The saguaro cactus, known scientifically as Carnegiea gigantea, is an iconic plant representative of the American Southwest and northern Mexico. These plants, well-adapted to the desert conditions of high temperature and low rainfall, can be used for a variety of purposes. Even after a cactus dies, its woodlike ribs and calloused boots may be rendered useful.
Saguaro ribs have been used to make wattle and daub house walls. These portions of dead saguaro stems are strong but lightweight enough to be used as a roofing material atop stone structures.
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Fuel and Fire-starting
Dead saguaro cacti can be used as a fuel for fires, particularly friction fires. Saguaro ribs also provide suitable material for bowdrill sets. Sets consist of spindles and fireboards made of the ribs, which are used in combination with a wooden bow, bowstring and hard socket that are worked properly to start tinder on fire.
Saguaro Fruit Harvesting Tool
The fruits that develop atop living saguaro cacti annually are traditionally harvested with a tool made from saguaro ribs that consists of long pieces and a crosspiece.
Splints and Canes
The woody saguaro ribs have been used as splints for broken bones. Ribs are also suitable for use as canes or walking sticks.
Decorating and Furniture
Saguaro cacti ribs have been incorporated into home decorations and furnishings. Native Americans used the ribs to make parts of babies' cradles. The boots from the saguaro, the calloused structures that form around holes made by nesting birds to prevent water loss, can be used as containers.
Anyone interested in harvesting saguaro, a federally protected species, from public lands should contact their local Bureau of Land Management and check the specific laws pertaining to their region. In Arizona for example, saguaro ribs that are down and dead can be harvested only for personal use. The annual amount is limited to what a person can manually carry to the vehicle in one load.