Cactus Celebration

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Trichocereus poco. Argentina, 2002. Photograph by Woody Minnich

There are no real favorites when it comes to biodiversity, but it is worth pointing out that there is something unusual about the beauty of spiny things. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, writing on the New Yorker’s website, for the words she surrounds these photographs with:

The Strange Wonders of the Cactus, the Plant of Our Times

Cactuses are spiky and rough; foreboding and strange; gnarled, Seussian, and sometimes toxic. They remind us of nature’s irreverent brutality, and of its occasional inexplicability.They evoke places where people can’t survive. But when removed from those places—their native habitats—individually potted, and sold as decoration for a house, a garden, or an office, they are among the easiest plants a person can have, requiring little or no care and still looking good. More unusual species can be novelties, or prizes for collectors, or even significant investments. But many people never consider where their potted cactus or succulent originated, and what purpose its bizarre characteristics served. The magnificent landscapes and ecosystems in which the plant evolved are forgotten.

This bothered three cactus-crazed young men in Los Angeles—Jeff Kaplon, Max Martin, and Carlos Morera—who in 2014 opened the Cactus Store, a boutique featuring a large collection of unusual, interesting, and, in some cases, rare species of cactuses and succulents. (Cactuses are a family within the taxonomy of succulents.) Since California was well into a severe drought, many residents were switching to drought-resilient landscapes, and the timing of the opening, although coincidental, was fortunate. The store was a hit. Selling plants was not, however, its only goal. Kaplon, Martin, and Morera wanted to guide cactus and succulent neophytes beyond a simple aesthetic appreciation of each cactus in its pot. If a customer was admiring an Oreocereus celsianus (commonly known as the old man of the mountain), she would learn before leaving the store that it comes from the high Andes, and that its fluffy mop of white hair evolved to defend it from the sun and the snow…

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Pachycereus pringlei. Cataviña, Baja California, Mexico, 1998. Photograph by Jon Rebman

As the three men expanded their cactus collection and their depth of knowledge, they became increasingly captivated by historic, documentary-style photographs of cactuses and succulents in the wild, most of which were the output of previous generations of devoted cactus hunters. These older obsessives had travelled the world, sometimes taking considerable physical risks, just to see certain species in their native habitats, or to see them in bloom, or to search for others more rare. Over decades, evidence of what these explorers discovered, and of the extreme journeys they took, has been stashed away in bargain bins at cactus shows, in shoe boxes in collectors’ garages, and in dusty old slide carousels that reside with the region’s many cactus-and-succulent clubs. Kaplon, Martin, and Morera gathered as much of this archival material as they could, and eventually decided to put several hundred pictures, drawn from twenty-two explorers’ archives and spanning eighty years, into a new book. They researched and edited the images, conducted interviews with some of the photographer-explorers, and now are preparing to publish the result, titled “Xerophile: Cactus Photographs from Expeditions of the Obsessed.”

Read the whole post here.

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