How Saguaros Reproduce

Saguaro cactus top in bloom.  White color makes it easy for night-pollinators such as bats to locate the flowers.
Saguaro cactus flowers that opened at night will soon close for the day. Other green buds will open during an upcoming night.

NPS PHOTO

In late April through early June, the tops of the saguaro's trunk and arms sprout a profusion of large, creamy white flowers. Individual flowers open at night and close the following afternoon. To develop into fruits, they must be pollinated within this time frame. Pollination is carried out by nectar feeding bats, birds and insects.

 
Saguaro fruits maturing - note the spent brown flowers on the ends of the fruit.
After the flower has been pollinated, it closes up and dries out as the fruit below begins to develop and bulge at the base of the flower.

NPS PHOTO

Each fruit contains about 2,000 tiny black seeds. When the fruit and seeds are eaten by a coyote or cactus wren, the seeds pass through their digestive system unharmed and are distributed throughout the desert. However, if the seeds are eaten by a dove or quail, they will be completely consumed in the digestive system. Occasionally, a dove feeding her young may inadvertantly drop a seed on the ground, giving that seed a chance at life.

 
Inside a saguaro cactus fruit bright red flesh protects 2,000 tiny black seeds.
Showcasing their 2,000 seeds, saguaro cactus fruit burst open when fully ripe.

George Olin

It is estimated that a saguaro can produce some 40 million seeds during its lifetime. However, few will survive to become a seedling. Fewer still will become an adult. The low survival rate of seedlings can be attributed to drought, prolonged freezing, or animals eating them.

Last updated: July 7, 2017

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