One of the joys of living in southern Arizona is getting to see the saguaro cacti. I can see them all around town and there are large “forests” of them in the Sonoran Desert.
So following my retweet of the saguaros being cut down, it occurs to me that the extraordinary nature of the saguaro may not be common knowledge. Therefore, let us talk about this marvelous vegetative creature.
There’s a fairytale quality to the origin of this cactus. They sound more like how you make a unicorn or a cockatrice than a plant. “Born from an egg laid by a rooster under the Dog Star and incubated by a serpent.” “Sprung from the drops of blood from a martyred saint.”
Well, the saguaro fruit must be eaten by a coyote or a cactus wren and deposited in the shade of an ironwood to nurse. No, really.
Mesquite or palo verde will also work, but the cactus requires a nurse tree. The seeds can be eaten by a coyote, but a dove or a quail will digest them instead of passing them whole.
In the event the proper animal ate them and pooped in the proper nurse tree, it will take a decade for the saguaro to grow more than two inches tall.
Between 50-100 years, the first arm appears. It will likely flower before this, in its thirties. The flowers must be pollinated, probably by bats.
By this point, it will have outlived its nurse (and probably outcompeted it.) Those cactus with dozens of arms? OLD.
The cactus is not considered an adult until it is over a hundred years old. It can live to be two hundred, with luck.
To get away from the cold facts for a minute...saguaros, if you live around them, are, uh...Not just plants. There’s stuff going on there. People stuff. Saguaros have souls.
I realize I romanticize plants all the time, so you can feel free to dismiss this as my usual bullshit, but saguaros are...yeah. Okay, you ever met a tree that you thought was big and old and maybe like a person? The whole species is like that. Saguaros are special.
Giant redwoods are a little too obviously gods, any fool can see it, but saguaros are something else.
Anyway. It is worth noting that even if you dismiss my half-baked garden faith, saguaros are the pinnacle of a web of ecosystem arrangements. Three other species, minimum, are required to make a saguaro. Wren, ironwood, bat. Or coyote, mesquite, hummingbird. But three minimum.
This is why they’re so ultimately fragile. They rely on the others to even exist. They are a group effort! But they do repay it. Dozens of species live in them, on them, and by them.
Woodpeckers dig holes, elf owls live in the holes, hawks nest on top, everybody eats the fruit.
They are the nexus of the web. They’re special. Natives in the area have very respectful terms for them, though I do not know enough to give you any details. They’re one of the great goods of the world,and cutting them down is a cruel thing.
Well, no, one more thing. I joke sometimes that when I die, the primary witnesses for the defense will be all the turtles I helped across the road. I’m pretty sure if a saguaro spoke up for someone, they’d halt the proceedings and send you on your way at once.
And hey—we get down on humanity sometimes, we really do, and that border wall is an abomination, but the people of Arizona made laws to protect saguaros. Imperfect, flawed, but by god, they recognized and they’re trying. Credit where due.