Saguaro: On the Giant Human Cacti of the West

Saguaro (sah-WAH-roh) National Park has a simple raison de etre. It was basically founded to protect one species – the Saguaro, the largest cactus in America. These giants have long symbolized the American West, but in fact they are limited in geography to the Sonoran desert, and then to a relatively narrow band of Southern Arizona climate that suits a saguaro’s protracted adolescence. How did this one plant growing in a limited part of Arizona come to be so symbolic of the American West that it merits its own National Park? I think to see them up close is to better understand how they have become such an icon.

They are huge – some grow to be 50ft tall, and at 6 tons have trunks you can barely wrap your arms around. In the sparse desert landscape, this Big Friendly Giant dominates, and with a life span of 100-150 (some say 200) years, they are definitely the elder statemen of the desert. But there are many trees in the West that are taller, wider, flower more profusely, no? Redwoods are magnificent, but still don’t hold the same place in American iconography. Continue reading “Saguaro: On the Giant Human Cacti of the West”