Arizona’s beloved plant species, the giant green saguaro, struggled to survive the extreme weather conditions in Arizona.
Record heat has put this desert plant under great stress, and many have fallen or lost limbs in the past year.
“Certainly. The drought of the past decades and the record lack of precipitation last year have put many saguaros in a compromised state,” said Martin Wojciechowski, botanist, microbiologist and professor of plant biology at Arizona State University.
A lack of precipitation in 2020 and record heat, according to the National Weather Service, has resulted in the deaths of older saguaros.
A weakened and dehydrated old saguaro, which can weigh between 3,200 and 4,800 pounds, according to Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, may not have the strength of her rod to stay upright, causing her to fall, Wojciechowski said.
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âThe desert is a demanding environment and water is the key to survival here, be it humans, pack rats or saguaros,â Wojciechowski said.
Even though the Sonoran Desert received significant amounts of rain last year, the rain came far too late for some of the oldest and most composed saguaros, he said.
At the end of Arizona’s monsoon season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classified this monsoon as the seventh wettest in the state since 1901. That still wasn’t enough to keep the older cacti afloat. said Benjamin T. Wilder, director of the Desert Laboratory at the University of Arizona on Tumamoc Hill, where botanists began studying the saguaro 118 years ago.
âThese older plants that are potentially at the end of their life die disproportionately in a very short period of time,â Wilder said.
After years of extreme heat in Arizona, some of the saguaros also couldn’t stand the sudden amount of rain and it became another kind of shock to their system, Wilder said.
âWith this amount of rain that we had, they just sucked in so much water and was under a lot of stress,â he said.
Even though the saguaro is designed to store large amounts of water at a time, their roots which grow more horizontally in the soil make it more difficult for them to access water which can be stored deeper in the soil during hot weather. summer months, said Kevin Hultine. plant physiologist and ecophysiologist for the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.
âThe heat is really harsh on the photosynthetic tissue of a plant,â Hultine said. “It might not be able to perform the photosynthesis that they typically could, which allows them to produce the resources they need to maintain their metabolic function.”
The effects of climate change are felt by saguaro species even in the dry climate for which they were designed to survive by straining their survival mechanisms.
For Arizona residents who are concerned about their saguaro, Hultine recommends keeping a close watch on the plant, especially its ribs and the size of its stem.
The stem can shrink and swell over time, and if you’re careful, the water causes the cactus’s ribs to swell, Hultine said.
According to a study by the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, “If you can’t get a finger or two between your ribs, or if the skin gives way when you press it, the cactus needs water.
Wilder also recommended keeping the natural vegetation around the saguaro, otherwise it won’t survive as well.
âYoung saguaros are helped by the foster tree, which is the dominant tree such as a palo verde or ironwood, and they create a little microclimate and shade for the saguaro,â Wilder said.