Enhanced establishment and growth of giant cardon cactus in an eroded field in the Sonoran Desert using native legume trees as nurse plants aided by plant growth-promoting microorganisms and compost
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To evaluate the feasibility of long-term desert reforestation technology of mixed vegetation, cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) seedlings from indoor and outdoor nurseries were planted in the field adjacent to one seedling of potential legume nurse trees: mesquite amargo (Prosopis articulata), yellow palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla), and blue palo verde (Parkinsonia florida). Some of the planting holes were also supplemented with common dairy compost. Additionally, the combinations of legume tree–cactus were inoculated with either a consortium of desert arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB; the diazotroph Azospirillum brasilense Cd, and the phosphate solubilizer Paenibacillus sp.), or a mixture of all. The field experiments were evaluated periodically during 30 months for survival and growth. Cardons reared in an outdoor screen house survived better in the field than those reared in a controlled growth chamber and hardened later outdoors. Association with any legume nurse tree increased survival and enhanced growth of untreated cardons. For cardons growing alone, application of either compost, AM fungi, and all the treatments combined increased survival. For these plants, no treatment affected plant growth during the first 3 months after transplanting. Later, all treatments, except for AM fungi, enhanced plant growth. However, only 2 years after transplanting the enhanced growth effect of AM fungi was also significant. In the presence of the legume nurse trees, transient positive effects on cardon growth were recorded. General evaluation after 30 months of cultivation showed that the treatments positively affected cardon growth when growing alone or in combination only with mesquite amargo but not with the other two legume trees. This study proposes that young legume trees have the capacity to enhance survival and growth of cardon cactus, depending on the legume cactus combination. Additional treatments such as compost or PGPB can either amplify the effect or else attenuate it.