/ Modified sep 17, 2013 11:36 a.m.

'Weird Plants' Flourish in Tucson

Curious adaptations to arid environments draw collectors from hobbyists to the horticulturally obsessed.


"I'm a plant freak," said Mark Dimmitt, a botanist, plant breeder, and former director of natural history at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. "I’m not much interested in common plants like oleanders...roses and petunias".

Weird Plants 4 large (PHOTO: AZPM Staff)

At his Tucson property, he has amassed a collection of more than 10,000 plants, and almost none of them are of the leafy, green, thin-stemmed variety.

Many plants in his collection come from the world's driest habitats.

"Desert plants tend to be weird, because they live in a challenging environment," he explained.

Their adaptations are curious. Succulents have fat, swollen stems, because they store water. To protect themselves from thirsty animals, they are more likely to be thorny or poisonous. Many desert plants have tiny leaves, because broad leaves burn in the sun, "In which case they are going to look rather strange," Dimmitt said.

weirdplants2large (PHOTO: AZPM Staff)

Tucson Botanical Gardens Director of Horticulture and weird plant enthusiast Michael Chaimberland said Tucson's climate makes it an easy place to collect them. Many cactus and succulent nurseries stock weird plants: Tucson Botanical Gardens hosts an annual Weird Plant Sale, and Tohono Chul Park has a similar Monsoon Madness sale.

From the people who come to the sales, "Some are local people who just want to find an interesting new plant for their yard or patio," Chaimberland said. "Others are the real collectors who are out looking for something that is totally different, and they haven’t been able to find."

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