Skip to content

Source of Pride

September 7, 2010

Barrels, bulbous and crested

Harvey Welton’s Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery is modest by nursery standards. Tucked into a rural part of Riverside’s La Sierra neighborhood, it’s a surprise: for a nursery it’s small, but for a nursery in a neighborhood, it’s pretty big. In business for 42 years, it was named by Welton’s children after sombreros they’d picked up in Mexico on vacation. A true family business, Welton and family literally built their nursery from the ground up. Pulling up to the gate Saturday morning, I notice tiered structures with an array of tall cacti on one side; looking in the opposite direction, into the main fenced area, a number of larger cacti amaze; also inside, a series of curved shade structures hint at an enormous number of offerings. We’re at Mexican Hat with our succulent-minded neighbors, Bruce and Bonnie, and, because they’ve known Welton for a while, are introducing Paul and I. Welton is personable, affable and an easygoing provider of a vast amount of plant information (he’s a teacher and speaker on succulent topics). The embodiment of a great guy, he’s also got a great sense of humor and instantly makes us feel at ease. He’s like a succulent godfather, having propagated, often from seeds (!), many of the plants here. Welton harvests and sells these seeds and he has an ingenious way of collecting some of them. Placing a small, coffee filter-shaped mesh cap over the end of the plant in question, the seeds are trapped when they begin to disperse. At one point Welton showed us a handful of cactus seeds that looked like tiny dry sea urchins — with extremely long spines, something I’d never seen before. Anxious to begin exploring the grounds and shade houses, he tells us to ignore closed doors and to have a look around. We’re immediately struck by the enormous barrel cacti, above. The top example was so big I doubt I could get my arms fully around it (not that I would try such a foolhardy act) … the lower, crested example was almost as big, if not more fantastic, due to it’s brain-y appearance. With our curiousity fully piqued, here’s some of what we saw …

Textured inspiration

With succulents and cacti in such profusion, I couldn’t help but be awestruck. Proof that these plants are some of the most diverse on the planet, not to mention strikingly graphic, I have to return and spend more time just looking .. this is the kind of place you can’t rush through if you want to see everything.

Floral splendor

Welton remarked more than once that he wished we were visiting when everything was in flower. But, I found lots of floral gorgeousness that refuted the notion that succulents and cacti are not as colorful as, say, roses. The fact that this wasn’t prime blooming season only means we’ll have to return when it is …

Oddly interesting

The weird and bizarre are always welcome in my garden … and Mexican Hat is a great place to find singular examples of the weirdest. An ‘inch worm’ senecio looks like worms crawling away from its hanging pot and a crested myrtillocactus looks like it’s shape-shifting before our eyes; at bottom, a cactus with fin-shaped pads sports fuzzy polka dots made up of thousands of teeny-tiny prickles that would require drastic measures to remove …


Talk about bizarre: doesn’t this cactus look like a spiny, multi-peepered, extraterrestrial Homer Simpson? I only wish it were processed-cheese-yellow, like its cartoon lookalike.

Blossoms, spines

Against the back fence and serving as backdrop, these super-tall cacti were covered with fantastic waxy blooms. Clearly a favorite of local bees, I couldn’t blame them for being attracted to them. I loved how the almost-perpendicular blossoms contrasted with the statuesque columnar cacti.

Flower of Madagascar

Near Welton’s home, which is also on site, he proudly showed me this beautiful Madagascar palm in full flower. First, I’d never seen a Mad palm this tall before, and I’d never seen one in bloom. It was a lovely sight, especially with the sun backlighting its leaves as I looked up at it. More than twice my height, I was happy when Welton helpfully offered a ladder so I could take these pictures.

Move over, Rover, it's hot!

By this time, the sun was reaching its late morning height and it was getting really hot! I’d seen the special cactus I had been hoping to score at Mex Hat, and we corralled Welton for pricing on it, and some other terrific specimens (see them in the next post). Quoting prices that can only be described as unbelievable (considering their “I’ve never seen one like that before” -ness) we were ready for check-out. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Mex Hat, and meeting Harvey Welton. I recommend his nursery to anyone interested in learning more about cacti and succulents, and in purchasing focal point-worthy plants at exceptional prices. Because Welton’s staff is more-often-than-not, well, him, you would be well advised to call ahead and make an appointment before visiting. His website (see link below) features interesting photos, as well as helpful information and tips. Welton has taught succulent propagation classes through the UCR Extension; I’d check his website for upcoming classes.

Mexican Hat Cactus Nursery, 11152 Palm Terrace Lane, Riverside, CA 92505; for appointment: 951.687.9055


8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 1:03 am

    Oooh la-la ! Fabulous !

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 7, 2010 3:04 am

      It was fun, and fruitful!

  2. September 7, 2010 3:02 am

    Lucky lucky you! I’m sure it would have still been a fabulous visit but to be told “ignore closed doors” and be shown around by the owner, that is priceless. I’m jealous!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 7, 2010 3:04 am

      Wait’ll you see what I got, Loree! … check back tomorrow

  3. Megan permalink
    September 8, 2010 2:37 pm

    So many of them look like bizarro internal organs! I kind of makes me want to live in S. Cal (only kind of).

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 8, 2010 3:08 pm

      Well, you could at least visit, right?! And, yes, bizarro is the word for lots of these plants, hence my love for them!

  4. September 10, 2010 10:02 pm

    What a great place! Amazing plants!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      September 10, 2010 10:10 pm

      Hi, Candy … you should go … Roseville’s not that far, after all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: