Los Angeles

Cactus Store

No sweet talking to a cactus

I have a soft spot for the cactus, that spiny succulent, which (along with the palm tree and the agave) symbolizes the American southwest as much as the omnipresent adobe houses in faded pink against the vibrant sunset sky. The reason LAX is one of my favorite airports is because you can see the palm trees the moment you hit the baggage carousel.

Over breakfast at Café Stella in Silver Lake (love it so much), my friend, Ching, mentioned an enigmatic treasure in Echo Park. Call it a specialty shop, an art project, or simply what it is and calls itself: Cactus Store. On Sunday morning, I hopped in an Uber, and off to Echo Park we went.

A video posted by Cactus Store (@hotcactus_la) on

The shop is co-run by a handful of artists and designers who share a common interest in uncommon plants, together with their “cactus guru,” John Morera. Co-owner, Carlos Morera, a graphic designer, found his passion for cacti through his uncle, John, well over a decade ago. But it was only in 2014, after he co-founded the art and design collective, Help.Ltd., that he decided with his colleagues to open the Cactus Store as an “antidote” to client work.

After procuring an impressive selection of cacti from various (and some obscure) farms along the California-Mexico border, the tiny 350-square-foot (33 sq. m.) storefront opened in December 2014. Today, the cozy emporium is home to rare and hard-to-find specimens from all over the world, drawing passionate cactus collectors, novices, conservationists, and the curious, both young and old.

Welcoming visitors in front of the shop is a marvelous mini cactus garden, serving as a natural protective barrier between this oasis and L.A. city life.

Stacks of cinderblocks help to shape the interior topography. They also offer a flexible, modular solution to the changing inventory, which is potted in simple, unglazed terracotta pots sourced from Mexico.

From the outside, the shop looks relatively innocuous. Once inside, I was mesmerized by the sheer variety and the curated style of this unusual collection. Instinctively, I started speaking to one of the prickly creatures—in German.

“Du bist so wundervoll und huebsch,” I said.

“Never sweet talk a cactus. They don’t like that.”

Startled out of my brief tête-à-cactus, I turned around to find a rather solemn-looking gentleman watching me, clad in a rugged blue cotton shirt and jeans. He went on to explain that a cactus’s whole life is about protection and defense: defense against the sun, insects, and other predators. Cacti prefer to be left alone. They do not like company and definitely do not like music.

He continued, “Do you know that this cactus is in one of the most famous paintings by German artist, Carl Spitzweg, from the 1800s?

And more: “Actually, there are three paintings by Mr. Spitzweg where cacti play an important role.”

Carl Spitzweg, “Der Kaktus Liebhaber” / Source: commons.wikimedia.org
Carl Spitzweg, “Der Kaktus Freund” / Source: commons.wikimedia.org

I had found my cactus, although I may have had the wrong attitude when we first met. He quickly became mine and for sure wanted to travel to Germany. I was curious to see if one day we would talk to each other, like Spitzweg and his friend.

Carl Spitzweg, “Verdächtiger Rauch” / Source: commons.wikimedia.org

This was my experience with cactus expert, Christian Cummings, an artist and member of Help.Ltd. I thanked him as I left with my new companion—knowing I would return for more.

On my way out, Christian had one last bit of advice: “One more thing: No cactus likes to be misused as decoration.”


A photo posted by Cactus Store (@hotcactus_la) on

Cactus Store
1505 1/2 Echo Park Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tue-Fri, 1:00–7:00 p.m. / Sat-Sun, 11:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.