Arizona Gardens Saguaro Cactus

The winner of the contest still hasn't come forward. We're searching for Tephyr. When she contacts me, her books are ready.
Hillside of Saguaro cactus.
Last week I attended the annual conference of the Garden Writers Association, held this year in Tucson, AZ. I've always wanted to see saguaro (pronounced sa-warr-o) cactus in its natural setting. The cactus only grows in a small region of the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro cactus grow as seedlings underneath small trees, called "nurse-trees." Dropped as a seed by a bird, the cactus spends decades growing under the tree, eventually overtaking it. Saguaros don't begin to grow "arms" until they reach about 75 years old. So if you see one like this to the left, you can be assured it's older than 75.

Sometimes you even see one waving at you, like the one in the middle of the photo, below. These may not look especially large, but many of these cactus are 16-20 feet high and weigh upwards of a ton or more. They have extensive root systems just beneath the soil, sometimes reaching out 30 feet or more in all directions to help keep them from toppling over.

Saguaro cactus, waving.

A home landscape.
Landscaping in Tucson must be a challenge. Rainfall averages about 10 inches a year. Soil is mostly sand and gravel, very difficult to dig a hole with a regular shove. There was very little grass anywhere, in fact, all I saw over 5 days was a little strip of green in front of our hotel.
Beautiful golden cactus.
Yucca flower top.
Plants have to be tough to grow in this climate. It can reach 120 degrees F. in the summer and doesn't freeze in the winter (except in the mountains where it snows).
Barrel cactus group, larger ones are about 50 years old.
Looking south into Nogales, Mexico. the saguaro only live at the elevation around Tucson. You may notice the valley in the distance is lower and flattens out, where crops are grown.
Prairie dogs live in the deep burrows of the ground.
When plants in this climate bloom, they are spectacular.
This isn't the kind of landscape you can touch and feel or snuggle up with. In fact, you have to be cautious about getting stuck from the many spiky, spiny plants. But the landscape is beautiful for viewing, and a very different kind of climate for growing things than I'm used to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely write up on Tucson. So glad you were able to visit us. I do have to note that mature saguaros are upwards of _4_ tons! 8000 pounds of stored moisture. Those giant golden barrel cacti can weigh over 300 pounds. Ideally you get them in the right spot the first time!