Think about the southwest right now. What is the first thing that comes to mind? I bet it is a desert scene with a very tall cactus having two arms going out and then up looking like a man with with his arms up like during a stick up. These are called saguaro cactus and are absolutely amazing, but they only grow in the southwestern third of the state of Arizona. That is it! They do not grow in southern California, New Mexico, Texas, or even northern Arizona. So why is it that they are linked to everyone’s idea of the southwest? Mostly because of old western movies that had the cactus in all those locations to let the viewer know they were in the desert.
Saguaro National Park is a park split into two parts that sit to the east and west of Tuscan, AZ. They were formed in 1933, for the eastern part called the Rincon Mountain District, and in 1961, for the west part called the Tucson Mountain District. The main reason the area was set aside was to protect the Saguaro cactus from being dug up and transferred and used in landscaping, movies, etc.
As big as these desert giants are they are very slow growers and can take up to 200 years to reach their full height of 45 feet (I had no idea they were that old!!!!). A ten year old saguaro cactus can be only inches tall, therefor they start off from a seed that is in other brush. This brush protects it, but as it grows the roots stay within 3-6 inches of the surface and stretch out in all directions for the same distance as the cactus is tall. They do this to collect as much of the limited rainfall as possible and end up chocking out the originally protective brush.
A few other things I learned while in the Saguaro National Park are:
-They have no leaves to significantly stop evaporation and their trunk is able to photosynthesis. The trunk is also ribbed in order to expand when when it absorbs rain water.
-Birds hollow out nests deep within the cactus. The cactus in turns forms a hard callous around these wounds and when the cactus dies the shell of the next remains, is called a saguaro boot, and was used by natives as for storage.
-Harming or vandalizing a saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona with a possible sentence of almost 4 years. When houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected.
-In 1982, a man was killed after damaging a saquaro. He was trying to make it fall when an arm of the cactus, weighing 500 pounds, fell on him. Who would have guessed the arms can weigh that much?