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Desert Botanical Gardens, Part 4

I am awestruck by the majestic Giant Saguaro Cactus. Carnegiea gigantea is native to the Sonoran Desert which ranges from central Arizona (think Phoenix) to the Mexican state of Sonora and a small part of Baja California.

They are relatively long-lived — in fact, they take up to 75 years before developing side arms. The accordion-like pleats allow the plant to expand by storing water during the rainy season then slowly shrink during drier times. A good-sized saguaro, when fully hydrated, can weight a couple tons.

Arizona state law prohibits harming a saguaro in any way — special permits are required to move or destroy one during construction.

Of course, none of that really runs through my mind as I stare up at this huge specimen. All I can think is "WOW"!

Relative to its size the spines in this cactus are even bigger than those on the saguaro. And they certainly look menacing — I guess the message to creatures wanting to eat this cactus is "back off now and you won't get hurt".

I love these spines because of the color. I guess they do not show the blood of their victims.

These cacti have a plethora of spines. I cannot imagine an animal that could get past them in order to eat the flesh of the plant. Of course, Mother Nature always seems to enjoy a battle between predator and prey — so there probably is a herbivore that can get past this prevent defense.

Strangely, this cactus only has a minimum of spines, typically only four per point. So they seem to huddle together for common protection.

And this cactus (or a relative thereof) seems to have abandoned spines altogether.

Many species of cactus produce fruit. These were an important source of food for the Native Americans who populated this area so many years ago. In fact, in present-day Arizona you can buy jams made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus — a sample is shown here.

In some species of prickly pear cactus, the fruit are bright red in color. That certainly brightens up the cactus garden.

As I strolled toward the exit, I was taken aback by a stand of flowers. After all the cactus and succulents, these seemed somewhat out of place. But here they are for us, as well as the bees, to enjoy albeit for different reasons.

Another surprise before I leave, a desert tortoise slowly making its way through the garden. These hardy creatures are native to the Sonoran desert and can tolerate both the heat and cold found here by retreating to underground burrows. They are herbivores, eating grass, wildflowers, fruit and new growth of cacti. Wikipedia tells me that they can survive a year or longer without access to water.

Well, time to leave with a parting view of Chihuly's Desert Towers. As I mentioned, this is one of my favorite places in Arizona — which is why I am a member — so I can visit whenever I want.

For those in the Phoenix area, remember that Las Noches de las Luminarias will be presented from December 2 to 30. It is a treat that may likely become an annual holiday tradition for you as it has for me.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com