Saguaro Cactus Facts

Michael Bryan

Michael Bryan

Published: 13 Oct 2021

Modified: 22 Nov 2021

saguaro cactus, desert, plant

The saguaro cactus is the face of the Sonoran Desert and is one of the oldest living giants in the US. It’s undeniably wonderful and breathtaking just to be in the presence of such a specimen that makes you want to reflect on a lot of things. Being able to withstand the test of time and witness the constant changes in the surroundings for more than a hundred years would be awesome enough. In fact, the cactus itself symbolizes the resiliency of the natives who have been striving to survive in the desert for generations, while cradling traditions, and the rich history of their culture. If you want to learn more, our team has listed 40 saguaro cactus facts to teach you more about this lovely plant. Enjoy reading!

  1. The saguaro cactus is a tree-like cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea.
  2. This cactus can grow up to 12 meters or 40 ft tall.
  3. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California.
  4. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona.
  5. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie.
  1. Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years.
  2. They may grow their first side arm around 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms.
  3. Arms are developed to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity, as more apices lead to more flowers and fruit.
  4. They are slow-growing, but routinely live 150 to 200 years.
  5. They are the largest cactus in the United States.
  6. The growth rate of this cactus is strongly dependent on precipitation.
  7. Saguaros grow slowly from seed and maybe only 6.4 mm (14 in) tall after 2 years.
  8. Saguaros are stem succulents and can hold large amounts of water.
  9. They have a very large root network that can extend up to 30 m (100 ft).
  10. It has also long taproots of up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) deep.
  1. The saguaro cactus is a common image in Mexican culture and American Southwest films.
  2. Over 50 arms may grow on one plant.
  3. The tallest saguaros ever measured was an armless specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 ft (23.8 m) in height before it was toppled in 1986 by a windstorm.
  4. A saguaro can absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, visibly expanding in the process, while slowly using the stored water as needed.
  5. This characteristic enables the saguaro to survive during periods of drought.
Table of Contents

It takes more time for them to grow arms.

Saguaro cactus requires a lot of time to grow especially their first arms that might take 50 to 75 years. Their arm is important because it is where they store extra water. They will grow several arms after 100 years.

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Image source: Pixabay

Saguaro cacti are highly important to both animals and people.

We could say that Saguaro cacti support the wildlife in the desert. Small birds would make a hole inside the cactus’ flesh, while large birds would build their nests among its arms, ensuring safety from predators. Saguaro cactus also provides food for bats, mammals, reptiles, and insects in the desert.

This cactus is colossal.

One amazing example of saguaro cactus facts is that these saguaro cacti are the largest cacti in the United States. Though they typically grow really slow, the adult Saguaro can reach up to 40 ft tall in its lifetime.

The Native Plant Protection Act protects them.

Cutting down a saguaro cactus is illegal. By doing so, a person will be charged with a felony crime that can result in up to 25 years in prison. The cactus is more than just a symbol of the West, it is the complete heart of the Sonoran Desert.

Its nectar and fruits invite bats and insects.

The nectar of the saguaro cactus provides nourishment to the insects who are striving to live in the desert. Since plant life is not that abundant, insects would primarily depend on cacti like saguaro for nectar. Bats also enjoy the sweet fruit of the saguaro cactus.

The fruit faintly tastes like a strawberry.

Surprisingly, the fruit of the saguaro cactus is edible, and a lot of things can be done with the fruit that can surely satisfy your curious palette. The natives would describe the fruit as having a strawberry-like taste. They usually eat them raw, or made into jam, wine, and syrup. However, you will need a very long stick to harvest saguaro cactus fruits since they grow on the crowns of the arms of the main stalk. Talk about fruity saguaro cactus facts!

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Image source: Pxfuel

It is illegal for non-O’odham people to harvest saguaro fruits on public land

According to Bill Boyd, the legislative-policy administrator for the Arizona State Land Department, harvesting the fruit of saguaro cactus is generally banned on state-trust land. It is because the plant would require 40-60 years before they start to produce fruit again. Only the Tohono O’odham people can harvest the fruit since it is considered to be their tradition.

