Breaking News
More () »

Urban Saguaro cacti are under threat. Here's why

Climate change may be stressing out the saguaro cactus in metropolitan areas.

PHOENIX — Nothing says Arizona like the saguaro cactus

Lately, people have noticed these carefree characters of the desert are looking a little stressed, especially in urban areas.

“They were seeing entire plants falling," said Dr. Tania Hernandez, New World Succulents Cactus Scientist at the Desert Botanical Garden.  

"An arm, couple of arms. Saguaros were looking really stressed like getting thinner."

Researchers at the garden are working to find out how life in the city can affect saguaros.

“The heat. The pollution,” Hernandez said.

RELATED: UArizona study finds climate change is putting cacti at an 'elevated extinction risk'

Researchers have started a database to help keep track of the health of the cacti population in commercial and residential areas, including Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Glendale.

Dr. Hernandez said residents can help collect data through the DBG Saguaro Census initiative by downloading the free iNaturalist app here.

“We want people to help us observe the number of arms. If it is flowering already,” Hernandez said. “With the census, we want to get a better estimate of how many saguaros we have. Where they are. In general, how healthy they are.”

You can upload pictures and eventually they would like to take DNA samples of cacti in high stressed areas.

“This is a huge project, and we hope that it really helps us understand the effect of climate change on saguaros but in general plants,” Hernandez said.

RELATED: Christmas trees are being used to fill fish habitats at Saguaro Lake

Scorched Earth

12 News, along with sister stations across Western states, set out to understand the dire conditions Arizona and other states face as drought and wildfire continue to rage.

Before You Leave, Check This Out