.

Here are the key components of this conservation strategy:

Pollinator Pathways

Pollinator pathways are linear habitats that allow pollinators to move across different landscapes. These pathways can be natural, like riverbanks or ridge lines, or human-made, such as roadsides planted with native vegetation.

By creating continuous routes, pollinator pathways help insects and birds navigate through urban areas, agricultural lands, and natural habitats. They are essential for gene flow among populations, which contributes to genetic diversity and resilience.


Corridors are larger-scale, often protected, tracts of land that connect diverse habitats. They serve as highways for wildlife, including pollinators, allowing them to migrate, forage, and reproduce.

In the Sonoran Desert, corridors link crucial habitats like mountain ranges, washes, and riparian areas. These corridors enable pollinators to access necessary resources and adapt to changing conditions, especially in the face of climate change.


Patches refer to small, isolated areas of habitat within a larger landscape. They can be meadows, gardens, or any area with flowering plants.

Patches serve as local hubs for pollinators. Even in urban environments, well-maintained gardens with native plants can provide essential resources like nectar and pollen. Patches are especially important for sustaining pollinator populations in areas where large-scale habitats are scarce.

Stepping Stones

Stepping stones are discrete habitats that help bridge the gap between larger, more stable environments. These can be small, isolated natural areas or carefully designed gardens.

Stepping stones act as refuges, allowing pollinators to rest, feed, and reproduce during their journeys. They are particularly critical in urban and agricultural landscapes where continuous habitats may be lacking.

Implementing Pollinator Conservation in the Sonoran Desert

Conservation efforts in the Sonoran Desert should focus on creating and maintaining these vital elements. This can be achieved through a combination of:

  • Native Plant Landscaping: Using native plants in gardens and landscapes helps provide essential food and habitat for pollinators.
  • Habitat Restoration: Rehabilitating degraded habitats and ensuring the survival of native plant species is crucial for maintaining healthy pollinator populations.
  • Education and Outreach: Raising awareness about the importance of pollinators and the role of these pathways is essential for garnering community support.
  • Policy and Planning: Incorporating pollinator-friendly practices into land use planning and conservation policies is vital for long-term success.

By establishing and preserving pollinator pathways, corridors, patches, and stepping stones, we can protect the intricate web of life that calls the Sonoran Desert home. This interconnected approach to conservation not only benefits pollinators but also contributes to the overall health and resilience of this extraordinary ecosystem. Together, we can ensure that the Sonoran Desert continues to thrive for generations to come.

In Part 2 of this series we’ll look at how habitat fragmentation affects native bee foraging and population.

Igniting Curiosity in Your Garden: Unveiling the Power of Innovative Plant Tags

Imagine stepping into a garden that perfectly captures the beauty and resilience of the Sonoran Desert. With vibrant blooms and a thriving ecosystem, it’s a sight to behold. And now, with our innovative garden plant tags, you can take your Sonoran Desert pollinator garden to the next level.

These plant tags are not your ordinary markers; they’re your key to unlocking a wealth of information about the remarkable plants that call the Sonoran Desert home. Equipped with QR codes, they connect you to dedicated web pages filled with insights, tips, and fascinating facts about each plant’s unique qualities and the crucial role they play in supporting pollinators.

Let’s talk about the magic of a Sonoran Desert pollinator garden. By carefully selecting native plants that thrive in the arid conditions of the desert, you’re creating a sustainable oasis for local pollinators. Imagine the vibrant colors of desert marigolds, the delicate beauty of hummingbird sage, and the fragrance of desert lavender, all working together to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

But it’s not just about the aesthetics. Sonoran Desert pollinator gardens play a vital role in supporting the local ecosystem. By providing nectar and pollen sources, you’re nourishing the pollinators that are essential for the reproduction of many plant species. You become a steward of biodiversity, helping to preserve the delicate balance of nature.

The innovative plant tags take your garden experience to a whole new level. Picture walking through your Sonoran Desert pollinator garden, scanning the tags with your smartphone, and discovering a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. You learn about the unique adaptations of each plant to the desert climate, discover the best ways to care for them, and deepen your understanding of the intricate relationships between plants and pollinators.

Not only is a Sonoran Desert pollinator garden a sanctuary for wildlife, but it’s also an opportunity for education and community engagement. Imagine sharing your knowledge and passion with neighbors, schools, and community organizations. Together, you can create a network of interconnected pollinator gardens, turning your neighborhood into a vibrant pollinator corridor, supporting the survival of these incredible creatures.

But it doesn’t stop there. These plant tags are game-changers for pollinator conservation. By incorporating them into your garden, you become part of a larger mission to create pollinator corridors, pathways, patches, and stepping stones. Your garden becomes a sanctuary, a safe haven for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. By supporting these incredible creatures, you’re contributing to the ecological balance of our world.

We’re not in this alone. Let’s join forces with local garden centers, schools, and environmental organizations to spread the word about the importance of pollinator conservation. Together, we can transform our neighborhoods, schools, and public spaces into vibrant, educational interpretive trails that celebrate the wonders of nature.

Beyond Monarchs: Discovering the Lesser-Known Butterflies of the Sonoran Desert

Welcome to the mesmerizing realm of butterflies in the Sonoran Desert, where a kaleidoscope of colors dances through the arid landscapes. These exquisite creatures, such as the Painted Lady, Arizona Sister, Common Sootywing, White-lined Sphinx, and American Snout, grace the desert with their delicate beauty.

Let’s take a brief look at their preferred host plants, nectar plants and their seasonal patterns as they enchant the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.

Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui): The Painted Lady is a widespread butterfly species with distinct orange, black, and white markings on its wings. It is known for its migratory behavior.

  • Host Plants: Painted Lady caterpillars feed on a wide array of plants, including thistles, asters, mallows, hollyhocks, and various legumes.
  • Nectar Plants: Painted Ladies visit a variety of flowers, such as sunflowers, thistles, asters, and zinnias, for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Painted Ladies are highly migratory and can be seen in the Sonoran Desert during their spring and fall migrations.
  • Preferred Environments: Painted Ladies are adaptable and can be found in various habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and gardens.
Queen butterfly

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus): Similar in appearance to the Monarch, the Queen Butterfly has orange-brown wings with black veins and white spots.

  • Host Plants: Queen butterfly larvae primarily feed on milkweed species (Asclepias spp.), similar to Monarchs.
  • Nectar Plants: They are attracted to a variety of flowers, including milkweed, lantana, thistles, and sunflowers.
  • Seasonality: Queens can be found in the Sonoran Desert year-round, but they are more abundant during spring and fall.
  • Preferred Environments: Queen butterflies inhabit a wide range of habitats, including deserts, arid scrublands, and cultivated areas.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata): While not technically a butterfly, this moth is commonly mistaken for one due to its diurnal behavior. It has brown and white wings with pink stripes and is known for its hovering flight.

  • Host Plants: The caterpillars of White-lined Sphinx Moths feed on various plants, such as members of the evening primrose family (Onagraceae) and grape family (Vitaceae).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults seek nectar from a variety of flowers, including desert marigolds, petunias, and penstemons.
  • Seasonality: These moths can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from late spring to early fall.
  • Preferred Environments: White-lined Sphinx Moths are found in a range of habitats, including desert washes, arid grasslands, and suburban areas.
Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor): This butterfly species has dark blue-black wings with iridescent blue scaling. The undersides of the wings feature bold orange and black patterns.

  • Host Plants: Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars feed on pipevine species (Aristolochia spp.), which contain toxic compounds that make them unpalatable to predators.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to flowers like milkweed, thistles, lantana, and butterfly bush for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Pipevine Swallowtails can be seen in the Sonoran Desert from late spring to early fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They prefer riparian habitats, canyons, and other areas where their host plants grow.
Western Pygmy Blue

Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exile): The Western Pygmy-Blue is one of the smallest butterflies in North America. It has grayish-brown wings with a subtle blue hue.

  • Host Plants: The larvae of Western Pygmy-Blues feed on legumes such as mesquites (Prosopis spp.) and other small plants.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults obtain nectar from various tiny flowers, including desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata), brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), and desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi).
  • Seasonality: Western Pygmy-Blues are typically seen from late spring to early fall in the Sonoran Desert.
  • Preferred Environments: These butterflies prefer open areas, including desert scrub, dry washes, and sandy areas.
Common / Checkered White

Checkered White Butterfly (Pontia protodice): This butterfly species has white wings with distinct black checkered patterns. It is commonly found in desert habitats.

  • Host Plants: The caterpillars of Checkered White Butterflies feed on plants from the mustard family (Brassicaceae), such as desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata) and desert pepperweed (Lepidium fremontii).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to a variety of flowers, including desert marigold, dandelions, and desert lavender.
  • Seasonality: Checkered White Butterflies are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from late winter to spring and occasionally in the fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit open areas, including desert washes, dry grasslands, and disturbed areas.

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina): This small butterfly species has bluish wings with a characteristic metallic sheen. It is commonly found in desert areas.

  • Host Plants: The larvae of Marine Blue Butterflies primarily feed on legumes, including indigo bush (Psorothamnus spp.) and other small plants.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to flowers such as desert lavender, desert marigold, and catclaw acacia (Acacia greggii) for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Marine Blue Butterflies can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from late spring to early fall.

Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis)

  • Host Plants: The larvae of Funereal Duskywings feed on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae), including mesquites (Prosopis spp.) and legumes.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to various flowers such as desert marigold, desert lavender, and milkweeds.
  • Seasonality: Funereal Duskywings are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from spring to early fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit diverse habitats, including desert washes, arid grasslands, and mesquite bosques.

