The Cactus Curators of Highland Park

Tucked away in the growing neighborhood of LA's old Highland Park is Ponderosa Cactus, a small plant bodega owned and operated by sisters Daniella and Andanette. The Tucson transplants set up shop almost 3 years ago in hopes of spreading their love of sustainable landscapes and plants to the drought-stricken state of California. We've been stoked to host a cactus residency at our DTLA flagship this month and wanted to get to know the desert duo a bit better, so we visited them for a quick chat at their beautiful storefront.

BANKS JOURNAL: How long have you guys been doing this?

PONDEROSA CACTUS: All our lives haha. Yeah, we grew up in a cactus nursery back in Tucson and would help out our parents every summer watering the cacti and all the day to day nursery life. We both left for a for a few years then came back two years ago.

BANKS JOURNAL: Is this your first location outside the nursery then?

PC: Yeah this is our first shop! It's family owned, basically an extension of our family nursery back in Tucson, same name and everything.

BANKS JOURNAL: When you guys were planning it were there any points of reference or things you drew inspiration from?

PC: As far as aesthetics, we'd say our mom was our biggest influence. She always had an element of a cactus and hints of pinks just like a desert vibe without clashing. She's always done a great job incorporating the desert into home life. We sort of try to remember that when designing the look and feel of the shop, desert elements updated with a modern touch. We're always trying to use raw materials and colors to mimic the real environment.

BANKS JOURNAL: What initially brought you out to California?

PC: Other jobs actually. So after we both graduated in different years, we moved to LA searching for a different life than the slow vibes of Arizona. It can get pretty slow out there in the desert.

BANKS JOURNAL: How is it being women entrepreneurs in this day and age?

PC: I think at least 2 years ago when we first opened if felt challenging, we had a few instances where people didn't really believe in us. But we're pretty strong-willed and strong-headed people, so we just kept pushing for it and people have become very supportive of what we're doing here now. I think there is a whole narrative now about women in the workplace that's changing where people now have just begun to view us as equals rather than a 'woman-owned' business. An entrepreneur rather than something solely defined by gender.

BANKS JOURNAL: Has the surrounding community here in Highland Park been pretty supportive of Ponderosa Cactus? You guys get a lot of local business?

PC: Yeah! A lot of people come in that have just moved into Highland Park and they just want to set up their home base with greenery and then they start bringing their friends when they're visiting from out of state. We've become a sort of local pit stop for our neighbors and friends, always grabbing something to take back home with them. It's always nice knowing that one of our plants is finding a new home across the states. It's also people who have started to become more interested in learning about the cactus, too. Not just aesthetically, but knowing what each one does or where it comes from and really learning their botanical names and info about specific types. It's really great.

BANKS JOURNAL: Oh nice, so outside of retail do you guys help design or curate people's gardens, too?

PC: We've done a few small scale garden landscape projects which are really fun and always focused around being drought tolerant and very low water using gardens and we recently started a California native garden. We got really interested in that sort of project after pairing up with the Audubon Society. They have taught us a lot about California natives and bringing them back into different gardens so that it expands the ecosystem.

BANKS JOURNAL: Are the majority of the cactus here in your shop native to California or are they from all over?

PC: Oh no, the cactus we have here are from all over the world. Like the Saguaro, which is native to the Sonoran Desert, is pretty cool. Yeah, and we have some from the Mojave Desert. Some of these are from Africa as well. It's worth noting too that not everything at our store is considered a cactus, a lot of the plants we have here may look like a cactus but they're actually a succulent, which is different.

BANKS JOURNAL: Wait, what? What's makes it a succulent? Ignorant me would call everything here in your shop a cactus...

PC: That's easy, it's regional-based. So, cacti are only found in the Americas, but succulents can be found all over the globe!

BANKS JOURNAL: Ah. Got it. So do you guys like go out into the desert and source this stuff sometimes?

PC: So our parents have land in Arizona where we get a few of the saguaros from... And the other guys, they're sort of grown on land where we get them from. So it's more of a controlled and sustainable environment. For sure the saguaros and the golden bales our parents have like rows and rows of them on their farm.

BANKS JOURNAL: There are some really interesting and weird looking plants here, earlier you mentioned something about mutations? What's that about?

PC: It's a genetic mutation, so it at first starts out kind of by chance, ya know, something get's a bit mixed up in the DNA of the plant. Eventually people just start keeping those seeds and then growing those specifically. What's most interesting about many cacti out there is that a lot of them have mutations. People usually regard a mutation as, you know, something that's odd to look at, but in the cactus it's actually something really spectacular.

BANKS JOURNAL: What would you attribute the current cactus trend as a house plant these days?

PC: People are become more environmentally conscious and I believe LA is filled with a lot of travelers. So, whether it's someone going away for a month because they're in an industry that keeps them away from home or they're just visiting, folks can rest assured that when they come back home their plant will still be alive. So it's a little bit of both of those, but honestly, it's a little bit because of the whole Instagram phenomenon that really drives things and then people start to learn about it through photos. It starts off with a picture and then it forms into learning about it and then actually liking the product. I think that's what really kicked it off.

BANKS JOURNAL: Any recent projects?

PC: Yeah, we just hosted a class with West Elm where we were able to bring our little cactus and show the process of potting them because one thing that people are afraid of or they're not familiar with are the spines. So we started them with something small that way they're just familiar with packing in the soil firmly and then they could graduate into something bigger.

BANKS JOURNAL: Yeah, I feel like that's an issue I've always had, is when you get a cactus and bring it home... How do I get it out of this thing? How do I plant it somewhere and what's the proper way to do it...?

PC: Yeah, that's our whole thing, is helping to make it super easy so you can just go home with something that you love and enjoy. Of course there's an option for you to do it yourself, but if you don't want to, that's what we're here for, or to teach you the basics. Even though cactus plants are super resilient they are very sensitive, too. So if you were to pack it in wrong, there are chances of pockets forming in the soil that in turn could either hold water and rot the root or hold in air pockets which do the opposite and dry out the root. For the most part they are strong plants though that could even survive off of very little soil and can go even longer without water. They just go into to drought mode.

Inside Ponderosa Cactus in Highland Park

PC: I've grown to adopt the idea that we're fostering all these plants. And then enabling people to connect with a cactus and whatever personality it's personifying to them and each person is different so they could see a cactus one way and another person could walk in that same day and see a different thing. It's kind of funny to think that some people can just get grossed out by looking at a cactus. 

BANKS JOURNAL: Do you guys have any good retail stories? Any nightmare customers or rad folks coming in?

PC: Our customers are amazing. They have their days, it's fun. There's a group that comes in every Tuesday: a mother, her daughter, and their really good friend and her young daughter. We can't wait for her daughter to actually be walking around because they're in awe of everything. Sometimes they just come in because it's Tuesday. It's really neat and we love every minute of it.

Be sure to stop by our DTLA Flagship and visit their pop up shop over the next few weeks, and if you're in Highland Park, pop in and say hi to Andanette & Daniella at their beautiful shop, Ponderosa Cactus!

You can follow their cactus vibes via Instagram here! Much thanks again to both women for taking some time to hang and chat about their passion and storefront!

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