Let Creation Speak

Giants of the Sonoran Desert

– Kathy Downs

Close your eyes. Picture a desert. Do you see miles of only sand? Then you’ll be surprised to learn about the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico. This special desert created by God is filled with a variety of plants, animals and insects. The word Sonoran comes from a Papago Indian word meaning place of plants.

If you visited the Sonoran Desert the first thing you would notice is the heat. In summer it feels like an oven. The daytime temperature is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Next you would notice how dry it is—less than ten inches of rain fall in one year. But you would also see unusual plants sticking out of the ground. These are saguaro cactuses. There are cactuses all over the world, but our Creator placed these “gigantic candles” only in the Sonoran Desert.

A saguaro is not a tree, although it grows up to 50 feet high! God put everything needed to grow these giants into seeds the size of a grain of sand. God also created protective “nurses” for these tiny seeds. Each saguaro seed sprouts and grows in the shade of a Palo Verde tree or a creosote bush. After one whole year the seedling is only the size of a pencil eraser. Ten years later it’s about five inches high. It takes 50 years to reach the height of a man!

The saguaro is a succulent—it soaks up and stores water. A special root system only a few inches deep spreads out like a fan around the saguaro. This system is as wide as the saguaro is tall. Roots quickly soak up rainwater and send it up the stem. Inside it’s like a tight sponge and the outside has deep ridges like an accordion. Working together these swell up and store hundreds of gallons of water. The saguaro uses the stored water slowly, making it last a whole year if needed. As water is used the plant shrinks until the next rainfall.

When the cactus is about 60 years old two things happen. The saguaro sprouts arms for storing more water and it blooms. Each blossom lasts only one night and a day. Bats and moths drink sweet blossom juice during the night. Birds and bees feed during the day. While drinking, these creatures get dusted with yellow pollen. They carry it from flower to flower on the cactus, causing fruit to grow. The red fruit makes the candle-like cactus appear to have flames. Animals and birds eat the fruit and carry seeds to other places. Soon another saguaro sprouts.

God’s purpose for each giant cactus continues.

While it towers over the desert, woodpeckers dig into its waxy skin and carve out a nest. After woodpeckers have raised their young, owls or mice move in and raise their families. One saguaro can provide food and shelter for many creatures. When the cactus finally falls to the ground it still provides food and shelter for insects, snakes, birds and lizards.

When you see a towering saguaro, you can say to God as King David did, “Great is your love reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:10).