A slow-growing, mighty plant with tremendous stature and authority.
At approx. 120 years of age, it begins to produce flowers.
The mature plant has a root system capable of holding up to 200 gallons of water – enough to sustain it for an entire year!
They absorb and store huge amounts of water after the summer rains, which can increase the weight of a large speciment by 750-900kg. The stored water enables the saguaro to flower every year, even if the rainfall has been lower than average. They are pollinated by bats, birds and bees, with the seeds dispersed by birds that eat the juicy, red fruits.
The Saguaro cactus is the largest cactus that grows in the United States. It grows in tall columns and sprouts arms at 75 years of age. The plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The skin of the Saguaro is thick, waxy, light green, and serrated into ridges.
These ridges allow the cactus to expand like an accordion during rainy seasons to hold more water. Long, pointy spikes run down the ridges. The cacti has notably shallow roots; there is a main root that reaches up to 2-3 feet deep while the other roots only extend about a foot deep, though they fan out far and wide.
The Saguaro’s bell-shaped flowers are large, white, and fragrant. They are typically 3 inches wide and bloom during the spring. The flowers are pollinated by bats, birds, and insects that feed on the nectar. The fruit of the Saguaro is cylindrical, scaly, and about 2-3 inches long. The color matures from green to red and splits open during the summer when ripe. The flesh of the fruit is bright, luscious red and contains many black seeds.
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.
In June, American Indian tribes traditionally live in “cactus camps” in areas dense in Saguaros to harvest the fruit.
As such, the saguaro fruit is important to a number of tribes. When not eaten fresh, the fruit was often dried and could be baked into cakes. The pulp was also frequently turned into preserves. Syrup was also often made of the pulp.
This syrup or the fruit itself could be fermented to create a wine, which had important ceremonial purposes among several tribes. The fruit and syrup can be added to water to create a refreshing drink.
The seeds were often ground and used as flour, made into cakes, or to create a peanut butter-like paste.
Ribs from the Saguaro cactus had numerous uses:
- splints for
- broken bones, and
- mixed with ocotillo, grass, and mud to build houses (Phillips & Comus).
- They were also used in games,
- for instruments,
- animal traps, and to
- make arrows.
- Perhaps most importantly, they were shaped into tools to pick the Saguaro fruit.
- The saguaro heals itself from wounds caused things such as woodpecker holes by creating a tissue. This tissue is used by tribes as a container for water and food.
- The saguaro thorns were used for tattooing.
- The seeds are sometimes used for chicken feed or pressed for oil.
The Tohono O’odham organised their traditional calendar around the saguaro’s annual fruiting cycle and considered the species to be so important that plants were regarded as fellow humans who should not be hurt.
Healing: The Saguaro Cactus is a powerful healing presence. Its stature and dignity symbolize the shift you are undergoing in relation to your own personal power.
The masculine principle within your psyche is rebalancing at this time, and you will find yourself able to receive Grandfathers Wisdom's sacred knowledge, which resides within your heart, just as it lives at the center of this proud, majestic plant.
The folks of Grandfather's garment reach out to protect your Earth Walk; his drum and walking stick are visible to the external world for they are essential gifts he brings to the journey.
Arizona State Flower (USA)
In 1901 the saguaro’s blossom was adopted as the official territorial flower, and later, in 1931, it was confirmed as the state flower. The saguaro cactus typically blooms in May and June. It is one of the most unique state flowers, and is characterized by having a waxy feel, but fragrant aroma.
There may be hundreds of flowers on a saguaro cactus that bloom just several at a time over a period of more than a month. The saguaro flowers have a short life; they open at night and close permanently during the next day.
Many of the blossoms will become pollinated and, later in the summer, the flowers become red-fleshed fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population.