No matter how ignorant we may be to the secret life of cacti, we rarely think of the plant as capable of revenge.
LAKE PLEASANT, AZ - “Cactus plugging” is the act of using cacti for target practice. It seems harmless enough, the cactus doesn’t truly seem to be alive. Their branches resemble arms making the plant appear like the bizarrely gorganized remains of dried out desert travelers who didn’t quite make it out. It is a symbol of the desert, an area to beware, an area of death. In many ways the cactus, like the vulture, are symbols of death. But no matter how ignorant we may be to the secret life of cacti, we rarely think of the plant as capable of revenge.
On February 5, 1982 David Grundman, 24-27 (reports vary) was cactus plugging with friend Jim Suchochi, a couple miles into the desert from the highway, west of Lake Pleasant. Grundman started off slowly that winter day, felling a couple lightweight cacti with a few shotgun blasts. Before long however, a more impressive specimen caught his attention.
Saguaro cacti are endemic to the Sonoma desert spread between the Arizona and Mexico border. They can grow up to 60 feet high and live to about 200 years, though some specimens have been known to be 300 years old. The arm-like branches of the cacti don’t grow until 75 years into the life of the plants. When Grundman locked his targets onto a 27-foot tall, 100 year old saguaro, he was targeting a plant that had lived to roughly half of its potential, but it was more than enough time for it to sprout massive 1000 pound limbs.
It seems Grundman’s fatal mistake was getting too close to the living thing as he blasted it to smithereens. After plugging it twice, Grundman turned and called out to his friend Jim, before a massive branch fell on him, crushing him to death. Early reports stated he had uttered the partial word “tim-” as in “timber” before the fatal moment.
It’s a story that seems too good to be true, and debunkers flock to it hoping for an easy target, but like Grundman himself, those debunkers find that the target is not so easy after all, and much more prickly than first imagined. It’s a cautionary tale, one that tells all who hear it to respect life, all forms of life, no matter how immobile. The general tone of many of the articles you will find on this incident is mocking and carry the sentiment that Grundman deserved what he got. He was immortalized in the 1984 Austin Lounge Lizards mock hero-ballad “Saguaro” where he is referred to as a “noxious little twerp”.
For the record, saguaro plugging is illegal.
Sources are abundant on the web. I wasn’t able to track down the two original articles that mentioned the story. The first appeared in the now defunct Phoenix Gazette newspaper, the second appeared in the Arizona Republic before being picked up by the Associated Press. But I did find an AZ Republic article that made mention of the story and seemed to confirm the truth of it.