Sunday, November 19, 2006

Cactus of the Week: Saguaro

saguaro perspective

Saguaro cacti, the Monarchs of the desert, are probably the most well-known and recognized of all cacti. They are native to Arizona and small areas of the border with southern California and Mexico.

For the first 50 years or so of the Saguaro's life, it exists as a growing pole without branches. Usually Saguaros sprout a couple of branches from the same level and as it matures further new branches will grow above. Saguaros can grow to be 200 years old and 40 feet tall (though some have been documented with a height over 50 feet).

zack and the giant saguaro

Woodpeckers hollow out holes at the tops of these cacti in which they build nests. When the nests are abandoned by Woodpeckers, tiny elf owls often move in. In May buds form on the tops of the cacti and their branches, these buds will bloom one evening and flower will last well into the next afternoon. Too quickly they close and don't ever reopen. Later dark green pods grow into juicy ripe fruit. The fruit can be eaten right off the cactus.

saguaro buds2

Surprisingly, Saguaros have very shallow root systems that stretch out about 3 feet in diameter from the central root. The ribs of the Saguaro run lengthwise along the cactus and expand and contract depending on the amount of water the cactus is holding. These cacti are heavy, a tall one can weigh up to 8 tons holding over 200 gallons of water in the form of sticky slime.


Saguaros truly are a rare and magnificent plant. It's worth a trip to Arizona just to walk out into the desert and stand next to one.

No comments: