Taxon of the Week: The Saguaro Cactus
©2011 Duncan S. Bell
The saguaro (pronounced sah-wah-roh) cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) can grow to over 45 feet in height and is the largest cactus in the United States. It can survive for over 150 years but grows very slowly and generally does not start reproducing until about 35 years of age. The saguaro cactus only occurs in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and is a critical component of the desert ecosystem providing homes and food for a variety of wildlife.
The saguaro cactus is an iconic component of the landscape in Arizona and northern Mexico with an entire National Park dedicated to preserving and celebrating these cacti (Saguaro National Park in Arizona). In addition to Arizona and Mexico, a few isolated populations of this species occur in the far southeastern corner of California along the Arizona/California border. This means that California can claim the saguaro cactus as part of our diverse native flora!
The saguaro cactus is an excellent example of a plant that is rare within California but more common outside the state (California Rare Plant Rank/CRPR 2B). As such, this species is tracked by the CNDDB with only about 30 occurrences known in California. By tracking species that are rare in California but more common outside the state, we are helping to conserve the entire geographic range of widespread species and protecting evolutionary processes and the genetic diversity of these species.
If you happen to come across a saguaro cactus in California, please submit your observation to the CNDDB using our Online Field Survey Form.