Cactus Wrangling in Lakewood, CO – Stealing Cactus Plants is a Thing!

White Sands Claret Cup cactus plant stolen from Kendrick Lake Gardens.

As a flower photographer, photographing blooming cactus plants is by far my favorite! With such a short bloom cycle, it’s an eagerly anticipated event. Over the last several years I’ve spent hours bonding with my favorite cactus plants at Kendrick Lake Xeriscape Gardens. Most of these are unique varieties of hedgehog, barrel cactus. With their coral colored flowers they are magnificent!!

So when suddenly May of 2022, one by one the plants went missing, a red flag went up! And as of April of 2023, the last of this gorgeous variety was also forcibly removed and stolen. All told, at least 5 of these plants were taken to date.

Doing some research, I learned of Cactus Wrangling. And sadly YES, it’s a REAL thing!!
All I can say is WTF??!!

It’s bad enough that thieves steal something bolted down like a catalytic convertor. You’d think with its long pointy spines a cactus plant would have some defense. But against what must be a heavily gloved hand and a shovel? Thief 1 Cactus ZERO!

It’s been devastating to witness first hand these nefarious criminals uprooting these gorgeous plants literally in the midst of their bloom cycle!

What Exactly is Cactus Wrangling?

I had never heard of the phrase let alone the activity. In Arizona Cactus Wrangling is a serious problem! For example, it’s actually a FELONY to remove or cut a Saguaro cactus in AZ.

It’s illegal to steal or remove the state’s iconic Saguaros from parks. Violators are pursued by state agricultural police, or “Cactus Cops.”

Furthermore, stealing an Arizona cactus may result in as much as a $150,000 fine and/or five years in prison for a conviction on a first offense. A permit is required to cut a saguaro down even if it’s on private property.

Sited from Article:

“Unfortunately, the wrangling I’m going to talk about is not only illegal, but a real problem for the desert environment.  Cactus wrangling.  That’s right, I said cactus wrangling.  Now you probably don’t know anybody that’d be dumb enough to want to wrangle a cactus, but there’s quite a profit in it for these modern day poachers.

Cactus wrangling or cactus poaching, involves “illegal take,” which is the harvest of native flora or fauna without the proper permits.

How can these desert crimes be countered?  The National Park Service has had a lot of dealings with these crimes.  They have a tracking system, using microchips inserted in the cactus, and are able to track the origin of poached plants,

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not legal for folks to just go dig up a cactus out of the desert, even if it seems like there would be plenty of them left.  Cactus harvesting is an activity that requires licenses and permits.  You need to find out whose land you are on and get their permission (some land agencies do not give permission for harvests), then apply for a license from the state agency that regulates native flora (if they require one).”

It’s NOT Just the Big Cactus Thieves Want

White Sands Claret Cup cactus plant with coral colored flowers.
One of the stolen plants – a White Sands Claret Cup.

It’s NOT just the big cactus thieves want, it’s the little guys that are the rarest and most valuable!

Which brings us to the precious little White Sands Claret Cup cactus that have been stolen here in Lakewood, CO 🙁

When I first saw this happening, I immediately reached out to the city with my concerns. Their response was rather nonchalant. They said “unfortunately this happens from time to time and we will replace those plants very soon”.

Not the answer I was hoping for that’s for sure. Replacing the plants would be a moot point and stupid!

Paying Homage to What Was…

To say I am grateful for the opportunity to have photographed these gorgeous cactus plants over the last several years is an understatement. To say I’m saddened for what was and will never be again is heartbreaking! Despite my best efforts to warn the city and take matter seriously, NOTHING was done. My concerns regarding the fate of these plants WAS justified.

In early March 2023 when I begin taking photos at Kendrick Lake Gardens, every few days I would check on the remaining White Sands Claret Cup plant that was still there. However, thieves will be thieves and they must have be combing the gardens. They knew exactly what to take and by mid-April the last plant was gone!! Another crushing blow.

So the following photos document the time I had with these plants. Even one I had watched from a wee pup now covered in red buds that was torn away right before it was going to bloom for the first time! Photos of the empty space they left behind too.


One of My Favorite Plants to Photograph

White Sands Claret Cup flowers.

This was one of my favorite plants to photograph. It tended to bloom a bit later than the others but the wait was worth it! The flowers were so perfect. Their coral, peachy colored petals with the bright green center. At times they did ot even look real.

Hummingbirds would often be early morning visitors to these flowers. It was quite a site to see.

In early season little Candlestick wildflower tulips could be seen growing up all around this plant. It be in its early stages with little red nubs. Then further into spring multiple Allium plants would be growing around it. With their little, purple star-shaped flowers, it was a beautiful contrast of colors and textures.

Flower Photographer or Photo-Journalist?

Hedgehog plant - cactus wrangled from Kendrick Lake gardens in Lakewood, CO
Blooming hedgehog cactus stolen from Kendrick Gardens.

Lately I’m feeling like more of a photo-journalist than a flower photographer. Documenting cactus plant thefts was not on my flower photography “to-do” list. But someone needs to be a voice for these priceless little plants and I’m all too happy to do it!

Call me the crazy cactus flower lady if you will!! I’ll take it. But it’s truly criminal to realize that nothing is sacred or off limits to thieves. Who would have thought that cactus plants would be a target?

If these cactus plants thefts were not bad enough, wait till the next post for the carnage that has been since taking place on the remaining barrel cactus plants at the gardens!! The city did not take my initial concerns about the fate of all these cactus plants seriously.

Am I angry? You bet!!!

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