Friday, September 11, 2009

The Arizona saguaro

Last night, my dotter reported that it was late autumn in her part of Alaska. Here in Prescott, the tang of autumn is just beginning to overtake the heat of summer. Once it cools down further, I'll probably think again about visiting the deserts to the south and west. All of which, in turn, brings to mind Arizona's official symbol, the giant saguaro cactus.

Look closely. This is the forest primeval -- Arizona style. Which is to say, a "forest" of saguaro climbing up the mountain slope. Comparatively young plants at that; though tall, few of the cacti feature arms, unlike the big guys below. And I mean BIG: the trunks grow to be 40-50 ft. tall.

The lore has it that you won't find saguaros above 3000 ft. elevation; too cold ... they can be killed by a deep frost. However, the LH and I found saguaros prospering at 4000 ft. elevation on a protected slope on Sadie's Peak near Yava way west of town. Heading south on I-17, the first saguaros appear on the south side of a mesa as the highway begins its descent toward Black Canyon City.

If you're like me, you prefer your deserts like your forests -- reasonably quiet, with a minimum of tourists. For example, heading toward Phoenix, but driving the old Black Canyon Highway through Bumblebee and Cordes. It's dirt all the way, bumpy most of the way -- but takes you into a different world than nearby I-17. My own favorite, as I've noted in the past, is to go to the west on either the Hillside Road or the Bagdad Road.
That's where I found these two fine old specimens growing along the Santa Maria River.

Not all saguaros are desert majesties, as this picture demonstrates. Those strange-looking growths at the ends of the arms are actually flower buds.

Here's a closer look at the flower buds -- and the actual blossoms (those pictures below are courtesy of the Arizona state government site). The flowers are followed by large, juicy red fruit which are a delicacy for native desert dwellers.

The architecture of the saguaro allows it to expand or contract like an accordion, depending upon how much water is available. The pulpy center is encircled by strong wooden ribs. There are some great examples of saguaro bones at the Dead Things store down in Yarnell, if it is still in business. (Or you can click here, to see pictures I took two years ago.)

Like old oaks and other trees, saguaros may grow gnarled as they survive accidents, nesting birds, the weather and the years.

Woodpeckers are the first birds to peck out a cavity in a saguaro, which, in turn secretes a surface that hardens and protects the trunk from rot and disease. The result (below) is called a saguaro shoe, which provides a nesting spot for several species of birds. That, by the way, is my own saguaro shoe given me by a neighbor.


azlaydey said...

Your photos are a perfect example of why saguaros are called "stately".

Anonymous said...

I remember that the Phoenix New Times rag had an annual Bizzaro Saguaro photo contest. It was amazing to see the shapes and "configurations" the saguaros could grow into.

The Pima still harvest the fruit, and the jellies/jams are yummy. The blossoms are the AZ state flower.

Now that I no longer live in AZ (heart break), whenever I drive into the state and see my first saguaro, I imagine that those arms are waving a hail and hearty "Hello!" and welcome greeting.

The sad part is those crazies who think saguaros are good for target practice.

Eventually, saguaros do give up the ghost. When DH and I were hiking around the Tonto National Monument outside of Globe, near Roosevelt Lake, in the quiet of the afternoon we heard a LOUD "Whump". The ranger we met on the trail said it was an old saguaro that fell down. What a sound it made!

Thanks, GJ, for your posts. I love them!

~Anon in AV.

Jean W said...

Great pics, Interesting and informative.


Granny J said...

lady -- the saguaro literally begs to be photographed! I can barely imagine a bad picture of one...

anon av -- it's really too bad hat you can't pack up and move back -- but then you wouldn't need my posts to remind you of Arizona.

jeanw -- thank you, ma'am.

Anonymous said...

Someday, I hope to see saguaro flowers like in your photo. Never have. What month are they most likely to bloom?

Granny J said...

boonie -- I've read that the month is June; presumably, the higher up the cacti are, the later they bloom. The real problem is that the flowers are so completely out of reach. It helps to find a cliff or some such overlooking a big saguaro to really see the blossoms.

Cathy said...

I do love the climate here in Prescott, but these photos make me a little homesick for the Tucson area desert of part of my childhood.

Granny J said...

Cathy -- I enjoyed the desert around Phoenix -- 60 years ago, before Phx grew into LA Jr. Now, as I've said often before, I confine my desert fix to the Bumblebee basin and the Santa Maria area. Especially the latter, because there'ssomething quite magical about a free flowing stream in the midst of a hot desert.

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