Giant Saguaro desert cactus – facts and photos

Within Arizona’s Tucson Basin is The Saguaro National Park.  This park provides the ideal conditions for sustaining dense stands of the famous saguaro cactus.

saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus at The Saguaro National Park in Tucson

**The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, studies show that the Saguaro cactus obtains most of its moisture during the summer monsoon season.

Saguaro National Park
saguaro cactus in Arizona

There are dozens of varieties of cacti;  short, tall, stout, delicate but none quite as magnificent as the Giant Saguaro cactus.

Quick Saguaro Facts:

  1. Saguaros have one deep tap-root but most of this cactus’ roots are 4-6 inches deep and span out as far as the desert plant is tall.
  2. The saguaro is the largest cactus in the US.
  3. After the saguaro dies its woody ribs can be used to build roofs, fences, and parts of furniture.
  4. The Giant Saguaro can live to be 200 years old.

In the Sonoran desert the saguaro cactus has a boundless variety of towering armed shapes.

the saguaro cactus in arizona
the saguaro cactus species in AZ

Water makes up 75 to 95 percent of the saguaro cactus’ weight.  During periods of drought the pleats of the saguaro cactus contract.  During Arizona rains the saguaro expands as it soaks up moisture.

saguaro cactus with fruit
saguaro cactus close up

Saguaros, like many desert cacti, grow excruciatingly slow.  Arizona cactus experts estimate that a forty-foot tall saguaro is about 150 years old.  Arm buds begin to appear when the saguaro is 75 years old.

the saguaro arms
the saguaro arm buds

Many saguaros now standing in cactus forests germinated in the mid-1800s !!

saguaro cacti over 100 years old
saguaro cacti over 100 years old

To survive their early years, saguaro seedlings must be sheltered from the elements, whether it be under the canopy of other plants or in the crevices of rocky outcrops. Saguaro seeds can be deposited in droppings of birds roosting on branches of shrubs and trees.

nurse tree
young saguaro cacti under a nurse tree

Lightning, powerful winds, harsh winter freezes and the rotting of dead tissue kill saguaros.  Their woody ribs stay on the desert floor until they are consumed by termites or decay and return to the soil.

dead saguaro cactus wood
woody spine of the dead saguaro cactus

This cactus species is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of the saguaro cactus.

You can find the majestic giant cactus in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexica.

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The Saguaro National Park

While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson.  The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro National Park in AZ
Saguaro National Park in AZ

The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.

The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert
The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert

After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!

the saguaro expands with water
the saguaro expands with water

A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.

saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom
saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom

In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.

The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!

Saguaro Cactus Flowers
Saguaro Cactus fruits and blooms

The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night.   During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and  honeybees pollinate them.

saguaro red fruit
saguaro red fruit

Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
nursing trees for saguaros
Palo Verde and Mesquite Trees are shelter for young Saguaros
nursing tree for saguaro cactus
nursing trees provide nitrogen for cactus

The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall;  reaching heights of 50 feet.  The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.

 

Pruning Desert Bird of Paradise bushes and shrubs

flowering desert shrubs fern leaves Texas
AZ TX Desert Bushes with Red Orange Flowers fern leaves

When should you prune desert bird of paradise shrubs?

Caesalpinia pulcherrima plant with red flowers fern leaves
Red Bird of Paradise shrubs orange flowers and fern leaves in the AZ TX desert

Pruning your Red Bird of Paradise,  Caesalpinia pulcherrima , which is what I have, should be in late winter or early spring.

Arizona bushes with red flowers
Red Bird of Paradise is sometimes called Mexican Bird of Paradise

I pruned mine a few weeks ago with a sharp pair of garden sheers. Many people cut these plants almost to the ground. I don’t, I prune my Red Bird of Paradise bushes about 18 inches from ground level.

Red Bird of Paradise cutting
Trimming Caesalpinia pulcherrima – pruning desert Bird of Paradise bushes

Red, Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise bushes, trees, and shrubs thrive in dry conditions; once established, they are drought tolerant plants, with fern looking leaves blooming with orange, red or yellow flowers.

Texas shrubs with orange red flowers
Red Desert Bird of Paradise, drought tolerant plants
bushes with bean pods orange flowers
Red Bird of Paradise shrub in AZ TX CA Mexico

The Yellow and Mexican Bird of Paradise need very little pruning.

