Rare Cacti Conservation: The Hunt for Crested Saguaro

February 14, 2023
1 min read

The Crested Saguaro Society is a group of volunteers that have been searching the Sonoran Desert since 2005 for the crested saguaro cactus. The group has found around 3,300 crested saguaros, which are endangered due to the expansion of cities in Arizona. The rare cacti make up an estimated one in every 200,000 saguaro cacti in the desert, and they are logged into a database that is protected from poachers or vandals by only two members who have full access. The group has been working on recruitment efforts to attract younger members, but they have yet to agree on a way to evaluate candidates.

The group has given the crested saguaros whimsical names like “Once in a Lifetime,” “How about a Hug?” and “Magnifico.” The search for these cacti is often an obsession for members of the Crested Saguaro Society, who have spent around 100,000 hours hunting for them. The group has denied requests from researchers to share their findings, as they have trust issues and prefer to share information in person.

In an effort to save these endangered cacti, volunteers slip on elbow-length leather gloves buffered with Kevlar and lined with fleece, then wrap the saguaros in chunks of carpet and haul them onto a wildfire-blackened hillside in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Transplanting saguaros is a delicate process, as they can grow for centuries and reach 45 feet in height or more. The volunteers must guide the saguaros into place, making sure the north-facing side faces north to avoid sunburn, pour water over the stump and roots, and tamp the soil down to ensure that the cactus survives.

The Crested Saguaro Society’s work is vital to protect the crested saguaros, which are unique to the Sonoran Desert and could face extinction due to the expansion of cities in Arizona. The group’s members are determined to find as many crested saguaros as possible to protect them for future generations.

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