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Saguaro National Park Photos ~ Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona
This post will address the beautiful and most iconic type of cactus called the Saguaro which is found in the Sonoran Desert area of Arizona, specifically in the set aside lands of the Saguaro National Park near Tucson.
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 5 states, 10 national parks, and several additional state parks and national monuments, we spent 3 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.
Saguaros are the largest cacti in the Sonoran Desert and in all of the United States for that matter.
Distinct in their form with uplifted arms as they develop age, they only grow in this part of the United States.
Life is tough in this North American desert and many things take a toll on the saguaros. This 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 over the course of a year.
Grazing livestock used to trample the cactus which take so long a time to develop any size. That is no longer allowed within the confines of the park.
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.
Video of the Saguaros and Indian petroglyphs
Life is Fragile!
Not only does heat and drought affect these largest 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 who steal and sell them for landscaping projects.
The saguaro cactus has very shallow roots that are only about 3 inches below the ground. They fan out about as far as the cactus is tall.
The hair on the roots expand when moisture hits it thereby capturing every bit of life giving moisture from the infrequent 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 actually expand or shrink depending upon how much water is being stored in the plant at one time.
Spines discourage many animals from taking moisture from the plant as they are very sharp.
Native Indians who used to live here used the ribs of these saguaros for building shelters. They also harvested the fruit to eat and make wine.
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 is wilted. That spectacle lasts for only about a month each year.
Different birds, bats, bees and moths who 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 tall 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 make 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 provide 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
- desert tortoise
- Gila monster
- kangaroo rat
- and jackrabbits to name a few. Most of these are nocturnal so one does not readily get to view them in the daytime.
Saguaro National Park West
The Sonoran Desert scenery is amazing but what makes this part of the desert near Tucson, Arizona really special are the distinctive saguaro cactus that define this part of the country. We are fortunate that they are protected with national park status.
Have you ever visited the Saguaro National Park?
Location of the Saguaro National Park
© 2009 Peggy Woods