Majestic Crested Saguaros

I’ve been on a bit of a scavenger hunt lately for the majestic Crested Saguaros.

It all started about a year ago when I realized that the misshapen form I saw on a distant hill (from my kitchen window) was a rare crested saguaro. From my vantage point, it resembled an ogre with thick, uneven limbs. What’s more, its giant Medusa-like, bulbous head teemed with little snaky arms.

Crested Saguaro
During a quad ride into a new area of the mountains near our house, I discovered THE most majestic crested saguaro yet (1 of 2 seen during trip). (Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry)

At the time, I had only briefly heard the term “crested” saguaros. I did not know that only one in every 150,000 saguaros sports this fan-like hairdo. Or that biologists continue to disagree about the cause of this gnarled anomaly that occurs at the plant’s apex (growing tip). Some suggest lightning strikes are the culprit; others blame genetic mutation, and still other theories point to freeze damage. No one’s really sure.

Crested Saguaro
Spotted by our friend and neighbor, Mark. This is the Dudleyville Specimen, visible right off the highway. (Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry)

So, when I finally trekked over to this fascinating “tree of the desert” with my hiking buddies and learned of its rarity, I became a bit obsessed. On every subsequent hiking trip, my eyes scanned until they burned. I was going to find more crested saguaros.

Crested Saguaro
I call this saguaro the Catcher’s Mitt. Standing below my first discovery, this beauty did a good job of hiding its southeast-facing arm, despite me having been past it dozens of times. (Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry)

Turns out, I do have a knack for spotting these rarities. Perhaps I am the Crested Saguaro Whisperer (though I’ve never had such luck finding four-leaf clovers, arrowheads, artifacts … But I’ll definitely settle for this giftluck!).

Crested Saguaro
Big Betty is probably one of my favorites, due to the number of crested arms coming from all directions. She must be 20-30 feet tall, also, and was discovered only because of the sun’s reflection on the concentration of white needles found in the peaks and valleys of the crested fingers. (Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry)

Please enjoy additional saguaro sightings below, all within a 20-mile radius of my home.  And if you missed it, read my Saguaro Series part I celebrating Desert Diversity, Saguaro Style and part II showcasing the beautiful process of decay that give us the Mighty Saguaro Bones.”

Crested Saguaro
Mark, introduced us to Medusa, perched on a bluff and overlooking the Galiuro Mountains. (Photo credit: Melissa Crytzer Fry)

Stay tuned for the next Saguaro Series installment.

Original version published at WHAT I SAW. Reposted, in full, with permission of the author.




  1. These are truly awe inspiring! Love the ridged pattern the fanning makes and the seam lines on the crests! That first one and Betty must be monstrously huge! The trunks look massive! We got to see a beautiful, but smallish Crested Saguaro at the Sonora Desert Museum over the new year.

    Did you know there is a Crested Saguaro Society?


    1. OH yes – the two you mention were gigantic! I had no idea there was a Crested Saguaro Society. Maybe I should join!


      1. Hello there Melissa. Bob Cardell here…I helped start the Crested Saguaro Society way back in 2004. Check out our website please. We have quite a few Cresteds. Love your website and your photographic skills. Very well done…Beautiful saguaros you have found there. Keep up your good work. We all love these beauties as well as you do. May the CREST be with you. Cheers,


      2. Hi, Bob. SO nice to meet you; I checked our your work online a while back, after Linda posted my photos and links to your organization. But I will visit again for sure! Thank you so much for the compliments regarding my website and photos.

        It is so much fun finding a new crested, isn’t it? I’ve been watching one form right next to my property over the past five years. Early on, I suspected it might be a crested, and this past year it really took off! May the crest be with you as well! 😉 I’ll email pics to you when I make new discoveries!


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