Large, columnar-like cacti that reach 40 feet into the air, are just one of 4,000 plant species in Arizona. Dotting a desert landscape for as far as the eye can see, locals often refer to them as desert giants, sentinels of the desert or jolly green giants.
They have been prominently featured in art, cinema, and advertising for years. They are also easily recognizable on several Arizona license plates. This, along with their shape and size, makes them one of the state’s most enduring symbols.
What are they?
They are saguaro cacti, Carnegiea gigantean, pronounced suh-WAR-oh.
While slow-growing – it can take 10 years for a saguaro to reach 1” in height – at full maturity they stand between 40 and 60 feet. Although, according to the National Park Service (NPS), the tallest saguaro ever measured was over 78 feet in height.
These desert giants have lots of character. They can grow up to 25 “arms,” and in the spring and summer produce pure white flowers, which emit a sweet nectar. Multiple species of desert animals feast on its offerings of flowers and fruit.
Additionally, their skin is covered by a waxy coating, hard spines, and flexible bristles. These characteristics help prevent water loss. Under the right conditions, saguaros can live for 200 years.
The most important factors for longevity are moisture and temperature. They cannot survive in areas subject to prolonged freezing, meaning you won’t see them above 4,000 feet above sea level; most of Northern Arizona included.
Some of the best saguaro viewing spots include New River, Mazatzal, and Superstition mountains in the Tonto National Forest. Near Tucson, they can be seen in the Santa Catalina Mountains, part of the Coronado National Forest.
Did you know?
- The Arizona State flower is the saguaro cactus blossom
- Saguaros are exclusive to the Sonoran Desert
- Adult saguaros can weigh 3200-4800 pounds