Dandy Designs
Saguaro: The Old-Timer of the Desert
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The supreme symbol of the American Southwest.

saguaro cactus

The saguaro (pronounced sah-wah-roh) cactus is found only in the Sonoran Desert areas of southern Arizona and northern Mexico and a small area of southeast California. The familiar look of this plant is a symbol of the old desert southwest. Even though you might see them as rather primitive and plain-looking plants, they are highly complex and marvelously designed.

The saguaro consists of a tall, fluted column 18 to 24 inches in diameter and 15 to 50 feet tall. It’s amazing how old these plants are when you consider that they grow very slowly, sometimes an inch a year depending on water supply. Many of them develop arms, perhaps after seventy-five years of growing as a single stem. Plants with 5 arms may be 200 years old.

The flowers of the saguaro are white with yellow centers and they bloom during April to June. They open at night, when the hot sun is not beating down on them, and they close by noon the next day, never to open again. The saguaro flowers can only be fertilized by cross-pollination so there must be a creature to carry pollen from one plant to another. Because of the night-blooming, they are pollinated largely by bats. Bats drink the nectar from the flowers of the saguaro and travel from plant to plant transferring pollen as they go. The symbiotic relationship between the saguaros and the bats is not a product of mere chance. It shows design.

If a flower is successfully pollinated, it will produce a green, oval-shaped fruit with bright red pulp which is consumed by many desert creatures. The hungry desert creatures aid the saguaro in spreading its seeds. Only a small percentage of the seeds will ever germinate, but that’s alright because each flower produces as many as 4000 seeds.

Not only does the saguaro have a symbiotic relationship with the bats who consume its nectar and the many creatures who consume its fruit, but it also provides shelter for many desert animals. Saguaros become apartment houses for birds, lizards, desert rodents, and reptiles, as well as a whole entourage of insects. Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers drill out cavities in the saguaro to build their nests. When they leave, the cavities are used by other birds, including elf owls.

The saguaro is remarkably well designed for life in a dry climate. The outside of the plant is designed like an accordion with expanding pleats. This allows it to expand to store huge quantities of water when the rains come. As with other cacti, the saguaro has needles rather than leaves to reduce loss of moisture by transpiration.

The saguaro is designed in a marvelous way for living in the harsh conditions of the desert while providing food and shelter for various desert creatures. A Dandy Design in the desert.

“saguaro,” “gila woodpecker.” “elf owl,” Wikipedia




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