Grand Junction man recognized for knowledge, interest in cacti and succulents
It started, as things sometimes do, on a wide spot in the road between Golden and Boulder.
Don Campbell was driving along and noticed a struggling little cactus very much in danger of getting trampled or run over.
He’d always been interested in plants and had a strong background in biology and botany, but before that day, he’d never thought much about cacti. His wife had collected the occasional one, but he’d been more interested in orchids and bromeliads.
That day, though, an inconspicuous little cactus caught his attention. More than 25 years later, he is known throughout Colorado for his interest in and knowledge of cacti and succulents.
The Denver Cactus and Succulent Society recently awarded Campbell its first-ever lifetime achievement award.
“(Cacti and succulents) just have the most appeal for me,” he explained. “The differences between the plants, the variety, the bizarre shapes. You’re always noticing something new or learning something new.”
As a career forester with the U.S. Forest Service, Campbell long has been attuned to the cycles and subtleties of growing plants. As his interest in cacti and succulents grew, he learned to search beneath sometimes prickly, sometimes scary exteriors to see fascinating, beautiful plants that exemplify adapting to the environment.
At first, Campbell’s interest in the plants was a solitary one.
He and his wife moved to Grand Junction 20 years ago, “so I started asking around at plant clubs, at greenhouses, at nurseries if there were any cactus groups,” he said.
There weren’t, but he met people who also expressed interest in being part of a cactus and succulent club, so Campbell kept their names.
After eight years of this, he put up signs on billboards and sent postcards to the people he’d met, suggesting a meeting for cactus and succulent enthusiasts. Thirty-five people attended that first meeting and, in 2000, the Chinle Cactus and Succulent Society (http://www.chinle cactusclub.org) began.
As the society has grown, its reach and range of interests have, too. Society members maintain cactus and succulent gardens at the Tri-River Area Cooperative Extension Service at the Mesa County Fairgrounds and at the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
They also offer education and growing advice at their monthly meetings, which usually are the second Thursday of the month in the Sagebrush Room of the community building at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.
Campbell said the steady interest in cacti and succulents in this area stems, in part, from the fact that they grow here.
“You can walk outside and see interesting specimens growing in their natural environment,” he said.
Since his interest in cacti began, Campbell has taken vacations specifically to see the plants. When he retired, his retirement gift to himself was a greenhouse addition to his home, where ceraria namaquensis and mammillaria plumosa grow side-by-side.
Campbell has been experimenting with using bonsai techniques on succulents, and he’s always fascinated by the inexplicable vagaries of cacti that grow monstrose, or mutant. He has succulent hybrids cultivated in Japan and samples for which he received a permit to gather from the surrounding desert.
And he always looks forward to the cactus and succulent show at the end of March in Denver, a sort of cactus Christmas for enthusiasts.
“There are some genera of these plants than have hundreds of species alone,” he explained. “There’s always something new and interesting to learn.”