Saguaro cactus stands boldly like a Sentinel in the Arizona desert

Saguaros are the signature plant of the Sonoran Desert. Silhouetting one against a flaming sunset remains irresistible to photographers – no matter how many times it’s been done.

Saguaro cactus in natural desert habitat
Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea ) can grow over 40 feet tall.

Saguaros are called the sentinels of the desert – and it always gives me chills to think about why they got that name. About how well it fits and how much it says about this amazing place I call home.


These cactuses stand along cliff sides and rocky canyons like great, prickly guardians. They disappear into desert horizons that are as vast and limitless as a young girl’s hopes.


They endure longer than most childish dreams.

What makes saguaros so special?


They defy a climate that makes leafier plants wither and die. They provide nesting sites for native woodpeckers and owls. They give resources to Native Americans.

They sing when the wind passes over their needles.

In the triple-digit summer days when rain is too far away to even imagine, they rise above a landscape that is all about survival. All about biding your time until the monsoon puts a burst of rain between you and a brutal sun.

Saguaros have pleats along their columns that contract in the dry times and expand as the plant takes in moisture. They have shallow root systems that spread wide so they can grab any bit of rain that falls.

They are perfectly and magnificently adapted to this desert. They can live more than 100 years here, watching the folly of human activity. Watching the rhythms of the native animals from dawn to dusk and back again.

This post provided by:

Linda Valdez
Columnist for The Arizona Republic
Author of “Crossing the Line: A Marriage Across Borders”

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