Saguaro Cactus

Common Names:
Saguaro Cactus
Scientific name:
Carnegiea gigantea
Cereus giganteus
Elevation range:
600 to 6500 ft
Flowering Months:
April, May, June
Height | Length:
40-60 ft.
Life Cycle | Lifeform:
Stem succulent
Opens in the evening, Food for insects & larvae, Food for birds, Nesting place for birds
Ancestral Usage:
food, ritual or tobacco, basketry/tools, shelter
State Occurrences:
California Rare Plant Rank:
2B.2--Rare, Threatened, Endangered in CA/common elsewhere
Desert region:

The Saguaro cactus is the largest cactus in the United States and enduring symbol of the southwest. It often uses Desert Ironwood as a nurse plant as protection from the sun and flash floods. At only six feet tall, it might be 70 years of age, and can live to be as much as 200 years old. Found only in the Sonoran Desert, it is an important food source for Sonoran Desert wildlife, including birds, javelina, coyotes, rodents and many others. Gila Woodpeckers and Gilded Flickers excavate holes in Saguaros for nests and once abandoned, provide nesting habitat for Elf Owls, House Finches, Purple Martins, Screech Owls, various species of sparrows and many others. Hawks build nests amongst the "arms" which may be used by other avian wildlife such as Great Horned Owls, Ravens and others. The fruit of this plant was a very important food source for the Papago and Pima indians who also used the ribs of dead plants as tools and for roofing. The fruit is still sourced today for jam and wine.

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Saguaro in the desert

Carnegia gigantea is the largest columnar cactus in the United States. It has ribs that expand after rain and contract during dry spells. The flesh is light green with a row of stiff spines covering the apex of every rib. Most individuals of this species have branches (arms) but single stem individuals do occur. Quartzsite, AZ | February 9, 2013

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Saguaro  in the desert

Carnegia gigantea stand tall above the shrubs in the Sonoran Desert. Superstition Wilderness, AZ | March 2013

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Saguaro in the desert

Detail of Carnegia gigantea ribs and spines. Spines are grayish white, are arranged in a starburst pattern and can be nearly 3 in. long. Quartzsite, AZ | April 2006

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Saguaro in the desert

Flowers of Carnegia gigantea (not shown) appear in late spring at the top of the main stem and branches. The flower is white and measures from 3.5 - 5 inches in diameter. Stamens are beige-tan and pistil is white. The flower is pollinated primarily by the Lesser Longnose Bat. Fruit is red and sweet, often being made into candy or jelly.  Quartzsite, AZ | February 2013

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Saguaro in the desert

Fallen soldier - Carnegia gigantea skeleton. Quartzsite, AZ | February 2013

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Saguaro in the desert

Lovely silhouette of Carnegia gigantea at sunset. Superstition Wilderness, AZ | March 2013