Extreme heat's most innocent victims.

Climate Casualty

Saguaro cactuses, those iconic, multi-armed pillars of green that stand as prickly monuments to life's persistence in the harshest climates, may have finally met their match.

The Associated Press reports that many of these cactuses populating Phoenix, Arizona, are helplessly collapsing in the wake of the extreme temperatures in July, with local cactus owners and professional gardeners alike discovering these and other plants tragically desiccated, if not dead.

"A lot of people are calling and saying their cactus is yellowing really hard, fell over or like broken arms, that sort of thing," Sophia Booth, a local landscape designer, told the AP. "Twenty-year-old trees are losing all their leaves, or they're turning a crisp brown."

Breaking Point

While many saguaros have stood tall for decades — and some of the most venerable for more than a century — they now face an unprecedentedly hostile climate.

This July is believed to be the hottest month ever recorded across the globe. Phoenix, a municipality smack dab in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, suffered the hottest month for a US city with an average temperature of 102.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Three innocent saguaros have fallen or lost an arm in the past week alone at the Desert Botanical Garden, a haven to some 1,000 cactuses, many of which are decades old. The mighty cactuses may be at their limit after suffering summer after summer of record heats preceding this one, now giving in.

"Since 2020, we have had elevated mortality in our population of saguaros compared to mortality rates pre-2020," Kimberlie McCue, chief science officer at the Desert Botanical Garden, told the AP. "So part of our thinking is that there are still saguaros today that were compromised from what they went through in 2020. And that this could be sending them over the edge."

Rain Dedemption

Temporary salvation may well be on the horizon. While there's no chance of reversing global warming overnight, a monsoon bringing heavy rains could be a much needed boost to thirsty plantlife — if it comes.

Even then, too much rain, or downpours that are distributed lopsidedly, could be harmful. Last year, a revered 200-year-old saguaro cactus fell victim to wet weather, toppling asunder in the middle of monsoon season.

The plight of the cactuses isn't over yet, and they will most likely have to weather another onslaught of soaring temperatures this summer. Here's to them hanging in there.

More on extreme heat: Brutal Heat Wave Is Literally Putting People Into Comas

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