gigantea) The saguaro [suh gwah' rO] is the
largest cactus of the United States, standing up
to 50 feet tall and weighing as much as 10 short
tons. It is also one of the longest-living plants
in the world, with 200-year-old specimens not
The saguaro grows only in the
foothills and deserts of southern Arizona,
southeastern California, and northwestern Mexico.
Within its range, however, it can be extremely
abundant, forming thick forests among other
desert trees and shrubs.
The largest cactus native to
the United States, the saguaro has a columnlike
trunk that measures from 1 to 2½ feet in
diameter, stands up to 50 feet tall, and weighs
as much as 10 short tons. It also has a few
large, upturned branches. Grooves and ribs run
lengthwise along both the trunk and branches.
Because little rain falls in the region where
saguaros grow, the plant must soak up and store
large amounts of water after the rare showers
that do occur. The grooves and ribs expand and
contract depending on the amount of stored water.
Padlike structures called areoles
grow along the ribs. Each areole has from 15 to
25 long spines. During May and June, the areoles
near the tip of the trunk and branches produce
waxy, greenish-white flowers. Each funnel-shaped
flower measures 3 to 4 inches long, and blooms at
Bats, birds, and insects gather
nectar from saguaro blossoms and, during the
process, spread pollen from flower to flower. The
pollinated flowers may then produce purplish-red,
egg-shaped fruit. Many desert creatures eat this
Saguaros also provide habitat
for several animals. The most conspicuous of
these is the Gila woodpecker, which creates many
of the nest holes seen in mature saguaro stems.
One of the longest-living
plants in the world, saguaros commonly live 200
years or more.
The flower of the Saguaro
cactus is the State Flower of Arizona.
Questions or comments about