A saguaro without arms is called a spear.
The first arm of a saguaro typically starts growing sometime between 50 and 70 years of age. It only grows about an inch a year, and those with five or more arms such as the one above are estimated to be about 200 years old.
That would mean that this particular cactus was born around the year 1816. Imagine all that it has experienced during it’s lifetime!
Saguaros are so popular that the state of Arizona has problems with thieves that dig them up and sell them illegally. It is interesting to note that the National Park is now putting microchips in them to help identify stolen plants!
In the spring, the saguaro produce white flowers on the upper stems of mature plants so this is an especially good time to visit. Later, sweet edible red fruit appear, traditionally used by the local Indian tribes as food and also to make wine.
Most of the older Saguaros have visible holes in them. Native birds such as Gila woodpeckers, and purple martins excavate large holes. The nest cavity is deep, and the parents and young are entirely hidden from view.
The Saguaro is not the only type of cactus in the Sonoran Desert. Here is a Barrel Cactus. These are interesting in the fact that they always lean to the SW- looking for the best sun. Because their root system is so shallow, you will often find them toppled over.
Here in the rocky hills of Saguaro National Park, you can also find ancient petroglyphs left by the prehistoric people of this region.
Most southwestern rock art pre-dates modern written history and had it’s origins hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago. These unique drawings were created by etching, pecking or scraping designs into the surface of the rocks.
What do they mean?
Well, nobody knows for sure. They could be spiritual symbols, boundary markers or landmarks, records of important events, or just simply ancient graffiti.
Either way, it was amazing to see this ancient art up close and personal.
If you are ever in the Tucson area, take a drive out to Saguaro National Park and check out this beautiful part of the Sonoran Desert.
Facilities in the park include 150 miles of well marked and maintained hiking trails, and shorter walking trails with interpretative information available.
It is definitely worth the visit!