Euphorbia obesa (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Where to Find Rare Succulents

San Diego Cactus & Succulent Show and Sale

Collectors shop for rare and unusual succulents at the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Show and Sale

Collectors know where to find rare succulents: at shows hosted by Cactus and Succulent Society affiliate clubs. Attend one near you to see unusual plants grown and displayed perfectly; blue-ribbon winners; reasonably priced plants not found in nurseries; growers and experts; and one-of-a-kind, artist-designed pots. I like to pick out a collectible art pot and carry it with me as I choose a plant for it...and vice-versa.

Larger Cactus and Succulent Society of America affiliates host shows once or twice a year. One of the biggest is the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society's summer show and sale at Casa Del Prado, Balboa Park, the first weekend in June. Admission is free, but if you want to get in early to shop before the crowds, become a member ($15/year).

Q&A with Christie

To help you get the most from this and other shows, read my Q&A with SDCSS spokesperson and art potter Christie Lothrop of MadPotters:

Q: Christie, why the SDCSS?

A: I'm a super novice newbie, and I can always find someone to answer my questions. I had some weird dots on my echeveria leaves that I thought could be a fungus so I brought a few with me in a baggie to a meeting. I left with a link to buy a product that a grower himself uses. It was really cool that I could ask a question and not made to feel stupid that I didn't know the difference between scale and sun spots. He even spent a few extra minutes telling me about scale, how it spreads and what I can do to try to prevent it. And how it differs from fungus and what to look out for with that.

Q: Are visitors welcome at meetings?

A: Yes! Anyone can come for free. Also, our location in Balboa Park is perfect for travelers whose vacation dates coincide with our meetings.

Q: Do you have members beyond San Diego?

A: We do, and I've suggested that some or all of our speakers be videoed and uploaded to YouTube for people to learn from outside of the meetings. Members also receive a beautiful newsletter with informative essays.

Q: What sort of social media presence does the SDCSS have?

A: Our Facebook page gets the most engagement. We're also encouraging our members to upload their plant photos with the hashtag #SDCSS to share and find new plant friends online.

A prize-winning Haworthia truncata on display

Q: How many members does the SDCSS have?

A: Nearly 2000, with almost half being family memberships. Our numbers have been pretty steady over the past few years, with the increases being around February and June, which are our show and sale months.

Q: What's going on that's new?

A: The new board and president strongly believe in making our club THE best in the nation, if not the world - and that means being open and accessible to all levels of succulent and cactus lovers. We're working hard to add more perks to being a member. While our monthly speakers are the best any club has to offer, we also are planning field trips, and adding conservation efforts and more activities. Last month, for example, the club organized a trip to the Central Arizona Cactus & Succulent Society Show and Sale and covered entrance fees to both the Phoenix Botanical Gardens and the Boyce Thompson Garden Tour.

Euphorbia obesa

Prize winning Euphorbia obesa owned by grower Peter Walkowiak

Q: What should people know about the San Diego show?

A: It's filled with spectacular plants from renowned growers from San Diego and surrounding areas. It's one the best places to see rare and exotic plants you won't see anywhere else. We have a huge selection, not just collector specimens. Plus more art-pottery vendors than ever.

Art pottery

Art pottery at the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society show

Q: What's at the show for novices and new members?

A: We've added Family Day on Sunday for families with younger children. We'll have a hands-on planting workshop for kids, an informative workshop on soil for adults, and barrel cactus seed pods for everyone to take a look at and learn from.  All free.

Succulent show plants for sale

Plants for sale at the Cactus & Succulent Society show

Q: Anything else different this year?

A: Members-only shopping is from 9:00 to 11:00 on Saturday. We added an extra hour for SDCSS members to get first choice of all the succulents, cacti and handmade pottery for sale. We also added an extra section with more vendors, and anticipate around 40 total. Also more cacti and specialty plants, including sansevierias and tillandsias.
Q: How can visitors ask questions?
A: We're adding an "Ask A Pro" desk towards the front of the check-out line so as you're waiting you can ask questions about your new plants. We'll have volunteers walking around in the SDCSS black volunteer shirt each wearing a big "ASK ME" pin. Any volunteer will be able to point you towards the right expert though, so don't be shy!

