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group of saguaro cactus against a beautiful blue sky with clouds

You are Here! Welcome to the Sonoran Desert, one of the most unique places on the planet! The beautiful saguaro cactus only grows here and bears delicious edible fruit, a staple and sacred food to indigenous people for thousands of years. The Sonoran Desert is the lushest and most biodiverse desert!

color-coded map by Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum showing different biomes in the southwest US/Mexico borderlands region, including the Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert region is located in the southwest US / northwest Mexico borderlands, and spans five states  and two countries. There are seven distinct plant community subdivisions of the Sonoran Desert. Learn more about these subdivisions and the 5 seasons of the Sonoran Desert here.

The Sonbroad view of the desert floor with miles of yellow blooming foothills palo verde trees and mountains in the distanceoran Desert region includes Sky Islands, isolated mountain ranges in a "sea" of low-desert valleys. Native plants of the Sky Islands  grow at elevations between ~3000-9,000' and include riparian habitat species. Sky Island native foods include acorns, manzanita and juniper berries, wild grapes, mushrooms, greens, herbs, etc.

foggy image of saguaros by big granite boulder covered in colorful mosses and lichens from winter rain moisture

Arizona Uplands subdivision has not one but two rainy seasons,  which support the growth of food-bearing bean trees, columnar and other cacti, and other delicious, nutritious foods. Tucson, where Desert Harvesters is located, is the only major US city in the Arizona Uplands subdivision of the Sonoran Desert.

aerial view of urban neighborhood showing visibly green difference between barren, hard-scaped lots and permaculture-designed co-housing community site with permaculture design including rainwater and greywater harvesting and native food-bearing plantings

Urban problems are really opportunities:: climate change has helped desert dwellers learn new ways  to live in this place and in community in a more responsible and sustainable manner.

view from across the city of the 2020 Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mts, with bird perched on fruiting saguaro cactus in the foreground Re-wilding urban spaces by planting food-bearing, drought-tolerant, native species food forests, and growing them on harvested rainwater and greywater vs pumped groundwater or imported Colorado River water, increases food and water security in our desert community, which is one of Desert Harvesters main goals.

view of home with rooftop rainwater harvesting directed to cistern storage and basins planted with cactus and native plants

Drylands strategies like rainwater and greywater harvesting and storage, passive and active solar energy production, and growing native food-bearing plants can help ensure a sustainable desert future.

rain-filled ancient bedrock mortar for grinding mesquite pods with a stone pestle

Appreciating indigenous wisdom: an ancient rain-filled bedrock mortar hole in the Tucson Mountains reminds us to honor the long, rich legacy of indigenous traditional knowledge, including wild food-harvesting, processing and preparation practices.

Tohono O'Odham calendar wheel mural at Manzo Elementary School showing seasonal native and cultivated foods, with student explaining mural during tour

Our Future: As "sunbelt" development continues beyond the survival capacity of drylands communities facing climate-change challenges, awareness is growing that sustainable solutions are needed. Local communities and organizations are empowering themselves and their youth to grow and harvest seasonal native and cultivated foods to enhance community health, connection to place, and to acknowledge and value traditional knowledge.

women gathering saguaro fruit in late June heat using traditional harvesting pole made from spliced together saguaro ribs

Five Seasons of the Sonoran Desert: The intense heat and aridity of Dry Summer (May-June) sends many residents off to cooler locales. However, this is one of the most abundant times for harvesting delicious foods from bean trees and cactus. Saguaro fruit harvest (intro page from the cookbook) celebrates the coming monsoon with gratitude for the bounty of this place and prayers for rain.

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For specific information about Sonoran Desert plants, tending, processing, cooking etc. see our Native Food Guides 

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