Caesalpinia gilliesii is a drought tolerant desert shrub
Yellow Bird of Paradise has red stamens and yellow flowers

Caesalpinia gilliesii, or sometimes called Yellow Bird of Paradise or Desert Bird of Paradise is a shrub that has been naturalized in Texas;  planted as to give an effect of wild growth and may some year be considered native in the rest of the southwestern US.  In the photo below see the yellow bird of paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii.

TX bush with yellow flowers and bean pods
Yellow flowering Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii

This yellow flowering desert shrub has clusters of beautiful yellow flowers with long red stamens.  The Yellow Bird of Paradise is a fast growing, upright shrub that is originally from Argentina.  Pruning your Yellow Bird of Paradise bush will encourage dense growth.

Caesalpinia gilliesii mistaken for Mexican Bird of Paradise
Yellow blooming Bird of Paradise desert bush in AZ TX CA

Yellow Bird of Paradise is drought tolerant and very durable, also cold and heat tolerant. Exposure to full sun is best for ALL Bird of Paradise Plants.   The yellow bird of paradise shrub is toxic.  

drought tolerant desert bush shrub
Yellow Bird of Paradise bush with Red Stamens bean pods

This Hardy Bird of Paradise shrub can grow to the height of 10 ft.

In the early Spring, prune to remove dead or damaged stems.  In the summer water your Yellow Bird of Paradise every week.  Water it deeply to stimulate an effective root system and tap-root.

The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree, see photo below.

Bushes with round leaves yellow flowers desert
Mexican Bird of Paradise bush yellow flowers round leaves
desert shrub with yellow flowers in Arizona
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise with yellow flowers round leaves

In the photo ABOVE see the yellow flowers and rounded shape of the leaves on the Mexican Bird of Paradise bush or tree.

Caesalpinia mexicana yellow flowers
Mexican Bird of Paradise tree shrub with yellow flowers

Whether you pick the Yellow, Mexican or Red Bird of Paradise shrubs or trees,  you are certainly choosing a winner for your desert garden!

shrubs with bean pods red flowers
Desert bush with orange red yellow flowers, bean pods

The best picnics, family time and perfect weddings at Agua Caliente Spring – (part 2 of 3)

We make it a point to take visitors to Agua Caliente Park.  This is an amazing lagoon; a get away from the prickly pear cacti and saguaros. It’s hard to tell that you’re even in Tucson. Agua Caliente presents you with an abundance of mature shade trees and lush backgrounds for picnics, weddings and even Plein-Air paintings.

family and picnics in the park
one of the best locations for picnics

Roy P. Drachman Agua Caliente Park has a natural hot spring that flows through faults between gneissic rock and has been a long-inhabited settlement.

  • What is gneissic rock?   This type of rock has minerals arranged into layers which seem to be bands that alternate darker and lighter colors. The banding is developed under high temperature and pressure conditions.

Ok now, is Agua Caliente a park, a lake, or a wildlife habitat?  Well this natural spring is a bit of everything!  Pack a picnic, hang out and be sure to bring a camera.

park with water in Tucson, AZ
Gallery and Tucson Audubon in the historic ranch house

If you enjoy bird watching then Agua Caliente Park is worth a visit.  The Tucson Audubon Society is housed in the original Ranch home.

historic house in Tucson
the original Ranch House at Agua Caliente Park

Take a look inside this historic building and enjoy the gift shop and gallery.

Hohokam historical sites
Agua Caliente natural spring in Arizona

The eccentricity of the mountains and mature palm trees are reflected with vibrant color in the water.

Here you can picnic at a 101 acre aquatic / riparian habitat surrounded by the Sonoran Desert.

wildlife parks in Tucson, Arizona
ducks at Agua Caliente Park

At Agua Caliente you will see a variety of wildlife including herons, Arizona turtles and a variety of ducks.

The natural spring flow fluctuates at various times during the year due to drought. While visiting Agua Caliente you many see the lower ponds dry.

parks for picnics and rentals
Picnics, walking trails and wildlife are enjoyed at Agua Caliente

Relax on a bench and watch dozens of turtles sunning themselves.  While visiting the park it feels like we arrived in some exotic place hidden in the Sonoran Desert.

Arizona turtles
turtles at Agua Caliente

The ducks, birds and turtles entertain us at our picnic table while we wait for the Tucson sunsets.

Tucson park for wedding rental and portraits
A romantic park and perfect wedding background

It is a wonderful reprieve from the heat and definitely not what you would expect to find in Tucson, Arizona.

family picnics by the lake at Agua Caliente in Tucson
many picnic tables and locations to choose from

Adding to its charm, professional photographers frequent Agua Caliente with clients who want a stunning background.

