I confess, I did a gardening no-no. Here’s my story. One day last spring I fondly remembered my mother’s beautiful morning glories that she grew when I was a kid. I decided to plant some of those lovelies in a pot of my own and grow them up a trellis.
I went in search of morning glory plants but there were none to be found. I looked for packets of seeds and had a hard time locating those, too, but finally found a packet at a local store. At home I sprinkled a few seeds in a couple of pots and, sure enough, in time they twined and curled up the trellis, grew pretty heart-shaped leaves, and eventually bloomed several of their iconic red-violet blossoms. I was thrilled ... until I learned I had illegal plants in my possession.
Yes, morning glories (Ipomoea) are listed by the USDA as a “prohibited noxious weed” in Arizona. They grow easily and abundantly by seed and can be invasive here. They can grow prodigiously in the Valley’s mild weather, and may wrap their strong tendrils tightly around some of Arizona’s native plants and simply strangle them.
And that would be why I had such a hard time finding morning glories to buy in the Valley.
Morning glories and other species considered invasive in Arizona are often brought to this state from their native locations in other parts of the country. In their native climates, the plants will normally die back during the cold winter months, preventing them from growing out of control. Also, pests native to their natural habitat feed on the plant and keep it in check. But here in our warmer climate, those natural limitations may be absent, allowing the plant to grow too vigorously, to the point of becoming noxious and invasive.
I’m glad my morning glories were planted in pots elevated well above the ground where they could not invade other areas. This year, I cut the vines down before they had a chance to grow seed pods. Because I love our native desert plants and would not intentionally harm them, I will not grow morning glories again. Goodbye, my pretties!
Another no-no in Arizona is one you’ve probably heard, but it bears repeating, both for Arizona natives and visitors: Don’t remove or damage any native plants, even some dead ones.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture website says this about living plants: “Nowhere in the United States are there more rare and unusual native plants than in Arizona. Most of them are many years old and cannot be replaced. Many people desire to use these ‘wonders of nature’ in their landscaping. However, most of these plants are protected by law. Also, all land in the state of Arizona belongs to someone, whether it be a government agency or a private citizen. Plants cannot be removed from any lands without permission of the owner and a permit from the Department of Agriculture. Lessees of state or federal land must obtain specific authorization from the landlord agency to remove protected native plants.”
With regard to dead native plants, it is illegal to remove saguaro and cholla skeletons from the desert, unless you have permission from the owner. This is partly because the skeletons add to the unique charm of the Sonoran Desert, and also because dead desert plants provide important habitats for other natives: the many critters of the desert.
With more and more of our precious wild desert being scarred, damaged and destroyed by off-road vehicles, shooters, looters, and illegal dumpers of trash, our fascinating native plants are truly teetering on the brink of disaster. Take a hike out there sometime; it’ll make you weep. Please, as plant-loving gardeners, let’s love our deserts by protecting their plants and reporting illegal damage and removal to the authorities.
Sometimes we gardeners unintentionally place a plant in the wrong location of our garden and then pout when it does poorly. We mean well, but aren’t yet familiar enough with the plant to know that location must be taken into consideration when planting it. For example: a couple years ago I planted cana lily bulbs and a jalapeno plant in my garden, right up next to my new house under a shade tree. I figured the location would provide protective warmth during the winter so they wouldn’t get damaged in a cold spell. Oops. As it turns out, both of them need lots of full summer sun to thrive.
So my sad little cana lilies sprout, grow a foot or so with a couple of droopy leaves, and that’s as far as they get. Now, my fellow gardeners will know that cana lilies can grow to 6 or 7 feet tall, with luxurious, full, bright green leaves top to bottom. And at the tops of the stalks, several stunning, brightly colored tropical lilies will bloom one after the other. But all this happens only when they get enough sun.
In the same way, though my jalapeno plant bravely grows taller and taller in its shady spot as the weather warms, its leaves are grayish with powdery mildew, and only a few blossoms appear. Last year, it managed to produce some searingly hot jalapenos, but the largest was only about an inch long.
The moral of this story is, of course, to find out what location and conditions are best for your plant’s home before you put it in the ground. Check with the Universty of Arizona Cooperative Extension, or the Arizona Master Gardener program. Both have informational websites. The libraries also have many books on desert gardening that can help you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go transplant some cana lilies and a jalapeno. God bless you, my fellow gardeners!
Margaret Francis lives in Sun City.