Annual pilgrimage to Poot's Cactus Nursery (part 1)

What does it take start a tradition? If visiting the same place at the same time two years in a row counts, then I have a new tradition: an annual pilgrimage to Poot's Cactus Nursery in Ripon. Many of you may have no clue where Ripon is (here's a map) but if you've ever taken Highway 120 East to Yosemite National Park, then you've driven right by Poot's. It's located in the middle of the fields between Manteca and Escalon. Just look for the signs:

The nursery was started by Bill and Roelyn Poot 30+ years ago. It's still a family business, with son Brian managing the daily operations and Bill and Roelyn playing a hands-on role in propagation and sales. We were fortunate get a private tour of the private greenhouse which is off-limits to the public. It houses the Poots' huge collection of succulents, many of which are used for propagation. I'll have photos of the greenhouse in part 2 of this post. 

Greenhouse in the back, demonstration garden in the front. The koi pond is in front of the all the cactus.
To get you in the mood, here are some photos of the demonstration plantings along Highway 120. This is what people see as they drive by on their way to Yosemite. I can't think of a better way to advertise for a cactus nursery!

The koi are anything but shy. I have a feeling they're used to getting fed by visitors.

This was one of a just a few Echinopsis-type cactus in bloom. We were a week early—according to the Poot's Facebook page, the big bloom is happening this weekend (April 21).

Cleistocactus flowers are weird but wondeful

More Cleistocactus, probably strausii

Cleistocactus and Yucca rostrata

Aloe elgonica and lots of cactus

Aloe striata

Old Man of the Andes (Oreocereus celsianus)

Cactus wherever you look

Monstrose form of Cereus peruvianus

Everything looks better backlit

The Poots live in this house right on the nursery grounds. The retail sales area is on the right. The propagation greenhouse is off to the left.

This was my favorite vignette: Clivia miniata and Yucca rostrata

Getting a tour of the private greenhouse was a highlight, but for many of us, shopping was just as important. "Us" is the Sacramento Cactus and Succulent Society; this outing was a field trip sponsored by the SCSS. If you live in the Sacramento area and aren't a member yet, be sure to stop by our big annual Show and Sale happening on May 5 and 6 (more info here). Or join us for our monthly meetings every 4th Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center.

Poot's may not have the biggest selection in the world, but they definitely have the biggest selection in Northern California—and their prices make the drive worthwhile. What I like best, though, is never knowing what goodies might be tucked away here and there. It's worth taking a closer look: Last year I found both an Aloe vaombe and Aloe elgonica for $25 in 5-gallon pots.

Plant tags, especially yellow ones, produce a Pavlovian response in me. I must see what there is! I could be missing something cool!

Ugly? Beautiful? Who's to say. All I know is that Calibanus hookeri draws me a like a moth to a flame. I have a much smaller one; in 10 years it might look like this.

Another backlit beauty

I have a pretty intense love-hate relationship with prickly pears, but this Opuntia with almost perfectly round pads and Mickey Mouse ears had me tempted for a litle while.

Still a favorite of mine: Ferocactus glaucescens

Agave goodness

Larger specimens for instant impact

One of these came home with me: Dyckia choristaminea 'Frazzle Dazzle'

Echeveria agavoides. This is the cultivar called 'Lipstick' because of the red leaf tips. I bought one called 'Ebony' that has maroon leaf tips.

Easily the strangest plant I saw at Poot's that day. See the lethal teeth along the leaf margins? There's another row along the midrib as well! A close encounter with this plant will draw blood. Several of us were wondering what it might be. It turns out it isn't a succulent at all but a screwpine (Pandanus). It was labeled Pandanus tectorius, but I don't think the ID is correct. Pandanus tectorius, native to the Pacific Islands, has smooth leaf margins. I believe it's Pandanus utilis, native to Indian Ocean islands. As the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden's Virtual Herbarium says: "Watch out for these leaves! They often have sharp edges or teeth."

To the right of the outdoor sales area you saw above is a smaller greenhouse. It houses tender sale plants that can't be outside year round. It may look like a relatively small space but it's jam-packed. The likelihood of finding something usual is high. It pays to take your time and look carefully.

In the back of the retail greenhouse is a demonstration bed full of mature plants. Many of them are decades old. The barrel cactus in the next photo was the first cactus Bill Poots bought over 40 years ago. It would turn him into a passionate collector and, a few years later, into a cactus nursery owner. The rest is history, as they say.

Do you know what that green protrusion is in the photo above? It's a flower! There were several on this very old Deuterocohnia brevifolia, a terrestrial bromeliad from Argentina.

And one final photo—somebody must really be into Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'!


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  1. That place deserves at least an annual visit! I trust that you'll show your purchases in part 2.

  2. Damn, wish I were there! Like Kris, I’m hopping there will be a “what I bought” chapter in the next post.

    Have you ever seen our Calibanus hookeri? Andrew fell for it at Rare Plant Research and talked Burl into selling it to him. I’m afraid I don’t dispay it to it’s bet advantage, it’s quite large.

  3. Ohh we do have a Calibanus hookeri stashed in our greenhouse! Cactus and koi, I like this place a lot already!!

  4. If I ever get up that way, it's a must-visit.

    The size of the 40 year old barrel cactus makes the nearly 100 year old giants at the Huntington even more impressive. How fun he still has the original that set him on his way.


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