Eight Questions with the President of the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society
with William Pennington
I have been a cactus/succulent “fan” ever since my grandmother taught me the value of rubbing aloe on skin burns. But it wasn’t until I moved to Arizona that my love affairs with cacti really took hold. There they were, in the desert, alone and at peace with the world. In my residing three years there, I learned that cactus poaching is a real thing, and there are cactus police looking for those who attempt to steal them from the beautiful open desert and sell them to unsuspecting homeowners wanting to beautify their front yard.
Up here in the Pacific Northwest, cacti and succulents aren’t so common, and therefore can be considered a little odd. So odd, in fact, that the Cascade Cactus and Succulent Society of Washington (CCSS) holds an annual “Odd Plant Show and Sale” in Seattle’s Sky Nursery. Why are they odd? Because they don’t like water.
I spoke with Bill Hickey, president of the CCSS, about the club.
Do any cacti grow here in the Pacific Northwest naturally?
There is one, the Pediocactus. It grows on the east side of the state, along the ridges of the Columbia river outside Yakima. Our club took a field trip to go out and see them, plus a few other collections in the area. The Vancouver branch of the club joined us. I believe we had some 30 folks or so on that field trip. It was over two days.
Are there branches of the Cactus and Succulent Society all over the country, linked by a love of these prickly friends?
There are clubs throughout the country, under a national umbrella organization. I have attended the San Diego club meeting a couple times. A very active club. There are several in Canada and we have done a few events with the Vancouver club and the Victoria club.
Why is so hard to keep a pet cactus alive? They are my favorite plant and they always die on me.
Keeping these plants alive is the challenge and fun. Actually getting them to flower is the bigger challenge. There is such a range of cacti and succulents that there is not a one size fits all for keeping them alive. Some are summer growers, some are winter growers. None of them like to be over watered - probably the number one way these plants are lost.
Do any cacti or succulents (besides peyote) have medicinal purposes?
These plants do have medicinal values. The obvious aloes and some of the optunias have commercial uses. Not really aware of others. The agaves give us tequila which some folks would consider medicine I think.
Is there a film that is famous/infamous for its menacing cactus, similar to Little Shop of Horrors? Or does the club at least have movie nights? A cactus is a perfect villain! All I found was this nice little animated short film about a group of singing cacti.
I’m not aware of any movies that cacti are portrayed in any light other than backdrops.
Do you think cacti have feelings? How do you know?
I do believe plants and animals have some level of spirit in them. Not sure if this has ever been brought up at any club meeting.
Can you give a little history of the club?
The club got started back in the last 70’s as a home study group. I have been involved now for some 7 or 8 years. The club met at people’s homes for years, then moved their meetings to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University. We just moved to the Phinney Ridge Community Center this year. The club hosted the National Convention in the early 2000’s I think, just before I got involved. The Odd Plant Show + Sale has been at Sky Nursery since it’s inception.
Lastly, Does the group have a cactus cook off, or an equivalent? Maybe a meeting where cactus recipes are discussed? Or is the club about keeping them alive and preserving them?
We do not have such events. Would love to attend one and see what cacti are cooking up though.
-Cheers Bill Hickey
Please enjoy the tumblr site that I created just for the Odd Plant Show