Landscaping with Wildflowers


A SaddleBrooke yard landscaped with desert bluebell and other wildflowers  (Photo Bob Bowers)

An article in last month’s Saddlebag Notes claimed that wildflowers are “VERY invasive” and inappropriate for the cultivated yards of SaddleBrooke.  Admitting that California poppies are pretty, the author warned they would “move next door and beyond without permission!” She said you should protect your neighbors from an unwanted invasion by removing them, and said they would be uncontrollable if left to go to seed.

So what exactly are these plants we call wildflowers?  A wildflower is defined as a flowering plant that grows in a natural, uncultivated state.  This includes trees, shrubs and cactus.  Field guides, such as 100 Desert Wildflowers of the Southwest, list wildflowers common to SaddleBrooke, including poppies, lupine, penstemon, desert marigold, desert bluebells, fairy duster, brittlebush and globemallow, as well as mesquite, paloverde (our state tree), saguaro (our state flower), ocotillo, cholla, prickly pear, beavertail, hedgehog, barrel cactus and other flowering plants native to the Sonoran Desert. Wildflowers are quite the opposite of invasive non-native plants and weeds, are protected in the state of Arizona and one of the state’s prime attractions.  The unwarranted fear that if you’re lucky enough to have some in your yard, you need to eliminate them before they spread like cancer into your neighbor’s is not only difficult to fathom, it makes no sense. Many wildflowers actually are difficult to propagate, let alone spread. In our yard, when they die we collect the seeds to insure their return, and I have never seen any sign of them in any of our neighbors’ yards. At the same time, plants in general are programmed to disperse, and you no doubt see plenty of non-wildflower volunteers in your own yard, including salvia, hollyhocks, snapdragons, nasturtiums, vegetables, prickly pear, cholla, oleander, mesquite, willow, hopseed bush and bird of paradise.

Ironically, while a master gardener attacks the use of native Sonoran Desert wildflowers in SaddleBrooke landscaping, many of the plants commonly cultivated in our yards are non-native exotics like bougainvillea (from Brazil), aloe and oleander (from Africa) and lantana (from the West Indies). Incidentally, both oleander and lantana are quite poisonous, especially to children.

SaddleBrooke does have rules about what you can and cannot plant, and Appendix A of the ALC’s (Architectural and Landscaping Committee) Requirements lists 37 prohibited trees and plants. These plants are prohibited for one or more of ten reasons, such as invasive, heavy litter, allergenic, pest prone, size or excessive water use. Wildflowers are not found on this list. Nor are there any CC&Rs or other rules against landscaping with wildflowers. To the contrary, SaddleBrooke’s landscaping goal is to “complement and reinforce the Sonoran Desert environment”, and the ALC Guidelines strongly recommend the use of native and drought tolerant plant species.

Renowned horticulturalists like Mary Irish, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, local nurseries, landscapers and gardening publications, such as Sunset Magazine’s Gardening in the Southwest, all recommend that residential Arizona landscaping incorporate wildflowers, praising their beauty, drought tolerance and pest and disease-free characteristics.

Wildflowers are native to and complement the Sonoran Desert environment, our community’s landscaping goal.  They meet our ALC’s strong recommendations for xeriscaping with native and drought-tolerant plants.  They aren’t prone to disease and pests.  They are not on any Federal, Arizona or SaddleBrooke list of prohibited, noxious or invasive plants, and in fact have even appeared as a cover photo for the SaddleBrooke Source Book.  Instead of killing them, we should be promoting them. Perhaps instead of cultivating questionable non-natives like oleander and lantana, we should be planting desert bluebell, California poppy, globemallow and penstemon. At the very least, wildflowers should be advocated as part of our community landscaping.


SaddleBrooke years ago; lupine and desert marigold  (Photo Bob and Prudy Bowers)

Years ago, SaddleBrooke was awash with springtime wildflowers. One of the photographs accompanying this article shows my granddaughter standing on a slope in the Preserve, surrounded by lush lupine. That spot, near Ocotillo Canyon Drive and Stony Ridge, still exists, but the wildflowers have long since disappeared thanks to the widespread use of pre-emergent weed killers throughout our community. Wouldn’t it be lovely to find flowers like that in SaddleBrooke once again?

This article was originally published in The Saddlebag Notes newspaper on May 1, 2020

About Bob

A lifelong naturalist, Bob's avocation is birding, including field observation, study, photography and writing. He spent a career in computers and consulting, but his free time has been spent outdoors backpacking, fishing and enjoying nature firsthand. Bob has traveled extensively, exploring and photographing above and underwater in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Egypt and throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now retired, as an amateur ornithologist Bob studies, photographs and writes primarily about birds of the Western Hemisphere. Formerly the Feature Writer for Latin America and Caribbean Travel at, he has been Suite101's Feature Writer for Birds and Birding since January, 2010, and has received seven Editor's Choice awards, which are listed below. Bob also writes a monthly birding column for a newspaper in Arizona, and his work appears in the travel magazine, Another Day in Paradise, published in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. His blog, Birding the 'Brooke and Beyond, discusses birding, travel and other topics in Southeast Arizona and beyond. Bob is a member of the National and Tucson Audubon Societies, Western Field Ornithologists, Arizona Field Ornithologists, the American Birding Association and other birding and conservation organizations. Bob and his wife, Prudy, live in the Santa Catalina Mountain foothills near Tucson, Arizona. To date, Bob has received Suite101 Editor's Choice awards for the following articles: • Birding by Cruise Ship in the Caribbean • The Xantus' Hummingbird, Baja California's Only Endemic Hummer • Birding the White Mountains in and Around Greer, Arizona • The Greater Roadrunner, New Mexico's State Bird • Where to Find Steelhead on the Lower Deschutes River in Oregon • Birding La Bajada near San Blas, Mexico • The 2008 Christmas Bird Count at Estero del Yugo in Mazatlan
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2 Responses to Landscaping with Wildflowers

  1. I support your opinion of wildflowers. As a beekeeper, I feel native flowering plants are necessary for our pollinators. Honeybees are responsible for 1/3 of our food supply. Thank you for your article.

  2. Lucinda Young says:

    Stumbled across your great Blog – wonderful photos ! We lived in AZ for about 5 years, then n NM, now in Merida, Yucatan Peninsula. Agree with your observation about eh particular pleasures and gifts of Spring Migration this year – we saw far fewer species due to our rigorous Shut Down/Home Shelter, and much more limited acccessto diverse habitats, but what we could observe we enjoyed with greater focus.

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