saguaro

Carnegiea gigantea

Summary 7

The saguaro (/səˈwɑːroʊ/, Spanish pronunciation: ) (Carnegiea gigantea) is an arborescent (tree-like) cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea, which can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994, Sa

Description 8

The saguaro is a columnar cactus that grows notable branches, usually referred to as arms. As many as 49 arms may grow on one plant. They grow from 3–16 m (9.8–52.5 ft) tall, and up to 75 cm (30 in) in diameter. They are slow growing, but routinely live 150 to 200 years. They are the largest cactus in the United States.

The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizona grow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson. Saguaros grow slowly from seed, and may only be 0.25 in (0.64 cm) tall after 2 years. Cuttings rarely root, and when they do, they do not go through the juvenile growth phase, which gives a different appearance. Since 2014, The tallest saguaro ever measured was an armless specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 ft (23.8 m) in height before it was toppled in 1986 by a windstorm. They are stem succulents and can hold large amounts of water; when rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated, it can weigh between 3,200 and 4,800 lb (1,500 and 2,200 kg).

Saguaros have a very large root network that can extend up to 30 m (98 ft), and long taproots of up to 1 m (3.3 ft) deep.

Saguaros may take between 20 and 50 years to reach a height of 1 m (3.3 ft).

As a cactus, it uses crassulacean acid metabolism photosynthesis, which confers high levels of water-use efficiency. This allows the saguaro to only transpire at night, minimizing daytime water loss.

A saguaro without arms is called a "spear".

Some saguaros grow in rare formations called a cristate, or "crested" saguaro. This growth formation is believed to be found in one in roughly 10,000 saguaros, with 2743 known crested saguaros documented. The crest formation, caused by fasciation, creates a seam of abnormal growth along the top or top of the arm of the saguaro.

Inside the saguaro, many "ribs" of wood form something like a skeleton, with the individual ribs being as long as the cactus itself and up to a few inches in diameter. The rib wood itself is also relatively dense, with dry ribs having a solid density around 430 kg/m3, which made the ribs useful to indigenous peoples as a building material. While the ribs of dead plants are not protected by the Arizona native plant law, the Arizona Department of Agriculture has released a memo discussing when written permission is needed before harvesting them because of the importance the decomposition of cactus remains in maintaining desert soil fertility.

The composition of the ribs is similar to that of hardwoods.

The spines on a saguaro are extremely sharp and can grow up to 1 mm (0.039 in) per day. When held up to the light or bisected, alternating light and dark bands transverse to the long axis of spines are visible. These bands have been correlated to daily growth. In columnar cacti, spines almost always grow in areoles that originate at the apex of the plant. A spine stops growing in its first season. Areoles are moved to the side and the apex continues to grow upward. Thus, older spines are toward the base of a columnar cactus and newer spines are near the apex. Studies are underway

Spines grow to 7 cm (2.8 in) long.

The spines may cause significant injury to animals; one paper reported that a bighorn sheep skull had been penetrated by a saguaro spine after the sheep collided with a saguaro. They can also cause severe injury to humans, being as sharp and nearly as strong as steel needles. Their long, unbarbed nature means that partially embedded spines can be easily removed, but their relative length can complicate injuries. The spines can puncture deeply, and if broken off, leaving splinters of spine deep in the tissue, which can be difficult to remove. Fully embedded spikes are also difficult to remove. Such injuries do not usually result in infection, though, as the cactus spines are generally aseptic. However, spines that remain embedded may cause inflammatory granuloma.

The white, waxy flowers appear in April through June, opening well after sunset and closing in midafternoon. They continue to produce nectar after sunrise. Flowers are self-incompatible, thus requiring cross-pollination. Large quantities of pollen are required for complete pollination because many ovules are present. This pollen is produced by the extremely numerous stamens, which in one notable case totaled 3,482 in a single flower. A well-pollinated fruit contains several thousand tiny seeds.

Pollination is considered relatively generalized in that multiple species can produce effective pollination when some populations are excluded. Main pollinators are honey bees, bats, and white-winged doves. In most, but not all studies, diurnal pollinators contributed more than nocturnal ones. Honey bees were the greatest contributors. Other diurnal pollinators are birds such as Costa's hummingbird, the black-chinned hummingbird, the broad-billed hummingbird, the hooded oriole, Scott's oriole, the Gila woodpecker, the gilded flicker, the verdin, and the house finch according to studies that examined the relative contributions of diurnal pollinators.

The primary nocturnal pollinator is the lesser long-nosed bat, feeding on the nectar. Several floral characteristics are geared toward bat pollination (chiropterophily): nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. Claw marks on the flower indicate pollination by a bat.

Flowers grow 3.4–4.9 in (8.6–12.4 cm) long, and are open for less than 24 hours. Since they form only at the top of the plant and the tips of branches, saguaros growing numerous branches is reproductively advantageous. Flowers open sequentially, with plants averaging four open flowers a day over a bloom period lasting a month. In Southern Arizona, saguaros begin flowering around May 3 and peak on June 4. A decline in bat populations causes more daytime flower openings, which favors other pollinators.

