The saguaro, Carnegiea gigantea, is the largest cactus in the United States and native to Arizona. In 1931 the opulent white blossom of the Saguaro Cactus was designated as Arizona’s state flower. The best time of year to see these cactus bloom is April through June.
The Saguaro cacti mainly grow in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. When a Saguaro cactus reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce blossoms. Amassed near the ends of the branches, the green buds bloom into milky-white flowers. The Saguaro flower blooms after sunset and last only one day.
At the top of the flower tube is a compact group of yellow stamens. The saguaro cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other cactus. If conditions have been favorable for the Saguaro you could see hundreds of blossoms on a cactus.
Pollinators like birds, insects, and bats are attracted to the nectar that collects at the bottom of the flower’s 4 inch tube. A Saguaro blossom can only be fertilized by cross-pollination.
Only a few Saguaro flowers bloom each night and close by late morning; thus, giving a greater opportunity for pollination.
This elegant desert pageant occurs for about 2 months. From living in this area, we have to say it is hard to decide the exact dates but end of April to mid June would be notable.
bird pollinating the Saguaro cactus blossom
Pollinated flowers form a vivid red fruit filled with thousands of black seeds. The fruit is eaten and digested through which its dispersed throughout the desert.
Yucca is an evergreen, perennial plant with spine-tipped leaves that grow in a rosette around a thick central stem. More than 25 species of Yucca live in the arid regions of the southwest. One of the finest aspects of this desert plant is that it is low maintenance.
If its craggy look doesn’t bother you then it is not even necessary to prune it.
Trimming the Yucca plant is commonplace, especially for ornamental purposes. The best time to prune those rugged leaves is spring. While early spring is the ideal season, a yucca can be trimmed anytime. Just make sure the yucca plant gets plenty of light while it is recovering.
Cutting back a yucca may look harsh, but it is an attractive way to keep your plant manageable. When the Yucca completes flowering cut the stalk all the way to the ground with a sharp pair of lopping shears. To prevent cuts and scratches, wear heavy garden gloves.
Keep in mind that cutting the top off the yucca encourages the root system to push up new growth and more plants, called “pups” will appear. Hire professionals to do your yucca trimming if you are short on time.
Tidbits: The Apache Indians preferred the flowers of Yucca elata, a thin-leaf yucca, to those of the thick-leaf banana yucca. We know that these flowers were eaten thousands of years ago because unusually large amounts of yucca pollen have been found in some dried human feces collected from Hinds Cave.
Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park. This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.
**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.
There are dozens of varieties of cacti; short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.
Quick Saguaro Facts:
Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.
In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactus has a boundless variety of towering and many armed shapes.
Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight. During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract. During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.
Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow. Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old. Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.
Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s.
To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.
Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros. The saguaro’s woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.
The saguaro is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.
Saguaro cactus can be found in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico.
While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson. The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.
The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.
After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!
A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.
In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.
The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!
The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night. During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and honeybees pollinate them.
Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.
The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall; reaching heights of 50 feet. The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.
Define drought tolerant. What is a drought resistant plant? Here is the difference between drought tolerant (true desert plant) and drought resistant (originated in semi-arid places).
A flower or plant that has naturally evolved to survive periods of drought with little water and has the ability to tolerate substantial dehydration of their tissues and organs is drought tolerant. Xerophytes are the BEST drought tolerant plants, shrubs, trees, and cacti.
Cacti and many plants survive on little water and make Xeriscape not only essential but pleasing to the eye. Derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning “dry” and combined with landscape, xeriscape means gardening with less than average water.
Many xerophyte plants have specialized tissues for storing water, as in the stems of cacti and the leaves of succulents. Others have thin, narrow leaves, or even spines, for minimizing water loss. Xerophyte leaves often have abundant stomata to maximize gas exchange during periods in which water is available, and the stomata are recessed in depressions, which are covered with fine hairs to help trap moisture in the air.
Drought tolerant plants have adapted by making use of either C4 Carbon Fixation or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions.
In a plant using full CAM, the stomata, in the leaves, remain shut during the day to reduce the loss of water as vapor, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored and then used during photosynthesis, which is the process of capturing the suns energy.
CAM is particularly good for arid conditions because CO2 can be absorbed at night, allowing the pores on the leaves to stay closed during the day and thus reducing water loss. A easy way to explain it is drought tolerant plants can slow down metabolism.
