Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus

     The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where the famous saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) grows in the wild. The correct pronunciation is "sah-wah-ro."

     The saguaro is a tree-like cactus, which can grow to be over 20 meters (70 ft) tall. Some specimens may live for more than 150 years. Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater, visibly expanding, and then slowly shrinking again as they consume the moisture. The night-blooming white and yellow flowers, which are the state flower of Arizona, appear April through June, and the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures by late June.

     Native birds such as Gila woodpeckers, cactus wrens, purple martins, and elf owls live inside bird-drilled holes in saguaros. Woodpeckers and flickers carve out the holes with their beaks and the saguaro creates a hard callous tissue over the wound, forming a hollow "boot" that can be seen once the saguaro is dead and decayed. These holes become protected nest sites for many bird species.

     The saguaro is an important source of food and shelter for many species of animals as well as for Native people, especially the Tohono O'odham.  They harvest the fruit and use the saguaro spines as sewing needles. The saguaro’s internal “wooden” ribs are used to make harvesting tools and for construction in traditional wickiups.

     Harming a saguaro in any manner, including using it for target practice, is illegal by state law in Arizona, and when houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected. 

tanna@tannathornburg.com © Tanna Thornburg 2014