Empress Leilia (Asterocampa leilia)

  • Host Plants: The caterpillars of Empress Leilia butterflies feed on plants from the nettle family (Urticaceae), including stinging nettle (Urtica spp.).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults visit a variety of flowers such as desert marigold, desert lavender, and thistles for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Empress Leilia butterflies can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit diverse habitats, including desert washes, riparian areas, and open woodlands.

Sleepy Orange (Eurema nicippe)

  • Host Plants: Sleepy Orange caterpillars feed on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae), including Senna spp, wild sensitive plant (Mimosa biuncifera) and various legumes.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to flowers such as desert marigold, desert lavender, and lantana for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Sleepy Orange butterflies are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit a range of open habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and disturbed areas.

Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana)

  • Host Plants: Mexican Yellow caterpillars feed on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae), including various legumes and wild sensitive plant (Mimosa biuncifera).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults seek nectar from a variety of flowers, including desert marigold, desert lavender, and thistles.
  • Seasonality: Mexican Yellow butterflies can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They prefer open habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and desert scrub.

Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana)

  • Host Plants: The larvae of Texan Crescent butterflies feed on plants from the aster family (Asteraceae), including asters and sunflowers.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults visit various flowers such as desert marigold, desert lavender, and asters for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Texan Crescent butterflies are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit a variety of open habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and desert scrub.

Reakirt’s Blue (Hemiargus isola)

  • Host Plants: Reakirt’s Blue caterpillars feed on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae), including various legumes and vetches.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults seek nectar from flowers such as desert marigold, desert lavender, and wildflowers from the pea family.
  • Seasonality: Reakirt’s Blue butterflies can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit open areas, including desert washes, grasslands, and disturbed areas.

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)

  • Host Plants: Orange Sulphur caterpillars feed on plants from the pea family (Fabaceae), including various clover species.
  • Nectar Plants: Adults seek nectar from a variety of flowers, including desert marigold, desert lavender, and wildflowers from the pea family.
  • Seasonality: Orange Sulphur butterflies are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They prefer open areas, including desert washes, grasslands, and meadows.

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia)

  • Host Plants: Variegated Fritillary caterpillars feed on plants from the violet family (Violaceae), including various violets (Viola spp.).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults visit a variety of flowers, including desert marigold, desert lavender, and asters for nectar.
  • Seasonality: Variegated Fritillary butterflies can be observed in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit diverse habitats, including desert washes, open woodlands, and disturbed areas.

Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)

  • Host Plants: Gulf Fritillary caterpillars feed on passionflower vines (Passifloraceae), including species like the native yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea) and the non-native purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).
  • Nectar Plants: Adults are attracted to a variety of flowers, including desert marigold, desert lavender, lantana, and milkweeds.
  • Seasonality: Gulf Fritillaries are commonly seen in the Sonoran Desert from spring to fall.
  • Preferred Environments: They inhabit diverse habitats, including desert washes, open woodlands, urban gardens, and areas with suitable passionflower host plants.

To see more of our Sonoran Desert butterflies, visit our Butterflies page at

Stepping Stones for Pollinators: Small Gardens, Big Impact

Pollinator corridors, pathways, stepping stones, and patches are all integral components of creating a welcoming and sustainable environment for our pollinator friends. These terms refer to the intentional design and creation of interconnected habitats that offer food, shelter, and resources to support the diverse range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, birds, and bats.

Pollinator corridors are larger strips of land that connect different habitats, allowing for movement and gene flow. Pathways consist of strategically planted flowers that provide a continuous source of nectar and pollen throughout the year.

Patches are larger areas of land dedicated to providing pollinators with the necessary resources to thrive.

Stepping stones refer to small patches of habitat, such as gardens or window boxes, that act as oases within urban and suburban landscapes.

Together, these elements contribute to the formation of a vibrant and interconnected network of habitats that support the health and well-being of pollinators and the ecosystems they inhabit.

Plants and pollinators have a unique and important relationship that creates an ecological pollinator web. This web is essential for the survival of both plant and animal species, and it is a fascinating example of how different species can coexist and thrive together in the natural world.

Pollinators are a diverse group of animals that play a crucial role in plant reproduction. These animals include bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and many other species. They visit flowers to gather nectar and pollen, and as they move from flower to flower, they inadvertently transfer pollen from one plant to another. This process of pollination is essential for the fertilization of plants and the production of seeds and fruit.

Plants, in turn, have evolved a range of strategies to attract pollinators. Flowers are often brightly colored and have distinctive shapes and patterns that are adapted to the preferences of different pollinators. Some flowers, for example, have long, tubular shapes that are ideal for feeding hummingbirds, while others have flat, open shapes that are more attractive to butterflies and bees.

In addition to their visual cues, many flowers produce scents that are attractive to pollinators. These scents can range from sweet and floral to musky and earthy, and they are often most potent during the hours when the pollinators are most active. Some plants even produce nectar rewards for their pollinators, providing them with a valuable source of energy and nutrition.

The relationship between plants and pollinators is complex and dynamic. Pollinators are not just passive visitors to flowers; they actively seek out the best food sources and are selective about the flowers they visit.

In some cases, pollinators even manipulate the flowers they visit, using their bodies to probe for nectar or to access hidden pollen stores.

This dynamic interaction between plants and pollinators creates an ecological pollinator web that is both fascinating and essential. The web is made up of a wide range of different species, each with its own unique role to play in the ecosystem.

Pollinator gardens play a crucial role in facilitating and supporting the intricate pollinator web. By creating habitats that provide a diverse array of flowers and resources, these gardens attract and sustain a wide range of pollinator species. The interconnected network of pollinator gardens acts as stepping stones, corridors, and patches that enable pollinators to move, forage, and reproduce, thereby enhancing genetic diversity and resilience within the pollinator populations.

Pollinator gardens also provide essential food sources and shelter, ensuring the survival of pollinators throughout their life cycles. As we cultivate pollinator-friendly gardens, we contribute to the preservation of the pollinator web, fostering a harmonious coexistence between plants and pollinators while safeguarding the health of our ecosystems. So, let us embrace the power of pollinator gardens and embrace our role in supporting these incredible creatures for a sustainable future.

Conserving Monarchs: Steps You Can Take in Your Phoenix Community to Support Butterfly Migration

The migratory path of Monarch butterflies occurs in Phoenix during their annual journey between their overwintering sites in Mexico and their breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada. Monarchs undertake this remarkable journey spanning thousands of miles, and along the way, they rely on various resources, including nectar-rich flowers and specific host plants like milkweed.

The Monarchs develop from egg to adult in about 4 weeks:

  • Eggs hatch in about 4 days. Females lay one egg on a plant; in their lifetime they will lay 100-300 eggs.
  • Caterpillars go through five instars in about 14 days. When they first hatch, caterpillars eat the egg shell for nourishment. Similarly, they eat shed skin after every molt.
  • Chrysalis stage is about 14 days

The overwintering generation lives about eight months due to a biologic change that stops reproductive behavior during their migration south. The summer generations of the butterfly live only three to five weeks.

A pollinator garden in Phoenix can play a crucial role in supporting Monarch butterflies during their migration. These gardens are designed to provide habitat and food sources for pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. By planting a diverse array of native flowering plants, particularly those that bloom during the Monarchs’ migration season, gardeners can attract and support these magnificent butterflies.

Monarchs have a strong affinity for milkweed plants, as they serve as the sole host plants for their caterpillars.

Female Monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed leaves, and the emerging caterpillars feed voraciously on the plant.

The presence of milkweed in a pollinator garden greatly enhances its attractiveness to Monarchs, providing a vital resource for their breeding and reproduction.

In terms of preferences for specific species of milkweed, Monarchs exhibit varying preferences based on their geographic location, migratory path and availability of different milkweed species. In the Phoenix, a few species of milkweed are commonly found. These include the Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata), Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa).

While Monarchs generally show a preference for native milkweed species, they can adapt to utilizing non-native species as well. However, it is important to note that native milkweed species are typically better adapted to local climates and provide a more sustainable habitat for Monarchs and other pollinators. See also Milkweeds in the Sonoran Desert.

The presence and abundance of these and other milkweed species along the migratory path can impact the preferences of Monarchs. The availability of suitable milkweed species plays a significant role in determining the success of Monarch breeding and reproduction along their journey.

Additionally, native milkweed species often have co-evolved relationships with Monarchs, offering optimal nutritional content and defenses against predators and parasites.

To create a pollinator garden that attracts Monarchs, incorporate a mix of native milkweed species along with other nectar-rich flowering plants. This not only provides essential food for Monarch caterpillars but also offers adult butterflies a diverse range of nectar sources during their stopovers in Phoenix.

Overall, by creating a pollinator garden with a variety of native milkweed species and nectar-rich flowers, you can contribute to the conservation of Monarch butterflies and support their migration journey by providing vital resources along their migratory path.

The Many Roles of Bee Flies in the Sonoran Desert: From Predators to Pollinators

Bee flies are an essential part of the pollinator garden in Arizona, serving a crucial role in pollination and as predators of other insects.

These small, hairy flies resemble bees, and their resemblance to bees often causes confusion among gardeners and other observers.

However, unlike bees, bee flies do not sting and are harmless to humans.

