Families of the Sonoran Desert

Nature Reflects the Circle of Life in Saguaros

By Eddie Rodieck

We all know how important having family nearby can be in providing protection, love, and warmth. The role of family is reflected daily right here in the Sonoran Desert in the life cycle of the gentle giants known as the saguaro cactus. If you look closely, you can see families grow and fall together quietly through the years as one of nature’s truly spectacular wonders.

Saguaros, which only grow in the Sonoran Desert, take a very long time to grow and are so slow growing that they typically only reach between 1-1.5 inches in the first 8 years of their life. Through pollination by birds, young saguaro will sometimes begin growing in clusters, spending the early stages of their life cycle hidden under the protective shade of an Ironwood, Palo Verde, or Mesquite tree. These trees, known as “Nurse Trees,” give the young saguaros the protection they need to begin life just as a mother does with its own young.

Protected from the harsh sun and heat of the desert in sheltered groups, these young cacti grow strong together. Unlike the solitary saguaros that we normally see, these saguaros often thrive as a member of a family with the protection offered by its nurse tree.

The saguaro will reach the ripe age of 35 years old before producing its first flowers and, usually between 50-70 years old, they begin their longest growth period, which is when they grow their first branch. Once they reach 125 years of age, a saguaro is considered an adult. Saguaros typically die between 150-175 years old, but some live as long as 200 years.

You may wonder what happens to these groups of saguaros as they age over time as well as their “Nurse Trees.” One need only venture into the desert to search for clustered families of saguaros to discover the answer. As you find these families standing majestically throughout our desert landscape, you can see them with the same clustered groups they began their lives with a century ago.

Often, protectively at their feet, you will see the remains of the nurse tree who once had provided them with the nurturing shade that helped them to grow and survive in the harsh Arizona sun. Like staunch sentries watching over the body of their mother, the saguaros pay homage to the tree that gave them an opportunity to grow.

From our family at Cherry Landscape to yours, may you always find yourself surrounded with the strength and love of family for many generations to come.

To learn more about the saguaro cactus or landscaping for the Sonoran Desert, contact Cherry Landscape at (520) 292-9776 or visit us online at www.cherrylandscape.com.