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Saguaro Cactus 101

January 01, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Saguaro cactus, Kofa Wildlife Refuge, ArizonaSaguaro cactus, Kofa Wildlife Refuge, ArizonaCastle Dome Ghost Town, Arizona

Saguaro Cactus 101

A saguaro cactus, which grows only in the Sonora Desert of Arizona and Mexico, and in the Imperial Valley of California, takes approximately 10 years to grow to 1 inch tall. It will produce its first flowers at around 70 years old, and won’t begin to produce arms until it’s nearly 100 years old. Compare that to the growth of a giant sequoia which can gain 12 to 24 inches in a single growing season.  Granted, the saguaro’s lifespan averages between 150 – 200+ years, and the redwood can live to be more than 2,000 years old, but still.

To put it in perspective, this 30 or so foot tall saguaro seeded itself in this spot before Arizona became a state in 1912. I’m impressed. (Image made at the Castle Dome Ghost Town, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona)

Saguaro flowers bloom at the top of the trunk and arms from late April to June. The flowers open at night and last for just one day, replaced the following evening by a new crop of blooms. The fruit produced by the flowers are a bright red and hold as many as 2,000 tiny black seeds distributed by birds and other animals across the desert floor.

As they have for centuries, the Tohono O’odham, “Desert Peoples”, of southern Arizona harvest the fruit of the saguaro for drying and making jams.

In 2003, a giant saguaro was spotted by deer hunters near the Verde River in Arizona. The Grand One was 46 feet high and nearly 8 feet in diameter at its base with 15 arms, and was estimated to be about 180 years old. Sadly it succumbed to the elements in 2007 and toppled to the ground.

Saguaros are not a protected species, however cutting one down in Arizona without a permit and a darn good reason is a class four felony and a possible prison sentence of up to 3.75 years. Don’t even think about stealing one.  For comparison, other class four felonies in the state include; negligent homicide, kidnapping, arson, credit card forgery and prostituting a minor. Ouch.

Maricopa women gathering saguaro fruits, photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1907




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