Holiday book tip: Spiny Succulents by Jeff Moore

Jeff Moore is the owner of Solana Succulents, a brick-and-mortar specialty nursery in the northern San Diego County town of Solana Beach. Jeff's been in business for 27 years and has sold just about every succulent you can imagine. Through the contacts and friendships he's made over the years, he's had access to even the rarest plants. And because he's an avid photographer, he's taken countless pictures.

In 2014, Jeff self-published his first book, Under the Spell of Succulents, an introduction to the huge diversity of succulents found in cultivation. It distilled Jeff's succulent knowledge and his photographic skills into 250 pages and 800 photographs. Sparing no expense in production, Jeff set a new standard for what a self-published book can be.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Jeff released Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation (344 pages, 1000+ photos) in 2016 and Soft Succulents (300 pages, 1000+images) in 2017. Jeff had total control not only over the content but also over the printing, and it shows. These are heavy books, printed on state-of-the-art equipment, and the images are as good as it gets. In my opinion, all three of them are the visually most spectacular succulent books ever published.

Now, just in time for the holidays, comes Jeff's fourth book, Spiny Succulents. It's the logical continuation of the series and focuses on the opposite of “soft succulents:” euphorbias, cacti, terrestrial bromeliads and all kinds of other well-armed dryland plants. Since there is much territory cover, this is the biggest of Jeff's books: 350 pages and 1800+ images (a few by yours truly).

Let's take a look.

Jeff's previous titles were softcover. Spiny Succulents is also available in hardcover with a dust jacket:

The table of contents gives you an idea of the range of plants portrayed in the book: euphorbias, cacti, pachypodiums, alluaudias, fouquierias, cyphostemmas, a group Jeff calls “succulent adjacent” (bromeliads like deuterocohnias, dyckias, hechtias and puyas, as well as a few orchids), and xerophytic subtropicals and trees.

The 30+ page introduction touches on a multitude of topics: convergent evolution (for example, why cacti and euphorbias can look so similar even though they're not related), taxonomy, plant identification, collecting, commercial growers, botanical destinations, wrangling large cacti, soil and care basics, propagation, and grafting. This information alone is worth the price of the book.

The bulk of the book is made up of chapters about specific plant groups. As you'll see in the sample pages below, there's general information about each group, richly illustrated with scores of photos small and large, followed by portraits of the best known (or most typical) representatives of each group.

As in Jeff's previous books, the layout of Spiny Succulents is immensely appealing.

The photos showcase each plant's unique attributes. That makes them very useful for identification purposes. While the book is too massive to take out into the field, it's an invaluable reference when you get back and try to figure out what that cactus is that you just photographed.

I've been raving about the photos, but I also want to comment on Jeff's writing. While many plant books, whether they're about succulents or not, read like an academic treatise—dry like the desert after ten years of drought—Jeff writes the way he talks. Yes, he conveys an enormous amount of information, but he does it in such a friendly way that the reader never feels intimidated or talked down to. 

Take Jeff's suggestion on how to test whether a plant is a succulent: “When you step on it, does it leave a wet spot?”

I find that so refreshing!

While Jeff knows a lot about a lot of succulents, he'll also be the first to admit he doesn't know everything. On page 251, he draws attention to an Opuntia linguiformis shown on the page, and adds: “The rest of the opuntias on this page? Beats me.” 

Yep, he's just like the rest of us.

Jeff Moore

Spiny Succulents is available directly from Jeff or from Amazon

You can order Jeff's other books from this page on his website.

All of them make fantastic gifts, either to people you like or to yourself!

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  1. Your review is absolutely correct about this wonderful book. Full of information as well as brilliant images. The text has great personality and humor. The whole set is a must for any spiny plant lover.

  2. As a control freak myself the fact "Jeff had total control not only over the content but also over the printing" makes me a little jealous. But also...that's a lot of work!

  3. I have his other 3 books so I probably won't be able to pass this one up. The title "The Glochidians" made me laugh - it makes the plants sound like the newest Star Wars villains, or maybe actually they'd be more well-suited to roles as Dr Who villains...


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