A green cactus growing in an arid desert serves as a reminder that life can thrive in even the harshest of environments.
These hardy, prickly plants are an iconic part of the landscape of the American West.
But there’s a problem.
Cacti have become so attractive — and, in the case of rare species, so expensive — that thieves are digging up the wild plants and selling them for significant sums of money.
It’s possible to make hundreds of dollars on the sale of each cactus, because they’re in such high demand.
They grow well in pots and, because they’re used to living in arid conditions, they’re also very easy to look after.
For these reasons, a wild cactus can very easily become a perfect houseplant.
The saguaro cactus is especially sought after. It grows only in Arizona, California and the Mexican state of Sonora.
This species is a large plant that can make a real statement when placed into a landscaped garden.
The upward-growing branches of a saguaro are known as arms, and they stand out on the horizon, making them instantly visible to cactus-hunters.
Some people have said that they look like the arms of a human reaching up towards the sky.
But it’s the fact that we love these incredible cacti so much that’s pushing up the price and making it so attractive to harm them.
This is why Arizonan lawmakers have taken extreme measures to protect their natural environment.
Cactus rustlers — as the thieves are called — can be given huge fines in the state of Arizona, but they can also face twenty-five years in prison.
That’s a long time behind bars, just for taking a bit of greenery.
But it takes twenty years for many species of wild cactus to reach their full adult size, so stealing them while they’re still young creates serious harm to the environment.
A potted cactus looks good on the windowsill — and it’s true that some species can be sustainably grown and responsibly bought.
But it’s better to see many varieties of wild cactus flourishing in their natural habitat, where they will be appreciated by future generations.