A Sonoran Desert Gift – Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

Sagauro Flower - Like A Wax Specimen

Saguaro Flower – Like A Wax Specimen ©2014 Bo Mackison

A saguaro forest is awe-inspiring any time of the year.

But it is even more spectacular during May and June when many saguaros are topped with highly decorative, three-inch wide yellow-centered, white blossoms.

Four Saguaro Flowers

Four Saguaro Flowers ©2014 Bo Mackison

The flowers open at night.

They are highly fragrant, like overripe fruit, and attract the lesser long-nosed bat, a nocturnal creature and its most prolific pollinator. Flowers stay in full bloom throughout the next morning, then they quickly shrivel into a crispy brown shell.

Many saguaro, especially the older ones, have hundreds of flowers. Only a few flowers bloom in a single day, yet the saguaro flowering season lasts eight to ten weeks.

Saguaro Cactus in Bloom

Saguaro Blossom like a Trumpet ©2014 Bo Mackison

Bats are ideal pollinators.

Since the flowers are positioned high in the air, they are easily accessible to the swooping bats plus the blossoms are extremely durable – they look like they are dipped in wax! – and are able to withstand the bat’s weight.

The flowers produce some nectar after sunrise, and so also attract bees and doves during the day, but to a lesser degree.

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Macro Saguaro ©2014 Bo Mackison

A few flowers bloom at eye level, especially on cacti whose arms are drooping towards the ground.

It takes some persistent searching – and luck – to find a blossom that can be photographed up close and personal. Most of the flowers are high atop the cacti, twenty to forty feet in the air!
Saguaro Flower

Life Cycle of Saguaro Blossoms ©2014 Bo Mackison

The blossoms that are pollinated develop into deep red, fleshy fruits in late June.

Not only do the fruits feed the bird and animal populations of the desert, they are also a traditional food of the Tohono O’odham. These people once harvested the fruits using long poles fashioned from cactus ribs. The tradition still persists, though on a limited basis.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.

Comments

  1. Fabulous photos of these incredible blossoms! Visiting the SW in May I’ve seen these blossoms high atop the statuesque saguaros but was never able to see them the way you’re showing them. Yes, luck and persistence is key, and thank goodness you have a camera and know how to use it! I’ve always wanted to witness the bat pollination process but saw a program about it once on Discover….back when they used to actually air programs about discovering nature. Ahem, but I digress. GREAT post! The waxiness of the blossoms is fascinating!

  2. Gandalf says:

    Pretty awesome. I’d love to see them in bloom.

  3. Amazing life here – thanks for sharing!

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