As an insurance agency with our main offices located in Scottsdale, Arizona, we get the pleasure of seeing the saguaro cactus frequently. The saguaro cactus blossom is the Arizona state wildflower and is a staple to us Arizonians. To honor this magnificent beast and state wild flower, here are 13 saguaro cactus facts and a map of where the saguaro cactus grows.
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13 Facts About The Saguaro Cactus
- It’s pronounced “suh-gwahr-oh.” 🙂
The word “Saguaro” has its roots in Native American culture, though there is no specific known meaning for the word it is speculated to be from the Yaqui tribe. One Pima legend tells the story of two boys running away from their grandmother to become the Saguaro and Palo Verde trees we see throughout the desert today.
- The Sonoran Desert is the only place in the world where you can find the Saguaro.
Did you know that the Saguaro cactus is only found naturally in the Sonoran desert? In pop culture, the iconic, two-armed shape of the Saguaro has come to symbolize all things Southwestern, but in reality, the Saguaro requires a specific environment to grow and thrive. The cactus only grows in areas around 4,000 feet above sea level in the Sonoran desert – which extends to the southern edge of Arizona and creeps into Mexico. For a laugh check out the song “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas”
- The Saguaro produces a strawberry like fruit around the same time as its flowers.
The flower described as “even juicier than a strawberry … is pulpy … somewhat sweet — not like candy, but sweet for a desert culture” ripens around late May to early July. You can even help harvest the Saguaro fruit yearly with the Desert Botanical Garden.
- The average Saguaro weighs around 2-3 tons.
The average Saguaro is BIG (but don’t call them fat). As the largest cactus species in the US, a mature Saguaro weighs tons varying somewhere around 4,000 to 6,000 or more lbs. It will actually swell in size depending on the amount of water it’s holding causing its size to change by as much as 25%. (In Scottsdale this is referred to as yo-yo dieting).
- Saguaros may capture 200 gallons of water in a single rainfall.
Desert rain storms may literally last minutes, so it’s important the cactus catches every drop immediately. Saguaros roots may develop for 55 years before the cactus is even 8 ft tall. This intricate network of roots typically extends four feet around the base of the plant and only 4 or 5 inches deep.
- It’s illegal to dig up Saguaros, but it’s not illegal to sell them.
Cactus poaching is a real thing, and it’s been a problem for decades. One 1980 report estimated 250,000 Saguaros had been poached and sold in 1979. In 2007 two men were caught illegally digging up 17 Saguaros, which resulted in one man being sentenced to eight months in Federal prison and the other to 6 months home confinement, 100 hours of community service, and 3 years probation.
- It costs $500-$2,000 to buy a Saguaro cactus.
You can buy Saguaro seeds for ~$5, but we’ve already covered that the average cactus matures around age 125, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Due to the strict laws, it’s recommended you hire a cactus broker who can help you rescue a saguaro that’s threatened by land development. In any sense make sure you do your research so you don’t end up like our friends from fact 6.
- The Saguaro was named after Andrew Carnegie.
His middle name was actually Saguaro… Kidding! The Carnegie Institution funded the formation of the Desert Botanical Laboratory in Tucson in 1903, and in Carnegie’s honor the scientific name of the cactus was dubbed “Carnegiea gigantic”.
- Many Saguaros are older than Arizona with an average lifespan of 100-200 years.
The average Saguaro lives to be 100-200 years old, which is a pretty long time, especially when you consider that Arizona didn’t receive its statehood until 1912. Over those 200 years, they live a long and interesting life.
- The Saguaro will only grow 1 -1.5 inches during its first 8 years of life.
To grow up, the Saguaro relies on help from a few other indigenous Arizonan trees: The Mesquite, Palo Verde, or Ironwood. As the cactus becomes bigger, however, it will sap the water and nutrients away from the “nurse tree” to eventually kill it.
- If you see a flower that means the cactus is around 35 years old (the equivalent of Saguaro puberty).
The blossom also happens to be the Arizona state flower. The flower is about 3 inches in diameter with a waxy feel and strong smell (like overripe melons). The saguaro blooms once a year during May through June. Over the next few weeks, a few flowers will bloom then close. Interestingly enough, they open at night and close by midday the next morning.
- An arm on the cactus indicates that it’s been alive 50-70 years.
That’s just for a cactus that grows quickly. Many Saguaros don’t begin growing arms for an additional 30+ years, making them 100+ years old before they’re showing their first arm. Not surprisingly the more arms a Saguaro has the rarer and more valuable it is.
- The largest and oldest recorded Saguaro appropriately named “Granddaddy” was 300 years old, 40 feet tall, and had 52 limbs.
The Saguaro is considered an adult around 125 years old and the typical Saguaro will live 175 years, with particularly healthy cacti living 200+ years. Granddaddy passed away due to bacterial necrosis – essentially an infection to which old cacti are susceptible. Makes you wonder how many people years equal one cactus year…
- It’s pronounced “suh-gwahr-oh.” 🙂
Map Of The Carnegiea Gigantea
This map shows the range of the saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert. The data used to create this map can be found here.