For many people, the mere mention of Arizona conjures up images of the iconic Saguaro cactus with it’s tall slender lines and branches that look like arms. But there’s another cactus species that is often mistaken for an immature Saguaro that hasn’t grown its arms yet. The look alike is Arizona Barrel cactus; also known as a fishhook barrel cactus.
While the two cacti may look the same to the casual observer, knowing what to look for can help you see the difference between the two. Some of the features to compare are height, flower color, shape of spines and whether or not it has branches or arms.
Features that help distinguish Saguaro from Barrel cactus:
|Max height||40 feet (12 m)||10 feet (3 m)|
|Shape of spines||Straight||Curved|
Saguaro and barrel cactus factoids:
- The Saquaro flower is Arizona’s state flower and Saguaros are protected from destruction by state law; barrel cactuses are not protected.
- A Saguaro cactus is usually about 70 years old before it begins to grow branches (arms).
- The scientific name for Saguaro is Carnegiea gigantea. The species (first name) honors businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for his significant donations to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
- At least 15 species of barrel cactus grow in the Sonoran Desert. Many are relatively short and some are nearly perfectly round like a basketball.
Although the Saguaro cactus is an iconic symbol of Arizona, people often mistake the Arizona Barrel cactus for a Saguaro that hasn’t grown its arms yet. Knowing the difference between Saguaro and Arizona Barrel cactus won’t mean the difference between life and death, but it may help you better appreciate the diverse plant life found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.