The ruby red fruits are 2.4 to 3.5 in (6 to 9 cm) long and ripen in June, each containing around 2,000 seeds, plus sweet, fleshy connective tissue.

The fruits are often out of reach and are harvested using a pole (made of two or three saguaro ribs) 15 to 30 ft (4.5 to 9 m) long, to the end of which cross-pieces, which can be made of saguaro rib, catclaw, or creosote bush, are attached. This pole is used to hook the fruits or knock them free.

Saguaro seeds are small and short-lived. Although they germinate easily, predation and lack of moisture prevent all but about 1% of seeds from successful germination. Seeds must wait 12–14 months before germination; lack of water during this period drastically reduces seedling survival. The existence of nurse plants is critical to seedling establishment. Palo verde trees and triangle bursage represent important nurse species. They act by regulating temperature extremes, increasing soil nutrients, and reducing evapotranspiration, among others. While nurse plants reduce summer temperature maxima by as much as 18 °C (32 °F), they are more important in raising winter minimum temperatures – as extended frosts limit the range of saguaros.

The saguaro genome is around 1 billion base pairs long. Sequencing has revealed that the genome of the saguaro's chloroplast is the smallest known among nonparasitic flowering plants. Like several other highly specialized plant taxa, such as the carnivorous Genlisea and parasitic Cuscuta, the saguaro has lost the ndh plastid gene, which codes for production of NADPH dehydrogenase pathway, but unlike those taxa, the saguaro remains fully autotrophic; i.e. it does not eat or steal part of its food. The saguaro is remarkable for the scale and completeness of gene loss; essentially no traces of the 11 ndh genes remain in the plastid. The genes appear to have been copied to the nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA, but those copies are non-functional. How the saguaro thrives in a high stress environment without working copies of this fairly important gene remains unknown, but it is possible that the functions of the ndh genes have been taken on by another pathway.

Distribution and habitat 8

Saguaros are endemic to the Sonoran Desert and are found only in western Sonora in Mexico and in southern Arizona in the US, although plants are occasionally found in southeastern California. Elevation is a limiting factor to its environment, as the saguaro is sensitive to extended frost or cold temperatures. No confirmed specimens of wild saguaros have been found anywhere in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, or Nevada, nor in the high deserts of northern Arizona. The northern limits of their range are the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona. They are the northernmost columnar cacti in the Americas.

Ecology 8

The saguaro is a keystone species, and provides food, shelter, and protection to hundreds of other species. Every stage of the saguaro's life sustains a significant number of species, from seedling to after its death.

The saguaro provides voluminous amounts of pollen, nectar, and fruits. The fruits are eaten by the white-winged dove and ants, so that seeds rarely escape to germinate. White-winged doves are important pollinators, visiting blooms more often than any other bird species. For desert white-winged doves, 60% or more of their diet is saguaro-based. Their breeding cycle coincides with that of the sagauro blooming.

Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers create holes in the cactus to make nests, which are later used by other birds, such as elf owls, purple martins, and house finches. Flickers excavate larger holes higher on the stem compared to Gila woodpeckers. The resulting nest cavity is deep, and the parents and young are entirely hidden from view. The saguaro creates callus tissue on the wound. When the saguaro dies and its soft flesh rots, the callus remains as a so-called saguaro boot, which was used by natives for storage.

Gila woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) create new nest holes each season rather than reuse the old ones, leaving convenient nest holes for other birds, such as elf owls, tyrant flycatchers, and wrens. In recent years, early breeding, aggressive, non-native birds have taken over the nests to the detriment of elf owls that breed and nest later. In 2020, a bald eagle was found nesting in a saguaro for the first time since 1937.

Ethnobotany 8

The utility of the saguaro was well known to Native Americans such as the Tohono Oʼodham, Pima, and Seri peoples, who still use nearly every part of the plant. The fruit and seeds are edible, being consumed fresh and dried, and made it into preserves and drinks. The Tohono O'odham use long sticks to harvest the fruits, which are then made into a variety of products including jams, syrups, and wine. The Tohono O'odham begin their harvest in June. A pair of saguaro ribs, about 6.1 m (20 ft) long, is bundled together to make a harvesting tool called a kuibit. The Tohono O'odham traditionally reduce the freshly harvested fruit into a thick syrup through several hours of boiling, as the fresh fruit does not keep for long. 4 kg (8.8 lb) of fruit will yield about 1 L (0.26 U.S. gal) of syrup. Copious volumes of fruit are harvested; an example harvest in 1929 yielded 45,000 kg (99,000 lb) among 600 families.

