A Desert Dream-Come-True!

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Hi Friends!

What an amazing surprise we had on our recent visit to Arizona! Every year, in March or April, I love to spend  Spring Break visiting family in the Phoenix area. During my very first visit, over twenty-five years ago, I fell in love with the majestic Saguaro cactus. These beautiful giants only grow in the Sonoran Desert. Each time we hike in the desert, I always make the very same wish!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see my favorite cactus in bloom ~ just once in my lifetime?

The Saguaro typically blooms in May and June. Those are always busy months in my Midwest garden. I just love to be home tending my perennial and herb gardens in late Spring and early Summer. This Spring Break was a truly memorable one! Following a warmer Winter season in the desert, the Saguaro cacti are in bloom earlier than ever this year. So, we were able to enjoy these special blossoms for the very first time!

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We chose one of our favorite hiking places, the Usery Mountain Regional Park, to soak in all of the beauty of the Saguaros in bloom.  Ranger Brennan shared so much fascinating information about the Saguaros, along with great tips for the best hiking trails to see these long-awaited blossoms.  While the Saguaro flowers are usually very high on these tall cacti, Ranger B. told us to look for a Saguaro that had been touched by the frost, making one arm droop much lower.  If we could find one, we would have a chance to enjoy these special flowers at eye level. (Special thanks, Ranger B, for all the great tips!) Off we hiked, camera in hand, to make my dream come true!

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A Saguaro cactus must be at least 50 years old to make flowers. Production from bud to flower takes 10-14 days, depending upon the elevation and temperature in the desert. One Saguaro produces an average of 295 flowers, blooming two or three at a time, throughout May and June. Saguaros have a reproductive lifespan of over 100 years.

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The waxy, white, trumpet-shaped Saguaro flowers are about 3 inches (8cm) in diameter. Each flower lasts less than 24 hours. The flower blooms at night and closes by mid-afternoon. Since the pollen is large and heavy, the Saguaro flower cannot be pollinated by the wind. Saguaros have a very short time to attract pollinators!

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The Saguaros’ bloom time matches the northern migration time of their pollinators. The flowers are well-suited to the bats that come to pollinate the flowers at night. Rich in nectar, the strong flowers can withstand the bats’ weight. They bloom high above the ground near the bats’ flight path, and the blossoms emit a strong fragrance so that they are easy to locate in the dark.

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Saguaros continue to produce nectar in the morning and early afternoon. So, honey bees and birds come to pollinate the flowers during the day. The white-winged doves migrate from Mexico just in time for the Saguaro bloom in Arizona each year.

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As we hiked, we were overjoyed to find one Saguaro with a low-drooping arm. This was our chance to view the state flower of Arizona at eye level. What an amazing opportunity for a little ‘Morning Science’ lesson of our own!

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The droopy arm of the cactus was growing up toward the sun, with about 20 large buds. Earlier in the day, Ranger B. told us that he has even seen Saguaro cacti laying dead on the ground, with one arm still blooming prolifically! A dead cactus uses its stored moisture to nourish the flower blossoms. (Contrary to popular belief, the water stored in the Saguaro cactus is undrinkable and mildly toxic for humans.)

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Up close, the Saguaro flowers were all abuzz with pollinators. We had to wait in line for our chance to examine the blossom. It was such a thrill to touch the thick, waxy flower! We observed its center filled with yellow pollen. We could also see fruit beginning to form nearby.

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After the flowers are pollinated, they mature into ripe, red fruit. In June, a red ring first appears around the top of the growing Saguaro fruit. Soon the entire fruit ripens, splitting open to reveal its juicy, red pulp. Each Saguaro fruit contains up to 2,000 small, black seeds. This occurs during the driest time of the year, when rain has not fallen for over 100 days. So the ripe fruit will provide much-needed moisture and food for many desert creatures. Finches, woodpeckers, doves, and bats find nourishment from the fruits at the top of the Saguaro.  Javelinas, coyotes, and other desert mammals come to feed on the fallen fruit. Many people also enjoy eating the Saguaro fruit!

