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CARNEGIEA gigantea

Image of Carnegiea gigantea

Maureen Gilmer

Family

Cactaceae

Botanical Name

CARNEGIEA gigantea

Plant Common Name

Giant Saguaro

General Description

This enormous, branching, tree-like cactus is a favorite landscape plant in the deserts of the Southwest. Giant saguaro is native to the Sonoran Desert, from Arizona southward into Sonora, Mexico. In the wild, it is protected due to shrinking habitat and illegal wild-collection of native plants for garden cultivation. Sadly, most wild-collected plants quickly die because established, mature plants transplant poorly.

Giant saguaro columns feature up to thirty vertical ribs that act like an accordion, swelling in the summer rainy season then shrinking as moisture is lost during the annual winter drought. The vertical ridges are lined with aureoles armed with large, outward-facing spines. The giant saguaro is very slow growing. In fact, it can take 30 years for its leafless, columnar stems to attain a height of just three feet (1 meter). They will not branch nor bloom until at least 10 feet (3 meters) tall. Mature specimens produce hundreds of large, green and white, trumpet-shaped flowers clustered at the very top of the plant. The flowers are night-blooming and pollinated by insects, bats and even doves. Large, fleshy fruits follow. These are eaten by indigenous Native Americans and remain vital forage for birds and other wildlife.

Grow giant saguaro in full, hot sun and well-drained soil that’s sandy or gravelly. It grows best where winters are dry and summers bring regular thunderstorms, so a cool, dry winter season is essential for its success.

It is illegal to harvest saguaro cactus at any age from its wild habitat. Those legally collected from the wild often have small metallic tags which indicate the specimen’s point of origin. Seed-grown nursery stock is easy to come by in southwestern garden centers. Giant saguaro can be container grown if upgraded as needed and provided a substantial pot.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 10

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    8 - 12

  • Sunset Zone

    12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 21

  • Plant Type

    Cactus or Succulent

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    20'-50' / 6.1m - 15.2m

  • Width

    5'-10' / 1.5m - 3.0m

  • Bloom Time

    Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer

  • Native To

    Southwestern United States, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Very Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Upright/Erect

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Green

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Bicolor

  • Fruit Color

    Red, Light Green

  • Bark Color

    Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    Yes

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    Yes

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Container, Feature Plant, Houseplant, Rock Garden / Wall

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    Yes

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes