Cactus Con 2021: Highlights from the L.A. plant spectacle

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 5,200 people who visited the Arboretum the previous three-day weekend, said spokeswoman Nancy Yoshihara, proof that succulents were the draw.

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

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.

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

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

Apparently many are following that advice James Lemos, president of the Long Beach Club — the county’s oldest succulent club, dating back 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.”

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 wrote in a text.

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.”

So if you’re looking to join the wave, here’s a photo gallery looking at 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 happened to miss 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.