Its not just people at risk from the heat. Even tough desert plants can have trouble when heats this extreme and this prolonged.
Saguaros live an average of 150 to 175 years so theyre going to go through a lot of heat waves and cold snaps but sometimes the weather will catch up with these plants.
At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, botanist Erik Rakestraw says hes concerned this sustained blast of hot weather will hurt the new generations of Saguaros.
He says the young ones may have trouble growing up to become one of the desert giants because conditions are hurting the other plants, the nurse plants that help small Saguaros survive.
It’s the end of July, typically in an optimal monsoon situation these plants would be fairly lush right now. And so those plants provide cover for those seedlings. They provide cover from the sun. They keep moisture in around the roots, and they also act as protection against predators; they actually hide the plant until the plant has enough resources to survive on its own.
There are reports from the Phoenix area that heat that doesnt even let up at night may affect large Saguaros long term. Rakestraw thinks thats less likely to affect Saguaros in natural areas and more likely to hurt Saguaros transplanted into very urbanized settings where crowds, cars and concrete amplify the heat.
In places like Phoenix in that urban core when you have that heat island effect. We don’t have those cooldowns at night. And so, theoretically, the nighttime temperatures when they remain in the 90s could mess with their metabolism.
But for now he sees that as a potential threat. He says Saguaros live so long, a long hot summer for us, is a short time for them so it will take time, and study to confirm if theres any effect.