The Cycle of a Cactus -Part 2


by Rick Hartigan

photos by Roni Ziemba /


The winter rains are a memory. Fat with their absorbed moisture, the cacti wait. The temperature has begun to rise. Unimpeded by clouds, the desert sun warms the hills and valleys for the coming pageant. The stage is set for the annual flower show. The icon of the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus, is preparing for its leading role in the production. Standing over ten feet tall, those saguaros mature enough to flower await the signal to produce their buds, blossoms and fruit in the weeks to come. Their tops and arms show no hint of it yet.  But it’s coming. Every spring, like clockwork, the flowers appear. But for the moment, we wait. Anticipation is the first in a seven-part series following the cycle of one particular Saguaro cactus at the ranch. We will watch the buds form, the flowers bloom and then die. Then comes the fruit and its stages. We hope you enjoy following along!


They are subtle when they first appear, almost shy. Tiny, marble-sized bumps among the spines at the tops of the saguaros and the tops of the saguaro’s arms become crowns of buds within a few days. The waiting continues. Some of the saguaros at Tanque Verde Ranch have shown their flowers this year, but the promise is now there on our saguaro. All about, the cacti are preparing their display. The prickly pear present their flower buds and new pads together on the rims of the mature pads. Their flowers open along with those of the saguaros. The diminutive hedgehog has begun presenting their magenta cups. With a carpet of annuals about them, the cacti continue the Sonoran Desert’s flower show.

Bud is the second in a seven-part series following this particular cactus through its seasonal stages.

Rick Hartigan is a Naturalist at Tanque Verde Ranch and is also a Public Information Officer with the Central Arizona Incident Management Team. (Which is the long name for a fire team that travels the country dealing with forest fires.)