It's Never Been Cooler to Be a Cactus

Since its debut pop-up in New York last summer, the famed Los Angeles Cactus Store has launched a photography book, a self-styled line of merch, and a capsule collection with Guess. Now it's back for an even bigger sophomore season.

The Cactus Store pop-up in New York.

New Yorkers rejoice: The Cactus Store is back.  

After a year of creative endeavors and brand collaborations, the cult desert-plant purveyor, whose Lower East Side pop-up became the sleeper hit of the summer last year, has once again set up shop, this time in a vacant lot at 5 Essex Street. And forget the sophomore slump: This year, according to cofounder Carlos Morera, they are “taking it to the next level.”

Morera and his team have certainly upped the ante. While the original translucent greenhouse, designed by the store’s own Jeff Kaplon, remains the main draw, the rest of the deep lot has been transformed into a lush oasis, complete with 30-foot-tall bamboo stalks, palm trees, and desert plants—a jungle within the concrete jungle.

(From left): Succulents inside the store. The urban bamboo garden.

The plants are more than interior décor objects—they all can withstand New York’s notoriously harsh winters. For example, Yucca thompsoniana, a shaggy plant resembling a Nick Cave Soundsuit, can endure sub-zero temperatures.  “We spent a lot of time researching the plants,” Morera says. “We tried to introduce things this year that could actually live outside in New York.”

For those who were introduced to beautifully bizarre species such as Haageocereus tenuis or Aztekium ritteri last summer, this year’s selection will not disappoint. Take Bromeliad neoregelia grande, a purple-and-green tye-dyed bromeliad found across South America. A pair of perky Melocactus intortus from Cuba feature pink, areola-like caps. A stumplike African cucurbit specimen, a relative of gourds, dates back to the days of the Spanish Flu. (Its only indication of life is a thin, bright green vine snaking from its top.)

New this year are a series of hanging succulents in terra-cotta bowls whose names (Hindu Rope, Monkey Tail Cacti) bring to mind another type of plant, as well as Cryptocereus anthonyanus, whose fronds bear a striking resemblance to crinkle-cut french fries. The Cactus Store has also introduced a line of apparel, including one shirt featuring an illustration of its unofficial spirit angiosperms, Welwitschia mirabilis, an uncommon and peculiar-looking species found in Namibia. (Prices range from $28 and $2,600.)

"Xerophile: Cactus Photographs from Expeditions of the Obsessed" is the first book of its kind, with over 500 images of the rarest cacti in the world.

Plants and t-shirts aren’t the only new developments. Since inaugurating the first edition, the team launched a photography book, Xerophile: Cactus Photographs from Expeditions of the Obsessed, a capsule collection with Guess, and is now making an earnest foray into landscape design with deeply researched desert, tropical, and subtropical gardens. Later this summer, Morera and his crew will travel to the Atacama Desert, in Chile, with famed collector Woody Minnich in search of the ultra-rare Copiapoa Cinerea.

The Cactus Store shirt, a piece from the collaboration with GUESS.

In the meantime, the pop-up is shaping up to be a vibrant slice of civic space in Manhattan, hosting public events for the neighborhood throughout the summer. “The demographic of people who appreciate it is really vast,” said Morera at the launch party Friday night, surveying the crowd and communing beneath the swaying bamboo with kids, seniors, and DJ Stretch Armstrong.

Clearly, the Cactus Store is becoming an ecosystem of its own.

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