Physiologically, bee flies have a distinctive appearance that sets them apart from other flies. They are covered in long, dense hairs that give them a fuzzy appearance. Their wings are clear and veined, and their eyes are large and often brightly colored. They have long, slender legs and a distinctive proboscis that they use to feed on nectar from flowers.

And adult bee flies are expert fliers, able to hover in mid-air and make lightning fast changes in direction.

As adults, bee flies feed on nectar and pollen from flowers, serving as important pollinators in the garden. Unlike other pollinators, bee flies do not have specialized structures for collecting and carrying pollen, such as pollen baskets or hairs. Instead, they rely on a process called “hairy-footed flower visitation,” in which pollen becomes attached to the hairs on their legs and bodies as they feed on nectar. When they visit another flower, some of this pollen is transferred, allowing for pollination to occur.

The life cycle of bee flies begins with females laying eggs often near burrows of host insects, such as bees, wasps, but they can also host on beetle grubs, caterpillars, flies and grasshoppers. The eggs hatch into a worm-like maggot that feeds on the host.

Bee flies are also important indicators of the health of pollinator communities. Because they are sensitive to changes in the environment and require specific habitats and food sources, their presence or absence can signal changes in the overall health of the ecosystem. In addition, their role as predators of other insects can help maintain a healthy balance of species in the garden.

To attract bee flies to a pollinator garden, it is important to provide a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the growing season. Bee flies are active from early spring to late fall, so having a variety of flowers that bloom at different times will provide a continuous food source for them. Some of the flowers that are attractive to bee flies include penstemon, milkweed, goldenrod, and asters.

In addition to providing a variety of flowers, it is important to provide a habitat for bee flies. This can be done by providing areas of bare soil or mulch where they can lay their eggs, as well as areas of vegetation where their larvae can feed. Providing shelter, such as small rocks or logs, can also create a habitat for bee flies.

Shade, Beauty, and Resilience: Why Palo Verde Trees Belong in Your Desert Landscape

If you’re looking to add a touch of desert beauty to your low desert garden, you might want to consider planting a Palo Verde tree. These stunning trees are native to the Sonoran Desert and are perfectly suited for the arid climate of the low desert.

The Sonoran Desert, which spans parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico, is home to several species of Palo Verde trees that can make a great addition to your low desert garden.

These trees are known for their stunning blue-green bark, drought tolerance, and vibrant yellow flowers.

Here are the four species of Palo Verde native to the Sonoran Desert, plus a hybrid that does well in a low desert pollinator garden:

  1. Blue Palo Verde (Parkinsonia florida): The Blue Palo Verde is a medium-sized tree, reaching heights of up to 30 feet and a spread of 20-30 feet. The tree is characterized by its blue-green bark and thornless branches. In the spring, it produces an abundance of bright yellow flowers, which attract bees and other pollinators.
  2. Mexican Palo Verde (Parkinsonia aculeata): The Mexican Palo Verde is similar in appearance to the Blue Palo Verde, but has thorns along its branches and trunk. It also has a slightly more compact growth habit, typically reaching heights of up to 25 feet and a spread of 15-20 feet. It produces yellow flowers in the spring and summer, and its bark is green when young and turns gray with age.
    *This species is not recommended for low desert gardens because it has weak wood and can become very weedy.
  3. Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox): The Sonoran Palo Verde is a larger tree than the Blue or Mexican Palo Verde, reaching heights of up to 40 feet and a spread of 20-30 feet. It has larger leaves and a more open canopy than the other two species, providing more shade. The bark of the Sonoran Palo Verde is green when young and turns gray with age. In the spring, it produces yellow flowers.
  4. Littleleaf Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla): The Littleleaf Palo Verde is a smaller tree, reaching heights of up to 20 feet and a spread of 15-20 feet. It has smaller leaves and a more delicate appearance than the other Palo Verde species. Its bark is green when young and turns gray with age. In the spring, it produces yellow flowers.
  5. Desert Museum Palo Verde (Parkinsonia x ‘Desert Museum’) is a hybrid species that was developed specifically for the low desert. It’s a cross between the Blue and Mexican Palo Verde, and combines the best traits of both. It has a longer flowering period than either parent, with yellow blooms from spring to fall. It also has a larger, more open canopy than either parent, making it an excellent shade tree.

All of these Palo Verde species are drought-tolerant and can survive on natural rainfall alone once established. They are well-suited to the hot, dry conditions of the Sonoran Desert and make excellent additions to desert gardens. They also provide habitat and food for a variety of wildlife, including birds, insects, and small mammals. If you’re looking for a beautiful and low-maintenance tree for your Sonoran Desert garden, consider one of these stunning Palo Verde species.

Surviving in the Desert: How Staghorn and Buckhorn Chollas Adapt to Extreme Conditions

The Staghorn and Buckhorn chollas are two species of cacti that are native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Although they are similar in many ways, there are also some key differences between the two species that make them unique. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between the Staghorn and Buckhorn chollas, and where you can find them growing in the wild.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the Staghorn cholla. This species is known for its distinctive, branching growth pattern, which gives it the appearance of a stag’s antlers. The Staghorn cholla is a relatively large cactus, growing up to 10 feet tall in some cases.

Covered in dense clusters of spines that can reach up to 3 inches in length, these spines are often tinged with a striking shade of pink or red, which adds to the plant’s ornamental appeal. The Staghorn cholla is found primarily in the Sonoran Desert, which spans parts of Arizona, California, and northern Mexico.

The Buckhorn cholla, on the other hand, is a smaller cactus that grows to be about 3 to 6 feet tall. Unlike the Staghorn cholla, Buckhorn chollas have a more cylindrical shape, with closely spaced clusters of spines that give the plant a velvety appearance.

The spines of the Buckhorn cholla are generally shorter than those of the Staghorn cholla, and are often a grayish-white color. Buckhorn chollas are found in a range of habitats across the Sonoran Desert, but are particularly common in rocky and mountainous areas.

While both species of cholla are adapted to living in dry, desert environments, they have different strategies for coping with the extreme conditions. The Staghorn cholla has a thick, waxy coating on its stems that helps to prevent water loss, while the Buckhorn cholla has a more efficient water storage system in its stem. Additionally, the spines of the Buckhorn cholla are longer and more flexible, allowing the plant to sway in the wind and prevent overheating, while the Staghorn cholla’s spines are shorter and stiffer.

Both the Staghorn and Buckhorn chollas are adapted to living in the harsh conditions of the Sonoran Desert, and have developed a range of unique adaptations that allow them to survive in this extreme environment. From their dense clusters of spines to their ability to store water in their fleshy stems, these cholla species are true marvels of nature. Whether you’re exploring rocky hillsides or sandy washes, keep an eye out for these fascinating plants and take a moment to appreciate the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert

Thriving in Harsh Conditions: The Amazing Adaptations of Sonoran Desert Cacti

Cacti are a group of plants that have adapted to thrive in some of the harshest conditions on earth, including the Sonoran Desert.

The Sonoran Desert spans parts of California, Arizona, and Mexico, and is known for its extreme heat, lack of rainfall, and harsh winds. Despite these challenging conditions, cacti have developed a range of adaptations that allow them to survive and even thrive in this environment.

One of the most striking adaptations of cacti is their ability to store water. Cacti have thick, fleshy stems and leaves that can store large amounts of water for long periods of time. This allows them to survive in areas where water is scarce and rainfall is infrequent.

California Barrel Cactus

Some cacti, like the Saguaro, can store up to 9,000 liters of water in their massive stems!

Cacti have also developed adaptations to reduce water loss through transpiration. Transpiration is the process by which plants lose water through their leaves. In the Sonoran Desert, where water is scarce, cacti have evolved to have fewer leaves than other plants, which reduces the amount of water lost through transpiration.

Another adaptation of cacti is their spines. Cacti have evolved to have spines instead of leaves. Spines help protect the cactus from herbivores that might otherwise eat its water-storing tissues.

Spines also help regulate the temperature of the cactus by providing shade and reducing the amount of direct sunlight that reaches the surface of the plant.

Teddy Bear Cholla

Cacti have also developed adaptations to deal with the extreme temperatures of the Sonoran Desert. During the day, the temperature in the desert can soar to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, it can drop below freezing. To cope with these extreme temperatures, cacti have evolved to open their stomata (pores on the surface of the plant that allow for gas exchange) at night when it is cooler, and close them during the day when it is hotter. This helps the cactus conserve water and reduce the risk of dehydration.

Most cacti have shallow root systems that spread out widely from the base of the plant, which allows them to quickly absorb any rainwater that falls. However, during the long periods of drought that are common in the Sonoran Desert, cacti rely on their thick, fleshy stems to store water.

Additionally, some cacti have developed the ability to bloom at night, which allows them to attract pollinators during cooler periods of the day when water loss is lower.

Cacti are a remarkable group of plants that have adapted to survive in some of the most extreme conditions on earth. Through a combination of water storage, reduced water loss, spines, and other adaptations, cacti have found a way to thrive in the Sonoran Desert.

Aloes: A Low Maintenance Addition to Your Low Desert Pollinator Garden

Aloes are a group of succulent plants that belong to the family Asphodelaceae. They are native to Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula, and are known for their fleshy leaves that are arranged in a rosette pattern.

These leaves often have sharp, pointed ends and a variety of interesting textures and shapes. The flowers of aloes are equally as impressive, typically appearing as long, tubular blooms that range in color from red and orange to pink and yellow.

Aloe species are a great choice for low desert pollinator gardens, as they are adapted to thrive in hot, dry environments.

