Saguaros are in Bloom: 8 Facts about Saguaro Blossoms

Spoiler: they smell like melon!

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

The saguaro is one of 51 species of cactus that are native to Arizona but it is undoubtedly the most well known. You may have seen one in a Western movie set in Texas or New Mexico but chances are the filming actually took place in Arizona because the cactus can only be found in the lush Sonoran Desert of Arizona as well as the southern neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico and in some areas of southeastern California.

Saguaros are some of the most interesting species in the cactus family. Standing tall with arms raised in a perpetual state of hello, saguaros are the tallest cactus in the United States.

This iconic cactus has adapted mechanisms to not only survive but thrive in the Sonoran Desert where they are native. There’s a reason so many people are fascinated by this majestic desert plant.

Saguaros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To survive periods of drought and harsh conditions, saguaros have developed a number of strategies including their ability to store water. Saguaros have accordion-like ribs and a stem succulent that allows them to store hundreds of gallons of water during rainfall. As more water gets stored, the skin of the saguaro starts to expand to make room for more storage. As a result, these cacti can be very heavy. At full capacity, a saguaro can weigh over a ton.

The saguaro cactus serves as a hotel for numerous desert wildlife species. Gila woodpeckers are typically the first animal to carve out nest holes in the saguaro. They wait several months before using it to allow the inner pulp of the saguaro to dry into a solid casing around the cavity. After these birds raise their young, the nest holes become a valuable shelter for several other animals, including elf owls, flycatchers, cactus wrens, and other species.  

Saguaros grow slowly. It might take them about 50-70 years to grow their first arm. Some have been documented of having up to 25 arms! However, there are others that never grow an arm—a mystery that remains to be unsolved.  

Each year in the late spring, white blossoms emerge in the desert, crowning the majestic saguaros that grow in the Sonoran Desert.

Considered one of the most beautiful flower species of the Sonoran Desert, this striking natural jewel was named Arizona’s state flower in 1931.

You might have noticed the beloved saguaros have been sporting new hairdos lately.

No, they’re not growing baby avocados at the crown of their heads. These bulbous green nubs are the buds that bloom into beautiful saguaro flowers this time of year.

Saguaro flowers are usually found near the tops of the stems and arms of the cactus.

Saguaro flowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are a few things you might want to know about these white dazzlers.

1. Peak blooming is from early May to early June

There are countless saguaros blooming or getting ready to bloom!

2. They have a short lifespan 

The flower itself blooms for less than 24 hours opening at nighttime and remaining open through the following day, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

The whole saguaro, though, can produce many blooms throughout a season. 

3. They get a little help from their friends

The saguaro flower relies on a number of desert dwellers to help with the pollination process. At night, that’s the lesser long-nosed bat and the Mexican long-tongued bat.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the bats reach deep into the blossoms for nectar, “covering their hairy heads with copious amounts of pollen that drop onto other flowers as the bats fly from cactus to cactus throughout the night.”

During daytime, the flowers are pollinated by bees and birds such as the white-winged dove.

Saguaro flowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. They smell delightful

Saguaro flowers are often described as having a strong sweet melon-like scent. Bats and other wildlife can’t get enough. 

5. It’s the official state flower of Arizona

The brilliant saguaro bloom was designated Arizona’s state flower in 1931.

It joins the ranks of other Arizona state symbols including the cactus wren, turquoise, and the bola tie. 

6. They turn into fruit 

Once a saguaro flower has been pollinated, it matures into fruit that splits open when ripened revealing juicy red pulp. Each piece of fruit contains about 2,000 small black seeds.

Saguaro flowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The fruit is edible 

The Tohono O’odham have long harvested saguaro fruit. The National Park Service says, “The harvesting of saguaro fruit by the Tohono O’odham is a centuries-old practice of subsistence, religion, and reaffirmation of their relationship with their traditional environment.”

Many native plants including saguaros are protected by law. To harvest on private property, you’ll need permission from the landowner. If you’re on public land, go to the government entity involved to verify if you can harvest.

Saguaro fruit is typically harvested from mid-June through July. The fruit is also a source of food for many desert critters including birds, bats, tortoises, javelinas, and coyotes.

8. You can find blooms all over the desert

You’re apt to see saguaro blooms almost anywhere throughout the Sonoran Desert from random sidewalks and intersections to desert wonderlands like Saguaro National Park.

Saguaro flowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Any time you take a hike or have an outdoor experience in the Sonoran Desert, there’s no doubt about it: you’re going to see a saguaro. While that may be the case here are some of my favorite spots with an abundance of cactus. While you’re taking your saguaro selfie, make sure to stay on the trail.

The Complete Guide to Saguaro National Park

Iconic giant cacti are the stars in this photo-ready Southwestern desert preserve. The 91,327 acres that comprise Saguaro National Park in southeast Arizona provide the perfect climate as well as protection for vast forests of saguaro cacti to thrive.

Check out this article…

Saguaro-speckled Desertscapes of Cave Creek Regional Park

The unspoiled Sonoran Desert vegetation of Cave Creek Regional Park invites visitors to become enveloped in a tranquil, largely undisturbed natural world.

Check out this article…

Catalina State Park: Celebrating its 40th Anniversary + Hiking Safely in 110-degree Heat

Catalina State Park in Tucson celebrated its 40th anniversary in May. The park serves as one of Tucson’s most popular hiking and camping destinations and is well-known for its trails and saguaro-studded scenery.

Check out this article…

A Hiker’s Paradise: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

A top notch location in the greater Phoenix area for a hike in the desert with thirty miles of trails that range anywhere from as short as a mile to several of them exceeding five miles or more.

Check out this article…

Ribbon of Green: Sabino Canyon Offers Desert Beauty

The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson offer numerous scenic ravines but two of the most scenic are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many saguaro, and other Sonoran Desert cacti and plants with rocky peaks rising high above.

Check out this article…

Worth Pondering…

A 40-foot saguaro strikes an invincible pose: bristling with defenses, assertively towering over every other living thing in the landscape, seemingly confident in its life span of 200 years or longer.

—Larry Cheek, Born Survivor