Updated date:

Saguaro Cactus: Habitat, Facts, and Images of Largest Sonoran Desert Cactus

Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.

life-and-survival-in-the-saguaro-national-park

Saguaro Cactus

This post will address the beautiful and most iconic type of cactus called the Saguaro which is only found in the Sonoran Desert which includes parts of Arizona, California, and Mexico. Most of the photos taken here are from the set-aside lands of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona.

Saguaros are the most massive cacti in the Sonoran Desert and in all of the United States for that matter. It's uplifted arms make it distinctive from almost every other type of cacti found in this part of the world.

In late April of 1998, my long-time friend from Germany came over here for a visit. We had been friends ever since our shared operating room nursing experience years before in the Texas Medical Center.

Embarking upon a traveling adventure that would take us to five states, ten national parks, and several additional state parks and national monuments, we spent three weeks together and traveled over 5,000 miles. It created memories for a lifetime!

My husband and I have also traveled through this stark and beautiful part of Arizona while spending some vacation time. Each visit to this national park has been memorable.

Life is Fragile!

Life is tough in this North American desert, and many things take a toll on the saguaros. Protecting this iconic cactus is one reason why this national park has been set aside to help ensure their survival.

Temperatures in the summer often climb to over 100 degrees. Rainfall is scarce. Typically less than 12 inches fall in a year.

Grazing livestock has often trampled the cactus dislodging them, and preventing their growth. Cattle and other farm animals are no longer allowed within the confines of the park.

Not only does heat and drought affect these biggest cacti in the United States, but so do other factors including:

  • Killing freezes
  • Lightening and strong winds
  • Rodents and birds who eat them
  • Vandals and Cactus Rustlers occasionally steal and sell them for landscaping projects.

Facts About This Cactus Plant

A seedling saguaro is about 1/4 of an inch tall after one year of growth. It may be a foot tall after 15 years of growth, and in another 15 years, it begins to flower and bear fruit.

The "arms" or branches first start beginning to sprout after the cactus reaches the age of 75 years! Thus one can readily see that the ones which are 25 to 50 feet tall are well over 100 years old and even 150 years in many cases.

The saguaro cactus has very shallow roots that are only about 3 inches below the ground. They fan out about as far as the plant is tall. The hair on the roots expands when moisture hits it thereby capturing every bit of life-giving moisture from the occasional rainfall.

Spongy flesh in the trunk and arms store the water, and little evaporation takes place since the cactus has no leaves. The ribs of the cactus expand or shrink depending upon how much water is stored in the plant at one time. Spines discourage many animals from taking moisture from the plant as they are very sharp.

Native Americans who used to live here used the ribs of these saguaros for building shelters. They also harvested the fruit to eat and make wine.

The saguaro cactus flower happens to be the state flower of Arizona. My friend and I did not get to see these saguaros in bloom. That typically happens in May and June, and the blossoms open at night. By the next afternoon, the flower wilts. That spectacle lasts for only about a month each year.

Different birds, bats, bees and moths feed on the nectar transport the pollen and do the necessary fertilizing from plant to plant.

Living Amidst the Saguaros

Many holes exist in these magnificent specimens of the desert. The Gila Woodpecker and the Gilded Flicker are both responsible for making holes in the trunks of the saguaro where they then build their nests. Other birds like to take these already carved out holes for their homes as well. The holes not only provide safety for their nestlings but also offer a respite from the heat and cold. It can be a difference of 20 degrees in these carved out shelters.

According to a brochure that I picked up, some of the birds that like to reside here include the following:

  • American Kestrel
  • Lucy's Warblers
  • Cactus Wrens
  • Western Kingbirds
  • Phainopeplas Elf Owls
  • Screech Owls
  • Purple Martins.
  • Even honeybees like to build their homes in these saguaro holes.

Other desert dwellers that reside around here include some of the following:

  • the cactus mouse
  • diamondback rattlesnake
  • quail
  • roadrunners
  • desert tortoise
  • Gila monster
  • kangaroo rat
  • javelinas
  • and jackrabbits to name a few. Most of these are nocturnal, so one does not readily get to view them in the daytime.

The Sonoran Desert scenery is impressive, but what makes this part of the desert near Tucson, Arizona unique is the distinctive and iconic saguaro cactus that defines this part of the country. We are fortunate that they are protected with national park status.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2017:

Hi Sherry,

Yes this Saguaro National Park is open year round. Enjoy your camping trip!

Sherry Venegas from La Verne, CA on August 20, 2017:

Is this National Park open in the winter? Perhaps a winter camping trip may be the next goal?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 18, 2014:

Hi Nancy Owens,

So glad that this brought back memories of your time spent in the desert. Appreciate your comment.

