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Serenity Series - Arizona Desert Sunset - Saguaro Cactus

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The Saguaro Cactus can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall. Saguaros are endemic to the Sonoran Desert and are found only in Western Sonora in Mexico and in Southern Arizona in the US – although plants are occasionally found in Southeastern California. Elevation is a limiting factor to its environment, as the saguaro is sensitive to extended frost or cold temperatures. Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. They may grow their first side arm any time from 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. A Saguaro without arms is called a spear. Arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity, as more apices lead to more flowers and fruit.

A Saguaro is able to absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, visibly expanding in the process, while slowly using the stored water as needed. This characteristic enables the Saguaro to survive during periods of drought. The Saguaro cactus is a common image in Mexican culture and American Southwest films. As many as 25 arms may grow on one plant. They are slow growing but routinely live to 150 or 200 years old. They are the largest cactus in the United States. Their roots are shallow yet wide, growing only to 6 inches (150 mm) deep, but extend as wide as the plant is tall.

The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizona grow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson. Saguaros grow slowly from seed, never from cuttings, and grow to be over 40 feet (12.2 metres) in height. The largest known living saguaro is the Champion Saguaro growing in Maricopa County, Arizona, measuring 45.3 feet (13.8 metres) high with a girth of 10 feet (3.1 metres). The tallest saguaro ever measured was an armless specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 feet (23.8 metres) in height before it was toppled in 1986 by a windstorm. When rain is plentiful and the Saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200–4,800 pounds (1,500–2,200 kg).

The white, waxy flowers appear in April through June, opening well after sunset and closing in mid-afternoon. They continue to produce nectar after sunrise. The Flowers require cross-pollination. Large quantities of pollen are required for complete pollination. A well-pollinated fruit contains several thousand tiny seeds. Main pollinators are honey bees, bats, and white-winged doves. In most years, honey bees, and birds such as Costa's Hummingbird, the Black-chinned Hummingbird, the Broad-billed Hummingbird, the Hooded Oriole, Scott's Oriole, the Gila Woodpecker, the Gilded Flicker, the Verdin, and the House Finch are the main contributors for fruit.

The primary nocturnal pollinator is the Lesser Long-nosed Bat, feeding on the nectar. A number of floral characteristics are geared toward bat pollination: nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above ground, durable blooms that can withstand a Bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. Further, the amino acids in the pollen appear to help sustain lactation in Bats. The ruby red fruits are 2.4 to 3.5 inches (6 to 9 cm) long and ripen in June, each containing around 2,000 seeds, plus sweet, fleshy connective tissue. The fruits are edible and prized by local people.

The O'odham tribes have a long history of saguaro fruit use. The Tohono O’odham tribes celebrate the beginning of their summer growing season with a ceremony using a fermented drink made from the bright red fruit, to summon rains vital for their crops.
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