Saguaros struggle to survive effects of wildfire

Saguaros struggle to survive effects of wildfire

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - While some plants thrive in the aftermath of a wildfire, that’s not the case with the Sonoran Desert’s signature cactus.

Experts say the desert wasn't designed to catch on fire, especially saguaros.

In fact, cacti have been social distancing long before we started, which has kept them rather safe from wildfire spreading.

But because of invasive species, like buffelgrass, fire can now rage through the desert.

Experts say while giant saguaros don’t necessarily burn during wildfires, the heat and flames can still negatively affect the plants in several ways.

For instance, fire can scorch the green skin off the cactus, leaving behind burned portions that will no longer produce food. The end result: the cactus will die.

Fires can even burn the spines off, which leaves the cactus vulnerable to things like being eaten by animals. It can also cause the entire cactus to go up in flames because the spines are hollow.

No matter what the fire specifically scorches though, experts say it's almost always detrimental.

“Unlike Mt. Lemmon, where pines have evolved with fire, a desert has not. So a lot of those saguaros are unfortunately doomed. It’s probably going to take a replanting effort,” Adam Farrell-Wortman, horticulture manager for Tucson Botanical Gardens.

Farrell-Wortman says the spines act as leaves on the plant to shade it from the sun.

If those spines are burned off, the plant can get a sunburn just like humans.

But unlike us, it doesn’t heal.

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