Now, when we return to this area, I look for my first saguaro as we head south from Payson. There, look, up on the hillside. Ah, now we’re back.
The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea ) was named for philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
The saguaro cactus can only be found in the Sonoran Desert and only below 4000’.They do not like snow, ice or anything like those. Hike in the Sonoran Desert and get above 4000’ and the saguaros disappear.
Saguaros grow very slowly. A young cactus may only grow 1 to 1.5 inches in its first eight years, while an adult saguaro can reach 60 feet in height. The amount of available water impacts their growth. the retain water in their pleats and use this up during dry seasons. You can tell by looking at them how much water they’ve got. This one is really healthy with lots of water stored up.
The saguaro’s ability to store water is vital. Spongy tissue allows a fully-grown saguaro to take in up to 200 gallons during a heavy rain! I’ve heard of time-lapse videos that show a cactus visually expanded as it took in water. As an extra layer of protection, a wax coating on the outside prevents water loss.
A saguaro starts to flower around 35 years and produces its first arm around 50 years of age. At 125 years, a saguaro is generally considered an adult. The lifespan of the saguaro is 150 to 200 years.
Although rare, the cells of saguaro cacti will sometimes mutate to form fan-shaped crests in convoluted patterns. Crests are generally found at the top of the main stem.
Here’s one of my favorite crested saguaros, right on the University of Arizona campus here in Tucson. But, not only does this have a cool crest, it also has wavy spines all the way up.
A saguaro often weighs less than an aspirin at age five and it may take about 10 years to get just an inch and a half tall, about the size of your thumb! Under these natural conditions it may take 20 years to attain 1’ in height, 30 years to reach 2’, by age 40 it may be up to 4’, by age 50 up to 7’, by 75 up to 16’, and by age 100 almost 25’. Throughout its range and depending upon soil and rainfall, it first blooms between 40 and 75 (average 55) years old, usually starts to grow arms when it is between 50 to 100 years of age (average 70), and it may live for perhaps 200 years or more (again, no one knows for sure).
The tallest saguaro ever measured was 78 feet tall.
Saguaros grow so slowly that they often start out under another bush or tree called a ‘nurse’ for protection.
This saguaro has lost all its waxy outside but the spines are still standing tall.