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.
|* 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!