|Genus:|| Carnegiea |
Britton & Rose
(Engelm.) Britton & Rose
|Natural range of Carnegiea gigantea|
The saguaro ( // , Spanish pronunciation: [saˈɣwaɾo] ) (Carnegiea gigantea) is a tree-like cactus species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea, that can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994, Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona, was designated to help protect this species and its habitat.
Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. They may grow their first side arm any time from 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. Arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity, as more apices led to more flowers and fruit.
A saguaro can absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, visibly expanding in the process, while slowly using the stored water as needed. This characteristic enables the saguaro to survive during periods of drought. The saguaro cactus is a common image in Mexican culture and American Southwest films.
The saguaro is a columnar cactus that grows notable branches, usually referred to as arms. As many as 49 arms may grow on one plant. They grow from 3–16 m (9.8–52.5 ft) tall, and up to 75 cm (30 in) in diameter. They are slow growing but routinely live to 150 or 200 years old. They are the largest cactus in the United States.
The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizona grow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson. Saguaros grow slowly from seed, and may only be 0.25 in (0.64 cm) tall after 2 years. Cuttings rarely root and when they do, they do not go through the juvenile growth phase which gives a different appearance. Since 2014, [update] the National Register of Champion Trees listed the largest known living saguaro in the United States in Maricopa County, Arizona, measuring 45.3 feet (13.8 metres) high with a girth of 10 feet (3.1 metres); it has an estimated age of 200 years and survived damage in the 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire. The tallest saguaro ever measured was an armless specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 feet (23.8 metres) in height before it was toppled in 1986 by a windstorm. They are stem succulents and can hold large amounts of water; when rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200–4,800 pounds (1,500–2,200 kg).
Saguaros have a very large root network that can extend up to 30 m (98 ft), and long taproots of up to 1 m (3.3 ft) deep.
Saguaros may take between 20 and 50 years to reach a height of 1 m (3.3 ft).
As a cactus, it uses crassulacean acid metabolism photosynthesis, which confers high levels of water-use efficiency. This allows the saguaro to only transpire at night, minimizing day-time water loss.
A saguaro without arms is called a spear.
Some saguaros grow in rare formations called a cristate, or "crested" saguaro. This growth formation is believed to be found in about 1 in every 10,000 saguaros, with 2743 known crested saguaros documented.The crest formation, caused by fasciation, creates a seam of abnormal growth along the top or top of the arm of the saguaro.
Inside the saguaro, there are many "ribs" of wood that form something like a skeleton, with the individual ribs being as long as the cactus itself and up to a few inches in diameter. The rib wood itself is also relatively dense, with dry ribs having a solid density of approximately 430 kg/m3, which made the ribs useful to indigenous peoples as a building material. While the ribs of dead plants are not protected by the Arizona native plant law, the Arizona Department of Agriculture has released a memo discussing when it's necessary to obtain written permission before harvesting them because of the importance the decomposition of cactus remains in maintaining desert soil fertility.
The composition of the ribs is similar to that of hardwoods. 326:
The spines on a saguaro are extremely sharp and can grow up to 1 millimetre (0.039 in) per day. When held up to the light or bisected, alternating light and dark bands transverse to the long axis of spines are visible. These transverse bands have been correlated to daily growth. In columnar cacti, spines almost always grow in areoles that originate at the apex of the plant. A spine stops growing in its first season. Areoles are moved to the side and the apex continues to grow upward. Thus, older spines are toward the base of a columnar cactus and newer spines are near the apex. Studies are underway[ when? ][ by whom? ] to examine the relationship of carbon and oxygen isotope ratios in the tissues of spines of an individual to its climate and photosynthetic history (acanthochronology).
Spines grow to 7 cm (2.8 in) long.
