The Mighty Saguaro

From Issue: Discovery 11/1/2005

When you see a picture of the old West with cowboys, you probably remember seeing a tall, round cactus with round “arms” that stick out of the side and then curve upward. You probably did not know its name: the Saguaro (suh-WAR-o). The mighty Saguaro grows in only one region on Earth—the Sonoran Desert (southern Arizona, northern Mexico, and a tiny pocket of southeast California). These desert giants are the largest cacti in the United States, dwarfing every other living thing in the desert.
Saguaros grow very slowly—only about one inch per year. The average life span of a Saguaro is probably 150-175 years of age, although some may live over 200 years! They can weigh six to ten tons, growing to a height of fifty feet and two feet in diameter. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of wooden ribs that make the outside appear as a massive fluted column. Shallow roots spread out just beneath the surface of the ground to wrap around rocks to support its great height and weight, and as an anchor against desert winds.
God designed the Saguaro to survive desert conditions. Though birds like the Gilded Flicker, the Gila (HEE-luh) woodpecker, and the tiny elf owl chisel small holes in the trunk for a home, two-inch spines clustered on the ribs provide protection from serious injury. As water is absorbed through the roots, the ribs of the Saguaro can expand like an accordion so water can be stored for use during the dry spells.
Saguaros begin to grow “branches” (arms) only after 50 years. At age 35, they begin to produce creamy white flowers, usually at the top of the main trunk and arms. The three-inch, oval, green fruit ripens just before the fall rainy season, splitting open to expose bright-red, pulpy flesh that desert creatures like to eat. A single fruit from the Saguaro can have as many as 4,000 tiny black seeds, with a Saguaro producing some 40 million seeds during its lifetime. When the fruit and seeds are eaten by a coyote or bird, the seeds pass through their digestive system unharmed and are distributed throughout the desert to grow more cacti.
Like the whole created realm, the mighty Saguaro shows the handiwork of God (Psalm 19:1).


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