Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Organ Pipe, Arizona
Visited 7 March 2003




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The Ajo Mountains are seen as you arrive at the entrance to the park. The highest point is Mount Ajo, 4808 feet above sea level. Look to the middle of the pictured and you will see an arch. The arch is 36 feet high and 720 feet above the road. Sweetwater Pass was used by the Tohono O'odham Indians from the east of the mountains to harvest fruits of this area.
This is a young Teddybear Cholla Cactus. It is recognized by their shimmering yellow, fuzzy glow. Teddybear Pass is named for the army of teddybear cholla cacti. Joints of the cholla are easily broken from the plant by wind or animals and each can produce a new cactus.
 
The Ocotillo is armed with spines but it is not a cactus. It belongs to the ocotillo family, but it is very plentiful in Arizona. The Palo Verde acts a "nurse tree" for young cacti seedlings. A seedlings chances of survival is greatly improved if it grows under the protective shade of a tree. Many species of prickley pear cactus are familiar to travelers because at least one variety grows in every state of the United States.
The Saguaro Cactus is the largest species of cactus in the United States. A saguaro doesn't grow any "arms" until it is at least 70 years old. A saguaro may grow 50 feet high and weigh several tons. The saquaro stores moisture in the stem and branches. The accordian-like pleating allows the plant to expand during wet times and to contract during periods of drought. Saguaros bloom during May and June. In June and July the fruit matures and many animals feast on the ripe, red pulp and its tiny, black seeds.
The Organ Pipe Cactus only grows in the monument park. But it is common in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Many branches rise from a base at the ground. In June and July the white flowers open at night to attract bats and insects. The spherical, juicy, edible fruit matures in July. When the fruit is fully ripe, birds puncture the skin and expose the bright red pulp and seeds.
 
Quite often you see ocotillo and saguaro growing together. This shows the difference between the slim branches of the ocotillo and the large stem of the saguaro. This shows the difference in height of the saguaro and organ pipe cacti. A mature saguaro will be taller than the organ pipe cactus.  

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