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.

This post was provided by author and columnist Linda Valdez.

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 cliffsides 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 the brutal sun.

Saguaros have pleats along with 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.

Life cycle of a Saguaro


The newborn saguaro is most vulnerable during its first few years of life. Birds eat seeds and seedlings. People step on them. Thousands of young plants can die because of intense sun or heavy rain.


New saguaros survive best under shade or “nurse plants” such as palo verdes and mesquites.


Saguaros begin flowering after they grow about eight feet tall.


When saguaros reach about 75 years of age, they might begin sprouting branches or “arms.”

Old Age

The oldest saguaros may weigh more than 7 tons and grow taller than a four-story building.


Severe freezing, wind, lightning, vandalism, and disease are factors that result in saguaro damage or death. Saguaros seldom live more than 200 years.

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