The spines may cause significant injury to animals; one paper reported that a bighorn sheep skull had been penetrated by a saguaro spine after the sheep collided with a saguaro.They can also cause severe injury to humans, being as sharp and nearly as strong as steel needles. Their long, non-barbed nature, means that partially embedded spines can be easily removed, but their relative length can complicate injuries. The spines can puncture deeply, and if broken off, leaving splinters of spine deep in the tissue, which can be difficult to remove. Fully embedded spikes are also difficult to remove. Such injuries do not usually result in infection however, as the cactus spines are generally aseptic. However, spines that remain embedded may cause inflammatory granuloma.
The white, waxy flowers appear in April through June, opening well after sunset and closing in mid-afternoon. They continue to produce nectar after sunrise.Flowers are self-incompatible, thus requiring cross-pollination. Large quantities of pollen are required for complete pollination because many ovules are present. This pollen is produced by the extremely numerous stamens, which in one notable case totaled 3,482 in a single flower. A well-pollinated fruit contains several thousand tiny seeds.
Pollination is considered relatively generalized in that multiple species can produce effective pollination when some populations are excluded. Main pollinators are honey bees, bats, and white-winged doves. In most, but not all studies, diurnal pollinators contributed more than nocturnal ones. Honey bees were the greatest contributors. Other diurnal pollinators are birds such as Costa's hummingbird, the black-chinned hummingbird, the broad-billed hummingbird, the hooded oriole, Scott's oriole, the Gila woodpecker, the gilded flicker, the verdin, and the house finch according to studies that examined the relative contributions of diurnal pollinators.
The primary nocturnal pollinator is the lesser long-nosed bat, feeding on the nectar. A number of floral characteristics are geared toward bat pollination (chiropterophily): nocturnal opening of the flowers, nocturnal maturation of pollen, very rich nectar, position high above ground, durable blooms that can withstand a bat's weight, and fragrance emitted at night. Claw marks on the flower indicate pollination by a bat.
Flowers grow 3.4–4.9 in (8.6–12.4 cm) long, and are open for less than 24 hours. Since they form only at the top of the plant and the tips of branches, it is reproductively advantageous for saguaros to grow numerous branches. Flowers open sequentially, with plants averaging four open flowers a day over a bloom period lasting a month. In Southern Arizona saguaros begin flowering on approximately May 3 and peak on June 4. A decline in bat populations causes more daytime flower opening which favors other pollinators.
The ruby red fruits are 2.4 to 3.5 inches (6 to 9 cm) long and ripen in June, each containing around 2,000 seeds, plus sweet, fleshy connective tissue.
The fruits are often out of reach and are harvested using a pole (made of 2 to 3 saguaro ribs) 15 to 30 feet (4.5 to 9 m) long, to the end of which cross-pieces, which can be made of saguaro rib, catclaw, or creosote bush, are attached. This pole is used to hook the fruits or knock them free.
Saguaro seeds are small and short-lived. Although they germinate easily, predation and lack of moisture prevent all but about 1% of seeds from successful germination. Seeds must wait 12–14 months before germination; lack of water during this period drastically reduces seedling survival. The existence of nurse plants is critical to seedling establishment. Palo verde trees and triangle bursage represent important nurse species. They act by regulating temperature extremes, increasing soil nutrients, and reducing evapotranspiration, among others. While nurse plants reduce summer temperature maximums by as much as 18 °C (32 °F), they are more important in raising winter minimum temperatures – as extended frosts limit the range of saguaros.
The saguaro genome is around 1 billion base pairs long. Sequencing has revealed that the genome of the saguaro's chloroplast is the smallest known among non-parasitic flowering plants. Like several other highly specialized plant taxa, such as the carnivorous Genlisea and parasitic Cuscuta , the Saguaro has lost the ndh plastid gene, which codes for production of NADPH dehydrogenase pathway. But unlike those taxa, the saguaro remains fully autotrophic; i.e. it does not eat or steal part of its food. The saguaro is remarkable for the scale and completeness of gene loss: essentially no traces of the 11 ndh genes remain in the plastid. The genes appear to have been copied to the nuclear DNA and mitochondrial DNA, but those copies are non-functional. How the saguaro thrives in a high stress environment without working copies of this fairly important gene remains unknown, but it is possible that the functions of the ndh genes have been taken on by another pathway.