They prefer well-drained soil and dappled or afternoon summer shade, making them an ideal choice for gardeners in the southwest United States.

In addition to their beauty, aloe species provide important benefits for pollinators in the Sonoran Desert. Their nectar-rich flowers serve as an important food source for a variety of pollinators, especially during times when other plants may not be in bloom. The thick leaves of aloe plants also provide shelter and nesting sites for a variety of insects and small animals, including lizards and rodents.

When designing a pollinator garden in the Sonoran Desert, including a variety of aloe species can provide not only aesthetic beauty but also essential food and habitat for a variety of pollinators. Some recommended species for Sonoran Desert gardens include Aloe vera, Aloe ferox, and Aloe striata, among others.

Here are 10 popular aloe species that are great for a low desert pollinator garden:

  1. Aloe vera: Perhaps the most well-known aloe species, Aloe vera is a succulent plant that produces a gel used in a variety of health and beauty products. It has yellow or orange tubular flowers that bloom in the winter and spring, attracting bees and butterflies.
  2. Aloe brevifolia: This aloe species has a low-growing rosette of blue-green leaves and produces tall spikes of pink or yellow flowers in the summer. It’s a favorite of hummingbirds and bees.
  3. Aloe arborescens: This tree-like aloe species can grow up to 10 feet tall and produces large clusters of orange or red flowers that bloom in the winter and spring. It’s a favorite of birds, bees, and butterflies.
  4. Aloe ferox: This South African aloe species has tall spikes of red or orange flowers that bloom in the winter and spring, attracting bees and birds. It’s also known for its medicinal properties.
  5. Aloe aristata: Also known as lace aloe, this aloe species has small rosettes of green leaves that are covered in white spots. It produces tall spikes of pink or orange flowers that bloom in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies.
  6. Aloe humilis: This aloe species has a low-growing rosette of blue-green leaves and produces tall spikes of pink or yellow flowers in the winter and spring. It’s a favorite of hummingbirds and bees.
  7. Aloe marlothii: This tree-like aloe species can grow up to 20 feet tall and produces tall spikes of orange or red flowers that bloom in the winter and spring. It’s a favorite of birds, bees, and butterflies.
  8. Aloe maculata: This aloe species has a low-growing rosette of green leaves that are covered in white spots. It produces tall spikes of orange or red flowers that bloom in the summer, attracting bees and butterflies.
  9. Aloe pearsonii: This aloe species has a low-growing rosette of green leaves and produces tall spikes of red or yellow flowers in the winter and spring, attracting bees and birds.
  10. Aloe saponaria: This aloe species has a low-growing rosette of green leaves and produces tall spikes of red or orange flowers in the winter and spring, attracting bees and butterflies. It’s also known for its soap-like sap that was used by indigenous peoples for cleaning.

Smart Plant Tags

Imagine a world where every garden, school yard, and public space becomes an immersive and educational experience.

A place where nature and knowledge intertwine to create stunning interpretive trails.

With a simple scan using your smartphone, you’ll unlock a whole new level of information and convenience.

Agaves in the Sonoran Desert: Providing Essential Habitat and Food for Pollinators

The Sonoran Desert is home to a vast array of plant species, each with unique adaptations to survive in the harsh desert environment. Among the most iconic and important of these plants are the agaves. These hardy succulents not only play a crucial role in the desert ecosystem but also serve as vital habitat and food sources for a variety of pollinators.

Agaves are a type of plant in the Asparagaceae family and are found throughout the Sonoran Desert region. They have thick, fleshy leaves arranged in a rosette pattern, with sharp spines along the edges. Agaves are well-adapted to the desert environment, with the ability to store large amounts of water in their leaves and survive for years without rain.

One of the most fascinating aspects of agaves is their unique reproductive strategy. Unlike many other plants, agaves rely on pollinators to help them reproduce. The plants produce a single, towering inflorescence, which can reach up to 30 feet tall in some species. The inflorescence is covered in thousands of small flowers, each with nectar-rich blooms that attract a variety of pollinators, including bees, moths, and hummingbirds.

Agaves are particularly important for pollinators because they bloom at a time of year when few other plants are in flower. Many species of agave bloom in the late spring or early summer, providing a critical source of food for pollinators during this time. Some agave species are even known to produce nectar throughout the night, providing a vital food source for nocturnal pollinators such as bats and moths.

In addition to providing food for pollinators, agaves also serve as important habitat for a variety of species. The thick leaves of agave plants provide shelter and nesting sites for a variety of insects and small animals, including lizards and rodents. Some species of birds also use agaves as nesting sites, building their nests among the leaves of the plants.

Overall, agaves are a fascinating and vital component of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem. They play a critical role in providing food and habitat for a variety of pollinators, and their unique adaptations allow them to survive in the harsh desert environment. By planting agaves in our gardens and landscapes, we can help support these important plants and the pollinators that rely on them.

Smart Plant Tags

Imagine a world where every garden, school yard, and public space becomes an immersive and educational experience.

A place where nature and knowledge intertwine to create stunning interpretive trails.

With a simple scan using your smartphone, you’ll unlock a whole new level of information and convenience.

Painted Lady Butterflies in the Sonoran Desert

The Painted Lady butterfly is a beautiful and fascinating insect that can be found in the Sonoran desert, among other regions. This butterfly has a unique life cycle, including a long-distance migration that makes it an interesting species to study.

The Painted Lady butterfly begins its migration from Mexico and the southwestern United States, traveling up to 9,000 miles to reach Canada. The migration is a result of seasonal changes in temperature and vegetation, and it takes several generations of butterflies to complete the journey. This long-distance migration is an impressive feat, considering the size of the butterfly and the distance it covers.

Once the Painted Lady butterfly reaches the Sonoran desert, it begins its life cycle. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves of specific host plants, including Yarrow (Achillea millefolia), Western Mugwort (Artemisia dracunculus), Arizona Thistle (Cirsium arizonicum), Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi), Globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp), Western Betony (Stachys coccinea) and Mexican Sunflower Bush (Tithonia fruticosa). The eggs hatch into caterpillars, which then feed on the host plants until they reach their full size. The caterpillar stage can last for several weeks before they are ready to pupate.

The pupa stage of the Painted Lady butterfly lasts for around ten days, during which the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly. The adult butterfly emerges from the pupa with its vibrant colors and striking patterns, ready to fly and explore its surroundings.

The Painted Lady butterfly is not picky when it comes to its diet. It feeds on a variety of nectar plants, including asters, yarrows, thistles, mallows and verbena. These nectar plants are essential for the adult butterfly to survive, as they provide the necessary nutrients for their energy and growth. Butterflies prefer mass plantings of nectar flowers; as a guideline, try to provide 3 sq ft groups of nectar or larval host plants.

The Painted Lady butterfly is an amazing insect with a unique life cycle and a long-distance migration. Its beauty and importance to the ecosystem of the Sonoran desert make it an exciting species to study and observe. So, the next time you spot a Painted Lady butterfly, take a moment to appreciate its remarkable journey and admire its stunning appearance.

See also, The Ladies and a Gentleman

The Magical Transformation of the Sonoran Desert: How Fall and Winter Rains Affect Wildflowers

The Sonoran Desert is a breathtaking landscape that is home to some of the most beautiful wildflowers in the world. Many people associate wildflowers with spring and summer, but did you know that fall and winter rains are just as important for wildflowers in the Sonoran Desert?

Let’s explore how these rains affect the growth and bloom of wildflowers, and what you can expect to see during this time of year.

First, let’s talk about the rain. The Sonoran Desert typically experiences two rainy seasons: the summer monsoon and the winter rains. While the summer monsoon is known for its dramatic thunderstorms and heavy downpours, the winter rains are more subtle and gentle. These rains may not be as impressive as the summer monsoon, but they are just as important for the growth of wildflowers.

During the fall and winter months, the desert landscape transforms into a sea of green as the winter rains trigger the germination of wildflower seeds that have been lying dormant in the soil. This is an exciting time for nature lovers, as the desert bursts into a riot of colors and shapes that are unique to this region.

Some of the most common wildflowers that bloom during the fall and winter months include the desert marigold, Mexican gold poppy, and lupine. These plants have adapted to the desert climate and can survive long periods of drought, but they rely on the winter rains to trigger their growth and bloom.

In addition to being a feast for the eyes, wildflowers play an important role in the ecosystem of the Sonoran Desert. They provide food and shelter for a variety of wildlife, from bees and butterflies to birds and mammals. They also help to prevent erosion and maintain soil health by keeping the soil in place and adding nutrients to the soil.

So, the next time you take a hike in the Sonoran Desert during the fall or winter months, keep your eyes peeled for the beautiful wildflowers that are in bloom. Take a moment to appreciate the role that these plants play in the ecosystem and the beauty that they bring to the desert landscape. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at identifying some of the different species that you see – who knows, you may just discover a new favorite!

What is a Sub-shrub?

You may see plants listed under a subshrub category; how can they be used in a pollinator garden?

A sub-shrub is a type of plant that has woody stems at the base, but herbaceous or non-woody stems and leaves above ground. Sub-shrubs are often smaller in size compared to shrubs and are a great addition to a low desert pollinator garden because they are native to the region and provide food and shelter for pollinators.

subshrub (Latin suffrutex) or dwarf shrub is a short shrub, and is a woody plantProstrate shrub is a related term. “Subshrub” is often used interchangeably with “bush“.[1]

Because the criteria are matters of degree (normally of height) rather than of kind, the definition of a subshrub is not sharply distinguishable from that of a shrub; examples of reasons for describing plants as subshrubs include ground-hugging stems or low growth habit. Subshrubs may be largely herbaceous though still classified as woody, with overwintering perennial woody growth much lower-growing than deciduous summer growth. Some plants described as subshrubs are only weakly woody and some persist for only for a few years.


