10 Giant Saguaro Cactus Seed-An icon of the American Southwest
10 Giant Saguaro
Carnegiea gigantea (Cereus giganteus cristata, Pilocereus giganteus cristata)
Saguaro, Sahuaro, Pitahaya, Giant Cactus, State of Arizona Cactus, Bald Man Cactus, Flower of Arizona
Description: Giant, leafless, columnar tree cactus with massive, spiny trunk and usually 2-10 stout, nearly erect, spiny branches. The magnificent Saguaro Cactus is the state flower of Arizona, is composed of a tall, thick, fluted, columnar stem, 18 to 24 inches in diameter, often with several large branches (arms) curving upward in the most distinctive conformation of all Southwestern cacti.
Height: 20-35' (6-10.7 m).
Diameter: 1-2 (0.3-0.6 m), sometimes larger.
Trunk and branches: Cylindrical, yellow-green, smooth, with fleshy, vertical ridges, bearing clusters of spreading, sharp, gray spines 1/2-2" (1.2-5 cm) long.
Wood: A framework of vertical light brown, lightweight ribs around thick, whitish, succulent, bitter pith. Ribs exposed as a skeleton after death.
Flowers: 4-4 1/2" (10-11 cm) long, 2-3" (5-7.5 cm) wide; funnel-shaped, with many waxy, white petals and stamens at end of greenish, fleshy tube; stalkless; numerous, near tops of branches from cluster of spines; with odor of melon; in late spring, sometimes again in late summer.
Fruit: 2-3 1/2" (5-9 cm) long; egg-shaped berry, spineless, red, fleshy, sweet and edible; splitting open along 3 or 4 lines and resembling flowers; maturing in early summer; many rounded, shiny brown, tiny seeds.
Flower: Late spring; sometimes also in late summer.
Habitat: Rocky or gravelly soils of desert foothills, especially on south-facing slopes; often with paloverdes. The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub which can provide a shaded, moister habitat for the germination of life. The Saguaro grows very slowly -- perhaps an inch a year -- but to a great height, 15 to 50 feet. The largest plants, with more than 5 arms, are estimated to be 200 years old. An average old Saguaro would have 5 arms and be about 30 feet tall.
Range (Zone): Arizona south to Sonora, Mexico; very local in se. California; at 700-3500' (213-1067 m). Does very well in zones 5-9, and will do fine if protected as far north as Zone 3.
Discussion: Native Americans made use of the entire cactus: they ate the fruit both fresh and dried and made it into preserves and beverages; the framework of ribs provided wood for shelters, fences, and kindling. Giant Saguaro (pronounced "sah-WAH-ro"), the largest native cactus, is the state flower of Arizona and a symbol of desert landscapes. Well-adapted to its hot, dry climate, Giant Saguaro is leafless. Food is manufactured in the green stems, and rainwater is absorbed quickly by the shallow roots and stored in the succulent trunks and branches. The thick, spreading spines offer protection against animals. Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers make round holes near the tops of branches for nests that are used afterwards by elf owls, cactus wrens, and other birds. Wildlife, especially white-winged doves, consumes quantities of the seeds. The saguaro survives through its capacity to store massive amounts of waters. This water is gathered by a shallow, broad root system (ranging up to 50 feet in all directions but never sinking more than three feet into the ground) which takes advantage of the summer and winter rains which visit this area of the Sonora Desert. The saguaro cactus can soak up to 200 gallons of water when it is available and it can make this supply last for a year. The water is stored in the cactus's soft internal tissues and it expands and contracts like an accordion as its stored water supply varies. Its waxy coating also helps keep retard moisture loss through evaporation. The saguaro is a magnificent plant by any estimation. It can be up to 50 feet high (they average about 35 feet at maturity) with branches beginning some 12 feet above the ground, has a diameter of about 30", may weigh over 5 tons (as much as 90% of which is water), and it may live for 200 years.
The Saguaro Cactus has a very strong framework consisting of three different structural features. There is a woody tissue that runs parallel up and down the Saguaro to form a cylindrical shape. There is also a thick whitish pith, and a fleshy tissue. Downward pointing spines make it easier to direct rainwater into the depressions of the cactus. The spines help to cool the outer skin. The spines also help redirect the wind and insulate the plant. Many animals eat the Saguaro Cactus; the Long-Nosed bat, bees, wasps, ants, and butterflies drink the nectar of the Cactus flower. Small animals such as the Pack Rat, and Pocket Mice will come to eat the Cactus. Gila woodpeckers like the interior of the Saguaro Cactus because it is the only plant it can hollow out for their nest in the desert. The woodpecker will drill 2 to 3 holes before it decides to live in one. It will peck right into the soft tissue that is used to store water. The cactus will fix the damage by sealing up the inside with "callous scar tissue" and that stops water loss. The Saguaro Cactus is protected by the United States government, because the Saguaro Cactus was beginning to disappear from the landscape. There is a national park to protect the Saguaro Cactus. The name of the park is Saguaro National Park.
Notes: I have been growing these cacti for 35+ years and am always amazed at how beautiful they are. Minimal care, occasional watering, and a resplendent, beautiful display every year whenthey bloom.
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Last updated on Jun 17, 2019
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