Saguaro: Savvy Water-Saver

Saguaro cacti really do save water. But they don’t do it like most people think–store it up like a water-tower. You can’t poke a hole in a saguaro and watch the water pour out into a bucket.

Saguaros are about 70 years old when they develop 'arms'

Saguaros are about 70 years old when they develop 'arms'

We had our first monsoon storm the other night. Parts of Mesa got three inches of rain, parts of Phoenix, two inches. That’s more than we got in all last year’s monsoon season. When it rains that hard, saguaros make the most of it. Saguaros have vertical pleats. The pleats serve all sorts of purposes–structure, strength, and the power to expand when water is available.

When the plant is dry, the pleats are close together and thin. Give it a bit of rain, and the plant sucks up the water, the pleats expand like an accordion about to play a polka, and the water is stored for the coming dry days.

Saguaros are protected in Arizona. The one on the left happily soaked up

Saguaro pleat

Saguaro pleat

on the monsoon water, which you can see better in the close up on the right. Because they are protected, there are strict laws about moving them for construction.

The photograph below shows a thinner cactus, one that is still waiting for a good soaking. The Phoenix area has an average of 106 days of temperatures over 100 degrees in the summer, the last one occurring about September 26.

saguaro with bird

saguaro with bird

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who is currently moving to the Phoenix area. She took the top two photographs, but the one with the bird on the arm is from

5 thoughts on “Saguaro: Savvy Water-Saver

  1. Quinn, you reminded me of something one of my clients said several years ago – “I’ve been yoyo dieting for so long that I’m like a saguaro, expanding and contracting overnight!” Thanks for triggering that great analogy for me again!

  2. So many amazing forms of life and all of them on the same planet..

    I am glad that you share these impressions with us.

    When you somehow have become used to it all, some day, then it is time to have friends or family over and enjoy their reactions of surprise.

  3. Do you think the first cactus is giving developers the finger? ‘Cause I have to say that’s the first thing that sprang to mind when I saw that photo. Which probably says much more about me than the cactus . . . ;D

  4. Hi Quinn. It’s great to read your perspectives on Arizona. I’ve been here so long, I have at times forgotten how to see these things. I get to see them through your eyes đŸ™‚


    —-> Thanks, Andrea. I walk around in astonishment all the time. (Carrying my sketchbook, too). I know it will fade, but I’m loving the newness right now. -Q

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