Over 80 Years of SucculentsGraphic

On July 12, 1942, Ladislaus Cutak called a meeting at the Missouri Botanical Garden for the express purpose of organizing a cactus club. Although only 12 people attended that first meeting, their early efforts steadily evolved into an active, modern Henry Shaw Cactus and Succulent Society with over 150 members. HSCSS celebrated its 80th birthday in 2022.

[ Histories of Other CSSA Affiliates ]


Early Growth

The club was named to honor Henry Shaw, whose Missouri Botanical Garden did much work on desert plants and housed a notable collection. Early on, Garden Director George T. Moore graciously offered the garden as a meeting place, where the society has regularly met since.

In August 1942, Herman A. Kropp was appointed editor and publisher of the group’s new publication, the Cactus Digest. Neobesseya missouriensis was officially adopted as the society flower. The 33 charter members established a treasury, and officers were installed at the society’s January 1943 meeting.

Enjoyment and Education

To boost meeting attendance, the membership gave away an attendance prize at each gathering (a tradition still practiced today). For members’ birthdays, each member was asked to contribute a penny for each year of their lives to create an entertainment fund. A library was also started, with many of the members donating the first books. Current members can still view some of these publications before meetings.

Plenty of food, games, contests and organ music entertained the crowd at the society’s first birthday party, held at the spacious home of society member Carleton Blandford. Subsequent anniversary picnics were held at Alpine Gardens, Mackle Nursery and other members’ homes and farms. Not surprisingly, good food, good fun and good company are still the fare at HSCSS picnics and other events.

HSCSS Digest

Since 1942, the Henry Shaw Cactus Digest has grown from a simple, two-page affair to represent the club around the world. Its down-to-earth and relatively non-technical articles have been distributed to individuals and libraries throughout the United States and in Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and Australia.

PhotoAnnual Cactus Show

The first HSCSS cactus and succulent plant exhibit was staged in conjunction with the St. Louis Horticultural Society at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the fall of 1944. By 1946, the society had organized its own Spring Cactus Show, with 33 classes on the schedule. In 1948, the show was moved to the fall. The HSCSS Annual Show and Sale, which grew to feature over 100 categories, is now held during the summer.

Desert House

Missouri Botanical Garden displayed its cacti, succulents and related plant specimens in the Desert House for 80 years. But even after several renovations, the structure was closed in 1994 due to deteriorating structural conditions and increasing maintenance costs.

Josephine Goelzhauser and other HSCSS members assisted the garden in cataloging, evaluating and reducing the collection of desert specimens for a move to garden greenhouses. HSCSS now supports MBG’s current efforts to display its collections of arid plants in the Shoenberg Temperate House. Click for more photos of the original Desert House facility.