There is a huge mesquite tree east of the ranch house estimated to be over 250 years old!

mesquite tree at Agua Caliente in Tucson
The Old Mesquite tree of Agua Caliente is supported by brick columns and steel poles

To sustain this elderly mesquite tree, Agua Caliente’s administration use brick columns and steel poles to support the enormous branches.

Agua Caliente Mesquite Tree
famous Mesquite Tree estimated over 250 years old

Agua Caliente Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This extreme east Tucson park is truly an oasis in the desert and is highly recommended for you, your family and friends.

To learn the history of Agua Caliente see my article:  http://tjsgarden.com/2013/08/16/agua-caliente-history-natural-spring-park-tucson-az/

Is Agua Caliente drying up?  : http://tjsgarden.com/2013/09/12/agua-caliente-park-spring-drying-up-tucson/


Agua Caliente History – a natural spring park in Tucson, AZ (part 1 of 3)

Drive northeast of the Tucson city limits and you will discover a natural spring surrounded by wildlife, palm trees and native vegetation.  Agua Caliente Park transports a visitor from the Sonoran Desert to a 101-acre hidden oasis.

Agua Caliente, (hot water) is named for the warm water spring that supports several ponds within the park.

sites in Tucson - must visit
a natural spring in Tucson – Agua Caliente Park

Agua Caliente Park has an open lawn edged by tall Date Palms, and a stream bank lined with mature California Fan Palms close to 100 years old.

Tucson, AZ parks and springs
Palm trees at Agua Caliente

Human habitation at Agua Caliente has been found to date back about 5,500 years.  I’d like to share a simple history and insights into the rich farming and ranching of the unique desert oasis called Agua Caliente.

Arizona natural spring park
natural spring in Tucson Arizona – Agua Caliente

From A.D. 600 to 1450, the prehistoric Hohokam constructed one of the largest and most advanced irrigation networks ever created using pre-industrial technology.

This technology would eventually give form to the unique prehistoric culture of southern Arizona known as the Hohokam.

hohokam found at Agua Caliente, Tucson, AZ
Hohokam village, Whiptail site

Around 1150 AD, a Hohokam village, referred to as the Whiptail Site, was established that extended into a portion of Agua Caliente in the Tucson basin.

hohokam people in Tucson Basin, AZ
Hohokam artifacts found at Agua Caliente

Deserving of our respect, the incredible Hohokam were able to sustain life in the area of Agua Caliente for nearly 1,500 years.

Hohokam lived at Agua Caliente in Tucson, AZ
Hohokam pottery – approximately 800 CE (A.D.)

The hot spring at the Whiptail Site at Agua Caliente Park has attracted native settlers since about 2500 B.C.  These facts are what has helped put the Tucson Basin on the map as one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in North America.

Coronado National Forest in Tucson
Agua Caliente is south of the Coronado National Forest , Mt Lemmon area
Agua Caliente oldest Mesquite Tree
Giant Mesquite Tree by the main Ranch House is over 250 yrs old

About 1853-1870s,  Agua Caliente Spring was used as an army encampment following the Gadsden Purchase.  What is the Gadsden Purchase?

**James Gadsden was the U.S. Minister to Mexico who was sent to renegotiate a border with Mexico that provided a route for a southern railroad in exchange for U.S. financial obligations.

places to visit in Tucson, AZ
Agua Caliente Park – a must see in Tucson, AZ

In 1873, Peter Bain filed the first formal claim to 160 acres surrounding Agua Caliente Spring.  He began a dairy cattle operation by bringing cows north from Sonora. Bain built a house, several outbuildings and corrals at Agua Caliente.

must see parks in Tucson, AZ
Ranch House, now an art gallery, at Agua Caliente spring

In 1875,  James P. Fuller purchased “Agua Caliente Rancho” and established an orchard and cattle ranch on the property.

native Velvet Mesquites for shade
native Mesquite trees at Agua Caliente in Tucson

In 1881, Fuller’s Hot Springs Resort was advertised as a medicinal and recreational destination.  He promoted the curative properties of the natural warm springs.

Agua Caliente Springs and Ranch
Agua Caliente warm springs

1880s-1920s.  Various owners operated Agua Caliente as a cattle ranch and resort.  The ranch bunkhouse, which dates back to the 1920s, was used by the ranch hands.

historic sites in Arizona
Historic Ranch House at Agua Caliente Park in Tucson
best parks in Tucson, Arizona
Agua Caliente Ranch and Hot Springs

The ranch house, caretaker cottage, now known as Rose Cottage, and the bunk house have been restored. The ranch house depicts the home as it may have appeared in the 1920s.

