Photo of And old saguaro, with lots of old bird nests, in Arizona

Weekly Gem #203 Scars aplenty, but still standing

Published 7/13/2019

Location: This Weekly Gem is located in Desert Ridge, AZ (see the Clue Me! Map). There are plenty of saguaro in the Sonoran Desert, but how often do you find one with such character?

This old timer began growing in about 1850. Survival was precarious in the early years, and like most, this saguaro undoubtedly survived because it was in the shade of a ‘nurse tree’ (probably a palo verde, ironwood, or mesquite that was conveniently close to where the seed fell). The nurse trees give small saguaro a fighting chance to survive the first several dry seasons.

After 20 or 30 years, this guy was self-sufficient, standing a foot or two tall. At this point, in an ironic twist, the nurse tree became the victim of the saguaro it nurtured. You see, the saguaro root system includes a tap root drilling straight down for about 5 feet, and an extremely dense layer of fine roots extending horizontally just below the surface. As the roots spread toward the nurse tree, they soaked up virtually all the rainwater, leaving the nurse tree bone dry. Soon the nurse tree was dead, and the saguaro pushed upward.

Lest you think poorly of this old fellow … it is clearly a master of collecting and storing water, but also of sharing that water. The many holes you can see were drilled by either a Gila Woodpecker or the Gilded Flicker, which break through to the water logged interior and eat / drink their fill. When finished, they have a nice shady nest cavity. The woodpeckers change nests each year, and the old ones are used year after year by whoever happens to find it. Elf owls, ferruginous pygmy owls, purple marlins, brown-crested flycatchers, and other desert birds move into the cavities when the woodpeckers move out.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


Desert Condo?


And old saguaro, with lots of old bird nests

Why It's Interesting

There are many saguaros in Arizona, but this one has character

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