A Jungle in the Sonoran Desert


If you live in Tucson, you live in a desert. But did you know that there are places you can go that are jungle-like? I found a place just like that. It’s called EcoGro and I love to go there and just experience the moist green tropical atmosphere.

I remember how my jaw fell to the floor when I first visited EcoGro. It instantly transported me to my childhood. As a kid, I remember watching how my family grew seeds into crops and trees. Running and playing in the backyard forest with my siblings was all I could think about. Being away from home is incredibly difficult but the green that stretches from wall to wall was incredibly comforting. I immediately had to force my mind out of that trance, otherwise, I would soon find myself moving into the place.

Whether you walk, run, or drive to EcoGro, you can pretty much expect the same thing. Before you enter, you must first pass through the parking lot. The dust kicks up under your feet while rocks crunch under your shoes and the relaxing sounds of bustling traffic play in the background. Even as you travel through the concrete, you can expect to be greeted by vegetables and herbs in small plastic black pots. Once you decide you’re finished looking at what is offered in the parking lot, you can now make your way into the plant nursery. Large pots next to the glass doors usher you into what can only be described as a miniature jungle.

Some plants were new to me and even alien-like. One of them was the sundew plant. The sundew had many stems with strange buds that had red glands protruding from it. The red glands seemed to have dew drops on them, much like grass in the early morning. I would bet one million dollars to say that the name Sundew had something to do with its appearance. Apparently, they are carnivorous plants that use their dewy substance to capture their prey. The carnivorous plants are not limited to the sundew plant. There were even venus fly traps that use their jaws to trap devour insects. Creepy! Aside from the sundew and the Venus flytraps, they had large plants that offer shade from the light indoors and vines that looked like serpents making their way to the ceiling. There was so much life around me that it was almost impossible to get acquainted with every plant.

Be on the lookout for fish… and turtles!

My absolute favorite part of the entire experience was the fish they had in large bins next to the plants. They were a beautiful white color and swam without a care in the world, I can only assume they have become accustomed to people looking into the tanks. In another room, they had smaller fish. They were fascinating to look at! Unlike the white fish, these had orange, black, white, and even red colors adorned on their scales.

To add to my wonderment, they had a snapping turtle in another bin. I could not believe this place was real. Seriously, who would believe that there would be a store in the desert where they sold vegetables, herbs, and unique plants and had bins filled with fishes and a snapping turtle for all to see.

For a while, I thought that the fish and snapping turtle were used just to attract clients. It wasn’t until I browsed their website that I discovered that they were used to help the plants grow. The plants and fish are part of a sustainable system that combines the growth of fish and plants in a repeating cycle. The ammonia that the fish excrete is converted into nutrients by beneficial bacteria. Then, the plants use the nutrients to grow and the water is recirculated back to the fish. This process is known as aquaponics. Not only is this process sustainable but it also helps water conservation when compared to soil-based farming and there is no need for pesticides because it mimics a natural ecosystem. How convenient! I am definitely making plans to visit Ecogro once again and I encourage other students to try gardening. Who knows, you might have a green thumb! 

EcoGro is the most ideal place for your next plant or equipment purchase. It is a local business run by two generations of plant enthusiasts who are willing to answer questions about plants and aquaponics. It is no ordinary plant nursery, they offer education, equipment, and unique plants. EcoGro is located on St Mary’s Road. It is near North Freeway and roughly six minutes away from the University of Arizona. You can’t miss it! Aside from the gigantic sign that says “EcoGro” in bold blue and green letters, you can identify this location from the vines leaking out from the doorways and the lush greenery on display basking in the sun. 


David Ibarra is a freshman at the University of Arizona, majoring in Physiology and Medical Sciences. He is originally from California. He has a special interest in plants and gardening, so he jumped at this opportunity to write about his favorite plant nursery in Tucson.