While walking through the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, this saguaro demanded my attention. On the top of the main trunk was a fan-like protuberance. It stood so regally amongst the other plants in this desert landscape. When one of the garden volunteers came by, I asked him about this formation.
This cactus, he said, was known as a crested saguaro. This beautiful, but rare occurrence, is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Some say the cresting is due to a genetic formation; others suggest that it is a result of frost or lightning strike. Inquiring online, I found that there even is a Crested Saguaro Society. Its members have been documenting each crested cactus it finds. One passionate veteran of the society theorizes that the cresting is due to a hormone that causes the number of pleats on a cactus to go out of control, observing that some return to normal after years of cresting. Through the society's diligent tracking, they claim to have found over 2, 200 crested saguaros.
Susceptible to frost and poaching, the crested saguaros are highly protected by the Arizona Department of Architecture.
During my time in Arizona, I spotted only one other crested saguaro, located on a trail in Apache Junction near Meridian Drive.