Rain in Arizona has brought down a centuries-old landmark.
Summer showers at Catalina State Park in Tucson have felled a massive saguaro cactus. The statuesque plants, which can grow over 12 metres (40 feet) tall, are quintessential symbols of the American southwest, appearing in everything from nature documentaries to the cartoon escapades of Wile E. Coyote.
This specific cactus was a favourite of park visitors, sitting right near one of the trails, and was estimated to be about 200 years old, according to Arizona State Parks.
A parks representative told McClatchy News that the cactus fell sometime in August after a particularly intense monsoon season. A full 12 inches (30 centimetres) of rain fell in the area over the summer, they added.
The US southwest’s rainy season lasts between June and September and can feature some heavy downpours. But normally, Tucson sees a little more than four inches (10 cm) of rain between July and August.
On the Facebook post announcing the fallen cactus, people commented with their own photos of visiting the towering icon and shared their sadness at the loss.
One artist who had painted the cactus told The Washington Post that “it’s sort of like if the Mona Lisa had been impaled somehow.”
The individual in question may not have had much longer to live, as saguaros can live to be around 150 to 200 years old, according to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
Notably, the species is facing new threats from the climate crisis. The plants — being, as they are, from the desert — are resilient in dry conditions. Yet when they’re just seedlings, the plants require more water and could be threatened by long-term drought, according to a report from the National Parks Service (NPS).
The southwest US has been plagued by a decades-long “megadrought” strengthened by the climate crisis. One recent study found that the past twenty years have been the driest period in the region for at least 1,200 years — and scientists expect droughts in the area to get both more common and more severe as the planet keeps warming.
“At the same time, increasingly intense storms can harm even the hardiest cacti,” a representative from Saguaro National Park told the Post.
The climate crisis could bring more wild swings in weather, from intense rainstorms to punishing droughts.
Despite the monsoon rains that brought down the old saguaro, the entire state of Arizona is still experiencing drier than normal conditions, according to the US government’s drought monitor. Areas near Tucson are in “moderate” to “severe” drought.
Although the official lifespan of this cactus has come to an end, the plant is no longer done providing for the desert. Arizona State Parks says that the fallen giant will stay exactly where it fell, offering food and shelter for other life in the park as it begins to disappear back into the ground it grew from.