The Desert Garden

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The Desert Garden

Facts and Figures

The Huntington Desert Garden is one of the largest and oldest assemblages of cacti and other succulents in the world. Nearly 100 years old, it has grown from a small area on the Raymond fault scarp when in 1907-1908 William Hertrich brought in plants from local nurseries, private residences, public parks, and from collection trips to the Southwest and Mexican deserts. Today the two dozen families of succulents and other arid adapted plants have developed into a 10 acre garden display, the Huntington’s most important conservation collection, a most important mission and challenge.


The most significant collections are agave and related genera (Agavaceae), aloe (Aloaceae), terrestrial bromeliads (Bromeliaceae), cacti (Cactaceae), echeveria, crassula, sedum and related genera (Crassulaceae), euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae), and fouquieria (Fouquieriaceae).

Beaucarnea, Bottle Palms, unlikely members of the agave family, are some of the oldest specimens in cultivation, and among the earliest plantings in the Desert Garden. Many species of agave terminate their life cycle by generating a branched inflorescence to 30 feet. The Desert Garden agave and yucca collections, along with the cacti, are among the Huntington’s most significant research collections.

Aloes (Aloaceae) constitute one of the largest collections outside Africa. A. arborescens on the hill above the new historic section has an unrivalled winter display of fiery red flower stalks.

Puyas are terrestrial bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) that put on a spectacular floral display in April/early May. Other rarely seen species are located in the new heritage section.

Most desert columnar plants belong to the S. American genus Cereus. They form the structure of much of the Desert Garden landscape, producing flowers in late summer and colorful fruit in September/October. C. xanthocarpus in the lower garden is approximately 125 years old.

The most spectacular cactus displays are the 500 bright yellow spined spring flowering Golden Barrel cacti (Echinocactus grusonii), the largest being more than 85 years old.

The crassula family consists of unarmed leaf succulents found mostly in Mexico and Africa. Cool autumn brings out pastel leaf colors in aeonium, echeveria, kalanchoe, pachyphytum, and sedum. Most bedding plants are Crassulaceae.

The cereus-like plants in the African section of the upper garden, are succulent spurges (Euphorbia) and have caustic milky latex. The species most represented in the garden are native to South Africa and eastern Africa. Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) is a leafy spiny native to Madagascar but produces colorful bracts throughout the year.

The near legendary boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) in the Baja Bed, native to Baja California, are rare oddities in Fouquieriaceae. The better know ocotillo (F. splendens) is in the California bed. The central garden is landscaped with numerous fouquierias from Mexico with bright red blossoms most of the year.


Each Labor Day weekend, the Succulent Symposium has speakers lecturing on conservation, biology, taxonomy, and collection management.

Specially trained docents give 30-45 minute tours limited to the Desert Garden.

A special garden docent/volunteer program collects detailed flower and fruiting data for scientific and horticultural purposes.

Flower recording project

The Desert Garden Botanical ARK Project is conducted by staff and volunteers to ensure propagation, conservation and the distribution of holdings that are rare, endangered, of significant historic, scientific, and economic value.


In October, 2003, 1 ½ acres of the Desert Garden, called the heritage walk, was opened to the public for the first time with a viewing of the hillside laid out in 1907. The new area contains the oldest acquisitions and gives the feel of the original estate garden.

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