KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Desert Botanical Garden wants your help tracking saguaro cactus health

The Desert Botanical Garden is asking for the public's help gathering information about Arizona’s iconic saguaro cactuses. The garden will hold its second-annual Saguaro Census throughout the month of May.

After an extremely hot summer — even for Phoenix— in 2020, the Desert Botanical Garden was getting a lot of reports of saguaro cactuses dying. Tania Hernandez, the garden's new world succulents specialist, said that got researchers like her more concerned about cactuses and climate change.

“We believe that this high level of stress is what’s causing saguaros to die," Hernandez told KJZZ News. "However, we have no exact numbers. We don’t understand the process very well.”

So last year, the garden launched its citizen scientist Saguaro Census program to study urban saguaros around the Valley. Hundreds of volunteers used a free smartphone app to gather information about cactuses. Hernandez hopes even more Arizonans will contribute data to the project this time around. 

“We are requesting the help of everybody,” Hernandez said. 

Anyone with a smartphone can help. The  iNaturalist app allows users to record locations of saguaros and to enter information about the cactuses' health. Hernandez said the census takes place in May so that participants can observe whether or not the saguaros are blooming. 

Once the Desert Botanical Garden has built up a larger saguaro database, Hernandez hopes to be able to draw conclusions about where saguaros do best in urban environments and what causes some cactuses to struggle or die. 

"We need to better understand and preserve this icon for future generations,” Hernandez said.  

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.