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Tall spiny guys

One more post from our desert hike last weekend, because, well — Wow!

Right along the trail we encountered two specimens of individual cactus that seemed taller than most of their kin.  One was a towering, somewhat spindly saguaro. Of course, saguaros are known for their height, but this was one of the tallest I’ve seen personally.  Here’s a shot looking up at its crowns from the base. I’ve also included a picture of the saguaro with E, who is just over 6 feet tall.  If you figure you could stack about 7 of him to the top of the cactus, it’s probably close to 45 feet tall which is about maximum species height.  Maricopa County is the home of one of the state’s champion saguaros which is just over 50 feet in height, but it grows somewhere in Scottsdale.  By the way, although this saguaro has probably survived brush fires, the blackened, tough-looking skin on its lower section is more likely bark, developed with age, in place of the smooth green skin we’re used to seeing on younger individuals.  When the skin becomes calloused and barky, the spines are no longer as needed for protection against gnawing animals, and they gradually become the vestigial, button-like bumps you can see in the photo above.

The other picture also has E for scale, but that’s not a young saguaro he’s standing next to.  It’s a barrel cactus: a compass barrel, Ferocactus cylindraceus, one of the most commonly encountered barrel cactus in this part of the desert.  They’re big barrels, and when you come across an undisturbed cluster of elderly ones, they’re often 4′ to 5′ tall. But this one, with two small ones growing at its base — probably its own seedlings from many seasons past — looks to be more than 8 feet tall, which must approach the maximum height of the species.  The only barrel cactus I’ve seen to compete are the famously tall Diguet’s barrels (Ferocactus diguetii) which can reach 4 meters in height. They grow on just a few islands in the Sea of Cortez off the eastern shore of Baja California.  Below is a photo of one, but it’s only of average height — no more than 7 feet. And check out the tiny tiny bud of a baby barrel coming up at its base: it looks like a tennis ball. How cute is a baby cactus ?

All photos A. Shock (except Diguet’s barrel on Santa Catalina Island, by E. Shock), and with no camera tricks, like standing farther from the camera than the subject: no Hogzilla here!

Posted by Allison on Mar 24th 2009 08:53 pm | No Comments yet
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