Saguaro Cactus

The Saguaro Cactus Is the Image of The Old West

Part Of Landscape In Tucson AZ

Some Geography

The Saguaro Cactus has long been a striking symbol of the Old West in America. Yet the Saguaro Cactus does not populate all the American west. In fact, it grows in only a small part of the expansive southwest.
saguaro cactus map
Saguaro Cactus are only found in portions of the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert is in northwest Mexico, Southern Arizona and Southeast California. It is also in the southern part of Baja California.

But the stately Saguaro will only grow from sea level to around 4,000 ft above sea level. Over 4,000 ft the temperatures are to cold in the winter season. Freezing temperatures will kill the giant Saguaro Cactus.

From Small Beginnings

The Saguaro often begins life in the shelter of a “nurse” tree or shrub. Birds eat the seeds from the annual Saguaro Fruit. As the birds rest in the trees and shrubs, their droppings fall to the ground. The combination of shade and moister is perfect for the germination of life.

Saguaros grow only 1 or 2 inches a year. But they reach heights from 15 to 50 feet. Yes, that means they can be quite old.

As the Saguaro Cactus grows, it consumes the water necessary to sustain the “nurse” tree or shrub. In the end the Saguaro kills off the plant or tree that gave it life.

The first “arms” or branches of the Saguaro Cactus start to from after 65 to 70 years. The largest plants, with more than 5 arms, will be approaching 200 years old. An average old Saguaro would have 5 arms and be about 30 feet tall.

As They Grow

The Saguaro has a shallow root system for is size and weight. Its main “tap” root will only a pad about 3 feet long. Its many stout roots will grow in a circle around the base. No more than a foot below the ground.

Smaller roots run from the center to a distance equal to the height of the Saguaro. As these roots grow, they wrap about rocks in the ground. This root structure provides the anchorage the Saguaro needs.

Flowers And Fruit

When a Saguaro Cactus is about 35 years old flowers begin to bloom. These creamy-white, 3-inch-wide flowers with yellow centers bloom May and June. They will clustered near the ends of its branches. The blossoms open during cooler desert nights and close again by next midday.

Unlike the Queen of the Night cactus, not all flowers on a single Saguaro bloom at the same time. Only a few of the up to 200 flowers open each night. Flowers secret nectar into their tubes and await pollination. These flowers close about noon the following day, never to open again. This process continues for 30 to 60 days.

With fertilization fruit begins to form. The oval green fruit ripens just before the rainy season. When ripe, the fruit splits to present a red pulpy substance that birds and desert creatures love.

Each Saguaro Cactus fruit contains some 4,000 seeds. The most of any desert cactus.

Facts About The Saguaro Cactus

  • The flower of the cactus is Arizona’s state flower.
  • The stem of the saguaro measures between 18 and 24 inches.
  • The saguaro cactus will have holes cut out by birds.
  • The saguaro’s roots are just 4-12 inches deep. There is only one root that goes under the ground 2 feet deep.
  • The cactus’s arm grows only when it is 65 to 70 years old.
  • The saguaro flower has a powerful fragrances. The flowers only open up at night and will close during the next day.
  • The flowers appear on the saguaro when the cactus is 35 years old.
  • The cactus becomes “adult” when it is 125 years only.

The saguaro is one of the heaviest plants. Because it retains large amounts of water, an adult saguaro can weigh up to 8 tons.


The Saguaro Cactus is a unique desert plant found in a small part of the Sonoran Desert. The Saguaro Cactus are a protected plant in Arizona. Harming a saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona. Home developers must receive special permits to remove or destroy a Saguaro when building.

As with any law, there are exceptions. So check the laws before you decide to move or harm one of these unique desert plants.

The Saguaro National Park is the place to see the majestic Saguaro Cactus. Both the East and West Park area give visitors an opportunity to see – don’t touch – the giant Saguaro.


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