Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Carnegiea gigantea, Saguaro

The Saguaro flower is the state flower of Arizona. These flowers are loaded with nectar and visited by birds, bats and insects. Carnegiea gigantea Saguaro flowers may completely cover the top of the main stem and several of the arms. The ripe fruits provide food wildlife and humans. Carnegiea giganteaSaguaros are tall stately native “trees” that can grow to 50 feet or more. In the United States they are found only in Arizona and southeast California. Carnegiea gigantea

Scientific Name: Carnegiea gigantea
Common Name: Saguaro
Also Called: Giant Cactus, Saguaro Cactus (Spanish: Sahuaro, Saguaro)
Family: Cactaceae, Cactus Family
Synonyms: (Carnegia gigantea, Cereus giganteus)
Status: Native
Duration: Perennial
Size: Up to 50 feet or more.
Growth Form: Arborescent; main trunk tall, up to 2½ feet in diameter, massive, up to 30 ribs; up to 30 ribbed stems or more, branching several feet above its base; protected with stout straight spines.
Leaves: Leaves modified into spines; glochids absent.
Flower Color: White; nocturnal; fruit oblong-obovoid, fruit with few small weak spines, pulp is deep red.
Flowering Season: May and June; fruits mature in June or July.
Elevation: Up to 4,500 feet usually under 3,500 feet.

Habitat Preferences: Rocky hills and plains in well drained soils.

Recorded Range: In the United States, Carnegiea gigantea relatively rare and it is only found in California and Arizona. In Arizona it is found in the central, southern and western parts of the state. In California it is found in the southeast part of the state. It is also native to northwest Mexico.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Carnegiea gigantea.

U.S. Weed Information: No data available.
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: No data available.
Wetland Indicator: No data available.

Threatened/Endangered Information: Carnegiea gigantea, the "crested" or "fantop" form only, are highly safeguarded and salvage restricted in Arizona.

Genus Information: 1 species in Carnegiea, monotypic taxa.

Comments: The stately Saguaro is believed to live up to 150 years or more; it is the most conspicuous and tallest cactus of the United States. Its flower is the state wildflower of Arizona and the cactus provides a protective home to cavity dwelling birds such as woodpeckers and small owls as well as non-native birds. The flowers may be pollinated by birds, bats or insects and its seeds provide food for birds and small mammals and are a delicacy for Whitewing Doves.

Carnegiea is a monotypic genus. The type specimen of the Saguaro, first described by George Engelmann (1809-1884), is from along the Gila River in southern Arizona and there it was first discovered by William H. Emory (1811-1887), an early topographical engineer and explorer, while conducting boundary surveys of the Mexican-American border.

Ethno-Herbalist: Southern California Ethnobotany; Ethnobotany of Southern California Native Plants:Carnegiea gigantea.

Carnegiea gigantea has been used for food, materials and basketry southwestern American indigenous peoples.
Apache, Chiricahua & Mescalero Food, Substitution Food, Syrup used in the absence of sugar to sweeten an intoxicating drink.
Apache, Western Other, Containers, Burls used as containers.
Papago Fiber, Basketry, Ribs used as one of the chief warp materials.
Papago Food, Preserves, Juice made into cactus jam and used as the most important sweet in the diet.
Papago Food, Sauce & Relish, Fruits boiled to make a syrup.
Papago Other, Hunting & Fishing Item, Ribs split, made into rough cages and used to trap gamble quail and mourning doves.
Papago Other, Tools, Four needles tied in a row and used as piercing instruments for tattooing.
Papago Other, Tools, Giant ribs split in two and used as wooden tongs for gathering cholla joints and buds.
See other ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Date Profile Completed: 06/07/2015, updated, 09/14/2015, updated 09/24/2016, updated 07/24/2017, updated format 10/11/2017
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search
Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, California.
1969, Benson, Lyman, The Cacti of Arizona, The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
Arthur C. Gibson, FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 4 | Cactaceae | Carnegiea | Page 183, 185, 186 | Carnegiea gigantea | Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford. (accessed 07-Jun-2015).
1993, The Jepson Manual, Citation: (accessed 06/06/2015)
SEINet for synonyms, scientific names and recorded geographic locations,
Wikipedia contributors, 'Saguaro', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 June 2015, 20:17 UTC, [accessed 6 June 2015]
Wikipedia contributors, 'George Engelmann', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 May 2015, 01:09 UTC,
ttp:// [accessed 6 June 2015]
Wikipedia contributors, 'William H. Emory', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 April 2015, 14:04 UTC, [accessed 6 June 2015]