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The Saguaro Cactus: All About These Desert Plants in Arizona

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7 Things You Didn’t Know About Saguaro Cactus | ICONIC Desert Plants

Bold, tall and strong, the saguaro cactus is not only the desert plant symbol of the Southwest, but the white waxy blossom of the ICONIC cactus has been the state flower since 1931.

Known to many as an ICONIC symbol of the southwestern region of the United States through classic westerns and television shows alike, the saguaro cactus (pronounced suh-waa-row) is actually only found in a rather small portion of North America. This impressive desert plant loves the heat and thrives exclusively in the Sonoran Desert, a desert that covers the northwestern Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California and parts of Arizona.

And what exactly makes the saguaro cactus so impressive and ICONIC? 

1. The saguaro cactus is the largest cactus species in the U.S. and can grow to be up to 40 feet tall. A fully grown saguaro cactus can weigh more than one ton—that’s more than 2,000 pounds!

2. The typical lifespan of a saguaro cactus is about 150 to 200 years, though the exact age of some individual saguaros is unknown and could be even older.

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3. And with that lifespan, saguaros have all the time in the world. They grow approximately one foot per decade and typically won’t even grow their first “arm” until around 50 years of age.

4. The scientific name for the saguaro cactus is, Cereus giganteus or Carnegiea gigantean, which means gigantic candle. The name also honors Andrew Carnegie and his support through the Carnegie Institution, which established the Desert Botanical Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona in 1903.

5. Most saguaro cactus roots are only four to six inches deep, but extend out as far as the cactus is tall. This allows the roots to effectively absorb rainwater that doesn’t sink deep into the hard, dry desert ground. Each cactus also has a single taproot that extends up to five feet deep by the time the cactus has reached maturity. When a saguaro is uprooted, they are often unable to restore its root systems which is why…

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6. …the state of Arizona has laws explicitly protecting the saguaro cactus. They are safeguarded as a state treasure and cannot be moved from any land, whether it is private or public, without special permits. Moving or uprooting a saguaro cactus illegally is punishable by law…and yes, Arizona has cactus police.

7. Arizona’s state flower is the white blossom of the saguaro cactus which blooms in late spring. The flowers bloom for just 24 hours, opening up at night to attract Lesser Long-nosed Bats and Mexican Long-tongued Bats for pollination!

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