Succulents are practically synonymous with Southern California. The spear-like points of agaves, the green bloom of aeoniums, the red floral spears rising from aloe. Whether you’re at a backyard LA BBQ or in the middle of the Mojave, these plants are like familiar friends, as ubiquitous as palm trees and traffic on the 405. And with water becoming an increasingly precious commodity throughout the state, these efficient succulents have become increasingly appealing, not simply for their beauty and variety but for their ability to live in natural harmony with more arid surroundings.
The opening of Echo Park’s Hot Cactus could not be more aptly timed, all things considered, and is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that’s just as particular about the daily brew in their cup as the plants in their yard. The brainchild of Carlos Morera, Jeff Kaplon, and Max Martin of local design studio Help.ltd, Hot Cactus is manned by John Morera, Carlos’ uncle and a man with a green thumb if ever there were one. We talk to the Culver City native about the beautiful starkness of a California desert, the art of a drought tolerant yard, and the first plants that got him hooked on horticulture.
What got you into plants and when?
“Nature” since I could first remember, but the first store-bought were two cactus plants–a “Little Old Man” and “Little Old Lady”–at Sears Santa Monica. And then, [when I was] about 9-10 years old, my aunt started giving me houseplant cuttings, and how things grow started to fascinate me. The real addiction started at about 12 years old, when my friend’s dad introduced me to his small but gorgeous garden and bonsai. Hooked from then on.
Tell us a little bit about Hot Cactus.
I’ve been a horticulturalist most of my life and always wanted a nursery but it never came to fruition. The cactus idea was my nephew’s brainchild but I didn’t think he was serious because he had so many things already on his plate! But he was serious and he had his eye on this shoebox-size store. So we jumped on it. The design was a collaboration of a few of us–architect, web guru, horticulturist, and multitaskers.
What do you think makes California’s desert landscape so unique?
Starkness, sculpture, the ability to view things as single specimens and the resilience of life to persist under the harshest conditions on earth. I think the next harshest place might be Mount Everest or K2, and then there is outer space.
Do you have any opinions about the city going drought tolerant to wave much-needed water?
I think it’s a natural for this climate. However, I don’t appreciate that people who watered wisely before the mandatory cuts get penalized with higher and higher rates, or that people have established “gardens” not just “yards” with little aesthetic appeal. An individual note: A yard full of gravel is not a satisfactory replacement for a lawn!
What do you think about when you’re working with plants?
An Alaskan cruise! No. Mainly that I have to plant more stuff and that the plants are for sale, not for me to take home for my collection!
What’s your favorite type of cactus?
Love them all, but I’m particularly attracted to the ones that look like mini versions of much larger species, and the flowering ones.
What do you hope people take away from the shop?
That we really care that plants go to the right location so they thrive and that the way we display them shows their individuality so people can better picture them in their homes and businesses.
1505 1/2 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026
Photos by Tyler William Parker