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Arizona State Flower: The Incredible Saguaro Cactus Flower

Arizona's official state flower, the saguaro cactus flower (Carnegiea gigantea), is one of the most unique state flowers in the United States.

Saguaro Cactus Flower: Two Distinguishing Features 

The Saguaro cactus flower shares an unusual feature with Maine's state flower, the white pine cone and tassel (Pinus strobus). That is, you will probably have to lean back and look up to see Arizona's and Maine's state flowers because they may be as high as 40 feet off of the ground. While white pines can grow to be as tall as 70 feet, the saguaro cactus is a plant, not a tree, and it tops out at 40 feet. This still makes saguaros the largest cactus in the United States. 

Saguaro cactus flowers also share the distinction of being one of only two state flowers in the United States that is a fruit-bearing native plant. The other is the American Samoa hala tree flower (Pandanus tectorius), whose fruit is eaten in Micronesia, Polynesia, and India, and tastes similar to jackfruit, pineapple, and mango. 

Saguaro cactus flower

If you put these two features together, you might wonder, what in the world does a 40-foot high fruiting flower look like? And what does it taste like? And where can you taste it? You will find the largest saguaro cactus flower bloom in Saguaro National Park throughout the month of May. You may be able to catch the last few blossoms in early June.
bird pollinating the saguaro cactus flower

Cactus Flower Peak Blossoming 

During peak blossoming, in May, each individual white flower opens and closes within about 24 hours.

A single cactus may be loaded with scores of blossoms, crowning the fingertips of the iconic saguaro cactus arms.

The flowers are pollinated by birds, bees, and bats. Saguaro cacti are distributed like trees, as both singular specimens and as a forest, carpeting miles of National Park and the surrounding natural open space areas in the region around Saguaro National Park.

Numerous blooms open each day on one cactus, creating an exotic display, that occurs nowhere else outside of the Sonoran Desert. Saguaro flowers start to blossom in the first week of May and continue through about the first week of June. Learn about the Saguaro Flower Power Project at Saguaro National Park here.

 Harvesting of Saguaro Fruit

But stick around, because June is when the delicate white blossoms that have been pollinated develop into deep ruby-red fruits.

These fruits will be eaten by birds, bats, and those dedicated few persons who harvest them at the peak of summer heat, usually just weeks before the monsoon rains arrive and cool the desert down.

Saguaro fruit harvesting is a tradition that has been practiced for many years (probably hundreds) by Native American peoples who have lived in the Sonoran Desert. 

The fruits need to be gently knocked off the cactus with a special pole that is traditionally made from saguaro cactus ribs. The ribs are nearly as hard as a hardwood and are used for roofing support material, rafters, fences, walls, and furniture. 

The fruits are harvested, cooked, and strained into a fine and thick syrup with sugar added to preserve the fruit as syrup or jam.

Saguaro Fruit Flavor & Uses

The flavor is similar to plum and raspberry, with deeper textures and flavors. Learn more about the traditional saguaro fruit harvest in Saguaro National Park here

Where can you taste this incredible fruit? Saguaro fruit is not commercially produced or sold at farmers markets or in local stores. It rarely shows up on restaurant menus, but when it does, you are most likely to find it at a farm-to-table restaurant that sources local and wild food ingredients. 

harvesting saguaro fruits

Photo: Saguaro fruit harvest by Steven Meckler 

Where to Taste Saguaro Cactus Fruit

Saguaro fruit syrup is used in the way that a raspberry sauce may be used on sweet, sour, spicy, or savory dishes.

The photo, below, shows pistachio ice cream topped with saguaro syrup and garnished with edible flowers at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, is the highest Forbes rated resort in Arizona and is 40 minutes from Saguaro National Park's Signal Hill Picnic Area, where you may enjoy blooming saguaros in open vistas, have a picnic, and take some easy hikes. 

pistachio ice cream with saguaro syrup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Experience Saguaro Cactus Flowers

Plan a long stay at the White Stallion Ranch, the highest-rated guest ranch in the United States, which abuts Saguaro National Park, and take guided horse rides through the blooming landscape. If you have only an hour to a couple of days during peak saguaro bloom, drop in at the Red Hills Visitor Center at Saguaro National Park West. You'll be forever changed by this flower. 

Girl horseback riding in the desert among saguaros horseback riding in the desert among saguaros

Main photo above: Saguaro National Park

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