Christie Lathrop pots

Concrete art pots by Christie Lathrop hold succulents

Q: What can you tell us about the vendors?

A: They're all local. We take care of our long-time vendors and offer the best opportunities for new ones to join. We accept new vendors by recommendations from a current vendor or member, which means they're top-notch and proven to have great, healthy plants. Bringing in new vendors also means we support local artists and showcase unique and sometimes never-been-seen-before pottery, all by artisans who understand the plants' needs.

Q: How will the show handle potentially long lines?
A: We're adding registers and streamlining the process with a packing station for hand-made pottery. Our holding station is always a big help, too, so our customers don't have to carry big boxes of plants while waiting in line. (Most people leave with more than one box!) We've got ways to help you to your car with your plant haul, too. We do suggest bringing your own boxes. Remember, SDCSS members get in early, which means you'll be checking out before the public is let in.
Q: Parking can be challenging. What do you recommend?
A: Car pool. Also, the park offers shuttles from three parking areas. See the map and schedule.


Pseudolithos migurtinus from Somalia is a rarity grown by "Pseudolithos" means "false rock."

Q: What recommendations do you have for people who want to start a C&SS chapter or increase the size of an existing one?

A: Start by searching online to see if anything already is in place. Facebook especially, as I've found there are a lot of little niche groups - Love Lithops, for example., and your local community calendars are also great resources.

Next step - choose your objective. Your club needs to have a purpose. Is this a social gathering for people to chat about plants or a more serious club for learning and conservation matters? Or maybe a little bit of both? Maybe you'd like to start a succulent swap within your community?
Once you know what you want your club to be about, think about how you're going to attract members. In today's world, social media seems to be the fastest way to get to a large number of people, but also ask friends and family to spread the word. Leave flyers at a local coffee shop along with a mini succulent arrangement to grab people's attention. Your nursery or garden center also might be willing to host meetings and help bring in newcomers.
Set a date, plan at least one or two ice breakers and an agenda of what you'd like to accomplish, and have fun. And dont forget to connect with us over at the SDCSS Facebook page so we can share information and help your new group grow!

Christie Lathrop

SDCSS spokesperson,  Christie Lathrop.

LACSS “Kid’s Day” at the annual Drought-Tolerant Plant Festival in Encino, CA

Plants and Pots at the Cactus & Succulent Society Show

To see amazing succulents in elegant art pots, attend a Cactus & Succulent Society Show. The largest in the US is the annual Inter-City Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. Judges award ribbons and trophies based on how well a specimen is grown, its rarity, and how well it’s “staged” in its pot. Pots aren’t…

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Why Cactus is Popular

Long a pariah plant, cactus is gaining popularity. You could even say that in the gardening world, “cactus is the new black.” Here’s why spiny succulents are catching up with smooth ones, notably in art, home decor, clothing and gift items.  A little perspective: The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press,…

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  1. Janette Dorricott on May 23, 2019 at 9:56 am

    I would join membership if they provide a professional certificate American Sign Language interpreters for Succulents and cacti Deaf fan.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 23, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      Good to know. Thanks, Janette!

  2. Roz Tampone on May 23, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Hi Debra,

    I have paired quite a few of Mark Muradian’s, one of a kind pots, with some of my favorite succulents. They look stunning!

    Did you know the FRESNO CACTUS AND SUCCULENT SOCIETY will be having their annual show and sale at the Commerce Building at the Fresno Fairgrounds on June 1 & 2? The address is 1121 S. Chance Ave. The hours are 9-6 on Sat and 9-4 on Sunday. Come early for the best selections of rare and unusual plants and pots. And, see some awesome cactus and succulent specimens at the show.

    Fresno Roz

  3. Elizabeth lopex on October 31, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Are you having show inspite if the pandemic COVID. Thanks

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on October 31, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      No doubt the shows will start up again if it’s safe to do so. They usually happen spring though fall.

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