May 2006 Our state flower is the saguaro, and will be blooming most abundantly in the month of May. This is a show not to be missed! Arizona is unique in that the saguaro cactus does not grow naturally anywhere else in the country, except perhaps a few stragglers in California. The saguaro has also been an icon and important cultural plant in the southwest for centuries.
The Deem Hills is home to some beautiful wild specimens of saguaro and the community of birds, insects and other animals that depend on them. If you want to see saguaros in bloom, the best time to visit them is early morning before 10:00 a.m. or so. Saguaros bloom late in the evening, producing copious nectar and pollen that attracts bats. Although the bats do visit and often pollinate the flowers, the blossoms remain open well into the next morning and are also visited by doves, several species of bees and other insects. Each flower blooms only for one day; a new crop of flowers will bloom every evening for two weeks or so.
Having a saguaro in your home landscape is a way to honor the desert lands we live in, and is also is a great conversation piece. Although a ten-foot tall saguaro is most spectacular, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to have a saguaro planted in your yard. Most garden centers have small saguaros available ranging from six inch tall specimens for around $5.00 to taller plants that normally sell for $25.00 to $30.00 a foot. Or you can even “start from scratch” and plant saguaro seeds in your yard!
If you plant seeds or a young saguaro, choose a location that is partially shaded, such as beneath a palo verde or other large tree, which is where they would normally germinate and grow in the wild. Saguaros and other native cacti generally do not require special soil, fertilizer, or drip irrigation, although you will need to water any new planting at least once a week for a month or so to insure establishment. With proper care, a cultivated saguaro may bloom as early as fifteen years old. Even if you can’t stick around that long, planting a saguaro is a great gift to give back to the desert, and is also an enhancement to any neighborhood in the Phoenix area.
Since May 2005, I have written a natural history column for a neighborhood newsletter published by Jennifer Moore called "Our Big Backyard: Natural History of the Deem Hills," and since 2010, "A Suburban Naturalist."All of these columns are reproduced here. Deem Hills is a City of Phoenix Desert Preserve located just north of Happy Valley Road in north central Phoenix, and just west of I-17. The Preserve and adjacent hills comprise over 900 acres of open space with several miles of hiking trails. For more perspectives from the Deem Hills and suburban Phoenix, also check out my companion blog, Kat Tracks.
As a naturalist with a special interest in botany and plant ecology, some of my greatest passions are to explore, photograph and write about native plants. If I can spark an awareness or interest in natural history in others along the way, that is my greatest reward.