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Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden studies effects of sauna on flora

By Phil Latzman
Published: Friday, July 21, 2023 - 11:19am
Updated: Friday, July 21, 2023 - 11:21am

summer cactus
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
The sun shines behind a saguaro cactus in Phoenix.

At the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, they’re watching the flora in the sauna closely.

“We study the impact of heat on plants. This is kind of what we’re here for," said Kevin Hultine, director of research at the garden. “These kind of conditions are what we need to be able to understand what the thermal limits are on plants. So, in a certain way, it’s actually kind of exciting."

One of their biggest concerns is that some of their censors will fail in the heat before the plants do.

“We study these long-lived plants, like saguaros for example. We study a lot of tree species. And the challenge is, we don’t always see the impacts right away, in fact it may be many months longer," Hultine said. 

Saguaros in fact, are still recovering from the shock of the so-called "non-soon" season of 2020, when many fell over and disintegrated from the heat.

While the monsoon has mostly been a no-show so far this year, Hultine says the stalwart succulents are still standing. “ I don’t really see much of that yet. Now, when we get in to August and September and it’s still really dry, then we might start to see some real evidence that the structural integrity will fail.”

Hultine recommends shade cloth and nighttime mistings to help your saguaros survive.

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