Where To Find A Cactus Tree
It you'd like to see a cactus tree up close, there are only a few places in the United States, outside of botanical gardens, where they can be found. The cactus tree is a desert plant, so you'd expect to find them primarily in the American southwest. That's true, but these trees grow in only a few relatively small areas if you take the entire southwestern region into account.
Cacti grow in all shapes and sizes and for the most part grow rather slowly. Some varieties bloom more frequently than others, but for the most part blooms, as beautiful as they often are, tend to be few and far between. Some varieties of barrel cactus can grow quite large but are normally not thought of as being a cactus tree. That distinction goes to the giant Saguaro cactus and the Joshua tree.
The Joshua Tree - The Joshua tree, which grows primarily in California's Mojave Desert, but is also found in Nevada and Utah, resembles a tree much more so than does the Saguaro. It is not a particularly beautiful tree according to most, but because of its relative rarity it is a protected species of tree. Although the Joshua tree is commonly referred to as a cactus tree, that is somewhat of a misnomer as the Joshua tree is actually a member of the yucca family, which in turn belongs to the class of plants we call lilies. Still, if you want to call this tree a cactus tree no one is apt to correct you.
Visit Saguaro National Park - To see a genuine cactus tree however requires a trip into Arizona, particularly the area around Tucson. If you can't make it all the way to Tucson there are several nice specimens along with a host of other desert plants in the Phoenix Botanical Gardens, a very interesting place to visit. Take a drive into Saguaro National Park just outside of Tucson, and you'll find yourself in the company of hundreds, if not thousands, of these stately trees. Some consist of a single trunk and nothing else. Others have an arm, usually extended vertically as if waving a greeting. Others have two arms, and the older trees usually have many. We often see a cactus tree with one or two arms in pictures and on logos, and one would think that the trees must all look quite similar. In truth, they take on many and varied shapes. In Saguaro National Park you can't actually say you are in a forest of these trees. That might be the case, but they typically are spaced a fair distance from one another and you don't get the feeling of being in a forest or woods.
Old, Slow, And Tough - When you view a cactus tree up close and it is as tall as you are, the chances are it older than you are, perhaps quite a bit. The Saguaro cactus may grow for 50 to 75 years before it grows its first arm. This species of cactus tree is not as long-lived as many other trees are but still can reach an age of 150 years or so. It has no problem surviving the harsh summer heat, not does a freezing temperature particularly bother it. If the cactus tree has enemies, it would be woodpeckers and rain. Humans might be considered enemies as well, or at least they were before the trees became protected species. Still, there are “cactus rustlers” about who sometimes dig up these trees for use in private landscaping. Woodpeckers and a few other birds will peck holes in the cacti. The plant usually seals the area, although the hole that remains may become a nest for certain small owls or other creatures. Too many holes however can kill the tree. The cactus tree won't melt in a heavy rainstorm, but protracted rainy weather, a rarity in southern Arizona, can cause the tree to start to deteriorate. Given the age that many cactus trees attain however makes it obvious that they are a pretty hardy species.
Although the Saguaro cactus tree may not seem to be as “pretty” as a Colorado blue spruce, or a flowering plum, a group of them definitely gives one a feeling of something majestic and magical.