A cactus, part of the plant family Cactaceae, is a spiny succulent plant typically found in dry environments. With over 1750 species with a wide range of shapes and sizes, cacti have adapted to be drought resistant by conserving water with thickened flesh, evolving without leaves, and using spines to reduce air flow and provide soft shade over their surfaces. Cacti remain dormant for long periods and are capable of reacting to sporadic rainfall by quickly expanding and absorbing water when it is available. Today, cacti continue to be the prominent and iconic plant type associated with many desert regions, while also being a popular low-maintenance household plant with playful forms.
The saguaro cactus (carnegiea gigantea) is the largest cactus species in the United States and is a defining image of the Sonoran Desert. As an international icon of the American Southwest, the saguaro’s unmistakable silhouette is often used for commercials and brands that want to convey the idea of the wild west. Growing about an inch a year, the height of a saguaro is between 15-50’ (4.5 m - 18 m) with an average height of 30’ (9 m). The tallest recorded saguaro cactus was 78’ (23.8 m).
Tree-like, the saguaro cactus grows arms as it ages over 150-200 years and may grow upwards of 25 arms over its lifetime. Not in any rush, the first arm may take 75-100 years to grow and will continue to grow more to assist in reproduction—as each arm increases the opportunity for more flowers and fruit. Some saguaro cacti never grow arms and remain ‘spears.’ The saguaro cactus has a great capacity to store rainwater and will visibly expand during wet periods in order to survive future droughts.
Genus/Species: Carnegiea gigantea
Location: Sonoran Desert (S Arizona, W Sonora, Mexico, SE California)
Height: Average 30’ | 9 m; up to 40-60’ | 12-18 m
Weight: 3200-4800 pounds (during steady rain)
Diameter: Base Column: 18-24” | 45-60 cm
Flowers: White, April-June
Fruit: Red fruits, ripen in June
Indoor potted cacti grow in a myriad of strange, unique, and wonderful shapes and sizes and add low-maintenance personality to any space. Easy to grow indoors, the only attention that a cactus needs is the provision of bright light and fast draining soil. Cacti can grow as a single stem and over time may grow multiple stems and arms within a single pot. These common desert houseplants can thrive in indoor environments and may even boast beautiful flowing blooms in the right conditions.