Welcome to my page of quotations about the most magnificent beauty of the Sonoran Desert — the saguaro cactus, or cereus giganteus. I love this plant as much as I love trees, which is a heck of a lot! The white blossom of the saguaro is the official state flower of Arizona and is a beautiful delight to see.
The saguaro is Arizona. ~Herb & Dorothy McLaughlin, c. 1973
Along the mountain ridges,
Across the desert floor;
Arms like verdant armor,
Stalwarts guard our door.
Shading for the lizard,
Haven for the wren,
Source of inspiration,
For past and present men.
~Earl Bloss, “Saguaros,” in Arizona Highways, 1973
You know you’re an Arizona native when you “hug” a cactus only once in your lifetime. ~Nancy Dedera, quoted in You Know You’re an Arizona Native, When…, compiled by Don Dedera, 1993
Bonfires of the evening sun
Merge in final unquenched glory
From horizon up to heaven,
While grotesque saguaro fingers
Paint lofty silhouettes against the sky.
~Helen Castle, “Saguaro at Sunset,” in Arizona Highways, 1973
That afternoon we reached a small town, an oasis of struggling greenery in the desert… There were saguaros everywhere. I had never seen these cacti in such numbers… Their flesh varied in color from tropical green to gunmetal. The churchyard was full of massive plants standing sentinel. Each cactus had a different number of limbs, ranging from a single erect arm to a crown of fat, prickly oblongs… ~Abby Geni, The Wildlands, 2018
With fruity-fingered arms, I hug the sky. ~Terri Guillemets, “Summer saguaro,” 2018
Foremost in the cactus family is the well known candelabra cactus by Mexicans called sahuaro. This plant, with its enormously tall, pale green and prickly body, from which extend at different places in different specimens gigantic arms, reaches at times the incredible height of fifty feet, although the average may be stated as from twenty to thirty feet. On the hillsides, among very rocky ground, where it flourishes in spite of all reasonable expectation, it hardly ever exceeds over twenty feet, while on the high tablelands, where it receives more nourishment from the sandy ground mixed with loam, it attains its most majestic proportions. ~Richard J. Hinton, The Hand-Book to Arizona, 1878
Here is a master’s etching
In the crimson flood of dawn—
A thousand monks are marching
With a prayer to cheer them on.
Their pleading arms are reaching
Ever upward thru the haze;
I think they must be preaching
For the souls of other days…
~Don Maitland Bushby (1900–1969), “Desert Monks (Impressions of the Sahuarro),” c. 1958 [Bushby was adopted as “Chief Whispering Pine.”
The cactus most outstanding in scenic appeal is the gigantic saguaro, the largest succulent in the United States. The flowers are nocturnal, opening between 9 and 12 o’clock at night. They open slowly, full expansion requiring about two or three hours; and persist in full flowering stage until late the following afternoon when they begin to close and wither. The large and beautiful white flowers are not fragrant but have an odor like that of ripe melon. The white-wing dove feeds largely on the seeds of the sahuaro during the fruiting season. ~Thomas H. Kearney and Robert H. Peebles, Flowering Plants and Ferns of Arizona, 1942 [a little altered
a shrug, a hug
waving, curling, sprouting
disco, vogue; praise, prayer
skeletonized, or multiplied
flower and fruity fingered
flipped, frail, or fallen off
perfected, nested, crested
~Terri Guillemets, “Saguaro arms,” 2020
Cactus of many kinds is found all over the Southwest, but it is not until one approaches the center of Sonora that it attains its most imposing development, and becomes a giant forest in every sense of the term. A walk took me to the heart of the giant cactus forest, the big-spined trunks seeming magnified in the moonlight, and casting strange shadows. The cactus forest completely captivated me. Mountain ranges and peaks rose over the cactus-trees and the edge of the world and came into life, like ships at sea.
From the slope of the various peaks which environ the delta, the vast plain appears covered with brush; but once on the level, and in it, the verdure resolves itself into a cactus forest of extraordinary attraction and solidity. I can compare it only to some artificial scene in a riotous extravaganza, where the artist in striving for scenic effect has drawn liberally upon his imagination to produce weird shapes, brilliant tints, and strange contrasts of color, unreal and fantastic.
The largest and most persistent was the saguaro, a gigantic cactus, a splendid, fluted column, rising erect, sometimes in a single pillar forty or fifty feet, with symmetrical, branching arms forming a colossal candelabrum. The trunks of the largest saguaros were over three feet in diameter, richly fluted, and savagely spined in long, regular lines. Nature had painted them in greens of an entrancing variety, tone, and tint. The blossoms were a rich yellow, and clinging to them here and there were large woodpeckers. ~Charles Frederick Holder, “Motoring in a Cactus Forest: A Trip Through the Giant Cactus of the Yaqui River,” in The Century Magazine, 1910 [a little altered
As in a children’s game
a sudden command
in the desert night
must have stopped
who now stand
fixed in a landscape
like strange people
from other times
and other places.
~Jeanne DeLamarter Bonnette, “The Saguaros,” in Arizona Highways, 1970
The saguaro, or giant cactus, is one of nature’s rare and curious productions. It has appropriately been named “The Sentinel of the Desert.” Its fruit is delicious and has the flavor of fig and strawberry combined. When the tree dies its pulp dries up and blows away and there remains standing only a spectral figure composed of white slats and fiber that looks ghostly in the distance. ~Joseph A. Munk, “Some Desert Plants,” Arizona Sketches, 1905 [a little altered
Sahuaro flowers are handsome, whitish and waxen, and very perfect in form. ~George Wharton James, “The Flora of Arizona,” Arizona the Wonderland, 1917
Sometimes a saguaro looks like it’s giving the middle finger to the world, an “F you, it’s hot out here!” ~Terri Guillemets, “Take a hike,” 1996
Saguaro Cactus Quotations
Original post date: 2016 Apr 25
1st major revision: 2020 Mar 27
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