Nancy Owens from USA on September 18, 2014:

This is a very beautiful Hub. I enjoyed my time in the desert and this hub brings back memories.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2014:

Hi Kathleen,

I hope your dreams of moving to Sedona pan out someday. I agree with you that Arizona is such a beautiful state with such varied landscapes. Glad you enjoyed this hub. :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2014:

Such flattery Au fait regarding these photos. I am so pleased that you liked them. The Saguaro National Park is indeed worth viewing. Every time I have been there it is in the mode of passing through. Would be fun to actually spend more time there someday. Thanks for the shares. :)

Kathleen Odenthal from Bridgewater on July 31, 2014:

Oh how I love arizona! I hope to move to Sedona one day, the scenery all over Arizona is just so beautiful, the people are nice, it is the polar opposite of here in the NYC area. Thanks for this great hub!

C E Clark from North Texas on July 31, 2014:

I have been here but never got such incredible photos as you have here! Gave you 5 more stars, pinned this twice; to my 'Yellow & Orange II' board and my 'Green' board. Also posted on FB and will share with my followers. These photos are truly amazing. Everyone needs to visit this place. I had forgotten just how interesting and unique a place this is until I saw your photos and they do bring back the memories!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 02, 2013:

Hi moonlake,

The majestic saguaro cactus certainly have a recognizable shape and are familiar to so many people even if they have never seen them in person because of all the western movies filmed in those areas. Nice to know that you enjoyed learning more about them. Thanks for your comment & share.

moonlake from America on March 31, 2013:

Beautiful catus hub so much great information on the saguaros. Voted up and shared.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 22, 2012:

Hi vespawoolf,

The Saguaro cactus are amazing looking plants and it was a first for my friend from Germany to see them first-hand. As to drinking saguaro wine...I did not know that anyone made wine from saguaro cactus. Interesting! Thanks for the votes and share.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 21, 2012:

Hi rajan jolly,

Yes, the saguaro cactus can grow to very tall heights but obviously it takes quite a while as it grows very slowly. So glad that you enjoyed viewing these photos. Thanks for your votes and share.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on November 21, 2012:

How nice to have taken a nice, long vacation and see Arizona through the eyes of your friend! What beautiful photos and information about the saguaro. I've always been fascinating with this giant among cacti. I wonder what saguaro wine tastes like?? Voted up and shared!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on November 20, 2012:

This is beautiful, am amazedat how tall the Saguaro cactus grows. Wonderful info. Your pictures are beautiful Peggy. Voted up, useful, interesting, and sharing.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2012:

Hello Barbsbitsnpieces,

Glad to hear that you enjoyed this article about the strikingly distinctive Saguaro National Park. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Barbara Anne Helberg from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA on April 28, 2012:

@Peggy W...Beautifully done Hub loaded with information about a beautiful place! Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 07, 2011:

Hi Chuck,

It would be wonderful to see a saguaro in bloom. Does it look like other cactus blooms? I spent my teenage years in southern Texas so are very familiar with cactus blooms but of course did not have the saguaros living there. Many parts of Texas also have cactus, but as you know the areas where saguaros live are limited. Must be nice hiking in the Saguaro National Park! Thanks for your comment.

Chuck Nugent from Tucson, Arizona on October 07, 2011:

Excellent Hub. I live in Tucson and have had the pleasure of hiking in both the east and west parts of Saguaro National Park. In fact the West Saguaro sector of the park is about a 15 minute drive from our home in Tucson.

Too bad you missed seeing the saguaro in bloom. In springtime the Sonoran Desert comes alive with numerous varieties of cacti blooming. While areas like Saguaro National Park are great for viewing this, one only has to step outside as cacti are common and a simple walk down one's street is all that is needed to see cacti in bloom.

Great Hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 07, 2011:

Hi Billy,

The Saguaro National Park certainly has a vast collection of these types of cactus that have limited areas in which they thrive. The shapes are often symbolic of the West. Glad to hear that you enjoyed seeing these photos taken on several different trips. Thanks for your comment.

billyaustindillon on October 07, 2011:

Peggy great cacti photos from the Sonoran desert - another great resource for geography and biology classes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 16, 2009:

Hi Peter, Nice to meet a caretaker for these wonderful saguaro cactus. It would be heartbreaking to see these magnificent specimens die due to the cold weather after caring for them.

Peter on June 15, 2009:

I moved to Arizona in 2001 and I love the desert and couldnt live anywhere else now. I care for around 50 saguaros that needed to be moved due to a pipe-line project in the central AZ town that I live in. WE live on the northern edge of where sagauros survive and its sad to watch what happens when it gets too cold for them. I worry about the cold more then the heat/drought.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 23, 2009:

Hello kiwi91, Glad this could bring back good memories for you. We have lots of roadrunners in Texas also. Thanks for commenting.

kiwi91 from USA on April 23, 2009:

I've been to Saguaro and loved it. I went to both sections of the park a few years ago. I saw a couple of roadrunners that ran across the road, so I was happy. Great hub!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2009:

C.C., Hope you never have to repeat any of your OR experiences. Interesting for you to see, but hardly entertaining in any regular sense of the word. Good that you could enjoy the joking. Lots of that goes on in operating rooms! Hope you get to Big Bend someday.

