Not Exactly A Hanging Offense

Everyone knows what a cattle rustler is, but did you know there were cactus rustlers? I ran across a wonderful column recently about the history of the cactus in the California landscape. A series called Lost L.A. in the archives of the L.A. Times tells how “cactus rustling” was born in the early 1900s. Cactus rustling met with some opposition, with gardeners warned to stay loyal to native California plants. From the article “A thorny history with the cactus”:

Native gardeners delivered their message with moral fervor, convinced that good people raise good plants. But their actions weren’t so high-toned when it came to planting grandma’s cactus patch.

Cactuses were survivors like L.A.’s settlers and reminded Southlanders how far they’d come. Cactus said: “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” As Southern California developed, new homeowners ordered shaggy pitahaya, yucca, aloe, euphorbia, senecio and agave for bungalow backyards.

Horticulturists working for nurseries and competitive collectors met demand by developing a cactus league of their own. They raided Arizona, Cuba and Guatemala. In 1918, expert Paul Howard prowled along the Texas- Mexico border. …

When Spanish Revival haciendas were fashionable in the 1920s, “cactus rustling” by car became an interstate hobby. Back seats and trunks were ideal for transporting stolen plants back to L.A. for replanting in courtyard pots. Persistent poaching denuded the Mojave and stripped Devil’s Garden along the road from L.A. to Palm Springs.

The full article is quite fascinating, you can read it here.

Featured photo “cactus2” by lisasolonynko courtesy morgueFile

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