History of Growing Cacti & Succulents in Britain

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Can you help us with this timeline? If you have a suggestion for an important event that should be included, please let us know.

Although cacti all originate in the Americas, there are native, indigenous succulent wild plants which grow in the UK. There are also many different succulent plants growing in the wild in Europe, including introduced cacti. Cacti and other succulents have been grown in cultivation in Britain for several centuries, but it is only in the last 150 years or so that this has become a popular hobby. This timeline below gives key events, people and places that led to the Society in the present day.


The Succulent House at Kew Gardens established

Undoubtedly fuelling enthusiasm for cactus and succulent growing throughout the country was the succulent house at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in London, through the 19th and 20th centuries.
Beginning in 1825 when a small lean-to was remodelled to house south African succulents, the first official Succulent house was completed in 1845, a 200ft x 300ft glasshouse build exclusively to showcase succulent oddities from around the globe. It has since been superceded by larger glasshouses and was demolished last century. Cacti and other succulents are now housed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.
Information from Paul Rees, Kew Gardens


Cactus Culture for Amateurs is published

Written by W. Watson, Assistant Curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and published by Upcott Gill in London, this would have been a fantastic resource at the time. The book is now freely available online via Project Gutenberg
and is illustrated throughout by some superb line drawings.
Information supplied by Prof. Ralph Martin


National Cactus Society Formed

C. A. Blogg wrote to 213 growers of cacti and succulents with a view to forming a Society. The aims included “bringing collections together, exchanging plants, “occasional meetings and lectures”, an annual general meeting and competitive exhibitions with prizes, and, if possible, a periodical.
John Webb Singer, an eminent English collector of art and cacti, and the founder of the Frome Art School, was elected the first President.
Further details are available in the BCSS Journal of June 1995 (vol 13, no. 2) in an article on the centenary of the society by Gordon Rowley.

1919 – 1923

The Cactaceae Published

Between 1919 and 1923, Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose, both botanists from USA, published the seminal monograph on the entire cactus family in four volumes. The work extensively revised the classification of cacti and provided descriptions with many illustrations by British artist Mary Emily Eaton. The whole set can be downloaded as colour pdfs from the Carnegie Institution here https://publicationsonline.carnegiescience.edu/publications_online/cactaceae/default.html.


First Meeting of the Cactus & Succulent Society of Great Britain

Further details required.


“Seed & Potting Composts” published

In 1939, W. J. C. Lawrence and J. Newell published “Seed & Potting Composts”, in which they describe a new, multi-purpose compost and some variants: “John Innes Composts”. Their aim was to dispense with the multitude of different composts available for specific plants, and develop just two composts, for all plants. Their John Innes Composts were widely adopted by gardeners and horticulturalists all over the country, and are still the most popular organic ingredients today in mixes for cacti and other succulents.
The third (1945) edition of this small book is an extremely useful addition to any succulentophile’s library, as it explains in layman’s terms all the requirements of compost and glasshouse hygiene in general, as well as giving the full recipes for making John Innes composts.
Publisher: George Allen and Unwin, but editions also exist by The Garden Book Club.

December 1939

Society Shelved Due to War

Further details required.


Formation of the Yorkshire Cactus Society

After communications to the Cactus and Succulent Society of Great Britain were unanswered following the closure during the war, H. Michael Roan held a meeting with Fred Ives, Albert Baynes and Victor Kane, to discuss the formation of a new Society, and thus the Yorkshire Cactus Society was born.
Victor W. Kane was the first Chairman, with the first monthly meeting taking place in Bradford on Wednesday, 3rd October 1945. By February the following year, membership had grown to 130.
Further information can be obtained in “BCSS History” (2011) by John Cox.



International Organisation for Succulent Plant Study (IOS) Formed

Following the 1st International Congress of Succulent Researchers, in Switzerland on 27th September 1950, the participants agreed on a statute on which basis the IOS was founded on 30 September 1950 with the aim “to promote the study and conservation of succulent and allied plants and to encourage international co-operation amongst those interested in them”.


CITES comes into effect

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) can into effect on 1st July 1975.
CITES is a multilateral treaty. Participation is voluntary, but most member states of the United Nations being signatories. The treaty aims to help protect endangered species by preventing trade across international borders of listed species, without permits or certificates. CITES currently protects around 38,000 species, including several species of cacti or other succulents.
Species are listed in one of three appendices, depending on the current threat to the species. Appendix 1 is the most severe, with species threatened with extinction. Appendix 2 is the largest, listing most species; not necessarily threatened with extinction but in danger from unregulated trade. Appendix 3 contains species which are protected under the national legislation of at least one country, and which have been requested to be listed under CITES.
The BCSS fully supports the conservation of cacti and other succulents in their native habitats and the aims of CITES in preventing threats to these plants from wild-collecting and trading.


British Cactus and Succulent Society Formed

On 16th April 1983, the National Cactus and Succulent Society and The Cactus and Succulent Society of Great Britain merged to form the British Cactus and Succulent Society.

Summer 1983

First issue of “Bradleya” published

In 1983 the first issue of the flagship journal of the British Cactus and Succulent Society, “Bradleya”, was published, edited by David Hunt and Nigel Taylor.
Named after Richard Bradley, the author of Historia Plantarum Succulentarum (1716), the annual journal provides scientific and technical articles on cacti and other succulents.
A full synopsis of the journal and it’s first 40 years of publication is given in CactusWorld 39:1, March 2021, by the editor Professor George Thomson.
Back issues and the current issue are available in the BCSS shop.


BCSS Conservation Committee Formed

The BCSS Conservation Subcommittee was established in 1993, following the confiscation of plants from an organised group returning from a cactus tour on the continent: this became known as “The Felixstowe Incident”. It was thought that this Subcommittee would be able to advise members on how this kind of problem could be avoided in the future. However, it soon became clear that what was even more important was addressing the myriad threats to cacti and other succulent plants worldwide and aiding their survival, and as a result the preparation of the Subcommittee’s aims made this its main consideration.

BCSS Research Committee Formed

More information required.

March 2006

BCSS Journal Renamed to CactusWorld

More information required.

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