The saguaro is the only species in the monotypic genus Carnegiea. [ citation needed ]The first description of the saguaro was made by William H. Emory in 1848, during his surveys along the pre-Gadsden Purchase United States-Mexican border. This description allowed cactus expert George Engelmann to formally name it, during his work on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, published in 1859. The next major taxonomic treatment came from The Cactaceae , the seminal work on cactus by Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose.
What tribe the saguaro belongs to is a matter of taxonomic dispute. A molecular analysis of the cactus family in 2010 placed the saguaro in the Echinocereinae.The ARS GRIN places it in the Echinocereeae.
The common name is a Spanish adaptation of a Tohono Oʼodham word.The scientific genus name honors businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The specific epithet gigantea refers to its formidable size.
Saguaros are endemic to the Sonoran Desert and are found only in western Sonora in Mexico and in southern Arizona in the US – although plants are occasionally found in southeastern California. Elevation is a limiting factor to its environment, as the saguaro is sensitive to extended frost or cold temperatures. No confirmed specimens of wild saguaros have been found anywhere in New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Utah, or Nevada, nor in the high deserts of northern Arizona. The northern limits of their range are the Hualapai Mountains in Arizona. They are the northernmost columnar cacti in the Americas. :320
The saguaro is a keystone species, and provides food, shelter, protection to hundreds of other species. Every stage of the saguaro's life sustains a significant number of species, from seedling to after its death.
The saguaro provides voluminous amounts of pollen, nectar, and fruits.The fruits are eaten by the white-winged dove and ants, so that seeds rarely escape to germinate. White winged doves are important pollinators, visiting blooms more often than any other bird species. For desert white winged doves, 60% or more of the diet is saguaro based. Their breeding cycle coincides with that of the sagauro blooming.
Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers create holes in the cactus to make nests, which are later used by other birds, such as the elf owl, purple martins and house finches.Flickers excavate larger holes higher on the stem compared to Gila woodpeckers. The resulting nest cavity is deep, and the parents and young are entirely hidden from view. The saguaro creates callus tissue on the wound. When the saguaro dies and its soft flesh rots, the callus remains as a so-called saguaro boot, which was used by natives for storage.
Gila woodpeckers (Melanerpes uropygialis) create new nest holes each season rather than reuse the old ones, leaving convenient nest holes for other birds, such as elf owls, tyrant flycatchers, and wrens. [ citation needed ] In 2020, a bald eagle was found nesting in a saguaro for the first time since 1937.In recent years, early breeding, aggressive, non-native birds have taken over the nests to the detriment of elf owls that breed and nest later.
Harming or vandalizing a saguaro in any manner, such as shooting them (sometimes known as "cactus plugging") 10 acres (4.0 ha) or less, where the initial construction has already occurred, may remove a saguaro from the property. This is common when the cactus falls over in a storm, its location interferes with a house addition, or it becomes a potential hazard to humans.is illegal by state law in Arizona. When houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected. Exceptions to this general understanding exist; for example, a private landowner whose property is
In 1982, a man was killed after damaging a saguaro. David Grundman was shooting and poking at a saguaro cactus in an effort to make it fall. An arm of the cactus, weighing 500 pounds (230 kg) fell onto him, crushing him and his car. The trunk of the cactus then also fell on him. The Austin Lounge Lizards wrote the song "Saguaro" about this death.
Contrary to published statements,there is no law mandating prison sentences of 25 years for cutting a cactus down; however it is considered a class-4 felony with a possible 3-year, 9-month maximum sentence.
Invasive species, such as buffelgrass and Sahara mustard, pose significant threats to the Sonoran Desert ecosystem by increasing the rate of fires.Buffelgrass outcompetes saguaros for water, and grows densely. It is also extremely flammable, but survives fire easily thanks to deep root systems. Saguaros did not evolve in an environment with frequent fires, and are thus not adapted to fire survival. Most Sonoran desert ecosystems have a fire return interval of greater than 250 years; buffelgrass thrives at fire return intervals of two to three years. This has led to the reshaping of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem and threatens the survival of the saguaro.
