Summer Selfies with Saguaros

Summer is almost a week away and saguaro blooming season is in full swing at Saguaro National Park. The saguaro blossom is Arizona’s State Flower, and every morning in the field I’m reminded why. These sacred blossoms bloom for less than 24 hours, opening at night and remaining open only through the next day. During this time, their pollinator birds, bats and insects are attracted to these creamy-white blooms with yellow-fragrant centers that look like farm-fresh eggs and smell of the flesh of fresh cut calabaza.

Saguaro blooming season is typically from April/May through June/July, but there has been curiosity about how this could be changing with the changing climate. This curiosity sparked conversation and collaboration between saguaro-loving scientists, Don Swann and Theresa Foley, PhD, which led to this exciting research project that is monitoring and exploring the relationship between the saguaro blooming season and climate change. Don and Theresa began this research in 2017 with the help of Lupe Sotelo, who is still currently a driving force of the project. Through my LHIP Internship with Saguaro National Park as a Biological Technician, I have the incredible opportunity to join this brilliant team in doing some amazing work in Resource Management. 

Pictured below: Left to right: Lupe Sotelo-NPS Biological Science Technician, Theresa Foley, PhD-SERI Climate Science Specialist, Don Swann-NPS Biologist, Sarah Au-LHIP Biological Technician

The goal of this project is to lead “citizen science” volunteers in the evaluation of whether the timing of flowering in the saguaro may be changing due to warmer desert temperatures. My team and I have been going out everyday (except Sundays) and taking photos with a large “selfie-stick” of the tops (which may be more than 30 feet above the ground) and arms of 55 saguaros, specifically their buds, flowers and fruit.  The selfie-stick is connected to a digital camera connected through wi-fi to a computer tablet. 

As the season progresses I will continue working with a diverse team of park interns engaged in research, ecological restoration, community outreach, and interpretation. I’ll be involved in sharing our results with the public through a dedicated website and social media. Some final products will include a report on the project; the photo database; and interpretive products that communicate about saguaros, pollinators, saguaro science, and climate to park visitors through a variety of social media platforms. I look forward to learning more and immersing myself in this experience!


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