News & Events

Living Among the Saguaros

May is in full bloom at Dove Mountain. At Saguaro Reserve, our newest neighborhood, homebuyers are marveling at bright blooms bursting forth from desert cacti, peppering the Tortolita Mountain landscape with technicolor reds, pinks and yellows just in time for Mother’s Day.

The brilliant white blossoms of the Saguaro, Arizona’s state flower since 1931, are perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of all. The tallest cactus in the United States, the Saguaro puts out hundreds of buds in April, with blooming season peaking toward the end of May and into early June.

In honor of our majestic neighbors, today we’re spotlighting the Saguaro, beloved icon of the West. Read on to discover the fascinating features and vital ecological role of these singular desert giants.

A young Saguaro thrives under a palo verde nurse plant at the Tortolita Preserve, adjacent to Dove Mountain. Photo courtesy of the Town of Marana.

Ancient Desert Guardians

Found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert, Saguaros (pronounced suh-WAR-ohs) have stood watch over this land for the last 8,000 years, securing a special place in the hearts of our region’s inhabitants, both past and present.

Often starting life in the cool shade of a nurse plant such as a mesquite, palo verde or ironwood tree, slow-growing Saguaros need at least 50 years to flower and 50-75 years to sprout an arm. A thriving Saguaro can eventually grow over 25 arms.

Beautifully adapted to our region’s sunny clime, the Saguaro’s main taproot can extend to a depth of 2-5 feet to access cool water beneath the soil. Full-grown specimens can weigh up to six tons and stand over 50 feet tall, silently observing the passage of time over centuries. Indeed, the average giant Saguaro is roughly 150 years old.

The Center of the Desert Ecosystem

This towering Saguaro just west of Tucson has grown over 50 arms. Courtesy of Nicksokol.

Saguaros are the life force of the desert, a keystone species critical to the entire ecosystem from birth to death.

Indigenous communities have long relied on the Saguaro as a source of food and shelter, its red fruit offering mid-summer sustenance and its long, straight ribs ideally suited for building ramada roofs, walls and furniture. An origin story from the region’s Tohono O’odham people describes the first Saguaro as growing from a bead of sweat placed on the ground by the Creator, a gift to the people of the desert.

To any Sonoran Desert dweller, Saguaros are neighbors, guardians, friends. But for the Tohono O’odham, Saguaros are considered family and respected members of their tribes. For this reason, the state of Arizona protects Saguaros to prevent the theft and destruction of these peaceful pillars of our desert ecosystem.

A Bustling High-Rise

Saguaro fruit emerge before the summer monsoon, providing vital moisture and nutrition to Sonoran Desert animals. Photo courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski.

Saguaros are not just important to people — the towering cacti are often referred to as the “high-rise apartments” of the Sonoran Desert due to the revolving door of fauna that take up residence in their spines, much to the delight of local birders.

Woodpeckers and gilded flickers burrow nest sites in the Saguaro trunk. The Saguaro then grows a hardened shell around each site, called a boot, where other birds including elf owls and purple martins later take residence. Larger hawks prefer to build nests in the branching system and, when they move on, these are claimed by great-horned owls.

When the Saguaros’ melon-scented blooms emerge in May, the fragrant crown of flowers offers an enticing feast for passing bees, birds and bats, who gorge on the nectar and help pollinate the plant. The cactus then grows sweet, tangy red fruit, which eventually fall to the ground to become a tasty meal for javelina or are harvested by humans for jelly and syrup.

Today, the tradition of collecting Saguaro fruit is carried on by the Tohono O’odham, who fashion a Saguaro rib into a long pole to knock the fruit down from the top. You can join in this special harvest tradition at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

And, when a massive old-growth Saguaro finally falls to the ground, its great body gives life back to the desert as it decays. Desert dwellers will even come together to mourn the loss of a beloved giant.

The striking beauty of Saguaro blooms in Tucson, courtesy of Ken Bosma.

Where to See Saguaros Bloom

At Dove Mountain, we’re lucky to live among the Saguaros. Experience a forest of 300-1,000-year-old ironwood trees and massive old-growth candelabra Saguaros at the Tortolita Preserve, adjacent to our community. Begin your journey at the trailhead at 6250 W Moore Rd, just off North Dove Mountain Boulevard, to explore 2,400 acres of pristine habitat by walking, biking or horseback riding on the gently undulating 9.2-mile trail.

Or consider a visit to the spectacular Saguaro National Park, just one of three national parks in the country to bear the name of a single plant. With over 91,000 acres across its East and West locations, the park is home to more than 2 million Saguaro and a diverse array of wildlife.

At Saguaro National Park West, in the Tucson Mountain District, you can hike among towering specimens, view Hohokam petroglyphs and take in spectacular sunsets less than 20 minutes from Dove Mountain. Or head further afield to Saguaro National Park East to enjoy a scenic drive on an 8-mile, one-way loop offering mesmerizing scenic pullouts and an abundance of trailheads.

Saguaros: More Fascinating Facts

  • Saguaros are slow growers, gaining only one or two inches in their first eight years.
  • Most of the Saguaro’s roots only reach a few inches deep into the soil but spread as wide as the cactus is tall.
  • The Saguaro’s accordion-style pleats expand to store water from monsoon rains and its waxy, waterproof skin mitigates water loss from transpiration.
  • Each of a Saguaro’s fragrant flowers will bloom for less than one day, opening at night for pollination and closing permanently the following afternoon.
  • Because Saguaros can’t handle cold temperatures or high elevation, you’ll see a striking transition from cactus to pines as you wind up Mt. Lemmon or other Southern Arizona peaks rising high above the desert floor.
  • The Saguaro’s binomial nomenclature (Carnegiea gigantea) references Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie Institution established the first-of-its-kind Desert Botanical Laboratory on Tucson’s Tumamoc Hill in 1903, now part of the University of Arizona College of Science.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a Saguaro on your property, water sparingly. Overwatering can lead to root rot or vertical cracks in the epidermis from bloating.

About Dove Mountain

Experience the beauty of living close to nature at Dove Mountain. The Dove Mountain community features new luxury homes tucked into natural Saguaro-studded high desert landscapes, including custom foothills homes with sweeping canyon and mountain views and golf course homes located on or steps from three of the best golf courses in Arizona.

To learn more about all that the Dove Mountain community has to offer, contact Dove Mountain Properties at 888-603-7600, or connect with us via our online inquiry form.

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