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Plants

The most bizarre cactuses and succulents we saw at a crowd-favorite show

A woman looks at a small plant with a swollen, tangled above-ground root structure
A first place-winning Fockea edulis (a.k.a. Hottentot bread) was one of several “fat plants” grown by Peter Walkowiak that adorned the trophy table at the 35th Inter-city Cactus and Succulent Show and Sale at the Arboretum in Arcadia last weekend.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
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The 35th Inter-City Cactus and Succulent Show and sale more than made up for a lost year this past weekend, with crowds of cactus-crazy people ogling exhibits of 1,300 strange and wonderful plants and buying up a storm from the vendors.

Organizers estimate more than 2,000 people visited the three-day sale and show, which was free to anyone who entered the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia. Total attendance this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday was about 7,900, about 2,700 more than the Arboretum‘s attendance the previous three-day weekend, said spokeswoman Nancy Yoshihara, proof that succulents were the draw.

A Myrtillocactus geometrizans from grower Richard Salceno.
A Myrtillocactus geometrizans from grower Richard Salceno.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

One of the happiest takeaways for the organizers: More than half of the 118 entrants into the juried show — 67 — were in the novice category, a sign of fresh young interest in succulents and succulent shows, said Co-chairman Tom Glavich, a longtime member of the San Gabriel Valley Cactus & Succulent Society, which hosts the annual event with the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society and the Long Beach Cactus Club.

Further evidence: One of the event co-chairs this year was Crystal Eckman, a 24-year-old occupational therapy graduate student. Her boyfriend, Gavin Hunn, also 24, is secretary of the Long Beach Cactus Club. They are both the youngest to hold their respective positions, and Eckman has a rising-star reputation for her skill in growing melocactus — plump cactus with colorful protrusions — from seed.

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Part of the attraction to the show and sale is the sheer diversity of the plants: There are so many sizes and shapes and colors, there’s something for everyone, Hunn said, even people who have limited space.

You don’t need land to grow food. We talked to six L.A.-based experts who explain how you can easily grow veggies, fruits and herbs in pots on your balcony or any other small space.

And the best way to learn about succulents, such as the fact that all cactus are succulents but not all succulents are cactuses?

A Copiapoa kranziana from grower Peter Walkowiak.
A Copiapoa kranziana from grower Peter Walkowiak.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Join a club to learn from longtime growers, Hunn and Eckman said. Or attend a gardening event.

Distract yourself from August’s heat by visiting some of these real-time plant events in Southern California in the garden calendar for August 2021.

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Apparently many are following that advice. James Lemos, president of the Long Beach Club — the county’s oldest succulent club, dating to 1933 — said almost all its new members are people in their 20s and 30s.

“People are into the plants, but they’re also attracted by the fellowship,” Lemos said. “A lot of them are introverts in their regular lives until they come to the meetings, where they can share their passion for the plants and their personalities. They’re nurturing types who come to meet other like-minded people.”

A planter of colorful Lithops, also known as living stone plants, from grower Tori Wilson.
A container packed with colorful Lithops, also known as living stone plants, from grower Tori Wilson.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Sales this weekend were “the best in the history of the show,” said Artie Chavez, owner of Desert Creations Nursery & Gift Shop in Northridge.

“Yes, 2019 was a record sales year [at the convention] but 2021 exceeded those gross sales by 30%,” Chavez said.

The Cactus Ranch feels secret, special even, because as far as nurseries go it’s relatively unknown. During the week, the property is a wholesale nursery business, closed to the public. But on weekends it’s open to anyone.

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In the past, interest was driven mostly by older people looking for water-wise landscaping, he said, but these days the interest is driven by young collectors, “a much younger demographic than ever before. The amount of younger people in the hobby is astounding.”

A Haworthia maughanii from growers Tom and Jeanette Glavich.
A Haworthia maughanii from growers Tom and Jeanette Glavich.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

If you’re looking to join the wave, here’s a photo gallery of highlights from the show, including at least 20 of the most amazing succulents and/or cactus we saw (it was hard to choose). If you want to see more photos, check out the convention’s Instagram account @intercityshow.

And if you missed last weekend’s show or just need another fix, visit the Gates Cactus and Succulent Society’s 46th Plant Sale on Aug. 28 in Redlands. Admission is free at the Redlands Church of the Nazarene, 1307 E. Citrus Ave., from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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