cactus as a tree?

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 10 08:42:42 UTC 2012

Below is an instance of an author asserting that the giant saguaro
cactus is a tree. Also, below are two books for children that call the
saguaro a tree.

Title: The dying of the trees: the pandemic in America's forests
Author: Charles E. Little
Year: 1995
GB Page: 185
Publisher: Viking, New York
(Google Books match; Snippet view only; Data may be inaccurate)

[Begin extracted text]
One of these is the giant saguaro cactus (Cereus giganteus) of the
Sonoran Desert of Arizona and the adjoining state of Sonora in Mexico.
Yes, this cactus is actually a tree according to the standard
definition: a woody plant that is fifteen feet or more at maturity,
with a trunk at least several inches in diameter (must be a single
stem, not a clump), and a distinct crown with upright branches. Donald
Culross Peattie, in his A Natural History of Western Trees, says the
saguaro looks to him like a tree "designed by someone who had never
seen a tree.
[End extracted text]

Title: In the Hands of a Child: Grades 3 - 6: Project Pack: Desert Habitats
Page: 14
Year: Unclear
(Google Books Preview)

[Begin excerpt]
The saguaro cactus is a tree that grows in the desert.
[End excerpt]

Title: Arizona
Author: Carole K. Standard
Year: 2002
Publisher: Children's Press, New York
(Google Books match; Snippet view only; Data may be inaccurate)

[Begin extracted text]
The saguaro cactus is the largest tree in the desert, and it can take
up to two hundred years to reach its full height of nearly fifty feet
(15 m).
[End extracted text]


On Sat, Mar 10, 2012 at 3:00 AM, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
> Subject:      Re: cactus as a tree?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> As it turns out, Wikipedia =
> ( classifies saguaro as =
> a tree.
> According to Wikipedia (, the =
> scientific difference between a tree and a non-tree plant is that a tree =
> has wood. And I think that kind of makes sense in English, too. We =
> imagine plants as having more delicate stems while trees have trunks =
> with bark.
> Probably because of the wood property, though, trees grow larger than =
> plants, so we also have this image of trees being larger so that large =
> plants seem like trees.=20
> So I would think there are a number of taxa that some people call trees =
> and other call plants.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Seattle, WA
> On Mar 9, 2012, at 11:18 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>> Just a quick note. A quick search for "saguaro tree" gets over 3000 =
> raw
>> ghits, but virtually all of them are attached to images or are in
>> captions for images.
>> There is one interesting exception here
>> In this case, it is a "tree that's trying to be a cactus" rather than =
> a
>> cactus trying to be a tree. Actually, the cactus resemblance is purely
>> superficial.
>> I did not dig very deep in the search results, so the expression may
>> creep up in straight text further down. But, I thought it was worthy =
> of
>> a comment before everyone jumps in and tells me I was wrong.
>>     VS-)
>> On 3/10/2012 2:12 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>>> Even though Tim Egan qualifies it as a description objected to by
>>> some, I am wondering if there is /anyone/ who would consider a cactus
>>> a tree. This is not a "technically, tomato is a fruit" issue. So,
>>> technically, "technically" is also wrong here IMO.
>>> =
>>>> The saguaro cactus, with its droopy, anthropomorphic limbs, is the
>>>> signature tree of the Southwest, though some say it is not
>>>> technically a tree.
>>> Is Egan just making this up or am I being uninformed?
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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