Crested Saguaros

The tall, columnar shape of the saguaro cactus is a familiar icon of the desert. But very rarely (about only one plant in 10,000*), a saguaro will grow with a fan-shaped crest of uncontrolled growth at the tip. These oddities of the plant kingdom are known as crested (or, more formally, cristate) saguaros. Science has not yet fully explained why this mutation occurs; perhaps it is caused by a genetic mutation, micro-organisms, or physical damage, although many other explanations have been offered. Whatever the cause, I find the swirling shapes strangely beautiful; presented here for your enjoyment are photos of the crested saguaros I have seen in my travels through the Arizona desert.

If you know the location of any crested saguaros that are not shown here (GPS coordinates preferred but not essential), please write to me at the email address at the bottom of this page.

Total number of crested saguaros I have photographed to date = 2,305

To see my photo galleries, click on each region of Arizona (organized roughly north-to-south):

Mohave County

Yavapai County

Prescott National Forest

Lake Pleasant Regional Park

La Paz County

Gila County

Maricopa County

Tonto National Forest

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Cave Creek Regional Park

Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area

Cave Creek


Desert Foothills Gardens Nursery

Cactus Ranch Nursery

Saguaro Country Nursery

Sun City

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

McDowell Sonoran Preserve


Wallace Desert Gardens

Fountain Hills

Paradise Valley

Tonto National Monument



Desert Botanical Garden

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Phoenix Mountains Preserve


Apache Junction

Superstition Mountain Museum

Queen Valley

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Pinal County

Graham County

Ironwood Forest National Monument

Sonoran Desert National Monument

Tortolita Mountains

Acacia Nursery, Marana

Oro Valley

Catalina State Park

Coronado National Forest


Tohono Chul Park

Bach's Cactus Nursery

University of Arizona

Tucson Botanical Garden

Sabino Canyon

Sweetwater Preserve

Tucson Mountain Park

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Saguaro National Park

Colossal Cave Mountain Park

Tohono O'odham Reservation


Green Valley

Cochise County

Yuma County

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Pima County

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Santa Cruz County

Riverside County, California

Thanks go out to the following people who have given me directions to, or led me to, one or more of the above crested saguaros: Terry W., Eileen R., Glenn K., Dave P., Heather O., Pam O., Kelly O., RGH, Kurt W., Bill W., Gary B., John P., Cindy M., Ken R., Katherine C., Penny B., John G., Dick D., Elaine C., Pam W., Dan D., Randy C., Al B., Scott E., and especially my fellow members in the Crested Saguaro Society (Joe P., Bob C., Pat H., Ted C., Max L., Jim K., Cynthia H., Phil K., and Harry F.). Many of my photos are also featured on the Crested Saguaro Society web site.

For artistic black & white photos of crested saguaros, go to my Grayscale Gallery.

Cresting also occurs in other species of cactus, such as the organ pipe and barrel cactus. For photos of other crested cactuses, see my Other Crested Cactuses page.

For other types of mutant cactus, see my Not Quite Crested and Saguaros Gone Wild pages.

* Regarding the overall occurance of crested saguaros, here is how I came up with the figure "about only one plant in 10,000." I say about because neither the number of crested saguaros nor the total number of saguaros is known very precisely.

For the number of crested saguaros, since about 2,000 are documented I figure there are probably about 3,000 in existence.

For the total number of saguaros, I've read estimates in the 25 million to 45 million range, so I figure 30 million is close enough.

3,000 / 30 million = one in 10,000. I think this is a pretty reasonable number based on my experience; typically when I go out crest-hunting, if I look at enough saguaros in a day I usually find at least one crested one.

You will see lots of other numbers quoted on the web, as high as "one plant for every 3-4 million of the regular adult plants," but most of these are gross exaggerations. I think many of these numbers were originally calculated before Bob Cardell & Pat Hammes of the Crested Saguaro Society proved that there are a lot more crested saguaros in existence than previously suspected!

Standard disclaimer: Sites are described for entertainment purposes only, as they were at the time of my last visit. I can not vouch for the current condition of the site or its accessibility.

Revised: July 4, 2024
Copyright © 2008-2024 Joe Orman
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