Mutant cactuses prized by collectors


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Some look like brains. Others look like pythons, alluvial fans, coral outcroppings or stretch waistbands. They’re known as crests, and they’re a high point in what’s billed as the nation’s largest cactus and succulent show, to be held this weekend at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia.

Cresting happens when a new growth emerges from a line rather than a point. It’s spontaneous and unpredictable, and no two examples are alike. Because such mutants tend to be slow-growing, the older the crest, the more prized by collectors.


Crests are found more often in cactuses and succulents than in the rest of the plant kingdom, according to Laurel Woodley, a retired biology professor in Torrance and current president of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America.

‘Sometimes a crest is so convoluted, it’s impossible to tell what kind of plant it is,’ Woodley said.

One of the more popular and exotic-looking crested succulents is easy to identify: milkstripe euphorbia, botanical name Euphorbia lactea cristata. ‘It has a second mutation that involves its inability to produce green pigment, making it variegated with reds and whites,’ Woodley said.

You should see some crests at the 25th annual Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale, running 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the arboretum, 350 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. The event is organized by the Cactus and Succulent Society of American affiliates in Los Angeles, Long Beach and the San Gabriel Valley.

-- Debra Lee Baldwin

Top photo: A type of Haageocereus pseudomelanostele called Cristata, owned by Buck Hemenway of Riverside, was on display at the 2009 Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale.

A pot with a fluted rim complements the rippled surface of a type of grafted Euphorbia lacteacristata. Design by the Solana Beach store Chicweed.


A crested type of Euphorbia lactea is part of a potted design by Larry Grammer for the California Cactus Center in Pasadena.

Photo credits: Debra Lee Baldwin, from ‘Succulent Container Gardens’