Friday, March 25, 2016

The Ethel M. Chocolate Factory's Botanical Cactus Garden

Seriously, can you think of any better combination than chocolate and plants?

Ethel M. Chocolate Factory
Last month Mr. Red House and I went to Las Vegas, and while there we visited the nearby Ethel M. Chocolates and their 3-acre Botanical Cactus Garden.


We took the short walk through the chocolate factory, which has windows where you can see the chocolates being made.  Ethel M. Chocolates was founded by Forrest E. Mars, Sr., the guy who is known for introducing the Mars bar, M&M's, and Milky Way bars, among others.

Red Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus pilosus)
After retirement from the famous Mars family business, Forrest Mars soon became bored and decided to open Ethel M. Chocolates, named for his mother.  He located it Nevada because it was one of the few states that allowed the sale of liquor-filled chocolates.  The factory was built in 1978, and Mars lived in an apartment on the second floor of the factory for many years, keeping a close eye on the workers and the chocolate.

Rabbit Ears (Opuntia microdasys var. albispina)
The walk through the factory ends with a free chocolate sample and a shop filled with fabulous chocolates available for purchase; however the best part awaits outside.  While the gourmet chocolates can be rather detrimental to the wallet (not to mention the waistline), the surrounding Botanical Garden is open and free to the public.


Two years after building the chocolate factory, Forrest E. Mars, Sr., added the gardens.  In addition to chocolate, he had a passion for desert gardening and wanted to share the beauty of the desert with the public.


Containing over 300 different cactus and succulents, the Ethel M. Botanical Cactus Garden is a labor of love and one of the largest collections of its kind in the United States.

Rabbit Ears (Opuntia microdasys var. albispina)
Half of the plants are native to the American Southwest, while the rest are plants from other regions that are able to acclimate to the desert climate of South Nevada.


While filled with desert plants, there is an irrigation system for the garden to keep all of the collected plants healthy.  The chocolate factory recycles all of its waste water for use in the gardens.  Beyond the gardens is a 1-acre water recycling plant named the 'Living Machine', which cleans the water using natural organisms such as bacteria, protozoa, algae, fish, and snails as opposed to chemicals.

a cholla cactus
The ponds from the waste water facility attract different types of birds, and you can also sometimes find butterflies, lizards, rabbits, quail, and roadrunners there at the gardens. 

bird's nest in a cholla cactus
While we were visiting, we spotted a lizard as well as a hummingbird darting among some blooms.

the red blooms of Chuparosa aka Hummingbird bush (Justicia californica)
We visited in February when a few plants were just starting to bloom.  I imagine it would be even more beautiful when everything was in full bloom in spring.

Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa)
There were so many different and unusual looking cacti and succulents.

Red torch cactus (Lobivia huascha)
Ethel M. Chocolates holds several big events throughout the year, one of which is its famous free-admission holiday light display around Christmastime.

The interestingly-shaped Boojum tree (Fouquieria columnaris) on the left,
the interestingly named Opuntia molesta on the right
Four gardeners start putting up an estimated 12 miles of light strands starting the beginning of October.

Old Man of the Mountains (Oreocereus celsianus)
They work seven days a week, 8 to 10 hours a day to transform the garden into a holiday lighting extravaganza by their kick-off celebration in mid-November.

Purple Pancake Cactus (Opuntia santa-rita)
The four gardeners also go through about 100 pairs of gloves a year hanging the lights.

Ocotillo (Fonquieria splendens)
The lighting display goes on until January 1.  By the time we visited in February, most of the lights had been removed, though we still saw a few strands here and there.


I enjoyed seeing all the amazing plants in the garden.  My favorites, however, were the Saguaro cactus skeletons.


As the largest cactus in the United States, the Saguaro takes 75 years just to produce its first branch (arm) and doesn't reach its full height until it's over 150 years old.  After one of these cactus dies, it then can take decades for all of the outer plant material to decay and to fully reveal its inner 'skeleton'.  It is a gorgeous desert icon of the southwest.


