People who have lived in New Mexico a while are always a bit amused and annoyed when they see maps, postcards and other kitsch showing a saguaro cactus in the state.
Many years ago, at a tacky curio shop I ventured into during a gas stop, I found a kitchen magnet in the shape of Arizona with a saguaro cactus on it. The magnet proudly proclaimed the state to be New Mexico. I sent it to a colleague at the Albuquerque Journal who wrote regular columns about how New Mexico is so often confused with our neighbor to the west — often with illustrations of those tall robust cactuses found in southern Arizona. He wrote a story about it, noting that the item was probably made in a factory in China where no one had every been to the American Southwest.
And of course the New Mexico Magazine has a monthly column entitled “One Of Our 50 Is Missing,” in which stories appear regularly about delusions of saguaros in the Land of Enchantment.
I found a reference to a 2000 article in the Audubon magazine of the National Audubon Society which breathlessly stated:
“Oaks are a kind of totem species in California like saguaros in New Mexico or maples in Vermont; they define the landscape both aesthetically and ecologically.”
As I’ve been told by botanists, it’s much too cold for saguaros to live in New Mexico. Yet, I’ve run across at least two that are surviving in the Las Cruces area. Both are growing next to southwest facing, heat-absorbing adobe walls that likely protect the species from our occasional below zero weather snaps.
I’ve attached a picture of one growing beside a home in our Mesilla Park neighborhood, looking quite healthy, but possibly missing its friends in Arizona.