Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose
Carnegia gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose orth. var.
Cereus giganteus Engelm.
Saguaro, Giant Saguaro
There is nothing like a saguaro. (Well, almost nothing. It looks fairly similar to cardón, an example of convergent evolution, wherein unrelated species sometimes evolve identical forms to adapt to similar habitats in different locations.) These tall, long-lived cacti (up to 150 years) are iconic of the American southwest. In fact, though, this is more due to moviemakers than to actual geographic distribution. Saguaros are found only in the Sonoran Desert—Arizona, a tiny part of California, and the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora. Sometimes a single column, sometimes branched, they serve as condominiums for birds and a few small mammals. Saguaros are on the decline now, increasingly protected.
These plants have always struck me as precariously top-heavy in appearance, with their relatively narrow, often dried looking bases and heavy, water-filled arms. But they possess a very strong support framework that persists, like an eerie skeleton, long after the cactus dies.
Identification: Saguaros reach 50' (15 m) in height and up to 24" (60 cm) in diameter, growing slowly. They remain a single column until they are about 75 years old, when they usually develop branches. Their size and shape are unmistakable. Flowers are white with yellow centers, about 3-4" (7.6-10 cm) around.
Edibility: Saguaro fruits and seeds are moderately digestible, and served as a major food source for the Papago and Pima Indians.
Carnegiea gigantea at George and Audrey DeLange's Arizona wildflower site
Carnegiea gigantea at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum Sonoran Desert Digital Library
Carnegiea gigantea at Southeastern Arizona Wildflowers and the Plants of the Sonoran Desert
Carnegiea gigantea on Desert-tropicals.com
Carnegiea gigantea on Blue Planet Biomes
Carnegiea gigantea on Wikipedia
Carnegiea gigantea on CalPhotos
Carnegiea gigantea as Compiled by the Master Gardeners of the University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension
Carnegiea gigantea on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Carnegiea gigantea on SEINet—the Southwest Environmental Information Network
Carnegiea gigantea description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Aug 2013.
Range: Zones 9-10: