A Conversation with LA collective 'Cactus Store'

Cactus Store has grown into a major force in the world of plants, expanding into landscape design, outdoor furniture, clothing, books, and more. Carlos Morera, along with Max Martin and Christian Cummings, founded the store in 2014. Their goal was to introduce a wider audience to the beauty and stories behind unique plants, bridging the gap between avid botanists and those eager for a deeper connection to nature.

To introduce Cactus store to Supply, we asked one of the founders Max Martin a few questions about the brand, how it got started, their creative process, sustainability and all things cacti.


Tell us about the brand?

We're a collective of plant and ecology nerds who do all sorts of things, from designing gardens, greenhouses, and goofy educational tees, to making books, hosting book clubs, and organizing events and lecture series. Everything we do centers on brokering new kinds of relationships between humans and the nonhuman world.


With the likes of Neighbourhood SRL why do you think lots of brands have embraced all things nature in recent?

We like making ecological narratives fun, aesthetic, palatable, and social. But I guess this is less of a brand priority than an existential priority for us. We don't actually view embracing nature as something new or a fad. Perhaps folks are reconnecting with who they really are; with something ancient that predates brands and fads and language and the rest of it. A relationship that, if it all went up in flames tomorrow, would still be there.



From graphic tees to bespoke furniture, how has Hot Cactus evolved over time?

A combination of natural selection, random mutation, and the acquiring of genomes from symbiotic partners.

Walk us through your creative process. How do you use creative collaborations to add to the Hot Cactus brand?

Oh gosh, I wouldn't know how to answer this question. The short answer is that nerds-of-a-feather flock together. We kind of all just throw ideas into a pot, add heat, and salt everything to taste.



How have your “greenhouses” brought about a sense of community within the cacti world?

Believe it or not, we operate on the periphery of the cactus world. In the early days, we're talking 10 years ago, we were more involved. Back then, we were the only people under 65 at our local cactus club. Since then, for a variety of reasons, we've been in our own corner doing our own thing.



You have some pretty rare and hard-to-find cacti – does this attract a certain type of client/collector?

We definitely have some curios in our collection that we've acquired over the years from other collections, a huge number of which came from those older collectors we just mentioned. In So Cal, there was a cactus craze in the 1970s and 80s. When we started collecting, many of those first wave collectors had lost interest in cultivating cactus plants and were selling off their old collections for pennies. If you go deep on our Instagram feed, you'll see posts of dilapidated overgrown cactus greenhouses and the old folks we're talking about.

We call our greenhouse collection our Plant Orphans Greenhouse because, over time, we became interested in what happens to a plant that lives 100+ years after its caretaker dies or gets too old to care for it. Those old and rare plants are not for sale. We simply take care of them, pollinate their flowers, and propagate their seeds. The greenhouse itself is now a nonprofit entity. The idea is to keep these plants going after we become too old to care for them.



Can you tell us about the notorious black market for cacti and how you guys sustainably source your varieties?

That's one of the reasons we distanced ourselves from the clubs early on, and we've spoken publicly about this. Over time, you come to realize that many of the plants that folks are selling have questionable provenance. This, of course, is not always obvious and is never advertised, and the people telling you that their plants are ethical are sometimes dishonest. A tricky piece of this is that those shady characters don't usually fit the profile of a shady character. They're church guys with jean shorts and a comb-over, PTA moms, boomer war vets in wheelchairs, etc.

Moreover, the language around this stuff is still very new for most people, particularly when it comes to environmental issues. Even 10 years ago, a huge portion of folks here in the US still thought global heating was a hoax. Thankfully, things are trending toward more eco-literacy, but we've got a loooonnngg way to go!

In terms of where we buy plants, Southern California is horticulturally well-endowed with a huge number of commercial growers. More than enough for plant nerds to enjoy the hobby without disturbing the roots of plants in the wild.



Your brand reach has significantly grown over time. Has your online presence played a big part in this?

I dunno. Our strategy has always been to just keep watering this twisted old tree, and it's continued to grow. A miracle really.

Running a cacti business must be tough. Any challenges you have faced and overcome?

It's a different challenge every day. Not for the faint of heart! What makes it all work is that we truly love what we do.

What’s next for the brand?

No spoilers allowed. Stay tuned!