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The Saguaro Cactus: Defining a Region

Posted by Alyssa Clevelle on

When one thinks of the American Southwest, one will almost certainly conjure images of cacti. In fact, cacti & the Southwest are nearly synonymous. And when many non-Southwesterners think of cacti, there seems to be one that springs to mind most often: the Saguaro cactus.

In actuality, the Saguaro cactus is less readily seen than the plethora of other Southwest cacti. Located only in the Sonoran desert, this magnificent cactus can be found in Arizona and Mexico, excluding the rest of the region from its natural habitat. (A few stragglers are also identified in southeast California.) The cacti found in Texas and New Mexico are far less grand in scale, although far more abundant.

The Saguaro is very slow growing, but with an estimated 150-200 year lifespan, it can reach 60 feet tall! Its primarily shallow root system sprawls outward from the plant as far as the cactus is tall, with one central tap root that dives to a depth of about 2 feet. The Saguaro’s size is determined by precipitation. Those in dryer areas tend to be smaller.

The Saguaro blossom is also Arizona’s state flower. Arizona has issued laws in an effort to protect the cactus from unregulated harvesting, so the Saguaro is not endangered. When one has died, it can be used to build houses and furniture, as its insides are quite woody. Native Americans used the bird nest holes from deceased Saguaros much like canteens.

Arizona only boasts about 58 varieties of cacti – compared to Texas with more than 100 varieties – yet the Saguaro is one of them. And it has helped to define the American Southwest in the minds of many.

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