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Carnegiea gigantea

Carnegiea gigantea, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Caryophyllales
Familia: Cactaceae
Subfamilia: Cactoideae
Tribus: Pachycereeae
Genus: Carnegiea
Species: Carnegiea gigantea


Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose


* Journal of the New York Botanical Garden. Lancaster, PA 9:188, t. 32. 1908
* USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Data from 07-Oct-06]. 310457

Vernacular names
Dansk: Kæmpekaktus
English: Saguaro
Español: Saguaro
Lietuvių: Didžioji karnegija
Nederlands: Saguaro
Português: Saguaro
Svenska: Saguaro

The saguaro (play /səˈwɑroʊ/; scientific name Carnegiea gigantea) is a large, tree-sized cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in the U.S. state of Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, a small part of Baja California in the San Felipe Desert and an extremely small area of California, U.S. The saguaro blossom is the State Wildflower of Arizona.

The common name saguaro came into the English language through the Spanish language, originating in the O'odham language.

Some saguaro are "crested" due to fasciation, instead of having arms.

Saguaros have a relatively long life span. They take up to 75 years to develop a side arm. The arms themselves are grown to increase the plant's reproductive capacity (more apices equal more flowers and fruit). The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizona grow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson, Arizona. Some specimens may live for more than 150 years;[1] the largest known saguaro is the Champion Saguaro. It grows in Maricopa County, Arizona, and is 13.8 meters (45.3 ft) tall with a girth of 3.1 meters (10 ft). These cacti can grow anywhere from 15 to 50 feet. They grow slowly from seed, and not at all from cuttings. Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater. The cactus will visibly expand, holding in the rainwater. It conserves the water and slowly consumes it.


The spines on saguaro having a height less than 2 meters grow rapidly, up to a millimeter per day. When held up to the light or bisected, alternating light and dark bands transverse to the long axis of spines can be seen. These transverse bands have been correlated to daily growth. In columnar cacti, spines almost always grow in aureoles which originate at the apex of the plant. Individual spine growth reaches mature size in the first season and then cease to grow. Areoles are moved to the side and the apex continues to grow upwards. Thus, the older spines are towards the base of a columnar cactus and newer spines are near the apex. Current studies are underway to examine the relationship of carbon and isotope ratios in the tissues of spines to the past climate and photosynthetic history of the plant (acanthochronology).[2]

Saguaro flowers

The night blooming white and yellow flowers appear April through June and the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures by late June. Saguaro flowers are self incompatible thus require cross pollination. Large quantities of pollen are required for complete pollination as there are numerous ovules. A well-pollinated fruit will contain several thousand tiny seeds.

The major pollinators are bats, primarily the lesser long-nosed bat, feeding on the nectar from the night-blooming flowers, which often remain open in the morning. There are a number of floral characteristics geared toward bat pollination: nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above the ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. One additional evidence is that the amino acids in the pollen appear to help sustain lactation in bats. The flowers remain open into the daylight hours and continue to produce nectar after sunrise. Doves and bees appear to be the primary daytime pollinators.


The ruby red fruit ripen in June. Each fruit contains around 2000 seeds plus sweet fleshy connective tissue. The fruit are highly edible and prized by local people. The O'odham tribes have a long and rich history of saguaro fruit use.

Saguaro boot on display at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ

Native birds such as Gila woodpeckers, purple martins, house finches, and gilded flickers live inside holes in saguaros. Flickers excavate larger holes higher on the stem.[3] The nest cavity is deep, the parents and young entirely hidden from view. The saguaro creates callus tissue on the wound. When the saguaro dies, and soft flesh rots the callus remains behind, a so called "saguaro boot," which was used by natives for storage.

The Gila woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) create new nest holes each season rather than reuse the old ones, leaving convenient nest holes for other animals, such as elf owls, flycatchers, and wrens.[4] In recent years, early-breeding, aggressive, non-native birds have taken over the nests to the detriment of elf owls who breed and nest later.


Harming a saguaro in any manner, including cactus plugging, is illegal by state law in Arizona, and when houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected.


* The ribs of the saguaro were used for construction and other purposes by Native Americans. A fine example can be seen in the roofing of the cloisters of the Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O'odham lands near Tucson, Arizona.
* The Seri people of northwestern Mexico used the plant which they call mojépe for a number of purposes.


The saguaro is often used as an emblem in commercials and logos that attempt to convey a sense of the southwest, even if the product has no connection to Arizona, or the Sonoran Desert. For instance, no saguaros are found within 250 miles (400 km) of El Paso, Texas, but the silhouette is found on the label of Old El Paso brand products. Though the geographic anomaly has lessened in recent years, Western films once enthusiastically placed saguaros in Monument Valley of Arizona, as well as New Mexico, Utah and Texas. There are no wild saguaros anywhere in such western U.S. states as Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, or Nevada, nor in the high deserts of northern Arizona. To point this out the Texas rockabilly band the Reverend Horton Heat has a song "Ain't No Saguaro In Texas".



1. ^ "Life Cycle of the Saguaro" (PDF). Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. 2008. http://ai.desertmuseum.org/center/edu/docs/1-2_SaguaroTales_lifeCycle.pdf. Retrieved 2008-05-20.
2. ^ English NB, Dettman DL, Sandquist DR and DG Williams (2007) Annual and sub-annual variations of δ18O, δ13C and F14C in the spines of a columnar cactus, Carnegiea gigantea. Oecologia 154:247-258. DOI 10.1007/s00442-007-0832-x.
3. ^ Mark Elbroch; Eleanor Marie Marks, C. Diane Boretos (2001). Bird tracks and sign. Stackpole Books. p. 311. ISBN 0811726967. http://books.google.com/books?id=1avqcmYRwrcC. "Cavities in saguaro cactuses in the Southwest are common. Both gilded flickers and gila woodpeckers make these cavities for nesting but they often choose different locations on the cactus. The stouter bills of the gilded flickers allow them to cut cavities through the wooden ribls near the top of the cactus where the ribs converge. Gila woodpeckers stay at midlevel on the cactus where the ribs are separated enough to cut a cavity between them. Cavities in saguaros are cut out by these birds the year before they are inhabited. The excavated cactus secretes a fluid that hardens into a scab, thus preventing water loss, which could kill the cactus, as well as waterproofing the inside of the next cavity."
4. ^ "Gila woodpecker". Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/animals/birds/animals/gilawoodpecker.html. Retrieved 2011-01-24. "Although they do not use them immediately, waiting first for the sap to harden, Gila woodpeckers excavate cavities in cacti and trees as nesting sites. Females typically lay two broods a year of 3 to 5 eggs, which incubate for 14 days. Once abandoned, the cavities are occupied by reptiles, rodents and small birds like kestrels, elf owls, flycatchers and wrens. In the desert, the woodpeckers perform the important ecological function of removing unhealthy flesh from the saguaro cactus. Some insects on which it feeds carry diseases, harmless to the bird, which damage the cactus and leave discolorations. The marks signal “Here be larvae” to the bird, and as it excavates the insects, it also cuts away the diseased tissue. As the sap hardens, the cactus is healed, and the excavation becomes a convenient nesting site."


* Benson, L. (1981). The Cacti of Arizona. University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0509-8.
* Felger, Richard; Mary B. Moser. (1985). People of the desert and sea: ethnobotany of the Seri Indians. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
* Drezner TD (2005) Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea, Cactaceae) growth rate over its American range and the link to summer precipitation. Southwest Nat 50:65–68.

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Source: Wikipedia , Wikispecies: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License