Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) are the tallest things in the desert;
they have heads, and arms, and necks, and sometimes even legs. It's hard
not to imagine that they are sentient and standing guard over us smaller
Certainly the saguaro nourish and protect other desert denizens: Birds
make nests in the columns. The nectar and fruit are a favorite food for most
desert inhabitants, including humans. Bats, bees, and birds cross-pollinate
the luscious saguaro flowers, which would otherwise not bloom.
(Alas, I took my pictures in February, before the flowering season.)
Saguaro seeds germinate, root, and grow best under a "nurse"
shrub or tree, where conditions are moister and shadier for the
developing cactus. The saguaro grows about an inch a year, and the
first arm typically forms only after some 60 years. They can live to
be 200 years old and 30 feet tall. (The picture below shows saguaro toddlers
– two-to-three years old).
When it rains, the outer pulp of the saguaro fills with water and expands the stem
(or “trunk”), adding up to a ton to the plant’s weight. The remarkable capacity to
store moisture explains the nectar-rich flowers, pulpy-fleshed fruit, and the largest
number of seeds (about 4,000) per flower of any desert cactus.
In the stillness of the desert on a February morning, the saguaro display
their long histories in one sky-blue moment.
****For a good short video on saguaro, go to http://www.desertusa.com/video_pages/saguaro_movie.html