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The Native American, Tohono O’odham people have always harvested the Saguaro fruit. They continue this important tradition today. Using long poles, often made from Saguaro ribs, they pick the ripe fruit. June is the time when the Tohono O’odham people celebrate the beginning of summer and the new growing season. To bring rain, they drink a fermented juice, made from the bright, red fruit. (To watch a fascinating video about harvesting Saguaro fruit, click here.)

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What a wonderful, dream-come-true hike in the desert!

We feel so blessed to have experienced

this amazing bouquet of desert beauty up close.

(Hmmm…  I wonder what the Saguaro fruit tastes like?

Perhaps we can taste it on our next visit to the Sonoran desert!)

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Thanks so much for walking through the desert with us.

I have two other beautiful places to share soon.

Each time we visit Arizona, there are always exciting, new discoveries awaiting!

Sending sunshine!

♡Dawn

           P.S.   What interesting flower have you dreamed of seeing one day?

 

Desert Wisdom

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Hiking amidst the beautiful Saguaro cacti in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona

Hi Friends,

I’ve really grown! Now I look forward to hikes out into the desert! But it wasn’t always that way…

For the past twenty years, I’ve been visiting family in Arizona each year. Over the years, I have visited the desert Southwest in every season ~ Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. In the early years, I walked on the ‘sidewalks of the desert’…  through the neighborhood, along the golf course, through the zoo, parks, and so many beautiful places.

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Everything changed the first time I brought my {future} husband to meet my family in Arizona. He had grown up dreaming of the desert, growing cacti on his windowsill, and reading books about the desert throughout his childhood. Just imagine my surprise fear, the first time he suggested we go for a hike into the ‘real’ desert!!  It was all so unfamiliar, nothing at all like the Midwest where I happily live and garden.

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He took my hand and led me off the sidewalks, and into the ‘real’ desert. Over the years, our hikes into the desert grew longer and more adventuresome. There were some scary moments, on high trails, but I discovered the true beauty all around me! The Prickly Pears, the Ocotillos, the Fishhook Barrels, and the Jumping Chollas became familiar cacti. I learned to identify some of the beautiful wildflowers pushing their way up through the rock-hard desert sand.

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One Springtime morning, just a few years ago, we hiked a long way into the desert and stopped to admire the Saguaros. There were beautiful mountains rising in the distance everywhere around us. The red earth felt warm beneath our feet and the brilliant blue sky overhead took our breath away. He proposed… and I accepted!  Now we have a ‘Secret Place’ in the Sonoran desert that we return to each year. It’s a very special place to reflect, count our blessings,…  and dream!

The Tonto National Forest, in Arizona, after the heavy monsoon rains.

The Tonto National Forest, in Arizona, looks so lush and green after the heavy monsoon rains.

Whenever we are hiking in the desert, the powerful mountains and giant Saguaros always make me feel very, very small. Being in the desert makes my worries feel small, too. The natural beauty all around me just fills me with Gratitude. It feels like the perfect place for Yoga practice (except for the prickly needles, sharp rocks, rattlesnakes, lizards, and scorpions!). Perhaps the desert is better suited to a walking meditation. Just walking quietly, with the dry earth crunching under our footsteps.

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There is so much wisdom in the desert… and I am so grateful to return again and again to learn more! Now I feel comfortable surrounded by the desert flora (even the most prickly sorts!). Feeling comfortable about the desert fauna will take a bit more time! The hummingbirds, quail, roadrunners, jackrabbits, and butterflies are some of my favorite desert creatures. I’m not so sure about the snakes, lizards, javalinas, vultures, insects, coyotes, and bobcats. Those are the times I hold hands a little tighter, walk much faster,… and don’t even stop to reach for my camera! Perhaps I will always be wary fearful of them…

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The giant Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) only grows in the Sonoran Deserts of southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

We can learn so much from Nature, if we listen to its lessons…

Advice from a Saguaro 

Stand Tall

Reach for the Sky

Be Patient Through the Dry Spells

Conserve Your Resources

Think Long Term

Wait for Your Time to Bloom

Stay Sharp!

