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  Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society

Monthly Meeting

  • November 04, 2021
  • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sky Islands Public High School


In The Arms of Saguaros

Iconography of the Giant Cactus


Presented by  William Lawrence (Larry) Bird, Jr.

Curator Emeritus of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


Larry Bird will discuss the history of the saguaro cactus and its popular imagery in a talk drawn from his most recent book, In the Arms of Saguaros: Iconography of the Giant Cactus, published by the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill – University of Arizona.


Larry’s illustrated talk will picture the dramatic uptick in saguaro cactus imagery that followed the railroad’s penetration of the Sonoran Desert in the early 1880s—resulting in transplanted track side and world’s fair displays that acquainted Americans with the plants first hand, if only for a moment. Images of the plant enjoyed wide circulation, though not always within its own habitat following the onset of irrigation at the turn of the century. Not until the years bracketing the Second World War did the travel and tourism industry of southern Arizona elevate the saguaro to the status of a regional icon. Though for many outside the region and unfamiliar with the plant, the saguaro assumed the status of an icon of the American West writ large—that by the early 1960s resided in a new, if largely imaginary, botanical range.


Larry holds a Ph.D. in American History from Georgetown University (1985). He earned his M.A. in American History from the University of Arizona (1975) and his B.A. in American History from the University of Maryland (1973).

He began his museum career as a graduate student at the University of Arizona, working part time at the Arizona Historical Society with a grant-in-aid funded by Emery and Ann-Eve Johnson.

He is the author of several books and a curator of Smithsonian exhibits drawn from museum and archival source material at the intersection of politics and popular culture. His Smithsonian exhibits and their companion books include, Paint by Number; Holidays on Display; and Souvenir Nation.

Larry’s talk tonight about the history of the saguaro cactus and its popular imagery is drawn from his most recent book, In the Arms of Saguaros: Iconography of the Giant Cactus, published by the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill – University of Arizona. The book PDF file is available as a free download for a contribution to knowledge at:  https://tumamoc.arizona.edu/proceedings-desert-lab/arms-saguaros

Soft cover books will also be available at $40 each.


If you have been fully vaccinated for Covid-19 you are welcome to come and join us for this excellent in person presentation (masks will be required by all). This meeting will also be available as a Zoom program and will be an important educational and informational event you must see. Also, if using Zoom, be sure to log in to win a $25.00 gift certificate from TCSS or choose a copy of the new 3rd edition of the Field Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents of Arizona. Plant give aways will also be happening at the in person meeting as well. When leaving the live in person meeting, everyone can get a free plant offered to you by the TCSS.


Larry Bird will discuss the history of the saguaro cactus and its popular imagery in a talk drawn from his most recent book, In the Arms of Saguaros: Iconography of the Giant Cactus, published by the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill – University of Arizona.


Larry’s illustrated talk will picture the dramatic uptick in saguaro cactus imagery that followed the railroad’s penetration of the Sonoran Desert in the early 1880s—resulting in transplanted track side and world’s fair displays that acquainted Americans with the plants first hand, if only for a moment. Images of the plant enjoyed wide circulation, though not always within its own habitat following the onset of irrigation at the turn of the century. Not until the years bracketing the Second World War did the travel and tourism industry of southern Arizona elevate the saguaro to the status of a regional icon. Though for many outside the region and unfamiliar with the plant, the saguaro assumed the status of an icon of the American West writ large—that by the early 1960s resided in a new, if largely imaginary, botanical range.


Larry holds a Ph.D. in American History from Georgetown University (1985). He earned his M.A. in American History from the University of Arizona (1975) and his B.A. in American History from the University of Maryland (1973).

He began his museum career as a graduate student at the University of Arizona, working part time at the Arizona Historical Society with a grant-in-aid funded by Emery and Ann-Eve Johnson.

He is the author of several books and a curator of Smithsonian exhibits drawn from museum and archival source material at the intersection of politics and popular culture. His Smithsonian exhibits and their companion books include, Paint by Number; Holidays on Display; and Souvenir Nation.

Larry’s talk tonight about the history of the saguaro cactus and its popular imagery is drawn from his most recent book, In the Arms of Saguaros: Iconography of the Giant Cactus, published by the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill – University of Arizona. The book PDF file is available as a free download for a contribution to knowledge at:  https://tumamoc.arizona.edu/proceedings-desert-lab/arms-saguaros

Soft cover books will also be available at $40 each.


If you have been fully vaccinated for Covid-19 you are welcome to come and join us for this excellent in person presentation (masks will be required by all). This meeting will also be available as a Zoom program and will be an important educational and informational event you must see. Also, if using Zoom, be sure to log in to win a $25.00 gift certificate from TCSS or choose a copy of the new 3rd edition of the Field Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents of Arizona. Plant give aways will also be happening at the in person meeting as well. When leaving the live in person meeting, everyone can get a free plant offered to you by the TCSS.

Join us on Zoom https://bit.ly/tcssmm



Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society

PO Box 64759  -  Tucson, AZ 85728  -  Phone: (520) 256-2447  -   Email: TCSS@TucsonCactus.org

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