When mature, the Saguaro cactus is the largest US cactus species. Saguaro cactus are exclusive to the Sonoran Desert.
The Sonoran Desert covers 120,000 square miles. It spans southwestern Arizona, southeastern California, Baja California and the western half of the state of Sonora in Mexico. The portion of the Sonora Desert where the Saguaro National Park is found ranges from 2180 to 4687 feet but elsewhere in the Sonoro Desert the elevation ranges from sea level up to 10,000 feet. This is an area of ranges and basins. There are low valleys or basins are surrounded by tall thin mountain ranges.
For the most part it is a lush desert that receives between 4 and 12 inches of rain during the months between December and March and July through September. I had expected a fairly desolate area with scrub shrubs and green cactus every so often. I was very mistaken. The Sonoran Desert that I saw was very pretty. At this time of year it did not have many bright colored flowers. But it was like my backyard shade garden; I cannot grow many things except for hostas and ferns but using different textures and shades of green I can create a lot of interest. That is how the Sonora creates its beauty.
Saguaro are tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age. They can have over 25 arms. They grow their first arms at about age 75 although they may never grow arms. They are covered with protective spines and mature plants grow white flowers (the state wildflower of Arizona) in the late spring and red fruit in the summer.
Saguaros are very slow growing. A 10 year old plant may be only 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40 and 60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200 and 4800 pounds. Saguaros can live to be 150 to 200 years old.
A saguaro can absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, visibly expanding in the process, while slowly using the stored water as needed.
The roots of the saguaro are only 4-6 inches deep but radiate out as far as the plant is tall. There will be one deep tap root that extends more than 2 foot into the ground.
Saguaros have been a source of food and shelter for humans for thousands of years. Its seeds are edible but not digestible and are mostly pressed for oils and used as chicken feed. The Tohono, O’odham and Pima peoples turn the sweet, red fleshed fruits into syrups, jams and wines. The ribs of the dead plants are used in lieu of wood to make fences and furniture.
Saguaro National Park was established in 1994 to protect this species and its habitat.
Parting shots below: A bird nest in a cholla, a variegated agave reminds me of a variegated hosta and does anyone know this southwestern bird?