February 20, 2024

For Loli Sanchís it all began 30 years ago on a bench in the Botanical Garden of Valencia. She knew the practices and tricks of trees and shrubs, but cacti didn’t particularly appeal to her. Until two gentlemen who were three times her age invited her to join a group that would later become an association (ACYS, Association of Cactus and Succulents) and she did not quite know how to decline her proposal. “I realized that cacti are the great unknown in botany,” she says. Now your obsession because of these succulent plants it has no brake lever: “I have come to have 600 cacti. Now in my penthouse in Valencia I will go for 350”. Of his collection, he says that not all of them are green: “I have some oranges, browns, and even three colors. There are cacti that bloom, with 34 centimeter flowers. Not all of them prick and I take care of some with feathers”.

There are so many genres, rarities, peculiarities and shapes and colors that once they are discovered, a chrome effect in which the rarest, most beautiful and peculiar plant is sought. “I was reading books like cacti with heart, by Mercedes Garcia; The New Cacti, by David Hunt, or cacti taxonomy, from Joël Lodé, and buying more and more”, explains Sanchís. The woman says that in flower shops there are usually four or five kinds of cacti, always the same, but that collectors look for “unique things” such as copiapoa, hildewintera, lobivia, turbinicarpus, ariocarpus or gymnocalycium. For them, there are specialized nurseries such as Agroideas, Cactusloft, Succulovers, Serrano or Astrophytumbland.

One of the many activities organized by ACYS or CACSUMA (Madrid Cactus and Succulent Association) is spending the day with other cactus lovers, visiting nurseries, exchanging knowledge and cuttings, as well as going out to eat together and building a community.

Two balconies full of cacti in Santa Isabel street (Madrid).
Two balconies full of cacti in Santa Isabel street (Madrid).Antonio Alfaro

Every time Marcos Ferrández’s father deposited money in the Caja de Ahorros de Alicante y Murcia, 40 years ago, the bank gave him a drawer full of cactus: “They could have given pans, but cactus arrived at my house and it all started there . I was about 10 years old. A neighbor told me that they irrigated little, in winter zero and that what they needed was volcanic soil”. He assures that volcanic soil does not retain moisture, it is porous and the substrate mixture aerates and dries quickly. “One of the tricks is that, when you water, the humidity does not last long in the pot because they can rot due to excess humidity. Its natural habitat is very dry environments ”, he details.

Some of the cactus specimens of Loli Sanchís and other members of ACYS, Association of Cactus and Succulents.
Some of the cactus specimens of Loli Sanchís and other members of ACYS, Association of Cactus and Succulents.loli sanchis

Ferrández works in a Wildlife Recovery Center in Santa Faz (Alicante) and in 2006 he received a call that gave him one of the “greatest gifts (and challenges) in life”. “There was a seizure. Six suitcases from Mexico full of protected cactus species to sell illegally arrived at the Elche-Alicante airport, ”she recalls. The Civil Guard called the center asking if anyone knew about “some plants that looked like pineapples” and if they could be deposited in the center temporarily. He went to the airport and was surprised when, unwrapping the packages, he found more than 690 rare cacti, some valued at 3,000 euros. “They were all CITES 1″, he says. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments, to which Spain has been a party since 1986. CITES 1 species are those that are in danger of extinction and the international trade in specimens of those species, except when the import is for scientific research, for example.

The cacti that Marcos Ferrández took care of after the Civil Guard confiscated them in a suitcase from Mexico.
The cacti that Marcos Ferrández took care of after the Civil Guard confiscated them in a suitcase from Mexico.Marcos Ferrandez

“In the world of collecting there are very healthy people, but others want to have certain plants that are already very grown, like ariocarpus or the aztekium either turbinecarpus, which are very fashionable”, he assures. Cacti are very, very slow growing plants. “I have germinated some and in five years they are the size of a one cent coin”, with which Ferrández calculated that in the Mexican suitcases there was stuff that was more than 500 years old. “For example, the lithops, some plants that look like stones, can be bought, but only if they have grown from seed”, which means they will be small. “There is a lot of black market for cacti and succulents. There is new demand in China and Korea and real disasters are taking place in the habitat”.

Eight years after taking care of them at his workplace, due to works in the space, Ferrández had to move the Mexican collection to his home. “I took them in storage, on the condition that I take care of them, but as soon as a suitable location was found for them, I had to return them. Every time one died, one had to fill out papers and more papers and report it, ”he says. In 2021, CITES 1 went from his house in Murcia to his current home: the Alcalá de Henares Botanical Garden. “When they were taken away it was a bittersweet feeling. I miss them, but I have taken away a huge responsibility because they are very delicate species removed from their habitat. Every time someone died, they had a terrible time, ”he says.

One of the corners of the Casa Rural Melones collection.
One of the corners of the Casa Rural Melones collection.CUCUFLASH

The mycologist Juan Carlos Campos is president of CACSUMA and is trying to catalog its more than 1,500 succulent plants, including the threatened uebelmannia pectinifera. “They gave me a cactus, I went to the military and when I came back I was there perfect. I had no choice but to obsess over them,” she says. At first, his wife wasn’t interested in his fans, but, he laughs, she “ended up assuming that ‘if you can’t beat him, join him’. She is now hooked. She is a geek like me ”. The specialty of the Juan Carlos Campos collection is the euphorbias. He says that cacti are succulent plants: “Succulents make leaves or thick stems where they accumulate water in order to survive. Cacti are, but not all succulents are cacti, as is the case with aloe vera.”

Ricardo Martín is also part of CACSUMA, who has a cactuary spectacular in the rural hotel Casa Melones in Patones (Madrid), or Antonio Alfaro, who has not only packed his two balconies with cacti, but has also conquered the flower beds on Calle Santa Isabel in the capital. “I tell people that if they gave me five cents for each photo they take of me, I would already have the entire Lavapiés neighborhood planted,” Alfaro calculates, laughing. “I cover a lot and press little. I’d rather plant all over the neighborhood than collect rarities.” In This is not a Squarea, at number 27 Calle del Doctor Fourquet, Antonio Alfaro has already planted some 300 or 400 cacti. “We already have more cacti than the Botanical. Right now the cacti are scorched and they are all in glory, ”he says, laughing.

A flower bed planted by Antonio Alfaro on Calle Santa Isabel, in Madrid.
A flower bed planted by Antonio Alfaro on Calle Santa Isabel, in Madrid. Antonio Alfaro

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