The slow-growing Saguapro
KING of CACTUSES
A full-grown saguaro can reach 50 feet in height, weigh nine tons, and live 200 years. The sturdy cactus thrives only in parts of Arizona, California, and northern Mexico. Birds excavating nest holes convert saguaros into high-rise housing.
From the single stem of Carnegiea gigantea shallow roots may radiate .50 feet or more in all directions, collecting every drop of scarce moisture. The saguaro’s tough, waxy skin guards against evaporation, helping it survive months-long dry spells. When the rains come, the furrows between the accordion ribs of the water-starved cactus fill out.
Saguaros grow slowly: a ten-year-old may be just one inch tall; a 30-year-old may measure four feet. White, waxy blossoms appear once a year after the half-century mark, and the distinctive “stick ‘em up” arms develop only after the plant turns 75.
Such old-timers are rare. As the Sunbelt’s human population expands, all cactuses feel the pressure. Vandals with guns and pocket knives cause damage that can kill. Some cactuses have fallen to developers’ bulldozers; others have been stolen for sale to collectors and landscapers. Miles of desert around Arizona cities have been denuded by diggers. The rare crested saguaro, a mutation valued by collectors is believed to number fewer than 200.
Cactus poachers work quickly, under the cover of darkness. An 80-year-old good specimen nearly 20 feet tall can be uprooted, winched onto a specially equipped truck, and hauled away in just 15 minutes. It’s worth more than a thousand dollars on the black market. Cactus poaching in and around Saguaro National Monument became so pervasive that in 1981 Arizona appealed to the U. S. government for assistance in enforcing the state’s protected species law. Intense undercover work paid off in January 1990, when the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Branch of Special Operations rounded up 21 cactus poachers. A record 19 were convicted of theft, conspiracy, and trafficking in protected plants; most received heavy fines and jail sentences—almost unheard of for plant theft. Federal protection and local conservation continue the fight to keep the saguaro in the wild.
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993