Monday, December 28, 2009


Our neighbors had a few tons of cacti delivered last week.

This is not as simple a task as it might appear. There's really no equipment designed for the job. The men charged with the task created a platform lined with packing materials which they attached to an hydraulic lift on their flatbed. The cactus was secured to the platform with rug remnants, duct tape and the occasional bungee cord. Despite their height, saguaros have a shallow root system. Wrapped lightly in burlap, the tendrils were protected during the 10 mile trek from their old home to the pre-dug holes next door.

I'm always impressed by designers who can place a plant before it arrives on the scene. It's a skill I lack. Digging the holes before the plant material arrives makes the installation a simple matter: aim the back of the truck in the general direction of its final destination and tilt. With 5 strong men supporting its weight (upwards of 1000 pounds for the really big ones) the crew leader removed the burlap, spread out the roots and replaced the soil. No amendments; just the right amount of rooting hormone and water and they are upright and beautiful.

These are pristine specimens. Somehow, the birds have not transformed them into condominiums, as they have the one in our front yard.

See the holes? Gila woodpeckers start the process, pecking away and sucking nutrients from between the ribs. Since they don't return to the holes they abandon, other birds take advantage of their hard work and make their nests there in the following years.

Sometimes, the arms of the saguaros fall off. Larger birds then make nests in the gaping wound, leaving sticks and odd bits of detritus sticking out of the opening. Certainly, there are "normal" nests in the branches of the palo verdes and mesquites surrounding the saguaro, but my favorite ones are those in the saguaro.

The arms don't grow until the cactus is at least 50 years old. They start out round and lengthen as they age. When the rains are insufficient, the arms droop; wet years cause them to expand in diameter and reach for the sky.

There's a lot to be said for the stately maples and elms and oaks of my childhood. Tree houses and shade and jumping in the fallen leaves...... these are good things. But the saguaros have personality in a way that the east coast's deciduous beauties lack. Individuals are recognizable and memorable. Birds perch atop them and screech at passersby, their view unimpeded by branches or leaves. They are the stately sentinels of the desert.


  1. I am the neighbor who had the cactus installed. It makes for a wonderful yard; one feels as if watched over by a grander spirit - maybe protective, who knows?
    Thanks Suz for posting a note about our yard.

  2. There is a wonderful peacefulness to the space, Jan.


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