There’s a tiny storefront in Echo Park that glows red and orange at night. Inside, there are dozens and dozens of cactuses.
The Cactus Store opened its doors this past December. It's home to some of Los Angeles’ rarest and most bizarre cactuses. Carlos Morera and his uncle John Morera make up half the team that runs the store.
Why cactus? John Morera is a lifelong plant fan — he's collected bonsai and rare succulents for decades. He passed that interest along to his nephew. "They're these plants that basically survive the harshest conditions in the world. And they grow magnificently at the same time — with such little resources," said Carlos, who has a background in design. "They're incredibly intelligent plants."
The cactus is sourced from different collectors around the world. Carlos and his uncle regularly make trips to remote farms in the California desert near the United States-Mexico border to stock their inventory. The result is cactuses of all stripes — bizarre genetic mutants, small flowering succulents, and cactuses older than disco.
Carlos reaches for one of the smaller cactuses from the copiapoa genus — he estimates it to be about 40 years old. "It looks like a shriveled, sort of Jabba the Hutt sea urchin with fur on top that looks like it's sort of melting into the ground," Carlos said. "And then [it] has dead and alive flowers on top of it, as attractive as that sounds."
Cactuses pack the roughly 200 square foot space, and a false move can risk getting pricked by a needle. Carlos and John both admit to getting stabbed or scratched almost daily. Carlos's worst injury came from a large ferocactus.
"I walked backwards into it when I was moving a larger cactus," he said. "And it went into the back of my leg, it sort of got lodged there." For a time, the hooked needles started to hurt his nerves. And while the pain's gone, the two spines are still in his leg.
The Moreras believe that when you buy a potted cactus, you buy more than a plant. You buy something that can stay in a family for generations, something with years of history behind it. "If you're in here at night, they definitely have a presence to them. There's a lot of people that think cactus have a consciousness," he said. "They're such intelligent plants, and they've been around for so long."