Desert Giant

Saguaro 3

Saguaro!

Tucson, Arizona is home to the nation’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American west. These majestic plants (or could they be considered trees), found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park.  They are primarily to the east and west of the modern city of Tucson, where you can see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset. (National Park Service – https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm)

Saguaro 4As we traveled through southern Arizona we saw these majestic cacti slowly reaching toward the sky over the years, inch-by-inch.  It seems like they just stand still, reaching upward with outstretched hands, towering over those who would ponder their beauty and age.

Saguaro 1Saguaro are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall (12-18m). When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds. (https://www.desertmuseum.org)

  • The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States.
  • Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet.
  • After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in or “saguaro boots” can be found among the dead saguaros. Native Americans used these as water containers long before the canteen was available.

Saguaro 2Since the saguaro is a symbol of the American west, I plan to highlight Tombstone, Arizona in my next two posts.  Stay tuned.

6 thoughts on “Desert Giant

  1. Fascinating! If it takes 10 years for them to grow 1.5 inches, how long would it take for them to reach their full height of 40-60 feet? Does their growth rate correspond to the amount of rainfall they receive?

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    1. Thank you Angela. National Park Service states as the saguaro begins to age, growth rates vary depending on climate, precipitation, and location. The 1-1.5 inches growth per year is mostly during the formative years. The Saguaro grows under a nurse tree and it is assumed the nurse tree eventually dies – probably due to the saguaro taking most of the nutrients. There is insufficient information to determine the greatest period of growth. Branches normally begin to appear when a saguaro reaches 50 to 70 years of age. In areas of lower precipitation, it may take up to 100 years before arms appear. The more water the plant receives it stores in its arms – probably to combat the harsh desert environment. So – based on this information I would say the more rainfall the more the plant can store – enlarging the arms. The adult plant may reach about 50 feet in height. The average life span is around 150-170 years and some possibly may be over 200 years old. It is truly fascinating. 🙂

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