Saguaro National Park

Yes, I’m officially on Sabbatical. BUT there were three experiences still to share. This is number two…

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Saguaro National Park is dedicated solely to one magnificent species of cactus.

Pollinated by bats and doves (intriguing), they’re also inhabited by woodpeckers and owls. The woodpeckers abuse the plant until it heals itself with a liquid that the birds turn into a hardened cocoon. Once the woodpeckers abandon the nest, owls roost in the holes!

bird nest in saguaro

Left: a woodpecker hard at work; Middle: context for height; Right: postcard of an owl setting up home.

The largest cactus in the U.S., the saguaro takes a looooong time to grow. They start as seeds the size of a poppyseed. The odds are against them, though. In a 150-200 year lifetime, one plant might produce 40 million seeds. Nature is against the seeds, with only ONE likely to live to maturity!

To help that seed along, “nurse plants” protect from the elements and the critters. At some point it gets a little crowded.

nurse plant

Thirsty little suckers, they can absorb 200 gallons of water in a single rainfall–which satiates all year. That’s quite prudent since the desert only gets 12 inches of rain a year. The accordion pleats let the plant expand with water. By the time they’re 50 feet tall (as tall as they get), the reality of consisting of 85% water means that they can weigh 16,000 pounds!

up close look at a saguaro cactus

The spines do more than protect from predators–they also shade the saguaro’s skin!

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Roots expand as far as the tree is tall. Imagine the congestion in a forest like this.

How long does it take to grow?

  • 1 year = 1/4 inch
  • 15 years = 12 inches
  • 30 years = flower and fruit (local American Indians consider the fruiting as the beginning of their new year)
  • 50 years = 7 feet and it starts to grow arms (more surface area for photosynthesis and flowers, more flowers means more seeds)
  • 100 years = 25 feet
  • 150 years = 50 feet and 16,000 pounds
  • 200 years = oldest they live

saguaro with arms

One in 200,000 saguaros grow in a curly fan. Scientists don’t know why, but know that it’s from sort of damage. I think they’re rather pretty.

saguaro curled at top

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What question do you want to ask? 😉

7 Responses

03.27.13

Love when you include videos with you narrating. So can the water be easily tapped out of the cactus if we were looking for water?

Jef-great question. No clue. Please report back when you’ve done your homework.

03.27.13

Wow, thanks, as usual. A question and a comment.

Question: What, besides the weight of the really old ones, protects the Saguaros from poachers?

Comment: The woodpeckers on Lenox Crest must believe my chimneys are Saguaros. The buggers are pecking off the stucco and driving me insane.

Jeannine. Umm. The question is supposed to be thought provoking, not panic-inducing. I don’t know the answer, but good question. Let me know what you find out on google!

Wow – how beautiful. But, talk about slow-growing plants…..

03.27.13

I’m going to miss my little presents (that’s what I consider your blog posts). Rest up so you can give some more 🙂

Thanks, sweet Nancy. You won’t be totally alone…I picked some good posts from way back to fill the gap.

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