The Secret History of the World’s First and Only Cactarium

If you’re going to southern California any time soon, don’t miss out on visiting the magnificent Moorten's Botanical Garden and Cactarium. Tucked away in Palm Springs, Moorten’s is a magical 1-acre desert garden filled with more than 3,000 types of succulents, cacti, yucca plants, and more. I made a detour to Palm Springs on my California road trip just to see the Cactarium and it was totally worth it! Moorten's Botanical Garden is a relic of the early Palm Springs, before it became a vacation playground for Hollywood's elite, when the town was simpler and more intimate.

 Author Rose Cornwell exploring the Cactarium in Palm Springs, CA in January 2018 (and yes, I DO have a cactus tattoo on my left arm  #obsessed ).

Author Rose Cornwell exploring the Cactarium in Palm Springs, CA in January 2018 (and yes, I DO have a cactus tattoo on my left arm #obsessed).

The History of Moorten’s Botanical Garden

 Just one of my favorite cacti from my visit to Moorten's Botanical Garden.

Just one of my favorite cacti from my visit to Moorten's Botanical Garden.

A legacy of Patricia and Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten, who were pioneers of the early Palm Springs, Moorten's Botanical Garden is a family owned living museum inspired by the extraordinary variety and beauty of desert plants from around the world. Chester, who was nicknamed Cactus Slim due to his lanky figure and obsession with cacti, and his wife Patricia, a biologist with a special interest in botany, both shared a love for desert plants and wildlife. After purchasing a mid-century modern home nestled away in a discrete section of Palm Canyon Drive, the Moortens began building their living desert museum in the late 1930’s right in their backyard.

Patricia and Chesters fascination with desert landscapes grew with their garden. Patricia Moorten even became a botany student at USC with a passion for native California desert species before giving birth to their only child, Clark. Spending every waking moment in the garden as a child, Clark was completely immersed in the resilient world of cacti. Eventually, the Moortens began landscaping elaborate desert gardens beyond their own home in Southern California, including at the homes of Frank Sinatra and Walt Disney. When Chester passed away in 1980, Clark and his wife took over the responsibility of running the family’s botanical garden. Much of the Garden’s brilliant diversity can be credited to Clark Moorten, who focused on expanding the plant collection after his father's death to create the lush mosaics of living plants that visitors see today.  

 The entrance to the world's first and only cactarium - where visitors can learn about cacti from different regions of the world.

The entrance to the world's first and only cactarium - where visitors can learn about cacti from different regions of the world.

Discovering the World’s First Cactarium

 A map of Moorten's Botanical Garden and Cactarium. Visitors should begin the nature trail in the Baja California Region.  

A map of Moorten's Botanical Garden and Cactarium. Visitors should begin the nature trail in the Baja California Region.  

The world’s first cactarium, a term coined by Chester “Cactus Slim” himself, is the Botanical Garden’s premier attraction and offers visitors the chance to explore a whimsical terrarium full of decades-old cacti from across the world. The cactarium encloses the collection of the world’s rarest cacti, seen together nowhere else on earth. Visitors can study fascinating prickly plants that are vital to future landscapes as climate change continues to worsen desertification, meaning drier climates across the globe.

 Inside of the Cactarium inside Moorten's Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, CA.

Inside of the Cactarium inside Moorten's Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, CA.

In order to find the cactarium, simply follow the nature trail at the entrance of this living desert museum (see photo of map). The plants, fossils, and crystals scattered across the garden are clustered along the path according to geographic origin: Arizona, Baja California, California, Colorado, the Mojave desert, the Sonora desert, South Africa, South America, and Texas.

 

Details for Your Visit

  • Location: 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA
  • Admission for adults: $5
  • Hours:
    • Fall, Winter, and Spring open 10 — 4 daily, closed Wednesdays
    • First day of Summer to First day of Fall (6/21 — 9/21) open 9 — 1 daily, closed Wednesdays