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Giant Saguaro Carnegia gigantea


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Giant Saguaro
credit: Grombo/CCSA

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Alternate name: Saguaro

Family: Cactaceae, Cactus view all from this family

Description This giant, columnar tree cactus, an icon of the American West, lives up to 250 years. Wild saguaro are found only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico (a very few in California).
Habit: succulent native perennial tree; with usually 2-10 stout, nearly erect, spiny branches; sometimes unbranched; taprooted.
Height: 10-50 ft (3-15 m) or more.
Trunk and branches: cylindrical, spiny, ribbed, 2-30 in (5-75 cm) diameter; the woody ribs persist after a plant's death.
Stem: spiny, cylindrical, ribbed.
Leaf: sharp spine, gray, 0.5-3 in (12-75 mm) long, in rows along ridges.
Flower: white funnel, yellow-gold center, 2.5-5 in (65-85 mm) wide, 3.5-5 in (85-125 mm) tall; usually held in ring at end of branch; opening two hours after sunset, closing in late afternoon.
Fruit: oval to cylindrical berry, spineless, green becoming red to red-purple, 2-3 in long, to 1.75 in (45 mm) diameter.

Flower April to June.

Flower May

Habitat Rocky or gravelly, non-saline soils; Sonoran desert scrub, desert foothills, south-facing slopes, gently sloping alluvial flats, bajadas, steep volcanic slopes; in conjunction with paloverde, mesquite, or creosote; 500-4600 ft (150-1400 m); also cultivated as an ornamental.

Range Southeastern California (rare), southwestern Arizona, and south into Mexico.

Discussion The latin name is more commonly spelled Carnegiea gigantea. Also known as saguaro, giant cactus, sahuaro, pitahaya. Native Americans made use of the entire cactus: they ate the fruit both fresh and dried and made it into preserves and beverages; the dried ribs of the saguaro provided wood for shelters, fences, and kindling. Giant Saguaro (pronounced "sah-WAH-ro"), the largest native cactus, is the state flower of Arizona and a symbol of desert landscapes. Well-adapted to its hot, dry climate, Giant Saguaro is leafless. Food is manufactured in the green stems, and rainwater is absorbed quickly by the shallow roots and stored in the succulent trunks and branches. The thick, spreading spines offer protection against animals. Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers make round holes near the tops of branches for nests that are used afterwards by elf owls, cactus wrens, and other birds. Wildlife, especially white-winged doves, consume quantities of the seeds and fruits.

Comments Saguaro cacti are protected by law and require government tags for purchase or transport. These are very slow-growing plants that live up to 250 years. The fleshy fruit is edible.

Exposure Preference Sun.

Native Distribution In Arizona Yavapai & Mohave to Graham, Santa Cruz, Pine & Yuma Counties; local in adjacent California & Mexico

Site Preference Rocky foothills; canyons; washes; sandy or gravelly desert plains

Soil Preference Sandy or gravelly, well-drained soils.

Wildlife Value Flowers attract bees, bats and doves. Fruits attract many birds and mammals. Birds often nest in holes in the trunk.