Carnegia gigantea

Common Name: Saguaro
Oˊodham Name: Ha:ṣañ    Audio
Group: Cacti - Desert

Carnegia gigantea is widely recognized as the symbol of the Sonoran Desert. It grows to almost 50 ft height in coarse or rocky soils between 500 and 4500 ft elevation. With Ambrosia deltoidea, it forms a flora that dominates the landscape in gravelly or rocky soils around 2500 ft elevation. Large white flowers open in May, are pollinated by bats and, by late June, ripen into large, red fruit that are used as food and for making a purple dye.
The Tohono Oˊodham new year begins with the ripening of the bahidaj (saguaro fruit) during Ha:shañ Ba:k Mashad (June and early July). The ripening of the fruit varies depending on elevation and latitude. Bahidaj are a very health food and are high in soluble fiber and Vitamin C. They contain 10% protein and 70% carbohydrates. The seeds are 30% fat  [ 1, 3, 4, 5 ]. A serving of five saguaro fruit contains four grams of protein, five grams of fat, and 167 calories  [ 2 ]. Syrup can be made by boiling the pulp, straining the juice, and boiling again. The seeds can be dried and saved for a winter food or can be ground into flour.

entire plant
at upper elevational limit
hillside habitat
young plant
wool in areoles
under nurse plant

Kingdom Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class Magnoliopsida - Dicotyledons
Subclass Caryophyllidae
Order Caryophyllales
Family Cactaceae - Cactus family
Genus Carnegiea Britton & Rose - saguaro
Species Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose - saguaro
More Information
USDA Plant Profile and Map
  1. Dimmit, Mark A. 2000. Cactaceae (cactus family) In "A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, eds. S.J. Phillips and PW. Comus. Tucson: Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum Press.
  2. Greenhouse, R. 1979. The iron and calcium content of some traditional Pima foods and the effects of preparation methods. M.S. thesis, Arizona State University, Tempe.
  3. Grimm, William C. 1973. "Indian Harvests" New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Illustrated by Ronald Himler.
  4. Niethammer, Carolyn. 1974. "American Indian Food and Lore" New York: Collier Books. Illustrations by Jenean Thomson.
  5. Trimble, Stephen. 1993. "The People: Indians of the American Southwest". Santa Fe: SAR Press.

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