The seeds are ground into meal or eaten raw, but the raw seeds are mostly indigestible. They are also pressed for their oils. They also have minor use in the tanning of leather. In modern times, these uses have declined, and the seeds are now mainly used as chicken feed.

The ribs of the dead saguaro were used for construction and other purposes by Native Americans. The Tohono O'odham use it for making fences and furniture. The ribs are also used as livestock fodder.

A variety of alkaloids, including carnegine, gigantine, and salsolidine, make the stems quite bitter, and an unpalatable way to gain water.

Reports of saguaro use date back to the Coronado expeditions of 1540–1542, which noted its use in winemaking.

The old bird nests resist the elements and are gathered by Native Americans for use as storage vessels. Cactus boots, excavated by birds

The saguaro features prominently in indigenous folklore and religions.

Flowers 8

The white, waxy flowers appear in April through June, opening well after sunset and closing in midafternoon. They continue to produce nectar after sunrise. Flowers are self-incompatible, thus requiring cross-pollination. Large quantities of pollen are required for complete pollination because many ovules are present. This pollen is produced by the extremely numerous stamens, which in one notable case totaled 3,482 in a single flower. A well-pollinated fruit contains several thousand tiny seeds.

Pollination is considered relatively generalized in that multiple species can produce effective pollination when some populations are excluded. Main pollinators are honey bees, bats, and white-winged doves. In most, but not all studies, diurnal pollinators contributed more than nocturnal ones. Honey bees were the greatest contributors. Other diurnal pollinators are birds such as Costa's hummingbird, the black-chinned hummingbird, the broad-billed hummingbird, the hooded oriole, Scott's oriole, the Gila woodpecker, the gilded flicker, the verdin, and the house finch according to studies that examined the relative contributions of diurnal pollinators.

The primary nocturnal pollinator is the lesser long-nosed bat, feeding on the nectar. Several floral characteristics are geared toward bat pollination (chiropterophily): nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. Claw marks on the flower indicate pollination by a bat.

Flowers grow 3.4–4.9 in (8.6–12.4 cm) long, and are open for less than 24 hours. Since they form only at the top of the plant and the tips of branches, saguaros growing numerous branches is reproductively advantageous. Flowers open sequentially, with plants averaging four open flowers a day over a bloom period lasting a month. In Southern Arizona, saguaros begin flowering around May 3 and peak on June 4. A decline in bat populations causes more daytime flower openings, which favors other pollinators.

Fruit 8

The ruby red fruits are 2.4 to 3.5 in (6 to 9 cm) long and ripen in June, each containing around 2,000 seeds, plus sweet, fleshy connective tissue.

The fruits are often out of reach and are harvested using a pole (made of two or three saguaro ribs) 15 to 30 ft (4.5 to 9 m) long, to the end of which cross-pieces, which can be made of saguaro rib, catclaw, or creosote bush, are attached. This pole is used to hook the fruits or knock them free.

Saguaro seeds are small and short-lived. Although they germinate easily, predation and lack of moisture prevent all but about 1% of seeds from successful germination. Seeds must wait 12–14 months before germination; lack of water during this period drastically reduces seedling survival. The existence of nurse plants is critical to seedling establishment. Palo verde trees and triangle bursage represent important nurse species. They act by regulating temperature extremes, increasing soil nutrients, and reducing evapotranspiration, among others. While nurse plants reduce summer temperature maxima by as much as 18 °C (32 °F), they are more important in raising winter minimum temperatures – as extended frosts limit the range of saguaros.

Genome 8

The saguaro genome is around 1 billion base pairs long. Sequencing has revealed that the genome of the saguaro's chloroplast is the smallest known among nonparasitic flowering plants. Like several other highly specialized plant taxa, such as the carnivorous Genlisea and parasitic Cuscuta, the saguaro has lost the ndh plastid gene, which codes for production of NADPH dehydrogenase pathway, but unlike those taxa, the saguaro remains fully autotrophic; i.e. it does not eat or steal part of its food. The saguaro is remarkable for the scale and completeness of gene loss; essentially no traces of the 11 ndh genes remain in the plastid. The genes appear to have been copied to the nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA, but those copies are non-functional. How the saguaro thrives in a high stress environment without working copies of this fairly important gene remains unknown, but it is possible that the functions of the ndh genes have been taken on by another pathway.

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) Neil Hunt, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), http://www.flickr.com/photos/44039165@N00/4546642528
  2. (c) Scott Cox, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND), https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/72423815
  3. (c) Tony Iwane, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/50206422
  4. (c) Scott Cox, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-ND), https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/35705503
  5. (c) 116916927065934112165, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), uploaded by Matt Muir, https://picasaweb.google.com/116916927065934112165/DesertMuseumSaguaroNPBiodiversity#6143702637063368802
  6. (c) Ken-ichi Ueda, some rights reserved (CC BY), http://www.inaturalist.org/photos/2856645
  7. Adapted by Jeny Davis from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnegiea_gigantea
  8. (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saguaro

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