High elasticity of the cytoplasm and the capacity to withstand compression of the cells during dehydration are characteristic of drought-tolerant plants. What is cytoplasm? An easy definition of cytoplasm is a gel-like casing, covering – containing all the contents of the cell’s organisms, except the nucleus. Most metabolic (chemical reactions) pathways occur in the cytoplasm.
Not to be confused with drought-tolerant plants, Drought Resistant plants are not true desert plants. Many have originated in semi-arid regions, the area around the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Sahara.
Here are pictures of drought resistant plants that are not native desert plants.
Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.
This plant has it all: Drought resistant, it looks great, it smells wonderful, and it’s as tough as nails (as long as it’s not too wet). Lavender is in the mint family and originated in the Old World around the Canary Islands, Africa, India, and Asia.
Not only does yarrow tolerate heat and drought like a champion, but this easy-growing perennial is also a great cut flower. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, originated in regions of Asia and Europe.
There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.
The Saguaro cactus will produce white flowers from April to June. This beautiful desert show only occurs 2 months out of the year.
This breath-taking Saguaro Cactus Blossom was designated Arizona’s State Flower in 1931.
The Saguaro flowers are velvety white, and emit a sweet nectar that attracts bats. During the night the flowers are pollinated by the Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat.
During the daytime the flowers are pollinated by bees and birds.
The Saguaro Cactus (pronounced “sah-wah-roh”), is an icon of the American west.
Arizona’s Saguaro National Park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea.
Saguaro blossoms are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the giant cactus.
There can be close to a hundred of these creamy white flowers on ONE Saguaro!
Ever wonder what the Saguaro Cactus Flowers smell like? The smell is very strong and I’d have to say these cactus blossoms smell like overripe melons!
We visit Saguaro Park many times throughout the year; but I have to say April through June is some of our favorite months. If we get to the park in the early mornings we are sure to see the Saguaro Cactus with their white flowers open.
One of the great MASTERS of desert survival is The Giant Saguaro Cactus. Every aspect of this cactus plant is specifically designed to thrive in the harsh Sonoran Desert.
At 35 years of age the Saguaro Cactus will start to produce flowers.
The saguaro flower opens after sunset and by next early afternoon the blossom is wilted.
The whitecactus flower repeats itself night after night. They have less than 24 hours to attract an animal to be pollinated.
A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination.
At the top of the Saguaro flower tube is a dense group of yellow stamens. The Saguaro Cactus has more stamen on its flower than any other desert cactus. Nectar accumulates at the bottom that attracts insects, bats, and birds.
The Saguaroflowers do not bloom all at the same time. Only a few flowers bloom each night waiting to be pollinated and then wilt by early afternoon.
The cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits later in the summer.
The animals, such as bats, that eat the red fruit help spread the Saguaro cactus seeds across the desert.
Each cactus fruit can contain up to 2000 small black seeds. Saguaro fruit is an excellent source of food and moisture for many desert animals.
Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona.
One of Arizona’s most majestic, lovable desert cactus plants is the Saguaro,Carnegiea gigantea. Being aware of the saguaro’s history and incredible internal design, it is an honor to walk close to the Giant Saguaro that is over 150 years old and standing tall.
These desert cacti are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age.
Saguaro Cactus can not tolerate freezing temperatures in the winter and this is what limits their range.
Saguaro FACTS: Saguaros are a very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 2 inches tall.
How tall can a Saguaro Cactus grow? It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall.
Below are Saguaro cacti at the bottom of Mica Mountain in Saguaro National Park.
Saguaro cactus roots are only 4-6 inches deep and travel out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep tap root that extends down into the ground.
A Saguaro Cactus can gather enough water through its remarkable root system, duringa significant rain, to last a year!
Why are there holes in the Saguaro Cactus? The gilded flicker and Gila woodpecker excavate nest cavities inside the saguaro’s pulpy flesh.
Cactus Wrens are common birds that live in the holes (nests) of the Saguaro Cactus.
When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.
A Saguaro can only be fertilized from a different cactus – cross pollination. Only a few bloom each night awaiting to be pollinated and close by late morning.
Because the major part of a desert saguaro cactus is made up of water, an adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. This tremendous weight is supported by a circular skeleton of inter-connected, woody ribs.