Climate change will threaten saguaros and their ecosystems, as deserts are particularly susceptible to climate effects. Rising daytime and nighttime temperatures will reduce the water use efficiency of saguaros, forcing them to use more water and making them more likely to die during drought periods.
The utility of the saguaro was well known to Native Americans such as the Tohono Oʼodham, Pima and Seri peoples, who still use nearly every part of the plant. 6.1 m (20 ft) long, are bundled together to make a harvesting tool called a kuibit. The Tohono O'odham traditionally reduces the freshly harvested fruit into a thick syrup through several hours of boiling, as the fresh fruit does not keep for long. 4 kg (8.8 lb) of fruit will yield about 1 L (0.26 U.S. gal) of syrup. Copious volumes of fruit are harvested; an example harvest in 1929 yielded 45,000 kg (99,000 lb) among 600 families. :324–326The fruit and seeds are edible, being consumed fresh and dried, and made it into preserves and drinks. The Tohono O'odham use long sticks to harvest the fruits, which are then made into a variety of products including jams, syrups, wine. The Tohono O'odham begin their harvest in June. A pair of saguaro ribs, about
The seeds are ground into meal or eaten raw; however, the raw seeds are mostly undigestable. They are also pressed for their oils. They also have minor use in the tanning of leather. In modern times, these uses have declined, and the seeds are now mainly used as chicken feed. 324:
The ribs of the dead saguaro were used for construction and other purposes by Native Americans.The Tohono O'odham uses it for making fences and furniture. The ribs are also used as livestock fodder.
A variety of alkaloids, including carnegine, gigantine, and salsolidine make the stems quite bitter, and an unpalatable way to gain water. 323:
Reports of saguaro use date back to the Coronado expeditions of 1540–1542, which noted its use in winemaking. 324:
The old bird nests resist the elements and are gathered by Native Americans for use as storage vessels. [ which? ] and taken from dead saguaros, have been used by native peoples as water containers.Cactus boots, excavated by birds
The Saguaro features prominently in indigenous folklore and religions. 320:
Arizona made the saguaro blossom its territorial flower on March 13, 1901, and on March 16, 1931, it became the state flower.
The saguaro is often used as an emblem in commercials and logos that attempt to convey a sense of the Southwest, even if the product has no connection to Arizona or the Sonoran Desert. For instance, no naturally occurring saguaros are found within 250 miles (400 km) of El Paso, Texas, but the silhouette is found on the label of Old El Paso brand products. Though the geographic anomaly has lessened in recent years, Western films once enthusiastically placed saguaros in the Monument Valley of Arizona, as well as New Mexico, Utah, and Texas. The Dallas, Texas-based band Reverend Horton Heat pokes fun at this phenomenon in their song "Ain't no Saguaro in Texas".
An Austin Lounge Lizards song, "Saguaro", is based on the true story of David Grundman, who died from shooting a cactus.
A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae, a family comprising about 127 genera with some 1750 known species of the order Caryophyllales. The word "cactus" derives, through Latin, from the Ancient Greek κάκτος, kaktos, a name originally used by Theophrastus for a spiny plant whose identity is now not certain. Cacti occur in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Almost all cacti are succulents, meaning they have thickened, fleshy parts adapted to store water. Unlike many other succulents, the stem is the only part of most cacti where this vital process takes place. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade. In the absence of leaves, enlarged stems carry out photosynthesis. Cacti are native to the Americas, ranging from Patagonia in the south to parts of western Canada in the north—except for Rhipsalis baccifera, which also grows in Africa and Sri Lanka.
The Sonoran Desert is a North American desert which covers large parts of the Southwestern United States in Arizona and California and of Northwestern Mexico in Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur. It is the hottest desert in Mexico. It has an area of 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 sq mi). The western portion of the United States–Mexico border passes through the Sonoran Desert.
