I am a Saguaro Cactus. I am the green giant that defines the Arizona desert in the Southwest corner. My friends and I stand as soldiers protecting the desert. My arms bend upward and can number up to twenty-five. I am covered with small spines that protect me from the animals in the desert. I am so strong that high winds cannot blow me over. My rib cage keeps me standing tall.
No one eats me because of my spines. I provide water for those who are lost in the desert. In the Spring white flowers bloom all over my arms like pearl bracelets after sunset and close up in midafternoon. I produce a bitter pink/red fruit which is pulled down with poles and made into sweet jelly used by the native Americans and sold in the souvenir shops at the airport and hotels. I am the Saguaro Cactus. I never move. I stand here in the heat of the summer and the coolness of the winter. I get most of my moisture in the summer rainy season.
Desert plants: yellow bells, paloverde trees, beavertail, prickly pear, compass barrel, Engelmann’s hedgehog, fire sticks, agave, prairie zinnia, saguaro cactus, and mesquite bushes cover the southwest desert floor on which I stand.
Desert animals: Gila monster, rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, coral snakes, brown spiders, coyotes, prairie dogs, rabbits, bobcats, and javelina (wild pigs) wander in and out not bothering to pay attention to me.
I can live up to 150-200 years old. I can be forty to sixty feet tall and weigh between 3,200-4,800 lbs. After my death, the woody ribs that are exposed are used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture. People who survive in the desert use my leftover ribs for firewood. Birds build their nests inside my trunk when I die and when I am alive. I provide a safe space for them to lay their eggs, nurse their chicks, and teach them to fly from the nest. In the Spring white flowers bloom after sunset and close in the midafternoon.
Honey bees, bats, and white-winged doves help to pollinate my flowers. Gila woodpeckers, purple martins, and house finches live inside the wholes of my body. I am an important source of food and shelter for the Tohono O’odham tribe and my needles are used as sewing needles.
I appear on postcards, commercials, billboards, and travel magazines. No one leaves Arizona without a picture of me. I am so special. Saguaros like me are not found outside of the Southwest part of the USA. I am the state flower of Arizona. My arms grow after I reach fifteen feet tall and seventy-five years old. The tallest of my family is about 200 years old. I can hold about a ton of water. This is good because sometimes I go without a drink for six to seven months.
Being a saguaro is not easy. I have to stand here all day long with nothing to do. I gaze at the moon and the constellations of the stars in the dark night. I am really happy when a woodpecker begins pecking a hole in my body. I know that soon a family will settle and keep me company when I feel lonely out here in the desert.
I see jackrabbits scurrying around for their food. The jackrabbit’s ears stick straight up, and they have white cotton tails. I hear coyotes in the distance howling. One of the coyotes caught a jackrabbit and ate it for dinner. The coyotes eat just about everything they can get into their mouths. Snakes roam the desert floor slithering around looking for food. Their food of choice is the desert rat. The snake sucks the desert rat down his throat forming a small bulge in his stomach. No one eats me because I have too many needles and it takes too long to remove them. Native Americans harvest my fruit and it sometimes hurts. People thrust their poles into my sides and knock the fruit down. The fruit falls with a drop to the floor and rolls over. My ribcage has been poked and I will feel the pain for the next three days.
I like living in the desert. At night it gets very dark and the stars twinkle, and the moon shines brightly. This is the best time of the night. No one is around. Everyone is asleep. I sleep too. Tomorrow will be another day to ponder my life as a saguaro cactus standing in the desert in Southwest Arizona.
The Arizona desert has so many surprises for those who venture out to visit me. People who hike come and take pictures of me and my friends and family. Stop looking at me in the magazines and travel guides. Get off the sofa and come pay me a visit. I don’t bite. I am not poisonous, and I will let you take as many pictures as possible.
Come visit me and I will show you how friendly I can be.