Beautifully written by: Ilan Shamir

{yourtruenature.com}

Meet this conservationist and poet in this video. His website is a nice resource for teachers!

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

There are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from the giant Saguaro!

Wherever we live in the world, there is much wisdom to be learned from Nature. A visit to the desert ~ even a virtual visit ~ is always a learning experience. Whenever you face one of life’s challenges, may you find strength in the wisdom of the Saguaro.

Thanks so much for stopping by today! ♥ Namaste.

Sunny wishes!

♡Dawn

          P.S.  We discovered a big surprise in the desert, too! Just wait until you see it. Next time…

A Desert Wonder

Hi Friends!

Brrrrrr! My Midwest cottage garden is sleeping, recently covered with a light blanket of glistening snow. On days like this, just thinking about one of my favorite plants fills my heart with warmth and sunshine. I’d love to share its story with you…

The Sonoran Desert, in southern Arizona, is home to one of my favorite plants!

The Sonoran Desert, in southern Arizona, is home to one of my favorite plants!

Oh, first I must tell you that one of my very favorite plants lives 1,800 miles away! Each time I visit the Sonoran Desert, in Arizona, I fall in love with the giant Saguaro all over again.  This is a plant with so much personality! Saguaros grow in unique, odd shapes that often stir the imagination. More importantly, they are a life force in the desert, providing food, water, and shelter to so many desert creatures.

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A Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) takes center stage, with the Usery Mountains in the background.  The Sonoran Desert is exceptionally green right now, due to recent heavy monsoon rains and flooding.

Saguaro cacti are native to the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. It is such a fascinating plant, with an amazing story to tell!  In November, while hiking in the Sonoran Desert, near Phoenix and Tucson, I looked for Saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea) in each stage of growth.

The Saguaro blossom is the State Flower of Arizona. {photo credit}

Saguaros bloom in the cool evenings during May and June. Their creamy, white flowers wilt in the heat of the sun each afternoon. This spectacle of nature continues night after night for about four weeks, with as many as 100 flowers blooming on each Saguaro. During the few hours of bloom, the Saguaro flowers are pollinated by doves, bats, honeybees, moths, and other flying desert creatures.

The sweet pulp of the Saguaro fruit contains as many as 2,000 seeds. {photo credit}

 

During June and July, the bright, red Saguaro fruit ripens. Desert birds, ants, and rodents reach the fruit at the top of the Saguaro, while javelinas, coyotes, squirrels, and foxes feast on the sweet pulp and tiny seeds of the fallen fruit. Animals spread the seeds throughout the desert.

Saguaros face a struggle for life against great odds. Although one flowering Saguaro cactus produces tens of thousands of seeds in a year, very few of the seeds will grow to adulthood. Many months pass in the desert without rain. There is always the chance that desert creatures will eat the Saguaro seeds waiting on the hot, sandy desert floor.

Seeds and young Saguaros will have the best chance for survival if they are under the care of a ‘nurse tree,’ such as a Mesquite tree or Palo Verde tree. Growing under a tree shades the young Saguaro from the intense heat of the Sun and offers protection from the Winter cold. The ‘nurse tree’ also hides the young Saguaro from hungry birds, rodents, and other desert animals. Nearby rocks also offer protection to the young plants.

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In the foreground, a young Saguaro grows under the protection of a Mesquite tree. A much older Saguaro grows near the ‘nurse tree.’

Saguaros grow very slowly, with growth spurts during the summer rainy season. By the end of the first year, a Saguaro seedling may only have grown 1/4 inch (0.63 cm).  After fifteen years, a Saguaro may be only 12 inches (30 cm) tall.

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Two Saguaros grow beneath this Palo Verde tree. Just imagine how long they have lived there already!

A shallow network of roots, just three inches below the ground, collect water for the Saguaro. These roots reach out from the main trunk of the Saguaro, stretching as far out as the Saguaro is tall. During a single rainfall, these roots may soak up as many as 200 gallons (757 liters) of water. That is enough water to keep the Saguaro alive for one full year. The Saguaro stores its water in the spongy flesh in its trunk and branches. Without conventional leaves, Saguaros don’t lose water to evaporation, The sharp spines shade the Saguaro from drying winds and protect it from hungry animals.

