Tag Archives: saguaro cactus

why do saguaro arms droop?

One of my favorite Saguaro Cactus resides beside the wash that separates us from the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. He’s affectionately called “Elephant”.
elephant saguaro
elephant saguaro

So what causes a Saguaro’s arms to droop? It’s because it’s composed mainly of water so when it’s exposed to severe frost or extended periods of freezing temperatures, the Saguaro’s soft tissues turns to mush and can even liquefy. The damaged tissue rots which then can weaken surrounding tissues, causing stems to shrivel or become wavy and arms to droop toward the ground.

If the damage is too extreme, decomposition spreads into the healthy tissue and destroys it, turning the rotten tissue into a black gelatinous mess that oozes out and runs down the exterior of the cactus. Saguaros can live from a few months to many years after the fatally damaging frost.
frost damage on saguaro
decaying saguaro

If the Saguaro is able to recover, an arm may continue to grow after it has drooped over or it might sprout a new arm at the end of the damaged area. These survivors are prizes to photographers. Many have portfolios full of
interesting arm position images. I’m always on the lookout for arms that have fallen almost to the ground but continue to grow. Eye level blooms!
saguaro blooms at eye level

(above summarized from web searches and (Steenbergh and Lowe: 1983)

tres amigos

I’ve been hearing about Tres Amigos ever since I first starting hiking with the MSC so I was excited to finally have a chance to photograph them. What makes them unusual is not that there are three standing so close together but that they are in perfect alignment….as if they had been planted. The general consensus is that it’s a fluke but maybe someone planted them about 200 years ago? Either way, they make a wonderful photo op. We’ve been having stormy weather for a few days so I thought these three friends would look great with a kind of antique look.


Saguaro Cactus have been nicknamed The Sentinels of the Desert and it’s easy to see why. This morning we did a 5 1/2 mile hike through a forest of these amazing cactus and learned all about them thanks to our MSC hike leader, Dave Lorenz. One of the most fascinating things is that the Saguaro seed is smaller than a poppy seed! We don’t see many baby Saguaros because of the extraordinary set of circumstances that have to exist in order for them to germinate.

saguaro fruit

saguaro fruit
When Saguaro fruit is ripe, it literally explodes. This spews seeds everywhere. We’ve never witnessed it but I keep trying to catch it. The fruit is delicious and to this day is harvested by the Tohono O’odham. As you might imagine, it’s very difficult to reach. Click here to learn more about the process.

Or click here for an excellent video of the process.

Follow-up: Our mouths were watering after viewing the video so Chris found an old tree stake just long enough to knock off a few fruits. They were delicious! We’ll be eating more in the next week 🙂
yummy saguaro fruit