Travels to South-West U.S.A in the quest for cacti and succulents
By Chris Cole
During the spring of 1997 I became engrossed and some might say, obsessed by the wonderful world of cacti and succulents. By April 1998 I was undertaking a travel scholarship to south-west U.S.A to study the propagation and cultivation of these plants.
This trip was supported by Kew Guild, Hozelock Limited, Bentham-Moxon Trust, David Dalziel Travel Scholarship Fund, the Royal Horticultural Society and the Merlin Trust. In addition to enabling me to experience and examine various propagation and cultivation techniques used at renowned commercial nurseries, I was also able to observe plants in their habitats, within manicured collections in botanic gardens and in other establishments. During the three and a half week stay the majority of time was spent in the state of Arizona, with a brief three day visit to neighbouring New Mexico.
The first week was spent as work experience in the heart of the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona at Aridlands greenhouses, where the proprietor, Chuck Hanson, is an expert in the culture of Euphorbiaceae and the difficult Asclepiadaceae. When temperatures rose above 30°C I had little desire to work under the polythene structure, instead I took the opportunity to botanise the surrounding wild flora. The Living Stones (Lithops) Nursery and Bach’s Cactus Nursery — the oldest in Tucson, were also visited during the initial period.
Mesa Garden, the large seed producing nursery of Steven Brack, is located in Belen, New Mexico. Here an outstanding collection of the rare and endangered Mexican cacti such as Aztekium, Ariocarpus, Lophophora, Strombocactus, Obregonia, and Pelecyphora were observed, along with a superb collection of the difficult Pediocactus and Sclerocactus, both native to south-west U.S.A.
The final visit on return to Tucson was to Miles Anderson’s `Miles To Go’ Nursery. Miles propagates largely by grafting and micro-grafting (using minute scions). This enables him to increase the size and number of plants and seed production ten fold within a three to five year period. The result of this rapid turnover is fast, efficient distribution of the rare and endangered specimens, helping to relieve stress on plants in their habitat. He specialises in mass Ariocarpus production, cristate cacti and grafted plants and mails all his plants to the U.S.A. During the nursery visits contrasting propagation and cultivation methods were observed, noted and now forwarded to the Cacti and Succulent Section at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in addition to forming links between experts in the U.S and our staff.
The remainder of the tour was spent visiting establishments such as Desert Botanical Gardens, Tucson Botanical Gardens, Biosphere 2, Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park, where excellent stands of Carnegiea gigantea were viewed and photographed along with the superb collections in the other gardens.
I must conclude that my interest and knowledge of the plant group has been further fuelled and enhanced as a result of the travel scholarship. Finally I would like to thank the Kew Guild for their support towards the study trip.