The Gila woodpecker is a medium-sized woodpecker of the desert regions of the southwestern United States and western Mexico. In the U.S., they range through southeastern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Cylindropuntia bigelovii, the teddy bear cholla(choy-ya), is a cholla cactus species native to Northwestern Mexico, and to the United States in California, Arizona, and Nevada.
The Yuma Desert is a lower-elevation section of the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern United States and the northwest of Mexico. It lies in the Salton basin. The desert contains areas of sparse vegetation and has notable areas of sand dunes. With an average rainfall less than 8 inches (200 mm) each year, this is among the harshest deserts in North America. Human presence is sparse throughout, the largest city being Yuma, Arizona, on the Colorado River and the border of California.
Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a species of cactus native to northwestern Mexico in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora. It is commonly known as cardón, a name derived from the Spanish word cardo, meaning "thistle".
The gilded flicker is a large-sized woodpecker of the Sonoran, Yuma, and eastern Colorado Desert regions of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, including all of Baja California, except the extreme northwestern region. Golden-yellow underwings distinguish the gilded flicker from the northern flicker found within the same region, which has red underwings.
Aridoamerica denotes an ecological region spanning Mexico and the Southwest United States, defined by the presence of the culturally significant staple foodstuff Phaseolus acutifolius, a drought-resistant bean.. Its dry, arid climate and geography stand in contrast to the verdant Mesoamerica of present-day central Mexico into Central America to the south and east, and the higher, milder "island" of Oasisamerica to the north. Aridoamerica overlaps with both.
Ferocactus wislizenii, the fishhook barrel cactus, also called Arizona barrel cactus, candy barrel cactus, and Southwestern barrel cactus, is a species of flowering plant in the cactus family Cactaceae, native to northern Mexico and the southern United States. It is a ball-shaped cactus eventually growing to a cylindrical shape, with spiny ribs and red or yellow flowers in summer.
Neobuxbaumia polylopha is found only in Mexico and is confined to a small area in the state of Guanajuato. It grows only in canyons with limestone slopes, similar to the cacti Neobuxbaumia multiareolata, Neobuxbaumia sanchezmejunadae, and Neobuxbaumia squamulosa. Neobuxbaumia polylopha is not well known among locals and has no local uses. However, it is popular among cactus enthusiasts and reproduces well in nurseries.
Acanthochronology is the interdisciplinary study of cactus spines or Euphorbia thorns grown in time ordered sequence. Physical, morphological or chemical characteristics and information about the relative order or absolute age of the spines or thorns is used to study past climate or plant physiology.
A saguaro boot is the hard shell of callus tissue, heavily impregnated with lignin, that a saguaro cactus creates to protect the wound created by a bird's nesting hole. The bird pecks through the cactus skin, then excavates downward to hollow out a space for its nest. When the saguaro dies, its soft flesh rots, but its woody infrastructure lasts much longer. So does the hollowed-out callus whose roughly boot-like shape gives it the name of "saguaro boot."
Lycium berlandieri is a species of flowering plant in the nightshade family known by the common name Berlandier's wolfberry. It is native to Mexico and the southwestern United States from Arizona to Texas.
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum is a columnar cactus plant native to Mexico. They can grow up to 15 m (49 ft) high. The trunk of this species is 1.2 to 5.0 m tall and the fruits are large and burr-like. The specific name, pecten-aboriginum, is from the Latin, and means "native combs". It was inspired by the use of the fruits as hair combs.
Flora of the Sonoran Desert includes six subdivisions based on vegetation types. Two are north of the boundary between the United States and Mexico, and four are south of the boundary. The flora of the Colorado Desert are influenced by the environment of the very dry and hot lower areas of the Colorado River valley, which may be barren, treeless, and generally have no large cacti. Flora of the Arizona Upland are comparatively lush, with trees and large columnar cacti that can withstand winter frosts. South of the border subdivisions are characterized by plants that cannot withstand frost.
