Saguaro Boots

When a saguaro cactus dies, it leaves behind a skeleton that supported it. But also there are boot-like structures, called boots. It’s the combined work of the saguaro and various birds which nest there.

The bird begins by burrowing its way through the leathery skin of the cactus.

Saguaros can grow as high as 50 feet so birds can rest easy knowing they are safe from predators. The bird begins by burrowing its way through the leathery skin of the cactus. Once inside, it digs downward, hollowing out a space for its nest.

As a result, the saguaro loses water through evaporation. Normally such a wound cause the saguaro to continuously lose water and causing it to be susceptible to infection. But the saguaro has a built-in mechanism for protection—it secretes a resinous sap all around the hollow. The sap hardens into a kind of permanent scab or bark, which remains intact after the saguaro dies. Once the bird creates the hole it leaves giving the sap enough time harden before it returns.The cavities remain relatively cool during the day and warm at night, offering relief from the desert’s extreme temperatures.

After a saguaro dies, its boots may provide shelter to more creatures, including snakes, scorpions, and spiders.

Saguaro boots were also used by the local Tohona O’Odham Indians as water containers like a primitive canteen.

Where the Saguaros are… and aren’t.

This is an easy one. In the U.S., saguaros are only found in Arizona, and anecdotally in extreme eastern California (although I haven’t been able to find any verification). There are no saguaros in New Mexico (despite Kacey Musgraves’ song Dime Store Cowgirl which claims, “[I’ve] driven through New Mexico where the saguaro cactus grow”). And there are definitely no saguaros in Texas, although Old El Paso would like you to believe differently.

Overlay of verified sightings of saguaro cacti. Wikipedia

The romantic idea of a raw, young American West has no better symbol than the saguaro cactus. In Western films, its image appears in locations where it has no business growing; it’s used by brands, like Old El Paso salsa, despite the fact that no naturally growing saguaros live within 250 miles of El Paso. The saguaro is almost exclusively indigenous to southern Arizona and the Sonoran state of Mexico, where it grows plentifully.
Reverend Horton Heat – “Ain’t No Saguaro in Texas”

Death by Cactus

It was self-defense…

Evidently common sense is not that common. There was an invertebrate-waster named David Grundman back in the 1980’s who decided it was a good idea to go cactus-plugging. Think about this. Aside from the fact that the Saguaro is a majestic plant—not only surviving, but thriving in the harshest of elements—it is protected by the Native Plant Protection Act. But also think about the saguaro as you would a sponge… when a sponge is wet (filled with water) it weighs substantially more than it does dry. So a mature saguaro could weight up to 4800 lbs. That’s one heavy sponge. Now imagine that giant sponge is entirely covered with sharp spines. Mr. Grundman decided to shoot a saguaro at very close range. So close in fact that the giant plant fell on him after sustaining damage to its trunk. Sadly, they both perished in the altercation, but Mr. Gundman “lives on” as both a Darwin Award winner and his final fatal poor choice was immortalized in song by the Austin Lounge Lizards…

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