The Cactus Convention

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The 35th Cactus and Succulent Society of America’s biennial convention was held last week at the Sheraton Hotel in Austin, Texas. This is the second one I have attended, and at both I have met interesting people, learned something new about growing cactus, and yes, come home with yet more specimens to add to my collection.

The cactus convention has an international flavor, as many of the speakers are not from America, but they definitely know their succulent plants. And have a passion for them. Considering that Giuseppe Orlando ran the risk of losing his life while searching for plants in Somaliland, Kelly Griffin and Todd Masilko had to obtain security clearance to visit Cuba, and the fact that snakes, dehydration, risky climbs, and goodness knows what else posed risky situations for all the other speakers at one time or another, you know they have to be dedicated to their cause to still be in the business of investigating cacti and succulents.

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Kelly Griffin of Vista, California                   Giuseppe Orlando from Italy now lives in the Canary Islands.

Of course, not all of their collective travels are dangerous or unpleasant. But the trips all require a certain amount of determination to get the job done and then report back to fellow enthusiasts of what they discovered. And I won’t attempt to recant the whole convention here, but I will give you some of what were the highlights for me, and perhaps go into deeper discussion on some of the things I learned in a future story.

As I think I have mentioned before, all cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus. Cactus are native to the Americas only, but you will find succulents all over the world in an amazing array of sizes, shapes, and forms. That’s one reason to go to these conventions, to see all the unusual plants that fall into this classification all over the world. We learned about bottle trees in Australia from Attila Kapitany and the strange welwitschia trees of the Namib Desert from Ernst van Jaarsveld.  We marveled at the variety of plants from South Africa from Bob Barth and Len Newton. And don’t forget the cactus discussed by Woody Minnich from South America and the many agaves and other plants from Cuba from Kelly and Todd. And if that isn’t enough, Gertrud Konings walked us through the experiments she and her students at El Paso Community College are doing with the blessing of NASA on growing prickly pear on the moon! Her husband Ad also spoke; his topic was Cacti of Texas.

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I shared a lunch table with the Konings and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and all the things they are involved with in El Paso.

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Susan Amoy flew in from New York City to give one of the three presentations offered after the regular sessions. Hers was on the art of bonsai. I couldn’t stay for the final version, but she took this plant from full to artistically downsized while everyone looked on.

Over the course of five days we heard 28 presentations from 18 speakers, and that’s not including several discussion and work sessions offered after the regular sessions, so you can see why I am not going to cover them all here. More will come later.

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But I will end with tales from the end of the convention, the closing banquet, which was quite nice. I sat at a fun table with several of the presenters and friendly cactus lovers and enjoyed the delicious meal. Music was provided by the Dave Madden combo, consisting of piano, drums, and what I called a bass fiddle, which seemed to be quite comical to the rest of the table. I’ve never heard it called anything else. And that instrument, the upright bass, as I was told is its proper name, adds a lot to music and isn’t used much any more. So I complimented the band on its place in their music and requested a blues number, Stormy Monday, to be exact, which they willingly obliged.

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And then the time came for the lovely succulent and cactus centerpieces to be given away. Jeff Paviat, a member of the hosting Austin cactus society, announced the centerpiece would go to the youngest person at each table. His motivation, I suspect, was to make sure the young man named Jackson, along with his parents from Littleton, Colorado, who were sitting at Jeff’s table, would win as a way of encouraging him to stay active in the cactus hobby. Jackson was without a doubt the youngest person in attendance during the whole convention and many were lamenting the lack of new, young members to carry on the tradition. I had expressed my hopes that I would be lucky enough to win at our table, but I certainly wasn’t the youngest one there. But Peter from California, who was a young fifty-something at our table, graciously reminded me that I was 29, after all, so our centerpiece went home with me! How nice of him!

But I am digressing just a bit. As you can tell, I had a good time. And you will too, if you like cactus and decide to attend one of these events. Do check in next week when I plan to share with you some of the growing tips and other fun and interesting things I learned at the convention.

 

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