Is the saguaro cactus a suitable topic for Valentine’s Day? It has decorated the landscape of cowboy and western movies for decades, but could it be a fit for this weekend? It is armed with extremely sharp spines, almost as strong as steel needles, which grow to about 7 cm long and have been known to kill a bighorn sheep foolish enough to charge into it. Hardly seems like an emblem of caring.
The saguaro cactus grows almost exclusively in the Sonora Desert areas of Arizona and Mexico. And it grows extremely slowly. After 10 years the sprouted seedling may reach 2 cm, depending on water supply. It can take up to 70 years to reach 2 m (6 ft) and have flowers appear. The tap root will grow 5 feet deep in pursuit of groundwater. A maze of roots will stay within 3” of the surface to trap rain water. Most of the 2000 seeds per flower that aren’t eaten by birds still don’t survive. Some cacti never produce arms, but most develop them before reaching 100 years. A saguaro can live up to 200 years. Wow!
The main column and the arms develop ribs and pleats that allow the plant to expand with water intake. An adult saguaro may hold a ton of water. Some birds will carve a large hole into the plant, allow the cavity to dry and form a hard shell before using it as a safe nest. Secure apartment condos and hotels?? For centuries people in the area have made jams and jellies from the red fruit and used the strong ribs of dead cacti in construction projects. Inviting shelter and delicious food!
Animals such as bats, bees, insects, lizards, hummingbirds, flickers and finches will come for the flower nectar or fruit. The 3” to 5” flowers bloom for about 24 hours, with about 4 of them opening up every day for a month. Very generous!
It was Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic support in building the Desert Botanical Garden in Tuscon that caused the scientific community to name the saguaro carnegiea gargantic in his honor.
Perhaps the saguaro isn’t nearly as vicious or inhospitable as it seems. It protects small animals and provides food, water and shelter for many who otherwise might be destitute in the desert. Maybe it is a picture of true love?
Have a lovely time this weekend.