One of the most famous saguaro plunge stories there is tells of the death of a man with a gun plugging saguaros in the Arizona desert. You’ve probably heard the story — a heartless gunman is killed by a saguaro he shoots until it falls on him.
I always suspected this tale was urban legend, but Snopes and other authorities confirm it as fact. The shooter’s name was David Grundman and he and a room-mate were drinking and plugging saguaros in the desert by Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, in 1982. They shot a little one, and then, inspired by how easy it was to get it to fall, Grundman began blasting away at a big one – reportedly 26 feet tall and estimated to be about 125 years old. Damaged, it dropped a four-foot arm right on its tormentor, who succumbed under the weighty, spine-bearing limb; then, the destabilized main trunk went over too, also landing on Grundman. It’s hard to find much sympathy for someone who would do something so cruel and pointless (and illegal). In fact, it’s hard not to root for the saguaro, although the loss of life in this story is sobering: two saguaros (or, according to one account, up to six were shot down where they grew) and one man. But, let’s face it, there’s karmic satisfaction in a cactus that not only defends itself, but gets revenge for the death of a smaller relative.
Having seen the carnage in our backyard resulting in a small saguaro falling on potted cactus, this story has new impact, and I have no interest in pursuing visuals, which must exist in some police records or other.
To offset that visual image, I’ve included a more nutritional picture I took in early summer of a White-winged dove poised to feast greedily on saguaro fruit in our neighborhood. The fruits are green, bud-like pods (the dove is perched on one, and its flower stem). After being opened by the doves and other frugivores like Gila woodpeckers, the exposed flesh of the ravaged fruits is red and flower-like. The actual flowers, white and night-opening, are commonly pollinated by bats. You can see a flower on the right edge of the photo. They generously stay open during daylight for the convenience of bees, native and European.
On a lighter note (or at least, a musical note), the story of Grundman’s demise is immortalized in the Austin Lounge Lizards‘ competent saga “Saguaro” (which they pronounce suh-GWAH-ro, it must be a Texas thing), listen here: saguaro: “He grabbed his guns, he mounted up, he was off, to say the least…”
There must be something about Lake Pleasant. That’s also the place where an inebriated man asked a park ranger to help him get a Gila monster, which he had tried to kiss, off his lip. There’s another visual I could do without.
There’s an extensive account of the Grundman episode by Tom Miller, written as a biography of the victim cactus (Miller calls it Ha:san), in the chapter entitled “Saguaro” in the book Traveler’s Tales, American Southwest, by O’Reilly and O’Reilly.