Strange Laws: Cacti in Arizona

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The sign of a teddy bear holding a machine gun marks the entrance to Old Town Scottsdale’s upscale bars and restaurants, a reminder of Arizona’s outlaw history. The Valley of the Sun is a harsh climate that isn’t especially friendly to humans. But certain laws protect the environment from people, instead of the other way around.
The Saguaro Blossom, the state flower of Arizona, blooms from April until June. A feminine white and yellow floret with a ruby red fruit sprouts from the massive prickly plant — the Saguaro Cactus. These slow-growing cacti, which dot the Arizona landscape, can extend to 60 feet tall and may take 75 years to sprout. The 200-year-old “Grand One” presided over Tonto National Forest until fires destroyed the giant in 2005. In 2007, the beloved giant fell.

Shooting, destroying or purchasing and then abandoning these cacti can result in a felony. Even home and highway construction requires a special permit to move the iconic succulents. Cactus thieves still smuggle the plants from the desert each year because rare species and peyote plants can yield a sizeable ticket price.

Also twisting the rules, a boutique hotel called The Saguaro turned Arizona law on its head—legally. Since code stipulates that the paint colors of local buildings must match the muted desert surroundings, the hotel got away with the shocking candy colors of fuchsia, orange, lime and purple from the prized plant. Not so much of a loophole as a broad interpretation of the building code, the ingenious designers of the vintage hotel focused more on the vibrancy of local wildflowers than the earthy hues of the desert landscape. Like the arms of the saguaro, some of Arizona laws do bend.
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