Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Life and death in Saguaro National Park

with 14 comments

Behold a fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) in the eastern sector of Tucson’s Saguaro National Park as we saw it two years ago today:

Hardy as desert plants are, they all eventually meet their demise. Here’s what a barrel cactus look like then:

Oh, all right, it was Saguaro National Park, so I guess I’ll have to show you a saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). This one had two particularly enfolding “arms”:

And here are the stately remains of a saguaro with upraised “arms”:

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2018 at 4:49 AM

14 Responses

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  1. When it’s in good health, the barrel cactus is pretty handsome, and has a very crisp and orderly layout. Deceased, it’s a very unpleasant and alien-looking sight.

    Robert Parker

    November 8, 2018 at 5:06 AM

    • A park ranger told us that a leaning barrel cactus can get so heavy it falls over. I just searched and found out that a good-sized one of these may weigh several hundred pounds. That’s a lot of mass to become unpleasant and alien-looking when it decays.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2018 at 5:35 AM

  2. Splendid live ones! I love the big cactus and I cannot lie!

    Dianne Lethcoe

    November 8, 2018 at 3:25 PM

    • Nobody would ever accuse you of lying, Dianne. Those big cacti are impressive, no doubt about it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2018 at 5:49 PM

  3. A fantastic park – my husband and I were just there earlier this year 🙂 Wonderful shots!

    M.B. Henry

    November 8, 2018 at 4:58 PM

    • We’d been there two years earlier as well, in both sectors. I can understand why this would bring back memories, given how recently you visited the place.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2018 at 5:51 PM

  4. The spines on that fishhook cactus really do look like fishhooks. I was idly wondering if anyone ever used the spines in that way, and then it occurred to me that the fishing probably isn’t too good in the middle of the desert.

    I love the saguaro that looks like it’s karaoke night at Club Cacti, and it’s ready to take the mic for a rendition of “Embraceable You.” On the other hand, the second saguaro looks like another of those Liberian bush devils. It’s missing the stilts, but it has the tall, conical hat.


    November 8, 2018 at 7:47 PM

    • In general fishing wouldn’t be too good there. However, the Colorado River flows across Arizona and a few lakes dot the landscape here and there.

      While I wouldn’t want to be embraced by a saguaro, some animals embrace those giant cacti as good places for their nests.

      No stilts for Mr. Saguaro. As for devils, some people found the cholla cactus in the previous post diabolical.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2018 at 8:10 PM

  5. That is one species of the desert that I have not yet seen. Barrel cactus and cholla live in Riverside County near Palm Springs, but the saguaro are farther south and east. Did you happen to see the desert fan palm?


    November 9, 2018 at 8:50 AM

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