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By Walery Serovaiskiy (Moscow)

Californian Sketches

In summer 2001 I was lucky to come to "cacti paradise" – Los Angeles, USA. The visit became possible thanks to the invitation from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America's (CSSA) to represent the Russian Society for Study of Cacti and Other Xerophiles (RSSCO) at the 29th International Conference of the Society.

Photo 1. Euphorbia lactea f. cristata subf. variegata is one of the most expensive, there were only two of them for sale. I should propagate it but don't dare.

Photo 2. I got a branch of Aeonium percarneum cv. "Kiwi" f. cristata from Leonid M. Mirsakov, one of the leading cactophiles of ex-USSR, Editor of the Sumi cacti magazine, IOS member, he's been living in the USA now. He is a prominent expert on Mesembra. He has such a "tree" that is 1 m high and 0.6 m in diameter in a bucket-sized pot on his balcony. The stem and branches all look like this.

On my second day in Los Angeles I went to mountains by myself. I was eager to plunge into the atmosphere of the places of natural growing of cacti. I quite succeeded in doing this. The slopes of the mountains that are not very high are covered with scree. There are xerophiles everywhere including lots of succulents. There are thickets of Opuntia (I wrote about them in #3-4 of "Cacti and Other Xerophiles"), Agave, Cereus, blooming yucca. Then I visited the Botanical Garden in Pasadena, flower farms and private collections with excursions.

Photo 3. Abonium arboreum v. atropupureum f. cristata.

Photo 3a. Abonium arboreum v. atropupureum f. cristata.

Photo 4. Gasteria gracilis f. variegata

Cacti and succulents are everywhere in the city: in the parks, gardens, flowerbeds, they are used for green hedges. The climate allows keeping them outdoors. There are 350 (!) sunny days per year. In "winter" the temperature doesn't go below +15o C. During my visit (from the end of June to July) it was 36oC at the day time (in closed mountain valleys it is 42oC), and 29oC at night. In such ideal conditions lots of "aliens" naturalized as well: South-American Cereus and others. Probably they are spread by birds that take seeds round from botanical gardens, flower farms and plants in the town.

Photo 5. Astrophytum myriostigma v. monstrosa cv. "Lotus Land"

The Botanical Garden in Pasadena has lots of tropical plants but also lots of succulents. Huge Cereus and Euphorbia look like trees. Succulents (dozens of species of эониум, Hawortia and others) are planted along the paths. The greenhouse (sized 30х15х10 m) is filled with rarities. For instance, there are all the species of Lithops. Each pot (made of clay, 15 cm in diameter) contains one species spread all over its surface. There are also Uebelmannia, Discocactus and others. Almost all of them bloom. It's amazing! But one can't stay there more than several minutes at a time – it's 36oC outside and more than 50oC inside. I was awfully sweating, when I rushed out it seemed to be cool there. I cooled down a little and returned to the heat. My friend and I were almost only visitors. The entrance tickets cost $7 which is very cheap for Americans.

The fair at the conference is a particular story. Dozens of famous companies (mostly from California) brought their plants there. Members of the Los Angeles cacti club also exhibited their collections. The conference was held in the conference-room of a fashionable hotel. All the reports were read there. All the halls of the ground floor were filled with the exhibitions of plants, books and accessories. In one of the halls an auction of rare plants was held (the plants are given by the Los Angeles club members).

Sale proceeds partly cover the expenses on the conference. The plants are really valuable. For example, they put up for sale an Obregonia on a high stock with a 20 cm high crest.

Photo 6. Astrophytum asterias cv. "Supercabuto"

The main exhibition hall was sized 25х15 m. The tables with plants for sale were along the walls and in the center. The access to the plants was free. Under the tables there were boxes of different sizes. One could take a box and put the plants that he liked. The choice was immense! I spent most of the time there. As I had an official permission to bring plants to Russia I did not hesitate to spend what little money I had. Reclamation was accepted during the whole conference (6 days). One could change plants or get money back.

2 days before the opening of the conference the plants were exhibited and sold in a city park near the Botanical Garden. One could drive directly to the rows. The plants cost $10 to $40. Their size was 10 to 20 cm in diameter.


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