Get up close and personal with the denizens of the desert.
By Eva Frederick
The phrase “desert garden” seems an unlikely one. “Garden” calls to mind neat and orderly rows of decorative or edible plants, while deserts are the quintessential wild space, inhospitable expanses of sand and scrub. But cultivating the hardy inhabitants of Texas’ most remote regions makes for beautiful galleries of the strange and otherworldly plants that are suited to survive in these harsh conditions. Take a stroll through these Texas desert gardens to get up close and personal with cacti, succulents and other denizens of the desert ecosystems that make up nearly 12 percent of Texas.
Texas Native Plant Lab
The Dallas Arboretum provides a space for students and visitors to get to know Texas native plants — including those you might usually keep your distance from. A pet project of education director Dustin Miller, the Texas Native Plant Lab is an outdoor classroom where school groups and other visitors can study, touch and experience these plants in new ways.
Barton Warnock Visitor Center
A trip to this 2-acre desert garden might yield Santa Rita prickly pears blushing brilliant fuschia, waxy leafless candelilla, green-barked paloverde trees and more. A majestic gallery of yuccas awaits — Thompson yuccas rub shoulders with Spanish daggers, standing like protective parents over the shorter, stubbier soaptree yuccas. Take a break from the heat and visit the interpretive center.
Cactus and Succulent Garden
You don’t have to travel to the edges of Texas to see some amazing cacti and succulents — get your fix of spectacular spikes at this urban retreat. Down a path from the main gardens, Zilker’s cactus collection includes natives like the golden barrel cactus and several species of prickly pear, as well as foreigners like the iconic saguaro from Arizona.
As the official botanic garden of Texas, the Wildflower Center has a huge state to represent within a small space, but you’ll find plants from most Texas eco-regions here. Visitors can gawk at the ferocious barbs of the fishhook cactus or the red-ringed stalks of the Texas rainbow cactus in a specially designed cactus bed.
Chihuahuan Desert Gardens
The plants that dominate the Chihuahuan Desert are on full display at this certified Texas wildscape site, hosting more than 800 species of plants. Get to know the plants — from spiky sotol to the cuddlier creosote bush to the treacherous tree cholla — that give the Chihuahuan Desert its unique personality, defined by mountain ranges surrounding arid valleys.