This was my first Agave hunt in Arizona, and there was a lot of excitement building within me. This was a long way from my London home, but I did think the journey was worthwhile.The last time I visited Tucson, many years ago, I had hiked around the East Saguaro National Park, but that was non-specific following the tourist route, and dominated by the large Carnegiea Giganteas. This time was different, and definitely easier, as I was in tow with friends Martin, Greg and his mate, and all I had to do was to follow the leader. And yet, I almost missed it. The Palmeri Habitat was situated inside Base Fort Huachuca, a US military installation, fifteen miles from the Mexican border. It needed a personal ID to get in. Totally unaware of this, I had left my passport back at the hotel. It was left to a sweet talking member of our team to smooth the way.
It worked, and I was soon on my way in. Minutes inside the base, I caught my first glimpses via flower stalks, but they appeared not the way I expected. I expected cohesive groups of plants almost as in an extended family. These plants were not like that; they appeared to be stand alone efforts, as if declaring a state of independence, often surrounded by grass. And this pattern was largely followed in most areas that we visited.
At our first stop, I viewed many plants lying very low in the grass. My friend Ron was right about wearing boots, as you need them to protect your ankles from the innocent looking grass seeds which once stuck, become very difficult to remove. From the road, you can easily miss the more than curious collection of plants, and I suspect that most people do. When I left London, I had not a single plant in my collection, that is about to change. They were immensely attractive, suggesting a kind of stately elegance in spite of their smaller size. Also remarkable about their presence, was the variation of the plants. The message was loud and clear; you may belong to the same family, but you do not have to look the same.
Pereskia are some of my favourite plants. At first glance, you would never guess that they belong to the Cactaceae group. But closer inspection will reveal some similarities, especially areoles and spines. Altogether there are around seventeen species, all needing a warm tropical climate to grow vigorously, and survive. The P. grandiflora is easily the most common, and regularly makes an appearance in botanical gardens. They will grow from a seed or cutting, and may produce blooms after two or three seasons. In tropical habitats, they are better off in the ground. But be careful, because they can easily grow in to trees, more than three metres tall.