Range

Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico

Habitat
Desert slopes and flats

Flowers

Blossom

The magnificent Saguaro Cactus, the state flower of Arizona, is composed of a tall, thick, fluted, columnar stem, 18 to 24 inches in diameter, often with several large branches (arms) curving upward in the most distinctive conformation of all Southwestern cacti. The skin is smooth and waxy, the trunk and stems have stout, 2-inch spines clustered on their ribs. When water is absorbed , the outer pulp of the Saguaro can expand like an accordion, increasing the diameter of the stem and, in this way, can increase its weight by up to a ton. The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub which can provide a shaded, moister habitat for the germination of life. The Saguaro grows very slowly -perhaps an inch a year -- but to a great height, 15 to 50 feet. The largest plants, with more than 5 arms, are estimated to be 200 years old. An average old Saguaro would have 5 arms and be about 30 feet tall. The Saguaro has a surprisingly shallow root system , considering its great height and weight. It is supported by a tap root that is only a pad about 3 feet long, as well as numerous stout roots no deeper than a foot, emanating radially from its base. More smaller roots run radially to a distance equal to the height of the Saguaro. These roots wrap about rocks providing adequate anchorage from winds across the rocky bajadas.

 

The slow growth and great capacity of the Saguaro to store water allow it to flower every year, regardless of rainfall. The night-blooming flowers, about 3 inches wide, have many creamy-white petals around a tube about 4 inches long. Like most cactus, the buds appear on the southeastern exposure of stem tips, and flowers may completely encircle stems in a good year. A dense group of yellow stamens forms a circle at the top of the tube; the Saguaro has more stamens per flower than any other desert cactus. A sweet nectar accumulates in the bottom of this tube. The Saguaro can only be fertilized by cross-pollination -- pollen from a different cactus. The sweet nectar, together with the color of the flower, attracts birds, bats and insects, which in acquiring the nectar, pollinate the Saguaro flower. Unlike the Queen of the Night cactus, not all of the flowers on a single Saguaro bloom at the same time. Instead, over a period of a month or more, only a few of the up to 200 flowers open each night, secreting nectar into their tubes, and awaiting pollination. These flowers close about noon the Cactus Wren following day, never to open again. If fertilization has occurred, fruit will begin to form immediately.

The saguaro cactus is found in this part of Arizona.