Sequestered in the tropical furnace of the Mojave Desert at the south end of Palm Springs lies a botanical garden of singular beauty and incredible diversity. Once the private estate of the Moorten family it is open so the public may wander amidst one of the most extraordinary and specialized collections of plants on earth. This garden is unique in the world and home to over three thousand different species of plants. The majority of these are cacti and succulents accompanied by other fascinating trees and shrubs such as African acacia and California fan palms. They are all heat lovers and thrive in the dry air not far from the legendary palm-shaded oasis once home to the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians who have resided here for centuries.
At the center of the garden stands a remarkable house constructed of concrete walls two feet thick to keep the heat of the desert summer at bay. Surrounding this lies the garden laid out in residential scale according to geographic regions of the world. Plants are grouped with others of their homeland. These regions include the Sonora desert, South Africa, Baja California and arid South America. The ability to view plants grouped not by their botanical classifications but by their natural distribution helps to illustrate important relationships and similar means of climatic adaptation.
The exception is the “Cactarium”, a greenhouse that protects some of the most rare and unusual species from the brutal summer sun and plunging temperatures of winter nights in the desert. Here grow a diversity of species of cacti and succulents but the most unique plants are the caudiciform species which exhibit thickened root crowns (caudex) and stems resembling human anatomy. Also here are many species of Asclepiads or carrion flowers, the rare Aztecia, Gymnocalyciums, Alstromeria, Euphorbia and Ferocactus. There are also two fine examples of Welwitzia mirabilis, an exceedingly rare plant from the Namibian deserts of southern Africa.
What makes Moorten Botanical Garden so wonderful is the age of its plants and their density on this relatively small site. Specimens here reach monumental proportions and bloom in abundance just as they do in the wild. Monstrous agaves, crested Cereus, towering cardon and exotic boojum trees, and are truly breathtaking specimens from the Americas. Mature arborescent “candelabra” Euphorbia and a two story Pachypodium combine with a dozen different aloes of southern Africa and Madagascar. Rare species of desert trees such as thorned Caesalpinia and Bursera along with tropical bombax shade the collection from the cruel summer sun.
For many, one visit reveals only the surface of this many layered collection. A dozen pilgrimages later and you will notice new plants at every turn. While other public gardens offer a few outstanding specimens, the garden at Moorten’s is so generous it can be thankfully overwhelming.
Moorten Botanical Garden is located at the south end of Palm Springs. Hours are 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Saturday; 10:00 to 4:00 Sundays. The garden is closed on Wednesday.
Moorten Botanical Garden
1701 South Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92264 (760) 327-6555
The premises may be rented for weddings and parties. Please call for price quote and information.