Flora of the Arizona Upland includes higher elevation Sonora Desert plants that require more moisture and cooler climates than those of the adjacent Sonoran Desert areas in the Colorado Desert of the lower Colorado River valley area, and which can withstand frost, unlike plants of the Sonoran Desert south of the border between the United States and Mexico.
Peniocereus striatus is a species of cactus known by several common names, including gearstem cactus, cardoncillo, jacamatraca, sacamatraca, and dahlia-rooted cactus. It is endemic to the Sonoran Desert, where it occurs in Baja California, Sinaloa, and Sonora in Mexico and Arizona in the United States.
Drosophila nigrospiracula is a fly species indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, spanning Arizona, California, and part of Sonora, Mexico. D. nigrospiracula share the Sonoran Desert with three other species of Drosophila: D. pachea, D. mettleri, and D. mojavensis. D. nigrospiracula do not exhibit sexual isolation between the other species. This fly breeds on the decomposing tissues of two species of cacti that are also endemic to the region: cardón (Pachycereus pringlei) and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).
Nurse plants are trees that serve as protection to smaller plants. Xeric environments can experience extreme high temperatures and extreme low temperatures. In these environments, nurse plants provide shaded microhabitats for the survival of several other plant species. In the Sonoran Desert, nurse plants canopies provide reduced summer daytime temperatures, soil surface temperatures, and direct sunlight, higher soil fertility, protection from the wind and browsing animals, reduced evapotranspiration rates in the nursed species, elevated nighttime temperatures, and post-fire resprouting in some species... Nurse plants can help with seedling recruitment and protect plants from granivory. A saguaro’s root system is restricted to 15 cm of soil surface and the Palo Verde’s roots go deeper under the surface. Studies suggest that a saguaro’s network of roots intercept moisture before it can reach a Palo Verde’s roots.
Drosophila metlerri, commonly known as the Sonoran Desert fly, is a fly in the genus Drosophila. The species is found in North America and is most concentrated along the southern coast of California and in Mexico. D. mettleri are dependent on plant hosts, namely, the saguaro and cardon cacti. Thus, they are most prevalent in arid, desert conditions. It is able to detoxify chemicals found in the rotting liquid of cacti hosts, which allows it to use otherwise lethal soil as a nesting site.
Cavities in saguaro cactuses in the Southwest are common. Both gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers make these cavities for nesting, but they often choose different locations on the cactus.
Although they do not use them immediately, waiting first for the sap to harden, Gila Woodpeckers excavate cavities in cacti and trees as nesting sites.
Cavities in saguaro cactuses in the Southwest are common. Both gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers make these cavities for nesting, but they often choose different locations on the cactus. The stouter bills of the gilded flickers allow them to cut cavities through the wooden ribs near the top of the cactus where the ribs converge. Gila woodpeckers stay at midlevel on the cactus where the ribs are separated enough to cut a cavity between them. Cavities in saguaros are cut out by these birds the year before they are inhabited. The excavated cactus secretes a fluid that hardens into a scab, thus preventing water loss, which could kill the cactus, as well as waterproofing the inside of the nest cavity.
Although they do not use them immediately, waiting first for the sap to harden, Gila woodpeckers excavate cavities in cacti and trees as nesting sites. Females typically lay two broods a year of three to five eggs, which incubate for 14 days. Once abandoned, the cavities are occupied by reptiles, rodents, and small birds like kestrels, elf owls, flycatchers, and wrens. In the desert, the woodpeckers perform the important ecological function of removing unhealthy flesh from the saguaro cactus. Some insects on which it feeds carry diseases, harmless to the bird, which damages the cactus and leaves discolorations. The marks signal larvae to the bird, and as it excavates the insects, it also cuts away the diseased tissue. As the sap hardens, the cactus is healed, and the excavation becomes a convenient nesting site.
“While damaging a cactus in Arizona will not warrant the rumored possibility of 25 years in prison, it is still considered a class four felony.”
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