It was so interesting to see such a beautiful and different type of garden growing in such a harsh climate as the Nevada desert.


If you are in the Las Vegas area and you'd like to eat some chocolate and wander around a desert botanical garden, Ethel M. Chocolates and Botanical Cactus Garden is located at 2 Cactus Garden Drive in Henderson, NV, about a 15 minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip.


Happy Gardening!

24 comments:

  1. I definitely can't think of a better combination than chocolate and plants! It looks a fascinating garden too.

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    1. It was quite fascinating, especially as it was a totally different type of garden than mine. They used lots of interesting rock to their advantage, with the plants placed around them. I'd hate to be the one to garden around all those sharp plants, though!

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  2. Wow! I had no idea the chocolate factory existed not to mention this garden. Very cool. I wonder if the workers stick around from one season to the next after hanging all the lights. And I thought I went through a lot of gardening gloves!

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    1. The article I saw was of an interview with the head gardener who had been doing it for 8 years after working in operations with Mars and Ethel Chocolates for 25 years. He said that this was his idea of retirement. That's some labor of love!

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  3. Hello Dear Indie!

    I am delighted cactus garden.
    Thank you very much that I can admire it. Thank you that you took me to this wonderful place.

    Happy Easter !!!!!

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  4. Interesting! I love the idea of the living machine. Excellent use of a valuable resource. But I'd last a hot second around all those needles and spikes. :(

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    1. Ha, me too! We barely even do roses here!

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  5. I never knew how cactus decay. It is beautiful and I can see why artists were inspired by this region. Cactus, warm dry weather, and those beautiful skies would be a reason to relocate. You did not show any chocolate!

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    1. The cactus skeletons were gorgeous! I sure would hate to live there come summer, though, with that heat! The chocolate did not last long :)

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  6. do those cactus skeletons get poached for gardeners?

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    1. Yes, actually there is a real problem with people taking them from areas in the desert that they are not supposed to, as they can be sold for a lot of money.

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  7. I must add this to my "must-see" list! Chocolates and gardens: A great combination!

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    1. It's a nice spot to spend an hour or two if you are in the area. Two of my favorite things!

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  8. Thanks for this post. It's amazing to see the sort of beauty that - as you say - can live in very harsh environments.

    PS - I was just thinking that the gardeners hanging the lights in the cactus garden must go through many pairs of gloves, and then you confirmed it! :)

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    1. I was amazed to find so much green things around even out in the middle of the desert. The plants find a way!

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  9. Chocolate and plants--two of my favorite things! Seeing this garden reminds me of my visits to my daughter when she lived in Arizona. I always enjoyed visiting the botanical gardens there--the Southwest plants are so different from anything we grow, it's almost like being on another planet. I agree about the Saguaro cactus; such amazing plants! Did you know that they are protected, too? A least in Arizona, builders have to build around them or transplant them, and you can be jailed for cutting one down.

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    1. I didn't know they were that protected. It makes sense - it takes so long for them to grow!

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  10. Who knew there was such a combo in Vegas...it looks very similar to the gardens I have seen in AZ...I just love cactus especially when they bloom...the best are the Saguaro! You see them all over AZ.

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    1. I would love to see them when they are in bloom! For some reason I just never suspect that all these spiny plants would have such magnificent and showy flowers.

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  11. WOW, just wow. You had beautiful weather to stroll around the cactus gardens. Thanks so much for sharing the plants you saw, too.

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    1. It was very lovely, and thankfully the weather was not too hot yet at that time of month.

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  12. Chocolate and gardens ... what more could one ask for? But chocolates and heat seems a messy combination. You photographs and the plants and garden with the large rocks are beautiful.

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    1. Thank you! When we went it was technically winter still, so the temperatures were still quite nice. In summer I have heard that the factory gives everyone a much needed ice pack to keep their chocolates from melting!

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