Sub-shrubs are useful in a low desert pollinator garden for several reasons. Firstly, they are hardy and can survive in hot, dry conditions with little water, making them well-suited to the low desert environment. Secondly, they provide a source of nectar and pollen for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Finally, sub-shrubs can be used as a border or filler plant in a pollinator garden, helping to create a diverse and visually appealing landscape.

In addition, sub-shrubs can be used in a variety of ways in a low desert pollinator garden. For example, they can be planted in clusters to create a mass of color that will attract pollinators. They can also be used to create a border around the edges of the garden or along pathways. Finally, sub-shrubs can be used to fill in gaps between larger shrubs or trees, creating a layered effect that provides shelter and food for a variety of pollinators.

The Sonoran Desert is a unique and diverse region that spans parts of California, Arizona, and Mexico. Here are some examples of plants that may be categorized as subshrubs, although some are woody and can get quite tall:

  1. Agave spp
  2. Baja Fairy Duster(Calliandra californica)
  3. Blackfoot Daisy(Melampodium leucanthum)
  4. Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
  5. Burrobush(Ambrosia dumosa)
  6. Catclaw Acacia(Senegalia greggii)
  7. Colorado FourO’clock (Mirabilis multiflora)
  8. Chuparosa (Justicia californica)
  9. Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides)
  10. Desert Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
  11. Desert Honeysuckle(Anisacanthus 
  12. Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
  13. Desert (Rush) Milkweed(Asclepias subulata)
  14. Eastern Mojave Buckwheat(Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium)
  15. Parish’s Goldeneye(Bahiopsis parishii)
  16. Pink Fairyduster(Calliandria eriophylla)
  17. Penstemon spp 
  18. Prairie Acacia(Acaciella angustissima)
  19. Triangle Leaf Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
  20. Wright’s Buckwheat(Eriogonum wrightii)

Why I started observing pollinators

Elliott invited me to contribute to his post by sharing my story, so here we go…

Elliott, what a great journey, and thank you for inviting me to contribute to this post! Although it surprised me at first, it really makes sense that we share two pivotal influences in our path to recognizing and falling in love with the ecosystems that surround us: COVID and iNaturalist.

Although I’ve always had a love of gardening, starting with an indoor cactus garden in Cleveland, OH back in the 60s, my interest was broadened and intensified after moving back to Phoenix in 2019 after a 15 year hiatus. I signed up for a couple of courses at the Desert Botanical Garden Landscape School, although the second course was halted when COVID infections began escalating across the country.

And then a rather interesting post appeared in my fb feed: MetroPhoenix EcoFlora, an iNaturalist project coordinated by Jeny Davis at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Big changes start with a small step, and big events encourage change.

My first observation was a Hop Bush, which I then learned was a larval host plant for the Cincta Silkmoth, and things began to click.

Fast forward to 2021 – I had made thousands of plant observations, and developed a strong interest in the insects that visited the plants. And 2021 turned out to be a banner year for butterflies in Phoenix; what amazing fortune 🙂

I also found an opportunity to apply my background in training by developing A Visual Guide to Low Desert Butterflies and Moths.

Which then evolved into

So with a step, a journey began. A door opened and I stepped through, and got to know the plants and insects around me, and met some amazing people, some virtually and some in person!

Low Desert Blooms for Pollinators in February

2023 is starting off as a promising wildflower bloom season in the desert, but what’s blooming in the garden as pollinators begin to celebrate the warmer weather? You may be surprised!

Some of the following plants, by the book, are early to flower, but keep in mind that even small changes in elevation, sun exposure, and heat absorbing walls and stone can create microclimates that enable exceptional results.

Aloe spp – Attracts Hummingbirds

Angelita Daisy – Nectar plant, seeds provide food for birds

Arizona Foldwing – Great nectar plant for bees and butterflies. Host plant for the Texas Crescent

Baja Fairy Duster – Attracts Hummingbirds, great nectar source for bees and butterflies, host for the Marine Blue.

Blackfoot Daisy – Nectar loving insects like bees and butterflies love the flowers, and seed-eating birds eat the seeds.

Bottle Brush – Great nectar plant for bees, butterflies and Hummingbirds

Brittlebush – The nectar and seeds are consumed by local wildlife and the shrub provides shelter for animals. Host for the Painted Lady  and Bay checkerspot butterfly, a threatened species.

Cape Honeysuckle – Nectar plant for Hummingbirds and bees.

Cascalote – Nectar plant for bees, attracts hummingbirds.

Chuparosa – Nectar source for Hummingbirds and bees. Host for Tiny Checkerspot, Texas Crescent, Pearl Crescent

Dalea spp – Host for Reakirt’s Blue, Southern dogface, Gray Hairstreak. Nectar plant for bees and butterflies.

Desert Lavender – Nectar plant for bees. Host for the Gray Hairstreak butterfly

Desert Marigold – Nectar plant. Host for Dainty Sulphur butterfly. Special value to native bees.

Dogweed – Great nectar plant. Larval host for the Dainty Sulphur

Emu Bushes – Nectar plant for bees and hummingbirds

Buckwheat – Special value to native bees. Host for the Bernardino Dotted-BlueLupine BlueMormon MetalmarkBehr’s MetalmarkNut-Brown Hairstreak, Ceraunus Blue, Rita Dotted Blue, Acmon Blue, Brown Elf

Verbenas – Nectar plant and host for Fine-lined Sallow moth, Verbena moth

Lantana – Excellent nectar plant for bees and butterflies

Mexican Honeysuckle (Justicia spicigera) – Attracts Hummingbirds

Perennial Rockcress – Host for Spring White, Cabbage White, Desert Marble, Pearly Marble, Sara Orange Tip, Checkered White

Salvia spp – Cleveland Sage has Special value to native bees. Nectar source for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Host for Alfalfa Looper Moth (Autographa californica), Bilobed Looper Moth (Megalographa biloba), Wavy-Lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata), the geometrid Pherne subpunctata, and the plume moth Anstenoptilia marmarodactyla

Spreading Fleabane – Host for Hooded Owlet moth, Flower moth

Superstition Mallow – Host for the Arizona Powdered Skipper, Northern White Skipper, Common Streaky Skipper, Common Checkered Skipper, several species of moth

The best time to prune trees

In the low desert, tree pruning can be done almost year round, but here are the suggested best times to trim:

  • Deciduous trees – winter dormancy (December through February)
  • Citrus – after February to avoid frost damage
  • Conifers – winter dormancy
  • Natives – summer
    • Mesquites: Spring or early summer to prevent damage from monsoon storms
    • Palo Verdes: Avoid summer pruning since they are sun sensitive

Don’t forget to sanitize your pruning equipment before use, and in between pruning different trees to prevent virus, vascular fungus and bacteria infections. Don’t prune at oozing cankers. You can use:

  • 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • Listerine
  • Lysol
  • Pine-Sol

For more information on pruning:

Laser Engraving: Photos

Methods for Wood, Canvas, Mirror, Slate and Tile

Precise focus of the laser is critical. Every laser is different – practice makes perfect.


Wood is one of the more popular options for engraving because it’s easy to find and relatively low cost. However, engraving wood can be a frustrating endeavor if you aren’t aware of some key considerations.

Not all types of wood engrave well, and even the same wood may not engrave the same due to differences in moisture or resin content. So let’s look at some considerations when selecting wood.

Resin Content

Higher resin content is found in softer woods, which are typically lighter colored, and the more resin, the darker the burn (engraved markings). Resin levels are affected by where and when the wood was cut. Alder, Maple and Cherry are premium options.


Lines naturally present in some woods caused by mineral content. The streaks are visible after engraving and reduce the impact of the final result.


Lighter wood provides a stronger contrast to the engrave (burn) lines, allowing your work to stand out.

Good examples of wood for engraving include:

  • Alder (great for photos)
  • Cherry (great for photos)
  • Maple (great for photos)
  • Basswood
  • Plywood
  • MDF
  • HDF
  • Balsa

On Maple plywood, general settings for 2W – 5W laser

  • 1900 mm/min
  • 80% power
  • Jarvis dithering

Photo and engraving by Jeff Vortisch, Photo Laser Engraving FB group

On Alder plywood

Tip: Mask a high contrast portion of a photo and run on different settings to find what works best for your laser.

Norton White Tile Method

Two Trees 2.2w Diode Laser

  • Nero Dithering
  • 318 DPI (line interval .08)
  • 1200 mm/min
  • 80% Power

Photo and engraving by Edward Kraushar, Photo Laser Engraving FB group

Ortur LM 3 10w laser

  • 3700 mm/min
  • 90% power
  • Jarvis dithering (Lightburn)

Photo and engraving by Thorsten Fichtel, Photo Laser Engraving FB group

Snapmaker A350 1.6w laser

  • Rustoleum PaintersTouch 2X Smokey Beige paint
  • 700 mm/min
  • 318 dpi
  • 60% power
  • 90 degree scan angle, Stucki dither

Photo and engraving by Alan Fox, Photo Laser Engraving FB group


10w diode laser

  • Clear coat first
  • 318 dpi
  • 10000 mm/min
  • 50% power
  • Denoise 30, Autosharpen 6 (Imag-r)

Photo and engraving by Philip Baird, Photo Laser Engraving FB group

10w diode laser

  • 300 dpi
  • 3000 mm/min
  • 60% power

Photo and engraving by Richard Jones, Photo Laser Engraving FB group

OLM2 LU2-4 5.5w laser

  • 318 DPI
  • Kasia processing
  • 3000 mm/min
  • 90% power
  • Sprayed slate with black paint first

Photo and engraving by Andrea Dawson, Den of Lasers FB group

Ortur LM2, 20w diode laser

  • 2000 mm/min
  • 75% power

Photo and engraving by LA Hobby Guy (also see, Creating a Laserbed Template)

Laser Engraving: NEJE 3 Max

The NEJE 3 Max A40640 Laser Engraver

Looking to make your own garden signs? Plant tags? Coasters? Hobby-level laser engraving machines make this all possible, and more.

