Our Namesake Cactus
The Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi)
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the only place in the United States to see large stands of organ pipe cacti, though their range extends far south into Mexico. The monument encompasses the bulk of its U.S. population. The organ pipe cactus is a wonderful example of the adaptations that cacti need to flourish in the Sonoran Desert. Like its fellow cacti and other desert inhabitants, the organ pipe is tuned to the rhythms of the sun and the infrequent rains.
Most organ pipe cactus will grow without a “nurse tree” in totally unprotected areas. It is a warmth loving species that can be found on south facing rocky slopes in the monument. This location is critical during the winter months, when severe frosts can actually kill the entire cactus. Sub-freezing temperatures will kill young tissue at the end of the stems. When growth begins again, the results are indentations, or the appearance of circular waves on the organ pipes. Bumpy or wavy pipes are a record of previous battles with unusual cold. As a result, the range of the organ pipe cactus is limited by frost and freezing temperatures. In the summer it protects itself from heat and water loss by storing large quantities of water in its pulpy flesh, using a unique photosynthesis pathway, having a water proof skin, and shading itself with its sharp spines.