Magical Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium

Cactarium December 31, 2019

We’ve been to the wonderful Moorten Botanical Garden twice. Our first visit to Moorten was on our wildflowerpalooza trip. We left Lake Elsinore headed to Palm Springs for lunch, a picture with the Sonny Bono statue and a quick visit to see the cacti on our way to Borrego Springs. We had heard from other parents in SF that Palm Springs was trashy and dangerous. I’m not sure what planet they lived on because we LOVE Palm Springs. So much we went back for Zoe’s winter break for five nights. We stayed at Caliente Tropics literally .2 miles from Moorten, it was cheap, clean, had a great heated pool and excellent happy hour appetizer deals we called dinner a couple of nights at the on site tiki bar. Our motel neighbors looked like they walked off The Big Lebowski set. They smoked on the balcony overlooking the pool in their bathrobes and appeared to be The Dude’s long lost cousins. If you want to feel fancy and hip Ace is only .2 miles from Caliente. I think you can even pay a day fee to hang out by their pool, but I felt like a big dork just checking out the lobby and looking at the pool through the fence.

Cactarium coolness December 31, 2019

I have no idea what most of these cacti are thanks to my subpar picture management over the past eight years. I used to be so good about taking pictures of every plant label. I dutifully edited and uploaded them right away with nice labels and tags that I would double check on google for spelling. We only had so many SD cards back then instead of the infinite cloud they magically go to now, so it forced you to go through stuff. I’m hoping to start that insanity back up in Wisconsin, because it’s how I learned quite a few plant names.

Cactarium coolness December 31, 2019

Anyways Moorten is so damn cool. Here’s a little information about the history from their about page:

“Clark Moorten, the rugged, engaging second-generation host, oversees the garden and greets, at times, more than 200 guests per day. He explains his passion for cactus plants with an amused grin. “I was born with stickers in my butt,” he says. “My parents needed workers and I’m an only child. I must’ve been a good worker.”

Moorten Botanical Garden possesses an equally colorful history. It was created by Clark’s parents, Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia. Cactus Slim was an original Keystone Cop and a stand-in for Howard Hughes. He developed tuberculosis on a film set and recovered in Cottonwood Springs, near Joshua Tree, where he panned for gold and collected beautiful cactuses. He learned mining was hard work and selling prickly plants paid better.”

Totem pole cactus Lophocereus schottii var. monstrose

“In search of more customers, Chester came to Palm Springs in 1938, met Patricia, who also had an interest in succulents, and they bought the property, which became Moorten Botanical Garden, from renowned nature and desert photographer Stephen Willard.

Together the couple expanded Chester’s business to include landscape design and were soon hired by such luminaries as Walt Disney, Red Skelton, Jimmy Van Heusen, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby to create backyards at their desert homes. Walt even tapped the duo to curate the foliage for Frontierland at his soon-to-be-built Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.”


Chester was the OG when it comes to drought tolerant plant design way back before Disneyland was even built. It’s hotter than hell during summer being in a desert and all, so cactus and succulents were really the way to go. I’ve always admired Southern California for hopping on the drought tolerant plant wagon faster than up north. It’s hotter down there, but it doesn’t rain in the summer time anywhere in California which is great for picnic plans, but not so much for water loving landscape plants. Most everything you see growing in California yards is only doing so because of an irrigation system or dedicated hand-waterer. The fog drip on the coast can sustain quite a bit of life including pampas grass, but several miles inland and it’s a different story. I just read an interesting article about farmers in California switching to less thirsty crops today.

Agave something

It’s not all cacti here, there’s a wonderful path that leads you around the wide world of plants.

“Spend an hour exploring over a dozen arid biomes, such as the Baja California Peninsula, the South African-Succulent Karoo, the Mojave Desert and Mexico-Gran Desierto de Altar. Not limited to cacti, the gardens also display agave, bombax, and South African aloe plants. An interesting collection of rocks, crystals, fossils and gold-mining relics break up the flora and enhance the desert themes.”

Mystery Aloe bloom
Hillside of Giant Golden Barrel Cacti
Stenocereus (Rathbunia) alamosensis ‘Shooting Star Cactus’
The dollar table

Hooray for one dollar cacti at the great little nursery connected to the gardens! They even have tweezers to pull them out, so you can make your own variety packs without getting stabbed. Tons of succulents to choose from as well. If you’re ever in Palm Springs make sure you visit this affordable, cool little piece of cacti history.

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