Like many hobbies, however, the actual cost of getting started and realizing your creations can be significantly higher than the cost of the engraver. In this thread I’ll be covering the journey of assembling and outfitting the NEJE 3 Max laser engraver and then completing some small projects.

The NEJE 3 Max provides one of the largest engraving areas of any hobby laser, 460 x 810mm (18 x 32″) and uses a laser diode like the A40640 dual beam 10 watt module for both cutting and engraving.

Although this is a very well appointed engraver, like other diode based machines you will need to purchase accessories to make it practical and safe to use.

I purchased mine from Amazon for about $600. You can also purchase directly from NEJE.

There are other widely used diode laser engraver manufacturers at various price points, here are some examples (list prices at time of publication):

  • Atomstack: A5 ($360), S10 Pro ($570), A10 Pro ($570), S20 Pro & A20 Pro ($900-$1100)
  • Comgrow: Z1 ($349)
  • NEJE: 3 Max ($600), 3 Pro ($359)
  • Ortur: Aufero Laser 1 ($330), Aufero Laser 2 ($400), Laser Master 2 ($600), Laser Master 3 ($750)
  • Sculpfin: S9 ($280), S10 ($490), S30 ($330), S30 Pro ($540)
  • Twotrees: TS2, TS3, TTS-55
  • Xtool (Newer to the engraver scene, but they have spent a lot on marketing, giving them a strong launch): D1 Pro ($700-$4200)

Note: Some manufacturers advertise a power (large numbers like 40W or 80W) that’s different than the optical output power (typically 5W-10W) of the laser. Optical power is what matters if you’re doing comparisons.

If you are interested in higher power and faster cutting capabilities, consider a CO2 engraver.

Caution: Laser engraving requires careful consideration for the safety of the user and visitors. Be prepared for a fire, protect your eyes from the harmful UV radiation and protect yourself from potentially toxic fumes. More info here.



What’s in the box:

A photo of what's included in the box for the NEJE 3 Max laser engraver
  • 1 – Motherboard side rail
  • 2 – Stepper motor right side rail
  • 3 – Top and Bottom frame rails
  • 4 – Drag chain support
  • 5 – Laser Gantry X-axis frame
  • 6 – Drag chaines
  • 7 – Air Assist option (included as part of Amazon kit)
  • 8 – M7 Relay with control wire
  • 9 – USB Cable
  • 10 – A406040 Laser Module, 10W dual diode
  • 11 – Power Supply
  • 12 – Belt Tensioner option (included as part of Amazon kit)
  • 13 – Assembly brackets and hardware
  • 14 – Sample engraving materials
  • 15 – Safety goggles (not officially certified – professional laser glasses like these are strongly recommended to protect your eyes from UV radiation)
  • 16 – TBD
  • 17 – Red Door Button (this is included for use with an enclosure as a kill switch)

Items Not Included

  • Waste Board – this is a board that secures the laser frame; in this case I’m using a 2′ x 4′ x 3/4″ piece of sanded plywood. This board is also necessary to ensure final square of the frame. About $30.
  • Air Assist Pump – A strong air flow is required for the air assist feature to work. Air assist is used primarily during cutting operations, and a minimum of 70L/min is recommended. This is the pump that I’ve purchased for the job. About $50.
  • Fume Extractor – engraving and cutting produces not only smoke, but also toxic chemicals. I’ll be operating the engraver in the garage, so I can open doors to help, but I’m still going to use this extractor to filter smoke and fumes. About $120. Note: this Comgrow extractor is probably only sufficient if you have the NEJE in an enclosure – my first tests of the engraver proved just how much smoke is generated during cuts and rasters, and the Comgrow did not even make a dent in the smoke (no enclosure). I’m considering a Vivosun grow tent with vent fan as a future option.
  • Laser Glasses, as mentioned above. About $35.
  • Enclosure – at this time NEJE does not offer an enclosure, so if you want one to block the laser light and reduce fumes, you’ll have to make one or purchase from a third party.
  • Honeycomb Metal Mat – provides heat dissipation and air flow during cutting operations, I purchased this one for about $160.
  • Fire extinguisher and fire blanket. About $50

As you can see, there’s more to getting started than just purchasing the diode laser engraver. Note that CO2 machines cost more, but also tend to include more of the listed options as standard.

NEJE gets kudos for providing good build quality and:

  • An air assist valve, control and associated laser module nozzle
  • Drag chains for wire management
  • A precision Z-axis adjustable mount for the laser module
  • Belt tensioners

And some cons (all of these are addressed in this blog):

  • Instructions (what instructions?)
  • Squaring the rail assembly is critical, but poorly documented
  • The Z-axis (H2O) slider is not designed for the A40640 module
  • NEJE doesn’t offer an enclosure, and after doing a trial engraving I can say you need to have an enclosure to contain the smoke and fumes (or an extremely good exhaust system, or both)
  • You need a very good exhaust system, even with an enclosure, and because of the size of the 3 Max the enclosure and exhaust need to be top notch
  • NEJE provides an air assist solenoid and laser module fitting, but no pump. The provided accessories require a very strong air pressure, so you need a good pump or compressor. Also, the laser module fitting is finicky and makes it difficult to access the laser lens for cleaning.


Side and Top Rails, Metal Drag Chain Support, and X-axis Laser Gantry

Layout the rails, placing the side rail with motherboard on the left.

  • Secure the side and top rail corners using the M5-10 socket bolts.

Check to make sure that the frame is square. This is a large frame, and even a small error can be significant, so make sure the frame is square after each frame assembly step.

Attach metal drag chain support (1 of 3)

  • Use an L-bracket to secure the right side to the Motor Y-R assembly with two M3-10 bolts & nuts.

Attach metal drag chain support (2 of 3)

  • On the left side, remove the two black zip ties that secure the cables (the holes will be used to secure a bracket).
  • Secure an L-bracket and the drag-chain bracket using two M3-10 bolts and nuts.

Attach metal drag chain support (3 of 3)

  • Secure the drag-chain support bar with the lower base facing the back of the machine with M3-10 flat head screws & nuts
  • Before tightening all of the screws, pull the stepper motors to the front (bottom) rail and confirm that the assembly is parallel to the rail (both stepper motors should be touching the rail).
  • Do a final tighten on all screws and bolts.

Status pic – here’s how the assembly appears at this point:

Remove the connector from the Laser module stepper motor and the two zip ties holding the cable in place.

Route the Laser module cable through the hole the left side drag chain bracket, then through a drag chain.

Fish the air assist hose through the drag chain (not shown).

Attach the drag chain at the middle of the support using two M3-10 bolts and nuts.

Attach the Laser Gantry X-axis frame with two M5-10 bolts.

Insert the Motor Y-R connectors at the stepper motor and at the motherboard.

Attach the second angle bracket to the laser module stepper motor with two M3-10 bolts and nuts.

Attach the other end of the drag chain to the angle bracket using two M3-10 bolts and nuts.

Feed the red laser module wire and air tubing through the angle bracket hole.

Attach the laser stepper motor connector.

Status pic – here is what the machine looks like at this point of assembly.

Attach the air assist solenoid to the angle bracket using the provided screws.

Mounting to the Waste Board and Final Square

The NEJE 3 Max has a very large working area, and even though the extruded frame is rigid, chances are at this point it is slightly out of square. And for an engraver that measures accuracy in fractions of a millimeter, a rigid and square frame is critical.

Here are the steps that I used to mount and square the frame:

Position the frame where you’d like it on the waste board. Since I’m using a high quality piece of plywood with factory cut edges, I used the front edge of the board as a reference, and spaced the left and right front corners of the frame equally away from the edge.

Attach the front left corner, then the front right corner using the supplied brackets and screws.

Pull the laser gantry all the way to the front of the frame and let go – both the left and right stepper motors should touch.

Make adjustments as needed by placing left or right pressure at the back of the frame until the laser gantry is parallel with the front of the frame.

Now secure the back two corners of the frame to the waste board, double-checking square as you go.

Fish the USB, power, red door switch and relay control wires through the second drag chain. I ran the USB through first, then taped the ends of the remaining three wires together for the final fishing.

Mount one end of the drag chain to the solenoid bracket. This is an area that needs improvement by NEJE – the mounting holes are not spaced properly for the drag chain, and the screws that affix the solenoid prevent the drag chain from mounting flat. Patience is a virtue 🙂

Screw the other end of the drag chain to the waste board.

Connect the red button to the Door input, the relay control wire to M7 and the air assist solenoid to M8.

Plug in the USB and power cables.

Connect the red cable to the laser module, then attach the module to the Z-axis adjustment bracket.

