The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is an “indicator” plant of the Sonoran Desert. (Plants that grow in profusion in only one desert are “indicators” of that desert.) The saguaro, largest of the cacti in the United States) can grow up to 50′ in height and can weigh up to 12 tons and is found only in the Sonoran Desert of southern and western Arizona, extreme southeast California and adjoining areas of northwest Mexico.
The creamy white saguaro blossoms unfold at night and stay open until late the following afternoon. The flowers are borne in crown-like clusters at the ends of branches during May and June.
The fruits resemble small egg-shaped cucumbers and mature in July. When ripe the fruits burst exposing a red lining and deep red pulp filled with tiny black seeds. Birds and rodents love the fruits.
Indigenous peoples used the ribs from the stems, when dried, for lances and framework for their houses.
The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked or made into a conserve or jam. The oily seeds, when ground, make a paste that can be used like butter. Fermenting a syrup from the saguaro fruit produces an intoxicant.
The state flower of Arizona, saguaro is sometimes seen spelled as sahuaro. Other common names for C. gigantea are giant cactus and pitahaya.
Gila woodpeckers make holes in saguaro for nests. After the woodpeckers abandon their nests elf owls will reuse the holes for their nests.
Saguaro cacti can live up to 200 years. Unfortunately, housing and cultivation are endangering these iconic behemoths.
Saguaro are so common in the Sonoran Desert that I put off photographing them – “I will get a picture later”. When I returned home I realized that I never took a picture of the classic saguro with its branching arms. I was so excited to see saguaro blossoms at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson (we were visiting early before the flowers bloomed) that I did get a couple saguaro pictures.