The 100-Year-Old Cactus

The 100-Year-Old Cactus cover

The 100-Year-Old Cactus
by Anita Holmes
illustrated by Carol Lerner
Four Winds Press, New York. 1983
ISBN 0-590-07634-5


The 100-Year-Old Cactus is the story of a saguaro cactus as it develops from seed to magnificent adult. 

“This saguaro was first a tiny black seed,” the story begins. “The seed was no bigger than a grain of sand. It lay under a mesquite bush in the Arizona desert. It had lain there for a number of weeks. It had to have rain to begin growing.

“One day in July, big black clouds moved in over the rocky desert mountains. They blotted out the hot desert sun and brought rain to the dry land. The dry desert soil soaked in some rain. The tiny cactus seed soaked in some rain, too. The seed swelled to twice its size.”

From here the story follows the cactus as it develops into a seedling and then into a single stem. “After one year the stem was no bigger than a kernel of corn. After five years it was only one inch high. After 15 years the plant had barely reached one foot. But if kept on growing.” 

Each year the plant grows taller. It develops a branch, and then branches. After a time it blooms and develops fruit. By the time the giant cactus reaches 100 years of age, it has become home and a source of food for many desert creatures––among them hummingbirds, bats, desert mice, rabbits, and a screech owl. For a time Gila woodpeckers nest in the saguaro and produce babies. Throughout its life animals come and go.

“Year after year the saguaro will continue to grow,” the story concludes. “And year after year new animals will build nests in its trunk and find food and moisture in its high branches.

“A 100-year-old cactus does not stand empty long!”

Wonderful watercolor illustrations by Carol Lerner help bring the story to life.


The 100-Year-Old Cactus received many favorable reviews and made the following lists:

  • American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Books, 1983;

  • Children’s Reviewers’ Choice, 1983;
  • National Science Teachers Association’s (NSTA) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children, 1983;
  • School Library Journal (SLJ) Best Books of the Year, 1983. 



“In her informative book for younger readers, Holmes explains the long growth of the giant saguaro cactus. . . . Some of the desert animals who depend on the cactus and a few other animals that live in the rocky Arizona desert are briefly introduced; particular attention is paid to the Gila woodpecker, who builds its nest inside the saguaro. Lerner’s black, green and gold watercolors, soft and appealing to a younger audience, are realistic and fortify the text; she truly captures the spirit of desert life. This book, a brief introduction, should stimulate curiosity, interest and enthusiasm among readers.” – School Library Journal

“Individualized, precisely informative, altogether interesting––and invitingly pictured, page-by-large-page.” – Kirkus Reviews

“The current concern with preserving the saguaro cactus makes the book timely and the scope of the book, the immense cycle of the cactus’ life, the interrelationships between cactus and animals and birds, weather and growth make the book vivid, lively and informative.” – Vineyard Gazette

 “Color illustrations in delicate shades of yellow, brown and green add to the charm of . . . [The 100-Year-Old Cactus], a simply written picture story of the growth of a saguaro from seeding to centuries-old giant, and of the birds and animals for which it provides food and shelter.” – The Arizona Daily Star

"The 100-Year-Old Cactus, a beautiful book, is a delightful gift for a child of any age. The delicate, perfectly colored illustrations present a beautiful demonstration of God's wonderful creation. The beauty of this story is the truth of this story." – Villanova University

“A carefully and creatively written account . . .” – Science and Children

“ . . . sensitive, handsomely illustrated . . .” – Newsday


When I set out to write The 100-Year-Old Cactus, my aim was to make it read like a story. I believe I accomplished that. While the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of a book is in the reading. I was gratified to learn from a friend that her six-year-old boy loved The 100-Year-Old Cactus and asked that it be read to him over and over again, night after night. For an author, there’s no greater praise than that!”


The 100-Year-Old Cactus is out of print but can be obtained through used bookstores as well as online distributors.

Back to Books by Anita Holmes.

© Anita Holmes 2021    All rights reserved.     Terms & Conditions                                                                              Home         Contact