Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saguaro Flowers and Fruit

I did a post on the saguaro cactus in 2010 and I noted that the saguaro has a ruby colored fruit that matures in late June (I just read a source that said late May to early July), but that I'd never been to the desert that late to see them. Well, Judy was out of town this past weekend, so I decided to brave the 108 degree heat of southern Arizona (Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument) for the primary purpose of finding and tasting some saguaro fruit. 

One thing that surprised me was how the fruit production process varied significantly from cactus to cactus. Some saguaro were still blooming (the flowers only open at night), which is the first stage;
The flowers come off the ends.
on some the flower had fizzled and the bulb beneath it was bulging, but still green, the second stage; 
The black ends are flowers that have stopped blooming and their green bases are swelling. The one stem in the middle is still flowering, but the flower is closed during the day. 
some had bulbs that were red and ripe, the third stage; 
Two bulbs, left of center that are ripe. The one to the left is the one I knocked off and ate. 
and some had bulbs that had split open and the inner seeds were falling out or had completely fallen out, the fourth stage; 
These over-ripe red bulbs have split open and the inner seeds are spilling out. 
The two red bulbs that look like flowers have opened up and completely lost their seeds. The other bulbs only look partially ripe. 
and on some, the remains of the fruit had fallen of the cactus and were lying on the ground around it. the fifth stage.
These fruit fragments and seeds were laying around the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
I went to the Tillotson Peak turnout and walked among the saguaros there and did not find any that had ripe fruit. Driving in I'd seen a number of saguaros with ripe fruit and decided that the best way to find ripe fruit would be to drive the main road slowly looking for them. I eventually spotted a saguaro with some beautiful red fruit on it and it looked relatively low to the ground. I got to the cactus and found red debris around it, left-overs from fruit that had ripened and spilled their contents of seeds. My hiking pole was way too short to reach the fruit, so I searched for a dead saguaro and pulled out some of the internal staves to use as poles. These were just long enough to touch the fruit, but not long enough to exert enough pressure to remove them. 
I pulled several staves off this dead saguaro. They weren't long enough, so I found a longer dead saguaro. 
So I searched and found a longer dead saguaro that had staves long enough to reach the fruit. The staves were long and wobbly and were not strong enough to push off the fruit. So I had to swing the staves back and forth and eventually dislodged the piece of fruit I was after, bit by bit, in a back-and-forth motion.
A piece of ripe fruit.
I was surprised that the fruit was mostly spine free and about the size of a large turkey egg. I used a knife to easily split it in half, lengthwise, and was a little taken back by how dark red the inner fruit was. It consisted of hundreds of seeds in a consistency almost like mushy watermelon with small fish eggs and a slightly sweet taste. 
The fruit cut in half.
The fruit roughed up a bit to reveal its texture.
One-half with the seeds removed.
An inside and outside picture.
I was not craving more, it was not worth the additional effort, but I was very happy I'd tried it. It was certainly not bad or gross. 
Fruit in various stages.
A more distant view of the saguaro I got my fruit from. 
Later, when I visited the Visitor's Center one of the rangers took me out back and showed me a saguaro fruit stick that they use to knock the fruit off a saguaro. It was a much more sturdy wood stick than the one I used, and had a wood cross bar at the top for wedging the fruit in and enabling a good push to knock off the fruit. 


  1. It's amazing how far you'll drive and what horrible weather conditions you will brave for food. However, I must admit that it's such a beautiful fruit that I would like to try some.

    1. It isn't just that it is food. It is seeing the life cycle of the saguaro, even if it was not edible.