When you are not higher than 4,000 feet in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, you have a good opportunity to see a saguaro cactus. The stately stick-like cactus with possible multiple or no arms growing from its central column cannot be missed. Most arms will grow upward unless a hard frost caused them to grow downward. These cacti can be 16 feet tall when 100 years old and as tall as 45 feet when 200 years old, and again some with or without arms! The saguaro is a symbol of the west.
Often you’ll observe the saguaro cactus growing under a palo verde, referred to as its “nurse plant”. The palo verde provides the cactus protection from the sun and frost, yet as years go by the cactus may take water and nutrients sometimes to the nurse plant’s detriment.
When the saguaro cactus buds, which can number 100, pop their white flowers in the spring, birds, moths, bats and butterflies are attracted to the flower’s sweet nectar. The flowers gets pollinated and mature into a fruit. In the summer, the red fruit provides nutrients for wildlife and can be harvested by people, but be sure to get written permission to collect the fruit because saguaros are protected under the Arizona Native Plant Law. The fruit can be eaten raw or boiled and strained to make jellies.
The saguaro blossom is the Arizona state wildflower and the palo verde is the Arizona state tree. Arizona takes their cacti seriously as I recently learned it is illegal to shoot a cactus, ram into it with your vehicle or dig one up without a permit. Why anyone would do any of those things is beyond me. I believe the cacti should be left alone to be enjoyed by us all.