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  • Writer's picturejdaneway

The Indicator Cactus

After years of drought and record breaking temperatures in the Sonoran Desert, the Saguaros, for no obvious reason, decided to produce record numbers of blooms this spring. It had been a dry winter and spring, so this phenomenon stymied even scientists. They thought it had something to do with the drought, but what? Quietly, I worried it meant the Saguaro's last hurrah. Pandemic and family drama later, we forgot the radical blooms of spring and endured a record breakingly hot June.

But in July, a miracle occurred! The July 2021 monsoons that continue well into August now, were the wettest in recorded history. It seemed like it rained every day in July, in Tucson anyway. Did the heat dome to the north have something to do with it? I'm not sure, but the rain came from the same hurricane storms in the gulf that always supply the rain in the Desert Southwest.

So, did the Saguaros know something we don't? Did they know rains were coming and produce extra seeds in preparation for life-giving rain? Or, was it all just part of the plant's lengthy life cycle? My husband made this startling observation - heavy rain after increased blooms/seed production. It seems unusual that a plant would produce extra fruit under the last year of extra dry conditions. In my experience plants produce extra fruit when you give them extra water, not when deprived of water. But, how much do we really know about these cacti that live centuries?

I'm praying for the drought to be over - everywhere. And I'm m hoping these cacti are predicting an end to the droughts. They'd know. They've been here the longest.

See this graph showing we may be heading into a cooler phase:

See this article on the Pacific Decadal Osciallation phase shift:

Early Warning of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation Phase Transition Using Complex Network Analysis

First published: 11 February 2021

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