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Carnegiea


A small Saguaro in my garden


     The icon of the desert, Carnegiea gigantea, the Giant Saguaro, is the most recognizable cactus there is. Anyone who's watched a classic western movie will remember the Saguaros in the background. The Saguaro flower is the State Flower of Arizona and the fruit has been harvested for food by Native Americans for millenia. No one can deny this majestic plant's contribution to the culture of the Southwest.
     The Saguaro is native to southeastern California, southern Arizona and northern Mexico which encompasses the Sonoran Desert. The Saguaro is a very slow growing cacti. A Saguaro will be 65 to 75 years old before producing it's first arm. Some old timers are suspected to be as much a 200 years of age and can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet with a trunk 18 - 24 inches in diameter. Most Saguaros start life under a nurse plant ot tree. The nurse plant provides shade and protection from foraging animals. Because Saguaros are so long lived, by the time it is ready to be exposed to the harsh desert sun the nurse plant would probably have died.
     The Saguaro produces nocturnal bell shaped white flowers with yellow centers at the tips of it's stems and arms in spring. They are followed by oval green fruit which when ripe split open to reveal the sweet juicy red pulp and up to 2000 seeds. This large number of seeds is essential to the species survival as many don't germinate and few seedlings survive the harsh conditions of the Sonoran desert.
     Unfortunately the encroachment of modern man and other factors are contributing to the Saguaros slow demise. Habitat destruction, air pollution, fire and other factors are slowly killing off this Monarch of the Desert. By law any developement of land requires a plan to salvadge all protected desert flora, including Saguaros. But many transplanted plants die within the first few years. Someday we may not be able to find them, except in the remotest patches of desert, in Botanical Gardens and of course in the Saguaro National Monument.
     Below is a 20 year old picture of the largest Saguaro I have ever seen. At some time in it's life it must have had its top lopped off and 3 new trunks grew in it's place. I've tried to find this Saguaro again so I could take a better pic with my digital, but have had no success. Hopefully it hasn't fallen prey to developement. I have a pic of a crested one from the Desrt Museum and I also took a pic of the growing tip of my little one. The new spines are a pretty pink color. Also, I've never managed to get close enough to one to get a good flower picture. The plants are just too tall. But Xenomorf, a fellow member of the Davesgarden.com gardening forums has consented to letting me use his pictures. Thanks Xeno :-) Also check out the gallery of Xenomorphs pictures in the Galleries/Friends section.


A real giant
northwest of Tucson
A crested one
at the Desert Museum
A view of the
new growth
A rare flowering
crest by Xenomorph
A closer
view
All images and text are copyright 2005-Present, D.S. Franges, unless otherwise noted. Flower pictures are copyright Xenomorph.