On a recent trip to the Southwest we made an impromptu stop at Saguaro National Park just outside of Tucson, Arizona. There are many species of plants and animals to see in the park but of course the most impressive thing was the giant saguaros.
The saguaro is an arborescent (tree-like) cactus species which can grow to be over 70 ft tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in the U.S. state of Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the State Wildflower of Arizona. Saguaros have a relatively long life span. They may grow their first side arm anywhere from 50 to 75 years of age, but some never grow one at all. A saguaro without arms is called a spear.
The arms are grown to increase the plant's reproductive capacity (more apices lead to more flowers and fruit). The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizona grow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson, Arizona. Some specimens may live for more than 150 years.The largest known saguaro is the Champion Saguaro. It grows in Maricopa County, Arizona, and is 45.3 ft tall with a girth of 10 ft. These cacti can grow anywhere from 40 to 60 feet. They grow slowly from seed, and never from cuttings. Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater. The cactus will visibly expand, holding in the rainwater. It conserves the water and slowly consumes it. The night blooming white and yellow flowers appear April through June and the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures by late June. The major pollinators are bats, primarily the lesser long-nosed bat, feeding on the nectar from the night-blooming flowers, which often remain open in the morning. The ruby red fruits are six to nine centimeters long and ripen in June. Each fruit contains around 2000 seeds plus sweet fleshy connective tissue. The fruits are edible and prized by local people. Native birds such as Gila woodpeckers, purple martins, house finches, and gilded flickers live inside holes in saguaros. Harming a saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona.
October 26th, 2013
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