Cactus rustling?

I saw a headline of the Arizona Daily Star here in Tucson on the weekend that just intrigued me – apparently cactus stealing is a big problem in this state.

Now I’ve heard a lot about the big Saguaro cactus here in Arizona but the sheer size of them never even made me consider that people might want to (or be able to!) steal them.

The mighty Saguaro is a stately symbol of Arizona and is protected in several areas, including Saguaro National Park near Tucson. But the prize cacti are highly valued by landscapers so stealing small saguaros out of the park and other wild areas is becoming popular. It is hard to grow these giants in greenhouses and because they take so long to grow to their famous shapes, they’re in high demand.

Some Saguaros can live to up to 200 years, but that’s only if they survive the weather, wind, lightning , pollution and predators (of both the animal and human variety). Although one adult plant can produce tens of thousands of seeds every year, only a select few actually grow into cacti. It can take up to 15 years to grow a foot tall, 30 years for a Saguaro to produce fruit and seeds and 50 years for it to grow 7 feet tall. The arms for which this plant is so well-known, don’t even start growing until the cactus is 75 years old!

Given all this, no wonder this desert giant is in demand! Rangers in Saguaro National Park are launching a protection program to deter cactus rustlers – cacti near roadways will be microchipped, similar to the way we microchip dogs and cats. The microchips are also available to private cactus owners and part of the deterrence program will include spot checks at nurseries, who sometimes buy stolen Saguaros from rustlers.

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