The slow growth continues throughout the life of this fascinating plant! After thirty years, the Saguaros begin to flower and produce fruit. By fifty years of age, a Saguaro may be only seven feet tall. Finally, after seventy-five years, a Saguaro may sprout its first branches or arms.

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New branches appear as prickly balls. They slowly grow outward and upward.

After one hundred years, a Saguaro may reach 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall. The largest Saguaros are those that have lived more than one hundred fifty years, often standing 50 feet (15.24 meters) tall and weighing 16,000 pounds (7257 kilograms) or more. These giants tower over all of the other plants in the Sonoran Desert. Saguaros stand tall supported by their long, woody ribs. They are the largest cacti in the United States.

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A forest of Saguaros, as far as the eye can see, grows in Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona.

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Hiking in Saguaro National Park is a wonderful way to learn more about these fascinating plants.

I always think of the Saguaros as ‘gentle giants.’  They are such an important part of life in the Sonoran Desert. The trunk of the Saguaro often provides homes to many desert creatures. Woodpeckers, owls, flickers, wrens, and honeybees are just some of the animals that dig their homes into the flesh of the Saguaro. By forming a scab around the hole to prevent drying out, the Saguaro is not harmed. In fact, the cactus is helped by these holes, when the animals living there eat insects that may carry disease to the Saguaro. This gentle giant is often called an ‘apartment’ or ‘hotel.’ where residents move in and out. Vacancies are quickly filled by other creatures! In the Springtime, animals can be seen making several different holes in a Saguaro, before settling into the perfect home to raise their families. Hawks often build their nests on the arms of the Saguaros.

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A mature Saguaro, growing near its Mesquite ‘nurse tree’ becomes a highrise apartment for many desert creatures.

Saguaros may die from old age, severe drought, lightning strikes, or even very strong winds that cause them to topple over. The animals that lived in the Saguaro must then find new homes. Now the fallen skeleton of the Saguaro becomes a home to new creatures. Millipedes, termites, and scorpions take shelter in the skeleton. Snakes, lizards, and small rodents come to find food there.

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A fallen Saguaro skeleton continues to play an important role in desert life.

Over the years, people have also been a danger to the beautiful Saguaros. From the 1880s until 1979, many cactus forests were devastated by livestock grazing. Saguaro seeds were unable to take root where the ground was compacted by cattle. The ‘nurse trees’ were often killed by the cattle. Fortunately, within Saguaro National Park, the Saguaros have been protected since 1933.

Since 1979, the Saguaro has been protected by law, making it illegal to dig up a Saguaro from the desert. Builders must now protect Saguaros during land development. Saguaro National Park is even tagging desert Saguaros with micro-chips to thwart ‘cactus rustlers’ who dig up and illegally sell Saguaros to landscapers.

The tall Saguaro cactus is my favorite desert plant.

The Saguaro plays such an important role in desert life.

Saguaros have great cultural importance to the Tohono O’odham Nation. These Native Americans harvest Saguaro fruit in the Spring to make jams and jellies. They also make Saguaro wine to drink during their ritual Rain Ceremony, to honor the important monsoon rains. 

In her wonderful children’s book, Cactus Hotel, Brenda Z. Guiberson  shares the story of one Saguaro through its long life. Her words and paintings will touch your heart, as you learn more fascinating facts about the giant Saguaro. (Peek inside the book!) This was always a favorite book in my primary classroom, often gifted to my students. I treasure my own copy here at home, especially on cold December days!

The Saguaro cactus, an iconic symbol of the American Southwest, is truly a fascinating plant. It will always be my favorite plant to visit in the desert! I really admire the strength and beauty of this gentle giant. During our cold Winter days in the Midwest, just thinking about the Saguaro brings a bit of warm sunshine to a cold day!

Sending sunshine!

♡ Dawn

P.S.  I even stopped to hug a Saguaro (very carefully) while hiking!  ☼