You Are At: AllSands Home > Gardening > The saguaro
The saguaro (pronounced sah-wah’-ro) cactus (Carnegiea Gigantea or Cereus Giganteus) is the state symbol of Arizona. It appears on all car license plates and provides a universally recognized image of the Southwest. Saguaros are seen in the Sonoran Desert from Southeastern California to Southern Arizona. Saguaros thrive on desert slopes and flats. The saguaro is most commonly found between 1,000 and 3,000 feet altitude. They can tolerate lower temperatures and can therefore survive further north than any of the other species of large cactus.

There are many densely forested regions in the Southwest, but two large areas of the Sonoran Desert on either side of Tucson have been selected and preserved as the Saguaro National Park. This was upgraded from National Monument status in 1994. Saguaro National Park also has a large variety of other cacti and desert plants as well as a large variety of interesting wildlife.

The saguaro is the largest cacti, reaching up to 50 feet high. Plants can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold. After a rainfall, the saguaro cactus can absorb hundreds of gallons in a short time.

The saguaro is a tall, thick, columnar cactus with spines and stems. It generally has several large, erect, or twisted branches. Saguaros can live for several centuries. They are one of the slowest growing of all cacti. The saguaro may be only 6 inches high after 10 years, with the characteristic branches appearing after many decades.

In the spring, the saguaro produces white flowers on the upper stems of mature plants. Later, sweet edible red fruit appears. The local Indians used these for food and also to make wine. The white flowers are from 2 ½ to 3 inches wide, funnel-shape, in crown-like clusters near the ends of branches. They have many petals. The spines are stout to 2 inches long, in clusters on ribs with 10-25 in each cluster. The fruit is fleshy, egg-shaped from 2 ½-3 ½ inches long. They are green on the outside and red on the inside. The fruit was an important source of food for Indians, and is still used to some extent. The pulp is eaten raw or preserved, the juice is fermented to make an intoxicating drink, and the seeds are ground into a butter. The woody ribs of the stems are used in building shelters. Its flowers open at night and are visited by nectar-feeding bats, moths, and a variety of insects.

The saguaro is the state flower of Arizona, where, like all cacti and many other plants, it is protected by law. The oldest saguaros are estimated to be from 150-200 years old. Many are killed or injured during lightning during desert monsoon storms. Its slow growth and capacity to store great quantities of water allows it to flower each year regardless of drought conditions. The saguaro is the home to many desert birds, insects, and animals.