When visiting Arizona for the first time anyone spotting a saguaro cactus will want to pull the car over and start taking pictures. Often the sign of the American desert, it’s the cactus that can best be described as a big tall green cactus that looks like it is being held up in a robbery. Stick ’em up! In real life or a Roadrunner cartoon, the artist knows that nothing says desert like a saguaro cactus.
When watching a western movie, if you see a saguaro in the background you know the cowboy is either in one of two places: The Sonoran desert in Mexico, or in Arizona. The cactus only grow here, so anyone saying they are in Oklahoma riding the range with the cactus is pulling one over on you! Sort of like when Thelma and Louise were riding through Oklahoma on a freeway with California road signs on it.
Fast cactus facts: The Saguaro can grow up to 40 feet tall, and weigh over a ton. The bloom on the top of the cactus (tough to see on a 40 foot tall plant) is the state flower of Arizona, and the cactus wren the state bird. We love our saguaros in Arizona! The root system for such a large plant is relatively small. Usually a single tap root only 2-5 feet deep, and a root system just inches below the surface of the ground, this root system gathers water to be stored in the massive plant. Many baby cactus get their start under the shade and protection from the intense desert heat underneath a palo verde or desert mesquite tree. This protective relationship is referred to as a “nurse” relationship and it is not unusual to see a cactus embraced in the arms of a desert tree. When a cactus meets it’s maker, it is usually due to desert termites weakening the plant, or too much water rotting the plant, or even a lightening strike in a summer storm.
If you golf, and if you have played a desert course in Arizona you may have come upon a cactus just off the tee. It is probably full of holes, and may even have a golf ball embedded into the side of the plant. Everyone laughs, takes a picture and swears they will not be so stupid as to plant their golf ball into the cactus…then..twack! Although the golf balls do their share of damage, birds such as the Gila Woodpecker build their condos in the side of the cactus. What a better spot to hide from prey than in a cactus 40 feet up. Most holes in the side of the cactus are made by birds not Titleists.
Of course as the Christmas season is upon us, it is a holiday tradition to take a saguaro cactus and decorate it for the season. Wrapped in lights, or wearing a Santa cap, nothing says Christmas in Arizona more than this!