The 80-armed saguaro

A most unusal cactus

When we think of the saguaro, signature plant of the Sonoran Desert, we usually think of a main trunk that can reach more than 30 feet in height with half a dozen arms or more arms. Ironwood Forest is home to a very special saguaro with more than 40 arms. Flowers form on the tip of the main stem and tips of branches. With this fact in mind, it would seem that more branches would equal more flowers, more seed production, and a better chance for the saguaro to reproduce. Saguaro researcher Bill Peachey says it’s just the opposite. Each arm depends on the main stem for water and nutrients and there may not be enough for flowers on each stem.

Peachey believes our that our “Shiva” saguaro probably had no more than four or five branches until it was about 100 years old when a burst of hormones led to a proliferation of branches.

Is multiple branching a genetic factor that can be passed on to the saguaro’s offspring?  Since saguaros don’t bear their first flowers until 60-80 years of age it’s a question that’s likely to go unanswered.

If you go to see the Shiva, please admire her from a distance.  Saguaros are shallow rooted and too much foot traffic can lead to soil compaction and damage small roots.  Please stay at least 30 feet (roughly the height of the saguaro) from the base.  By doing so you can help Shiva survive to be admired by future generations of visitors to Ironwood Forest.