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Obituary for the Tallest Saguaro

The Tallest Saguaro is now only a footnote in history.

Art Dorner of Sun City AZ reported, “I’m sorry to say that the tall saguaro cactus fell over on or about December 6, 2007. It was a beauty and I visited it many times,” in a comment to Allan Hall’s article, “The Spring Flower Show of 2005” posted on this web site.

Tallest SaguaroIt was a sight to behold, a magnificent towering desert sentinel standing guard near the mouth of Unida wash where it enters the Hassayampa River. The height was estimated to be 50-1/2 feet reported by Dana Burden, ref [1]. Dennis Orr and I estimated the height to be 56 feet during our visit in April 2007. Actual tape measurements made during our December visit showed the height to be slightly less than 46 feet with a 7 foot circumference at the base and thus perhaps not the tallest after all.

Saguaros die from several causes: frost, winds, bacterial rot, and vandalism. In most cases the cause is freezing which damages the soft tissues thus starting the rotting process. If unable to protect healthy tissue, the decomposition spreads until its death, though the saguaro may continue living for several years after the onset of the damage, ref [2].

Tallest SaguaroIn this case, it was evident that most of the cactus was consumed by rot, showing black tar-like fluid oozing from various parts. It appeared one major arm broke off first, weakening the supporting structure and causing unbalance, allowing the main trunk and remaining arms to fall in the opposite direction.

To think that such a towering giant started life from a seed the size of a pinhead – just only one to successfully germinate and grow from the thousands produced each year. Conditions for germination and the early growth years are nearly exacting: right location for soil conditions, protection, moisture and warmth, ref [2]. If successful during this period it will continue to grow around one inch a year and reach heights from 15 to 75 feet and live as long as 200 years. The conditions for this beauty were obviously good: remote and well sheltered in a wash with access to plenty of water. Its age is estimated to be well over 100 years.

Tallest SaguaroReferences:

[1] Desert Hiking, Out Wickenburg Way by Dana W. Burden, Library of Congress Control Number 2004095910, is available in a number of shops in Downtown Wickenburg, including the Old Livery Mercantile, which also sells the book online.

[2] Saguaro Cactus Facts by Alethea Steingisser, http://www.naturesmoods.net/saguaro.htm

Last 5 posts by Lee Pearson

3 comments to Obituary for the Tallest Saguaro

  • We too have seen that beautiful Saguaro many times as we drive up from Phoenix and camp in the campgrounds across from the Rodeo grounds. We ride our ATVs in that area and took photos of it on November 24th after it had fallen.

    Thanks Lee for this great article.

    Gary Stanley

  • Debi Main

    Just a little side note in the reference to Dana Burden. Wickenburg Clean and Beautiful whom Dana was one of the driving forces behind had a state surveyor come and measure the saguaro several years ago; that height reported by Dana was recorded by the state surveyor.
    Debi Main

  • the largest cacti I have seen is on the dirt road on the left side driving back to the PERALTA hiking trail in the SUPERSTITON MOUNTAINS you will not miss it!!!! it blows away all in the saguro national forest. not the tallest but a must see!!!!

    Ed