Don’t mess with our cactus: Saguaro known for revenge

Southern Arizona’s symbolic and stately saguaro cacti do more than stand around looking good.

Saguaro over Tucson/Ryn Gargulinski

Saguaro over Tucson/Ryn Gargulinski

These massive plants are known for their revenge against anyone stupid enough to mess with them.

Two Tucson guys have been the latest victims in saguaro revenge when they tried to steal some of them from Saguaro National Park in January 2007.

Both dudes have finally been slapped with punishment from the federal government, according to a news release from the Arizona District’s Office of the United States Attorney.

Joseph Tillman, 50, was sentenced in October to eight months in federal prison.

His cohort, Gregory James McKee, 42, won’t join his fellow cactus-rustler in prison, but he received a sentence of six months of home confinement and 100 hours of community service.

Maybe his community service will be planting cactus.

Both get three years of supervised release following the completion of their time served.

The two took off with two saguaro form the Saguaro National Park in a truck driven by McKee and had dug up several others and prepared them for transport.

Revenge of the cactus/Ryn Gargulinski

Revenge of the cactus/Ryn Gargulinski

Gee, National Park Service Rangers just so happened to notice.

“Both McKee and Tillman pleaded guilty to violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in plants and animals collected in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law,” the release said.

“Saguaros are protected under Arizona’s native plant law and require protection from illegal collection because of their vulnerability to loss or damage from theft, vandalism, development, off-road vehicles, and air pollution and because of their slow reproduction and rate of growth, which have made nursery propagation difficult.”

While Tillman’s and McKee’s antics may lack some general intelligence, nothing can beat the infamous tale of the guy who pulled an even smarter move.

David Grundman and his roommate James Joseph Suchcochi packed their guns and took off for the desert near Lake Pleasant back in 1982. tells us Grundman had great success shooting up a small saguaro, which quickly thumped down dead.

So he went for a bigger one. A 26-foot saguaro that was estimated at 100 years old.

The cactus was apparently not amused by being shot up – and one of its 4-foot arms tumbled down, crushing and killing Grundman.

What a way to make history.

While Snopes also mentions tales of animal revenge, the site says Grundman’s is the only documented case of a plant getting back at a human.

What do you think?

Have you been injured by a saguaro or other desert plant?

Do you recall the guy who died Sept. 1 while trimming a palm tree?

Do you know any tales of plant or animal revenge?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at
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17 Responses to Don’t mess with our cactus: Saguaro known for revenge

  1. radmax says:

    Mornin’ Rynski. Spotlight poachers, saguaro-nappers, gotta love the great American tradition of goofy illegal activities. Nuthin’ like gettin’ tanked up and raisin’ hell with the animals and plants for fun and or profit, what a hoot!

    • Rynski says:

      hahah! mornin’ radmax –
      sigh. yeah. seems some people really don’t have anything much to do. maybe we should send them overseas to dispense medical care or something. or maybe they can stay here and do something good instead of destructive.
      …nah, that’d be asking way too much.

  2. Jennatoolz says:

    What would be the point of stealing a huge cactus?? I don’t understand. I’ve always had a hate-relationship with any type of cactus, haha.

    Also, if I were to get into some type of trouble with the law, and the punishment was home confinement…Fine with me! I’m a home-body anyways, lol!

    • Rynski says:

      hey jennatoolz – i was thinking the SAME thing about home confinement. i try to indulge in it on my own, but sooner or later there’s some dumb reason i have to leave the house (like today i have to get rolls and thanksgiving side dish foodstuff).
      now, if i were mandated to stay home, i could make someone else go get it (haha).
      cactus to me are glorious – but not to messed with. like you, i’m in a love/hate with them.
      i love looking at them. and hate when they poke their spikes through my foot. those horrible pencil cactus things even go through leather shoes!

      • radmax says:

        Voluntary home confinement? You’re a hoot Rynski! 🙂
        PS- what the heck is a ‘pencil cactus?’

      • Jennatoolz says:

        Don’t I know it! Those crazy pencil cactus are all over where I grew up in New Mexico. I’d constantly have cacti sticking out of my shoes after frolicking in the mountainous wilderness. Some days, for entertainment, my brother and I would throw the fallen pieces of cacti at eachother…Cactus Wars, yeah!! It was all fun until my brother turned around to pick up a piece, and it was the perfect opportunity to win it all! I threw my piece of cactus at him, and it stuck right on his behind! Jenna-1 Brother-0 😀

      • Rynski says:

        wow, growing up in michigan, all we had were rotten crab apple wars! those things splat nicely on cars – and jackets.

        radmax – the pencil cactus are these pencil thin formations with monster spikes that can probably stick through hardened metal. they are all over the place. my former home had them in the yard and they hated me.
        CLICK HERE for a good photo of one.

      • radmax says:

        Hmmmm, always thought these were another sub-species of cholla. Thanks Rynski! Learn something new everyday.

      • radmax says:

        PS-those big saguaros are very expensive to buy, especially with arms. They can fetch thousands of dollars, for a big ornate specimen.

  3. azmouse says:

    People can’t mess with our cacti around here. We take that seriously. I think cacti are cool…painful, but cool. I grew up on the northeast side on five acres. On one side of our property is a little wash so the property would get less flooded during heavy rains. Me and my brother used to start at the front of our property and jump in the wash, then get carried by the water all the way down the property. Tons of fun, lots of tadpoles and frogs to catch, but we would always get cactus in us every time we did that. It was fun. 🙂

    I do question our system of punishment. I read about a woman who was found guilty of killing her 18 month old baby and only got five years probation with no jail time at all. It seems some in the criminal justice system value cactus more than a baby. 

    • leapingleon says:

      David Grundman was immortalized in the song Saguaro on the Austin Lounge Lizards first album. Friends and I who camped regularly knew the story and made the song our little anthem. Years later, in the ’90s, I’d visit my sister and family in California. Taught the little girls the song (along with Yellow Submarine and Splish Splash) while giving them baths.  Their favorite line? “Crushed him like a bug.”

      • Rynski says:

        thanks for the info, leapingleon –
        i most definitely must check out the Saguaro song! sounds like fun. i wouldn’t mind being immortalized in a song – but i wouldn’t want to be crushed by a saguaro to do it!

      • koreyk says:

        “Saguaro” is on the Austin Lounge Lizards “Creatures From the Black Saloon” CD.

        If you can’t track it down, you can request it on KXCI. 

      • leapingleon says:

        Still available – I have CD and an ALL-signed copy vinyl record.
        Click on Store at left and scroll down a bit.
        Unfortunately, there’s not an MP3 I could locate.

    • Rynski says:

      hey AZMouse –
      I agree on the justice system being fouled up at times, esp. when a baby killer gets less (or no!) time than a cactus thief.
      only thing i can think of is the cactus was a FEDERAL crime, since it was in a national forest. maybe if the baby killer took her baby over state lines, and it became a case for the FBI, she would have gotten a more severe punishment.
      lots of the punishments seem very screwed up. maybe it depends on the judge’s mood of the day? (just kidding, dear judges!)

  4. Carl L says:

    1. Several years ago when I live in Honolulu, there was a story of a mother who was changing her baby’s diaper at the foot of a large palm tree in a public park. A cluster of coconuts weighing about 70 pounds fell and killed the baby.
    2. A few years ago a couple was touring the redwood forest in CA, and parked their SUV to take a walk. Minutes later an old tree fell right on the SUV and destroyed it.

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