The saguaro stands like a sentry over the desert landscape. Easily the tallest living thing within eyeshot, this magnificent cactus seems like the guardian of the Sonora Desert. Across the mountaintops, there are rows and rows standing…some with outstretched arms, some like tall single posts. Each one seems to project a personality of its own.
Beginning its life in the shelter of a "nurse" tree or shrub that provides a shaded and moister habitat for the cactus’ germination, the saguaro grows very slowly to a height of 15 to 50 feet. The largest plants are estimated to be about 200 years old.
These desert giants are worlds unto themselves and have harmonious relationships with the bats who consume the nectar they produce and the many creatures who consume the cactus’ fruit. Birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles use the saguaro like a condo unit. Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers drill out cavities in the saguaro to build their nests. When the flickers and woodpeckers abandon the cactus, the cavities are used by other birds, including elf owls. Saguaros are havens for creatures needing shelter in the desert.
The first time we went to the Saguaro National Forest in Arizona a few years back, I fell in love with saguaros. They are endlessly fascinating…the perfect example of adaptation in a harsh environment and a wonderful example of symbiosis in nature. This time, while we were driving along the Apache Trail Loop and stopped to walk around, I carefully fixed my hand sideways between the ribs of the young saguaro growing near the road and felt its cool leathery smoothness and hoped with all my heart that we humans are smart enough to do nothing to destroy these special beings.
|The saguaro with its "nurse."|