Outsiders are often surprised first that cacti bloom and then, at the utter beauty of our state flower, the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), also known as pitahaya. The nocturnally –produced white flowers studding the stately cactus are a sight to behold and one which native Arizonans never tire of. Since this month and next are bloom season for our saguaro I thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at it.
The saguaro cactus takes its time in life, slow growing and slow to mature. It doesn't flower until it hits 35 years of age and it won't grow its first arm until it hits what is to us, old age - 65 to 70 years old. It is finally considered "mature" at the ripe young age of 125 years old. By then it will have reached up to 50 feet in height and weigh up to six tons.
How suguaro became Arizona's state flower
Although most early Arizonans considered the flower of the saguaro cactus our official flower, it wasn’t made so by statute until the 1930s. At the time, the plant’s name was spelled “sahuaro” and has since been corrected in the public records.
The saguaro isn’t just the parent of gorgeous white flowers. Our state’s Native American tribes used the plant for both food and for building materials. Saguaro fruit was used to make ceremonial wine and jelly and the seeds for chicken feed. Our Sonoran animals also eat the fruit while woodpeckers make their homes within the tall columns.
Grow your own saguaro
Growing the cactus from seed is easy. Germinate the seeds in a commercial cactus mix or other gritty medium. After the seeds sprout, keep the seedlings in a shady spot and water monthly. Expect slow growth. In fact, your seedling will only grow about an inch the first year. In fact, the National Park Service claims that the saguaro will only reach 1.5 inches after 8 years. Learn more about growing the saguaro from seed on the National Park Service website.
Image: By Ken Bosma CC BY 2.0