Tucson Festival of Books

William L. Bird Jr.


In the Arms of Saguaros: Iconography of the Giant Cactus

An essential—and monumental—member of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem, the saguaro cactus has become the quintessential icon of the American West.

In the Arms of the Saguaros shows how, from the botanical explorers of the nineteenth century to the tourism boosters in our own time, saguaros and their images have fulfilled attention-getting needs and expectations. Through text and lavish images, this work explores the saguaro’s growth into a western icon from the early days of the American railroad to the years bracketing World War II, when Sun Belt boosterism hit its zenith and proponents of tourism succeed in moving the saguaro to the center of the promotional frame.

This book explores how the growth of tourism brought the saguaro to ever-larger audiences through the proliferation of western-themed imagery on the American roadside. The history of the saguaro’s popular and highly imaginative range points to the current moment in which the saguaro touches us as a global icon in art, fashion, and entertainment.