They have sharp spines.

The spines on the plant are super sharp, and they can grow up to 7 cm or 3 inches long and up to 1 mm or 1/32 inches per day. When being help up to the light, alternating light and dark bands visibly traverse to the long axis of the spines. These bands have been correlated to daily growth.

spines, cacti, desert, prickly
Image source: Pixabay

Saguaros may capture 200 gallons of water in a single rainfall.

Rainfall in the desert might only last in a short while, so it is important for the saguaros cactus to absorb every drop quickly. Its roots will develop for 55 years before the cactus is even 8 ft tall. Moreover, these roots usually extend up to 4 ft around the base of the plant.

The average saguaro weighs around 2-3 tons.

Saguaro cactus would swell depending on the amount of water it is holding. Its size would change as much as 25% to hold water and store it inside its body. The average size of this cactus is surely big and the largest one weighs somewhere around 4,000 to 6,000 lbs.

It costs $500-$2,000 to buy a saguaro cactus.

Planning to add saguaro cactus to your collection? It’s quite possible, but it would be better to buy from plant nurseries or ornamental gardens. For $5.00, you can buy its seeds and propagate them into your greenhouse.

Many saguaros are older than Arizona with an average lifespan of 100-200 years.

The average lifespan of a saguaro cactus can last up to 100 to 200 years. These plants have witnessed the ever-changing flow of time in Arizona. We can say that these plants have a whole lot of history recorded in their long and interesting life.

The saguaro cactus will only grow 1-1.5 inches during its first 8 years of life.

As mentioned before, the saguaro cactus would require a lot of years just to grow. It’s no longer a surprise already that even after 8 years, the growth you will observe is only 1 to 1.5 inches. It’s also necessary for it to be exposed to sunlight and water to keep its growth steady with time.

If you see a flower that means the cactus is around 35 years old.

Hailed as the Arizona state flower, the saguaro cactus blooms once a year from May to June and will close over the next few weeks. The flower itself is about 3 inches in diameter with a waxy feel. It has a strong smell describe to be like overripe melons. Interestingly enough, they open at night and close by midday the next morning. Now, that’s a blooming example of saguaro cactus facts!

cacti flowers, desert, plant
Image source: PublicDomainPictures

An arm on the cactus indicates that it’s been alive 50-70 years.

Growing an arm signifies that the saguaro cactus has reached its 50 to 70 years of existence. However, a lot of these cacti don’t grow arms at the same time, some vary and would need an additional 30+ years, making them 100+ years old before they can show their first arm.

Granddaddy was 300 years old, 40 ft tall, and had 52 limbs.

It is said that this massive cactus died from bacterial necrosis, an infection to which old cacti are susceptible. With a towering height of 40 ft and 52 limbs, the oldest recorded saguaro cactus specimen is truly a remarkable sight to behold.

This cactus plant is cylindrical in shape.

The most noteworthy thing about the saguaro cactus is its singular and cylindrical body shape. It grows limbs after 50 to 70 years or 100+ years. In addition, its arms store excess water from the quick rain in the desert and would usually face upward.

Planting this cactus requires an abundance of the sun to grow.

Now for some bountiful saguaro cactus facts, the ideal planting time of this cactus is in the late spring or early summer months. It loves sun exposure, which is very essential during this early growth stage. Before planting, make sure to introduce water first into the soil where you will plant your cactus.

desert, cacti, sunlight, heat
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

You don’t need to water them right away after planting.

Our saguaro cactus facts won’t be complete until we give you tips on how to plant it. Once planted, do not water the saguaro for roughly 2 weeks. During the summer months, May through October, the saguaro requires deep watering once every 2-4 weeks. To water your saguaro, do not use a watering can or any overhead watering technique because its roots are close to the surface, and this will result in overwatering. Instead, funnel a small hose into the soil surrounding the saguaro and soak the soil to about 1 ft in depth.

After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build handicrafts.

The saguaro cactus has diverse usage even after its life expires. Native Americans used the part of the plant to store water before canteens were available. They also harness the cactus and process it as boots, roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.