We’ll discuss the test patterns shown in this photo later. First the laser focal length has to be determined…

But before we do any cutting or engraving, let’s look at a suitable enclosure and exhaust system. All it took was one run of the laser and it was clear that smoke and fumes would have to be dealt with.

This is a 4’x4′ Visosun grow tent with AC Infinity 6″ exhaust fan and carbon filter. 25′ of flexible 6″ ducting allows me to vent out a door.

This setup takes up 16 sq feet of floor space, but the tent can be moved when not in use and provides a mini-workshop. Down the road I plan to add a Lightburn camera above the work surface and needless to say, there is plenty of room 🙂

The Ramp Test

The A40640 laser module has variable focus, which, for the novice, is a bit of a detriment, because you need to select a focus for the lens, and then an optimal distance to the work piece.

Based on a video from the LA Hobby Guy, I elected to screw the lens all the way in; NEJE mentions screwing out the lens a few turns, so you’ll have to pick a point to start. Watch Rich’s video linked above to learn the details of the ramp test.

In the previous image you can almost see the yellow lines that highlight how the work piece is ramped on the honeycomb surface 😉

Since the laser module travels at a constant distance from the table, the ramp reproduces a range of module to work piece gaps. Somewhere along this continuum you can find a sweet spot where, even at very low power the laser is focused enough to leave a mark on the wood.

For my 3 Max, 22 mm from the base of the laser module heat sink to the work piece proved to be best.

To further test the focus I created a jig to establish gaps of 24mm – 19mm from the laser heat sink to the work piece.

21mm provided the best performance, but 22mm and 23mm were very close (see next figure).

For cuts you should focus the laser at a point half way into the thickness of your work piece. In this case the wood measures 3.2mm, so we could say the focal point of the laser is 22.6mm from the laser heat sink.

All of these cuts were performed at 360mm/min and 2 passes; ignore the engraved text 🙂

Looking at the back of the wood, 22mm and 23mm were very close to the winning gap of 21mm.

Note: These cuts were made without air assist (still working on a practical installation of the air assist feature.)

Coming Next:

  • Adjusting the laser module focus ring
  • Mounting the laser
  • Adjusting and verifying focus
  • Running a universal test card to confirm performance

Supporting Videos

Pollinator Garden Plants: Catclaw Acacia

Senegalia greggii (formerly Acacia greggii) is native to the southwestern united states and northern Mexico at elevations below 4500′. It’s a large thorny shrub or small tree growing to 20′ tall. Flowers are fragrant. Full to part sun, low water and hardy to 0 degrees F.

Flowering Season: J F M A M J J A S O N D

Sonoran Desert Native, great nectar plant, attracts native birds and super larval host plant:

  • Mexican Yellow (Eurema mexicana)
  • Mimosa Yellow (Eurema nise)
  • Reakirt’s Blue (Echinargus isola)
  • Marine Blue (Leptotes marina)
  • Hubbard’s Small Silkmoth (Sphingicampa hubbardi)
  • Tricolor Buckmoth (Hemileuca tricolor),
  • Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata),
  • Owlet Moths (family Noctuidae)
  • Mesquite Stinger Flannel Moth (Norape tenera),
  • Naval Orange Worm Moth (Amyelois transitella)
  • Merry Melipotis Moth (Melipotis jucunda)

Common names include catclaw acacia, catclaw mesquite, Gregg’s catclaw, paradise flower, wait-a-minute bush, and wait-a-bit tree; these names mostly come from the fact that the tree has numerous hooked prickles with the shape and size of a cat‘s claw which tend to hook onto passers-by; the hooked person must stop (“wait a minute”) to remove the prickles carefully to avoid injury or shredded clothing.


Found on flats, washes, and slopes below 5,000 ft. in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, and south into Northern Mexico

Spadefoot Nursery

Other Resources:

Maricopa Pollinator Pathway Plant List

PollinatorWeb Recommended Plants

Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

Smart Plant Tags

Imagine a world where every garden, school yard, and public space becomes an immersive and educational experience.

A place where nature and knowledge intertwine to create stunning interpretive trails.

With a simple scan using your smartphone, you’ll unlock a whole new level of information and convenience.

The Desert Responds: Tadpoles and Hackberries

Last Saturday marked our first significant monsoon rainfall, measuring in at 1″, and neighboring parks allow us to observe how the desert has responded.

Four Days Later – Tadpoles in Temporary Ponds (Rain Pools)

Although the above species has yet to be determined, tadpoles can hatch from eggs in as little as 15 hours, and develop into toads in a week.

[Couch’s Spadefoot toads] Their eggs have been known to hatch in just 15 hours, and they can complete the transformation from “tadpole to hopper” in as little as a week — assuming the puddle they are deposited in lasts that long.

In addition to the all-important moisture, amphibians are drawn out this time of year by another monsoon mainstay: flying ants. After a storm, Rosen said, swarms of the insects will emerge, touching off a feeding frenzy by frogs and toads.

A number of toads and frogs call the Sonoran Desert home, including:

Spiny Hackberry Flowers Are Hard to Find, but Just Listen for the Buzz
Spiny Hackberry (Celtis pallida) with Fruit

Inconspicuous yellow-green flowers April-October depending on rainfall. Berries ripen July-December.

The edible berries are sweet to man and birds. Hermit Thrush, Northern Cardinal, towhees, Phainopepla, Townsend’s Solitaire, Cedar Waxwing, thrashers, White-crowned Sparrow and House Finch are among the birds likely to be seen at Desert Hackberry when in fruit.

Two fascinating butterflies use this plant as a larval host. The Leilia Hackberry Butterfly (Asterocampa leilia), burnt orange with black marginal spots, will almost always be found patrolling nearby up and down a wash just a few feet above the ground stopping frequently to perch on the ground.

…Another butterfly that feeds on hackberry as a caterpillar is the Snout Butterfly (Libytheana bachmanii), also colored burnt orange. The adult butterflies have a long snout formed from elongated palps (mouthparts), and unlike the hackberry butterflies, are avid nectar feeders especially at Seep Baccharis.


Worst Months for Plants in Phoenix

Although you may initially assume that the months with the hottest average temperature pose the biggest threat to plants, other factors also contribute to plant stress levels.

Let’s look at a table of average weather in Phoenix:

Temps of 100 plus are common June through September.

July and August pose additional challenges for plants, with average nighttime lows in the 80s. Plants that use CAM respiration can struggle and growth may stop, leading to root rot.

Monsoon officially starts in June, but Phoenix typically starts to benefit around mid-July.

So what factors affect plant stress during the hottest months?

  • Daytime high temperature
  • Nighttime low temperature
  • Humidity
  • Rainfall


Daytime temperatures break the century mark and may even soar into the 100+ degree zone. Low humidity, lots of sun and little rain make this an extremely challenging month, especially for non-desert adapted species. Cell damage can occur at about 115 degrees for broader leafed plants under these conditions. Applying extra water during June may not cure the stress because plants are not able to function at a level where they can overcome evapotranspiration.

In addition to low rainfall, deserts are characterized by a high rate of water loss from the ground (evaporation) and through plants (transpiration). Together this is called evapotranspiration. Potential evapotranspiration is the amount of water that would be lost through evaporation and transpiration if it were available.

What Is a Desert – DesertUSA

Protecting non-desert adapted plants with a 40% or 50% shade cloth will help, especially during the first year. Another helpful practice is to plant in fall instead of spring so there is more time for plants to get established.


The first couple of weeks can be similar to June, depending on when the Monsoon engine gets up and running. Rising humidity levels provide a break from the sun’s rays and allow plants to get a foothold against evapotranspiration.

Clear dry air transmits about 90% of available sunlight to the ground on a typical desert day compared to 40% in a typical humid climate.

What Is a Desert – DesertUSA

Cloudy days and rainfall also provide relief for stressed plants, resulting in new growth and flowering. Nighttime temperatures may be high enough to cause issues for CAM plants, resulting in root rot – this mostly affects non-Sonoran desert plants.

CAM is an adaptation for increased efficiency in the use of water, and so is typically found in plants growing in arid conditions. (CAM is found in over 99% of the known 1700 species of Cactaceae and in nearly all of the cactii producing edible fruits.)



Monsoon continues through August. Average rainfall and nighttime lows are similar to July and average hours of sunshine fall by about 7%.


Monsoon officially ends September 30th, so humidity, clouds and rain may benefit plants throughout the month. If the days turn arid, though, high daytime temperatures can pose issues similar to June. Average daily temperatures are down a few degrees from June/July, hours of sunshine are down about 10% and rainfall averages begin to decline.

Best Months to Observe Butterflies in Phoenix

Butterflies are most active when it’s warm and when nectar sources are readily available. So what are the best months to observe butterflies in the Phoenix Sonoran Desert?

In Phoenix, Queens, Fiery Skippers and Gulf Fritillaries are usually around all summer. You can expect to see a showing of butterflies in the late winter into Spring, but the biggest show often comes in the months of August, September and October.

Western Pygmy Blue, Oct 25, 2021

The three popular months coincide with Phoenix Monsoon and quite a number of blooming nectar plants. Following are some observations from the 2021/2022 calendar years in Phoenix. Note that 2021 was an amazing banner year for butterflies!

