The Cactus Revival

Cacti are everywhere this year; the desert plant has become the playful icon of choice of 2017.  A green, spiky motif featured in Australian brand Sunnylife’s must-have summer item collections – pool inflatables, picnic wear, kids toys, lighting – you name it, the spiky green thing appeared on it. It even popped up on the runways in collections by Jeremy Scott and Kenzo.

The vibe continues from summer into winter with clothing, accessories, jewellery, ceramics, home décor, and even tattoos. Retailers everywhere have their own take on the trend – ASOS, John Lewis, Oliver Bonas, Primark, Urban Outfitters, supermarkets have all gone green (and spiky). In fashion there are cacti for all pockets; you can spend anything from £3.50 on Topshop socks to £30,000 for a Cartier cactus bracelet. 

Fervour for real-life cacti is peaking, and they are now over taking succulents to become the most popular indoor plants. 

Cacti are easy to care for, as they require little water; they freshen up your environment, as they produce oxygen; and they can survive (and thrive) in tough conditions. They are also striking to look at.

Popular in the 1970s, lots of homeowners now in their late 30s or 40s had a cactus, in a pot, on a windowsill, as a child. Gynelle Leon, of Prick London “London's first Cacti & Succulent Specialist”, says. “People want to do less and get more. I can put in minimal effort and a plant will thrive.” They’re also perfect for children and young adults for the same reasons.

Leon opened Prick London – the first “cactus boutique” in the UK – in Dalston, East London this year, after encountering large cacti during a photography trip to Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech. Cacti photograph well and Leon realised that she wanted one, “something big and spiky.” However, a good specimen proved hard to find in London, so the idea of Prick was born. 

Leon set off on a world tour of cacti hotspots, during which She met Carlos Morera, joint founder of Hot Cactus – a successful cactus Los Angeles emporium since November 2014 – and discovered just how passionate people are about these plants. Morera’s favourite cacti are the ones that have grown with their owner. “What you’re looking at in front of you is not just what you’re looking at. Yes, these plants are cool, but it’s all this other information that really makes them.” he says. He’s referring to the 1970s, when people didn’t just keep plants, they “knew” them. “These plants show signs of age, of wear, signs of struggle, signs of immense care”. There is something appealingly human-like about them that Morera is keen to get across to the public.

Bryan Goodey owns UK’s largest cactus nursery, Cactusland.  Fascinated by the variety of spines and flowers on his childhood cacti he now stocks thousands of cacti, in over 750 varieties. “Whether you are a collector or a newcomer there’s something for you at Cactusland. I hope that you will enjoy our plants as much as we do” he says.

Cacti are one of the rarest desert plants on earth, and species are endangered; they’re protected by Cites, a treaty that prohibits their movement, and cannot be taken from the wild.  During 2016, 12.7% of Heathrow airport’s confiscated plants were cacti. Demand therefore outweighs supply. Leon travels regularly to France and Holland to source her cacti, and the Canaries is her next stop. Morera speaks of “Old collector’s yards in Van Nuys; greenhouses from the 1930s in Italy; a tip-off that we had to bribe someone at the Cactus Club for - anywhere we can get an interesting specimen. It’s seriously like the black market. It’s like playing pirate”.

Their popularity in fashion is all the more curious as, by their nature, cacti are resistant to trends. Fashion is all about speed but a cactus cannot be rushed. The plant you buy from a garden centre or florist is already a few years old. Cacti are anti-fashion; but then maybe it is the slowness of cacti that makes them appealing.

Take a look at our AG cactus pieces:

Acorn & Will Pauline Cactus Earrings

Lavi and Belle Cactus Bracelet