West Texas Wonders:
Why Do Texans Put Saguaro Cacti On Everything When They Don’t Grow Here?

By Sally Beauvais

You may know the iconic species of cactus by its towering physical stature — its crooked arms, many ribs, and spiny flesh.

Or, you may be more intimately familiar with its cartoonish likeness, appearing on countless postcards, motel signs, murals, Tex-Mex menus (and, yes, even radio station logos) associated with Texas and the American West.

The saguaro cactus.

The problem? The sagauro is native only to the Sonoran Desert, which does not include Texas.

That’s why Kendall Gerdes, a professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, asked West Texas Wonders: Why do Texans use saguaro cacti as a symbol of all things Texas when they don’t grow here?

Gerdes is a native of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, but she’s lived in the Lone Star State for 10 years.  As someone who associates her childhood with this species of cacti, she’s troubled by the idea of “turning it into a symbol instead of something that’s tied to a particular place.”

Gerdes has been bothered by this misplaced iconography since she moved away from Arizona, but she says she hasn’t met a single Texan who feels as intensely about it as she does.

“It’s a lonely crusade,” she said.

Saguaro cacti outside of Tucson, AZ. (flickr.com/photos/informedmindstravel / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Luckily, Gerdes isn’t as alone as she thinks. Texas Monthly’s longtime columnist David Courtney (otherwise known as the Texanist) took up this very issue in January, when yet another Texan wrote the magazine and implored him to “intervene and help put an end to this botanical fallacy.”

Courtney isn’t too keen on the misconception himself — but he has his own reasons for that.

Listen to the audio from an interview with Texas Monthly’s David Courtney about Texans and saguaro cacti at the top of this page. 

About Sally Beauvais

Reporter/Producer
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West Texas Wonders is a storytelling initiative from Marfa Public Radio that invites you to take part in the stories we cover. Visit marfapublicradio.org/curious for more information.