What is a Sequoia Cactus?

Saguaro Cactus or Sequoia Cactus?

Saguaro Cactus
Judy Hedding

There seems to be some confusion about the name of our majestic and unusual tree of the Sonoran Desert. 

Is it a sequoia cactus or is it a saguaro cactus?

As far as I know, there is no such thing as a sequoia cactus. The Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is a kind of cypress tree, most familiar to people as a redwood, usually found in California. It is a coniferous tree, meaning that it has cones. The name Sequoia is usually associated with Sequoia National Park. Learn more about Sequoia National Park and see a picture of those giant trees.

A totally unrelated tree is the saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), pronounced: suh-wah-roh. It is a cactus that grows only in the Sonoran Desert. Central and Southern Arizona, including the Phoenix and Tucson areas, are located in that desert, as is Northern Mexico and part of California. In Tucson, you can drive, hike or bike through Saguaro National Park. There are two sides, east and west, that provide different perspectives on the saguaros, but there are plenty of them to see, no matter which side you visit!

Of course, you can see saguaros all over the Phoenix and Tucson areas, but at the Saguaro National Park you will see them in their natural environment.

The flower of the saguaro cactus is Arizona's State Flower. However, the saguaro itself is NOT Arizona's State Tree. That designation belongs to the Palo Verde Tree.

Many people in Arizona's lower desert have a saguaro or two in their yard, as I do. You can see the process of how mine was planted here. Be aware that you just can't go out into the desert and dig up a saguaro and plant it at your home. Saguaros are protected under Arizona Native Plant Law, as are many other cactus plants in Arizona. It is illegal to harvest any cactus without a permit from the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Shooting at or deliberately vandalizing a saguaro cactus is also illegal in Arizona.

While cactus poaching is of concern, the biggest threat to the saguaros are environmental extremes. Saguaros are threatened by prolonged freezing temperatures and drought.

The saguaro continues to be a symbol of the Desert Southwest, and the Tucson and Phoenix areas in particular. Many a local company logo incorporates a saguaro, as does Arizona's quarter.