Some October Observations

Large Orange Sulphur
Painted Lady
Mexican Yellow
American Snout
Dainty Sulphur
Ceraunus Blue
Orange Sulphur
Western Pygmy Blue
Fiery Skipper
Cloudless Sulphur
Great Purple Hairstreak
Sleepy Orange
Funereal Duskywing
Echo Azure
Arizona Powdered Skipper
Cloudless Sulphur
Tiny Checkerspot (Pinal County)
California Patch
Empress Leilia
Violet-clouded Skipper
Fatal Metalmark
West Coast Lady
Eufala Skipper
Northern White Skipper

Some November Observations

Western Pygmy Blue
Reakirt’s Blue
Sleepy Orange
Mexican Yellow
American Lady
Checkered White
Orange Sulphur
Dainty Sulphur
Pipevine Swallowtail
Painted Lady
Common and White Checkered Skippers
Variegated Fritillary
Gray Hairstreak
American Lady
American Snout
Fiery Skipper
Gulf Fritillary
Gray Buckeye
Red Admiral

Some December Observations

Painted Lady
Funereal Duskywing
Gulf Fritillary
West Coast Lady
Gray Buckeye
Mexican Yellow
Dainty Sulphur
Ceraunus Blue

Some January Observations

Gulf Fritillary
Reakirt’s Blue
American Snout
Painted Lady
West Coast Lady

Some February Observations

Mourning Cloak
American Snout
Gray Hairstreak
Sleepy Orange
Orange Sulphur

Some March Observations

Red Admiral
Western Giant Swallowtail
Funereal Duskywing
West Coast Lady
Great Purple Hairstreak

Some April Observations

Marine Blue
Gray Buckeye
Dainty Sulphur
Echo Azure
Sleepy Orange
Common Checkered Skipper
Juniper Hairstreak
American Snout
Painted Lady

Some May Observations

Cabbage White
Northern White Skipper
Echo Azure
Pipevine Swallowtail
California Patch

Some June Observations

Reakirt’s Blue
Marine Blue
Empress Leilia
Ceraunus Blue

Some July Observations

Fiery Skipper
Queen Caterpillar
Sleepy Orange
Gulf Fritillary

Bee Flies as Pollinators

Family Bombyliidae (Bee Flies): A pollinator with a bad reputation. They are among the many flies that imitate bees, bumble bees specifically. By hovering, instead of landing, they avoid many predators hiding in the flowers.

Adults generally feed on nectar and pollen, some being important pollinators. Larvae generally are parasitoids of other insects, including bees. The adult females usually deposit eggs in the vicinity of possible hosts, quite often in the burrows of beetles or wasps/solitary bees.

Bee flies also facilitate pollination of many species of flowering plants. It is thought they are just as efficient pollinators of some types of flowers as are the bees and they are more frequent visitors so, in the end, they may a pollinate more flowers than bees.

Banded Bee Fly
Genus Geron
Genus Aphoebantus
Genus Lepidanthrax
Genus Paravilla
Poecilanthrax arethusa
Genus Villa
Genus Anastoechus
Bomber Fly
Genus Lordotus

Additional Resources:

How Many Butterfly Species Live in the Sonoran Desert?

The Sonoran Desert is bounded to the north by the Mogollon Rim, to the west by the southeastern corner of California and down into Baja California, and to the south by Sonora, Mexico.

Desert Museum Regional Natural History: Deserts in AZ, CA and Mexico

There are over 250 species of butterflies in the Sonoran Desert. This rich butterfly diversity is due in part to the varied topography in this desert, which supports a wide variety of microclimates and plant distributions.

A significant number of butterflies are influx species, meaning they enter the Sonoran Desert from other deserts, thorn scrub habitats and mountain ranges. The combination of indigenous and influx species account for the high number of species and make for great butterfly watching.

Butterflies play important roles in the ecosystem. Their larval and adult forms are an important part of the food web and many help pollinate plants. Since they experience comparable environmental pressures and are easy to observe, butterflies are excellent bioindicators of environmental health.

For more information, and butterfly photos:

About Native Bees in the Sonoran Desert – Stings and Nests

Most of the news goes to the Honey Bee, a non-native European import, but there are about 1,000 species of native bees in the Sonoran Desert bioregion. And unlike the general bee stereotype, most native bees are solitary and don’t produce honey.

Whereas honey bees build honeycomb hives and live in large colonies, native bees, with the exception of bumble bees, are solitary and nest in the ground or in cavities like abandoned beetle holes in stems or twigs.

Because most native bees are solitary, it’s up to the female bee to build and provision the nest, and if the female dies, that generation is lost. As a result, native bees do not have the luxury of putting themselves at risk, and don’t sting unless absolutely necessary.

Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is the most common of the 7-12 species of honey bee worldwide. It was one of the first domesticated insects.

About Stings

Male bees don’t sting. Surprised? I was!

Stingers are actually modified ovipositors, which, once upon a time, were used by female bees to lay eggs, so only female bees can sting. (Male bees also don’t collect pollen, and this is one means of differentiating a male vs a female observation.)

Honey bees (female) are the only bees that die after stinging. Native female bees don’t leave their stinger behind, so they’re free to defend themselves multiple times if required.

Nesting Habits and Lending a Helping Hand in Your Garden

A bee nest contains anywhere from one to several dozen nest cells.

For bees that nest in the ground, a female bee digs the hole, typically in a sunny south or east patch of exposed earth. Providing patches in your garden that are away from traffic areas can provide nesting opportunities.

Native bees that don’t nest in the ground take advantage of pre-existing nest cavities, including hollowed out twigs, abandoned beetle burrows, tiny holes in bricks and even abandoned snail shells. There are many ways you can help make your garden a home, for example, by leaving snags (dead trees), not removing leaf litter until late spring, or providing nest cavities made of dead wood, dead stems or brush piles.

If you’re creating or modifying a pollinator garden in the low desert areas of Maricopa County and adjacent areas and want to help support native bees, a great set of guidelines and resources are provided by the Maricopa Pollinator Pathway project. Consider joining the project by adding your garden, it’s free! The Maricopa Pollinator Pathway Comprehensive Habitat FAQ is a great way to learn more about what makes a great pollinator habitat.

The Xerces Society also has great information about how to support ground nesting bees, cavity nesting bees and bumble bees.

Another great resource is The Bees in Your Backyard, by Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia Messinger Carril.

It’s June – where are all the native bees?

A hike in a Phoenix nature preserve today revealed very little in bloom, and consequently few native bees or butterflies.

Most of the Sonoran Desert native bees have just one generation per year, so, unlike the non-native Western Honeybee, many native bees will only be active and visible during the Spring or Summer wildflower blooms.

During my hike today, the only flowers I observed were on White Ratany, which was being visited by a bee species whose flower visits were so brief it would take an AI to get a photo,

White Ratany

California Barrel Cactus, whose flowers weren’t yet opened,

California Barrel Cactus

and Coues’ Senna, which had mainly gone to seed but still managed to produce flowers.

Coues’ Senna

Native bees feed on pollen and nectar as well as flower oils for germicidal and bonding properties. Many are solitary, meaning they don’t belong to social hives, and make their nests and brood by burrowing into the ground or using tunnels in wood made by wood-boring beetles.

In my yard in North Phoenix, the native bees seem to have disappeared for a week or so before I wrote this post, so I figured they were gone for the season, even though there are plenty of Desert Marigolds, Zinnias, Sunflowers, Rush Milkweeds, Lantana and Desert Willows in bloom.

But then they reappeared. If native bees for the most part have only one generation per season, how can they be gone and then come back?

So I reached out to Elliott, our resident native bee contributor, and he had a bit of light to shed on the situation:

There’s a few things. Bet hedging, where not every egg hatches every year in case of droughts. Seasonality of host plants for sure and what else in the area is providing food that might be attracting them away from your yard. Pesticides and lack of suitable nesting habitat is a big urban problem. Also, there’s usually small bees going undetected by human observers due to their size and speed.

Elliott Gordon

In addition, I reached out to my friends in the Pollinator Gardening in the Southwest facebook group and asked what they are seeing in their yards.

The larger longhorn bees are active this month on Gaillardia pulchella flowers; Svastra obliqua and many Melissodes males and a few females of both species. The female Valley Carpenter Bees are still out every day. Lots of Triepeolus Cuckoo bees and Anthophora californica bees. The Svastra duplocincta time their June emerging with the neighbor’s Barrel Cactus flowering, which it has already and the males and females are now out and about in large numbers. Lots of activity in my Arizona garden even with the 111 degrees we had today. The number of Megachile bees are lower than usual this year, however. Wondering if the various cuckoo bees that showed up this year in greater numbers than previous were responsible.

Kim Neubauer, Phoenix West Side

I see gulf fritillary butterflies daily and occasionally giant swallowtails and queens. Lots of native bees, mainly sweat bees, leaf cutters, carpenter bees, and another that I haven’t identified.

MM, Central/Midtown Phoenix

A few Queens at the Mistflowers, weekly visit of Giant Swallowtails to the orange tree, a few Skippers at zinnias and Mexican Evening Primrose. Plus 3-4 species of native bees on the sunflowers, desert lavender, globe mallows, coreopsis, fairy duster & Superstition mallow.

MH, NE Phoenix

Phoenix temps 110. Not seeing too many 🦋 besides gulf fritillaries. Bees and wasp come around splashes in the pool to try and get water.

VC, Phoenix

A lot. At my fountain plants.

SBC, Phoenix

Plenty! My garden is full of yellow flowers and pollinators, but the wild spaces are brown and dry from lack of rain. I saw yard bee species 82 last weekend and yard moth/butterfly 100 last night.

Elliott Gordon, Albuquerque

You can learn more about native bees at: