In Search of the “Crested Saguaro”

Tucson, AZ

Disclaimer:  If you have no interest in the Saguaro Cactus, you may skip the rest of this blog, leaving you time to check out what is currently on C-Span.

Question:  What is the state wildflower of Arizona?

Answer:  The Saguaro Cactus

Tucson is in the Sonora Desert, which is one of the few places where the Saguaro Cactus grows.   As we hike the mountains around Tucson, we see them everywhere and in all shapes and sizes.  One of us (no names please) has become enamored with a rare Saguaro known as a Crested Saguaro.  She (remember, no names please) has been reading blogs and web sites that discuss this rare cactus, and if one is identified in the area, off we go to see if we can locate this wonderful (in her opinion) plant.  Right now many readers are probably burning with desire to answer the obvious questions:  What is a Crested Saguaro?

Even when saguaro cacti grow in their normal form, they rarely grow symmetrically. Saguaros sometimes grow in odd or misshapen forms. The growing tip occasionally produces a fan-like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.   The cause of cresting is not fully explained;  biologists disagree as to why some saguaros grow in this unusual form. Some speculate that it is a genetic mutation (similar to one in humans that creates a desire to see them).  Others say it is the result of lightning strike or freeze damage.   But whatever the stimulus, the growth point of the stem has switched from a geometric point, to a line, which folds and undulates as the crest expands. Though these crested saguaros are somewhat rare (1 in 250,000), cresting occurs naturally throughout the range of the Saguaro, and can be encountered in many other cactus species.

Below are pictures of three Crested Saguaros we have found in nearby Tucson Mountain Park.  The first one was listed in a blog as being in the northern section of the park.  We located it on a map and only had to hike a couple of miles to see it.  A couple on horseback said they lived nearby and have observed it for over thirty years.  They told us that at one time it had a number of arms that have since fallen off.

The second example of a Crested Saguaro is found off the Starr Pass Trail near where it intersects with the Yetman Trail.   We parked the Jeep at the 36th Street trail head and made a six mile loop in the park, passing this cactus at about mile 4.5.

As we drove out of the park, Miss Crested Saguaro Eyes saw another Crested Saguaro just off the road. Thankfully she allowed the Jeep to come to a complete stop before leaping out the door and heading into the desert to get a few pictures.

Tomorrow we join with Hans and Lisa (their blog) on a hike in Sabino Canyon, so the Crested Saguaro Queen may get another chance to see one of these rare plants.

More on that later . . .

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32 Responses to In Search of the “Crested Saguaro”

  1. Hysterious! Genetic mutation, indeed.

  2. Gay and Joe Taylor says:

    Most impressed! We only saw one while we were there. I didn’t think the crested saguaro grew arms…boy was I wrong. Enjoy your hike tomorrow!

  3. Very entertaining and did not know there are so many crested ones if you look hard enough. I must have passed several of them in our hikes around the area. Great capture.
    And yes you will find one in Sabino Canyon by the Nature/Interpretative Trail.

  4. Lisa says:

    Funny post John! Love of cristate must be a female thing!

    Pam, looking forward to the hunt! Lisa

  5. Marsha says:

    We almost can hate you two. We looked, and looked, and looked and never found a one. I think we may have been looking too hard…is that possible? The photos are lovely. I especially like the one with the desert flower nest to the big cacti.

  6. Marsha says:

    That should say lovely desert flower NEXT to the big cacti. Too early in the morning to be typing.

  7. Ingrid says:

    Great post. I’m fasinated by the saguaro cactus myself and hubby likes to give me a hard time about it. He teases, “I don’t think you have enough photos of cactus. Ya might want to take more”. Yes, I have tons and tons of photos of the saguaros. Is there such a thing as enough? I will be on the look out for the crested ones. Hope you find more on your hike 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m with you Ingrid…there are never enough pictures. Everyone is different. We found two on today’s hike. One was a junior and the other was the master. I am sure they will make an appearance in the blog. It must be a female thing, totally!

  8. Deb Dominick says:

    I think that one of you (no names, of course) has been inhaling diesel fumes! Those puppies are interesting, but they are also ugly (my apologies to the unnamed one).

  9. I found one you gave me directions to. It was like I made a winning touchdown; so much premeditated jubilation. It was about 3.8 miles total, not including the labyrinth.

  10. Ohh…thanks fo the tips! We’re staying at Gilbert Ray Campground right now and just hiked the Brown Mtn. loop today. They whole time I had my eye out for a crested Saguaro, but no luck. Now I know where to look. Sounds like the Star Pass Trail is up next!

  11. Genetic mutation creating a desire to see them…ha ha. Good one.

    You have definitely made it a mission to located the cresteds.

  12. Pingback: Hiking with John and Pam – Tucson, AZ | The Lowe's RV adventures

  13. Bonni Distler says:

    Have you seen the one off I-19 near Sahuarita?

  14. SG says:

    There is one on the University of Arizona campus, next to the Old Main building! 🙂

  15. Jim Grote says:

    I’ve spotted a crested saguaro about 15 miles east of Wickenburg along hwy 74

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