After the saguaro dies its wood ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. The holes that birds nested in are called saguaro boots.
Native Americans used saguaro boots as water containers.
Saguaro branches normally begin to appear when the cactus reaches 50 to 70 years of age.
The average life span of a saguaro is approximately 175 years of age. Experts have estimated that a Saguaro Cactus with more than 5 armscan be 200 years old.
Young saguaro cacti can be very hard to find because they grow under the protection of a “nurse tree”. The nurse tree releases nitrogen in the soil which the Saguaros and other desert cacti use to grow healthy and strong.
Saguaros sometimes grow in odd shapes or forms. The growing tip of the cactus occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.
These crested saguaro cacti, Carnegia gigantea forma cristata, are rare. Biologists are not sure why these Saguaros grow this fan-like shape.
Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of The Arizona Saguaro Cactus. It is illegal to harm a Saguaro in Arizona. During building or construction, precautions must be taken to move every saguaro that may be affected.
Flowering cactus belong to a tribe called Trichocereeae. There are 25 members, species, of these cacti including the night blooming variety.
One of our cacti had a gorgeous white flower bloom in the night. Shadow stuck his nose in it as soon as I let him outside so this flower must smell wonderful!
Many people call the cactus in the photo below, the Easter lily cactus. This beauty is part of the large genus called Echinopsis, which contains over 100 species of treelike to globose, (shape of a sphere or ball).
Along with Shadow, bees and hummingbirds love these cactus blooms!
Echinopsis cactus species are known for the great size of the flower tube. See the size of the tube on the cactus photo below.The Flowers from these cacti tend to be much larger than you would expect.
This cactus bloomed during the night. We adore our garden surprises from our variety of cacti. Sadly the flowers only last for a day. The cactus flower shrivels up and by morning you won’t even know it was there.
Caring for your flowering cactus is quite easy. Cactus should be grown in full sun and well drained soil. The soil for Echinopsis cactus species should never be saturated, as the soft fibrous roots will rot if kept wet for any length of time.
Adding splendid color and shapes to your low maintenance garden – Lets start with white and purple flowering shrubs. TEXAS SAGES, Leucophyllums, are among the most reliable and fool-proof of the low water use plants available in Arizona!
Texas sage bushes have silvery gray leaves and purple or white flowers that bloom from summer through autumn. These sage plants are relatively carefree after they are planted, but good sunlight and proper drainage are essential to the Texas Sages success.
The purple and white flowers look amazing next to a prickley pear cactus. In areas with poor drainage or with high average rainfalls, plant Texas sage brushes in raised beds.
The picture above has some of the best ideas for choosing plants with colors and different shapes that can be used in xeriscape or any low care, heat resistant yard. Prickley Pear cactus are unique in gardens and add an architectural flare.
In the photo background is a Red Oleander, Nerium oleander, bush. Oleanders make a popular divider or hedge, and can even be trained into a tree.
Of course we must mention the ever so popular Purple Texas Sage, also called Texas Ranger Plant. The White flowering species of Texas Sage is called White Cloud and is a heavenly white bush that blooms commonly throughout Arizona and adds dazzling color to any garden.
In the above photo you will see an Ocotillo Cactus standing tall behind the white flowering bush. This White Cloud Texas Sage shrub could be trimmed; therefore creating a contrast between the magnificent Ocotillo cactus and the white blooms.
Texas New Gold Lantana and Purple Texas Sage are considered two of the bestdrought tolerant, easy care, heat resistant, flowering desert plants in Arizona, California, etc… The yellow lantana mound looks dazzling next to a well pruned purple sage shrub.
Pictured above is part of the xeriscape area of our yard. Cacti come in a variety of shapes and colors. Some species of cactus have glorious flowers that bloom in the summer. Grow a flowering desert plant, bush next to a cactus to create a beautiful desert garden. The Bougainvillea shrub looks amazing next to a barrel cactus in the picture below.
… If desertscape makes you think of sparse, ugly gardens and cacti, think again! Desertgardens can be gorgeous and cascading with color; all one needs is a little imagination…
Red Bird of Paradise plant is the best choice for orange, red and yellow flowering bushes. Add a Saguaro cactus next to your desert shrub to create an unique design.
Pictured below is a common Arizona Wildflower called White Stem Paper Flower. During Arizona Monsoon, (rainy season) the wild flowers paint the desert and many desert gardens.