"The Slow Death Of A Desert Giant"

"Climate change is pushing the Sonoran Desert to the brink, with saguaro cacti as a bellwether of the impending disaster."

"On a 105-degree afternoon in Phoenix, Arizona, Dr. Kimberlie McCue stands at the base of an 18-foot-tall saguaro cactus and looks up. She pushes back the brim of her sun hat and squints into the blindingly bright desert sky.

“There!” she says triumphantly, pointing to a spot about seven feet up the trunk of the multi-armed cactus that is an icon of the Sonoran Desert and the American Southwest as a whole. “That is where it was.”

The congenial McCue is chief science officer at the Desert Botanical Garden and the spot she’s pointing at looks like someone had taken a giant melon baller to the colossus of the desert. The spot marks the place where one of the arms detached from the saguaro trunk and crashed to the ground a few weeks earlier. Six other saguaros in the Desert Botanical Garden lost arms this summer, too, a situation that, with a scientist’s aversion to hyperbole, McCue characterizes as “far from normal.”

In fact, since the Desert Botanical Garden’s founding in 1939, there is no record of a loss equal to this one. Among the over 1,000 saguaros on the grounds, perhaps a single arm is lost in a given year, and even then it’s generally from storm damage. This summer, a total of 13 arms dropped, and not one fell during a storm. Within days, some of these mutilated giant cacti had collapsed entirely."

Osha Davidson reports for Yale Climate Connections October 23, 2023.

Source: Yale Climate Connections, 10/24/2023