C. C. Riter on February 19, 2009:

Peggy, it was very interesting to see some of the stuff they did to install an abdominal stent in my aorta, I was awake for most of it as I had a spinal we were all joking around during a huge blizzard at the time on Valentines Day morning.

I had my Defibrillator put in next, but they had my head covered up. I did not like it as when he made the pouch in my chest I felt everybit of it and my ass hurt after a 3 hour period on that damn table.

I watched in a mirror while a huge lympnode was removed from my neck, hurt like crazy, but it was something.

I do want to come to Big Bend some time for the birdwatching is most excellant.thanks again dear.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2009:

Thanks for the compliment, Jed. Photos are my favorite souvenirs.

Yes, Big Bend is beautiful and so diverse between the desert and the Chisos Mountains. My husband and I spent only 3 days there many years ago. Wish we had spent a few more. Would have done more hiking in the mountains.

Like you said, fewer people see that National Park compared to others. The distances are so vast in Texas and access is limited with roads going there.

Wasn't Santa Elena Canyon beautiful?

jed grey on February 19, 2009:

Well done, Peggy. My favorite is Big Bend for sheer wilderness

and minimal impact of humanity on the desert which does have

a fragile ecology. I've rraveled all over the great Southwest and

always marvel at the beauty of a desert.

BTW, your photos are excellent.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2009:

Out of curiousity, C.C., just what kind of surgery do you like watching when it is being done to you?

Amazing that I ever became a nurse! Once when I was little and hopping around on a pogo stick (remember those?) in the basement of my parent's home, I fell and ended up going through the glass window on the door to the root cellar. The glass cut an artery in my left arm and so much blood was spurting onto my two younger brothers as well as me, that it took a short time for my parents (who reacted to all the crying and screaming) to determine who was really hurt.

They put pressure on my arm and drove me to our country doctor who stitched up my arm without anesthesia. No time!

I guess all the Cherry Ames books that my grandmother kept giving to me for birthday and Christmas gifts influenced me in wanting to become a nurse. Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse. Cherry Ames, Army Nurse............and so it went. About 21 kinds of nursing, if I remember correctly.

Years later, I donated that series to a school. Maybe it inspired other young minds?

C. C. Riter on February 18, 2009:

I hear ya bout the roaches. Also that Teresa is someone I'd really enjoy being with, very interesting person. I hate watching surgery and stuff like that, unless it's on me. Even watching a pup getting worked on is too much for me. I have and can butcher or slaughter, but that's different. fun hub dear

Oh, I was extremely fearful of spiders not too many years ago.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2009:

Hey C.C., I've just read some of Teresa's hubs and from what I have learned, I think that she could handle that and more! Strong lady! Now me......I would just as soon stay away from those critters!!!

Never did like spiders, snakes and such. My Dad used to wonder how I could stand the blood and guts related to working in an operating room when I screeched when I would see a roach. Always wondered to myself what one had to do with the other? Ha!

I no longer screech, but I still prefer asking my husband to do the "honors" of getting rid of these infrequent visitors if they get inside our home. Combat to the rescue!!! Works really well if one replaces them every 3 months.

People in colder climates think that roaches exist only in dirty environments. Newsflash!..........in the South...........they are everywhere!

C. C. Riter on February 18, 2009:

I would. I'd like to be there when she sees her first rattler. LOL or hairy spider big as my hand. LOL

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2009:

Hi Goldentoad, If a rain brings out the rattlers...I am glad that it was a bright and sunny day! Ha! In all seriousness, anytime one is walking through an area like this, one should be aware of one's surroundings.

Teresa, If you come to see this park, make time for others in this part of the country also! You won't be disappointed!

C.C., Lets put out the red carpet for Teresa if she comes this way!

C. C. Riter on February 17, 2009:

That'd be an awful long drive from Ireland Teresa, bring it on over dear. LOL

Sheila from The Other Bangor on February 17, 2009:

Beautiful hub -- you make me want to drive out there to see for myself. Thanks!

goldentoad from Free and running.... on February 17, 2009:

watch out for those rattlers. Nothing like the smell of this desert after a rain.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on February 17, 2009:

What a shame they did not make it, C.C. Guess the vast majority of them do not which is why it is great that this land has been set aside as a National Park.

C. C. Riter on February 17, 2009:

Another beauty of a hub Peggy. Love it. I started saguaros from seed 12 years ago. I lost them though after 5 years.