Tucson, AZ historic landmark
Rose Cottage is a historic building at Agua Caliente

In 1935,  Gibson DeKalb Hazard purchased Agua Caliente and operated it as a working ranch while also growing fruit and alfalfa.

In 1951,  the Filiatrault family took over the ownership of Agua Caliente consisting of three large lakes.  They also grew alfalfa for their cattle and horses and maintained the fruit orchard Fuller established in 1875.

place to visit in Arizona
Agua Caliente Spring Tucson, AZ

In 1984,  local businessman Roy P. Drachman donated over $200,000 toward the purchase of Agua Caliente.  The donation provided the incentive for Pima County to acquire the property and establish Agua Caliente Park.

Agua Caliente Park, a Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Facility,  opened on January 19th, 1985.

March 1, 1997.  Agua Caliente’s expansion areas were opened for public use. The park improvements included a paved entry drive and parking lot, accessible trails, interpretive signs explaining the waterfowl and history of this unique park, and a new maintenance building.

Drachman donated to Agua Caliente
signs throughout Agua Caliente

April 17, 2004.  The grand opening of the newly restored Ranch House and Rose Cottage.

The ranch house was built around 1873 and is currently a visitor center and an art gallery.  Call 520-749-3718 for more information.

Agua Caliente Oasis in Tucson
Historic places in Arizona

July 9, 2009.  Agua Caliente Ranch Historic Landscape was entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

For more interesting info click , part 2 of 3 – http://tjsgarden.com/2013/09/07/best-picnics-family-time-perfect-weddings-tucson-spring-park/

part 3 of 3 – http://tjsgarden.com/2013/09/12/agua-caliente-park-spring-drying-up-tucson/

Pima County Agua Caliente Park, 12325 East Roger Road, Tucson  85749         Phone: 520-877-6120

The Thornless Chilean Mesquite is the best tree for Shade

The Shade from this Thornless Chilean MesquiteProsopis chilensis, creates a 10-15 degree cooler temperature in our yard. The dogs use the shade from the Mesquites to stay cool.

Below in the photo is a Hybrid Mesquite that is Thornless, called the Chilean Mesquite. By providing abundant shade, a lush green leaf canopy and graceful fissured brown trunks, Thornless Mesquites are another of the wonderful trees that dispelled the myth that desert landscapes were hot, barren, spiny and uninviting. Chilean or Thornless Mesquite trees are beautiful and one of the best shade trees for your yard.

best shade tree
Our Chilean Mesquite Tree makes the best shade tree

The Thornless (Chilean) Mesquite Tree pictured here is approximately 15 years old.

Shade is a welcome addition to all desert landscapes, xeriscaping, especially in the extreme heat of The Sonoran Desert.  The shade produced by Thornless Hybrid Mesquites, (Chileans) can range from filtered to quite dense which can inhibit the growth and flowering of some under-story plantings.

When deciding where to grow your Mesquite Tree, consider the ultimate shade that can be produced by these trees and how it will affect the growth and flowering of under-story plants. Also note from my experience that any plant, vine, or flower placed too close to the Mesquite will not do well.

chilean mesquite
The Shade from this Mesquite Tree creates a 10-15 degree cooler temperature in our yard.

At maturity, Chilean Mesquites can be up to 30 feet tall and as wide…with dome-shaped, spreading canopies, this Hybrid in the photo below is much taller.  They are cold resistant to 10 to 15 degrees F.  Thornless Mesquites are semi-deciduous, losing  a portion of their leaves in warmer winters in the Phoenix, Arizona and Palm Desert, California areas.

Las Vegas and Tucson, Arizona will have a little more leaf shed due to the lower winter temperatures. Leaves remaining through the winter are shed rapidly in spring just prior to bud break. Mesquite trees are often easily damaged or completely uprooted by the high winds associated with the summer rainy season.  Proper tree staking is essential!!

Below is a picture of our 15 year old Chilean Mesquite Tree, majestic, healthy and strong. This Tree is one of,  if not the tallest Mesquite Tree, or any tree in our area.

huge mesquite shade tree
The Best Shade Tree. The wind was blowing during the photo.

When it comes to shade – this Thornless Mesquite is the perfect tree for shade! It is also loved by the neighborhood birds.