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St. Louis, Missouri
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St. Louis CSSA Convention
'Best in Recent Memory'
The 230 participants at the June 14-19 Cactus and Succulent Society of America Convention hosted by the Henry Shaw Cactus Society experienced what CSSA Director and Convention Program Chairman Leo Martin called "the best convention in recent memory."
"I would like to thank the society for showing our membership the right way to do a convention," Martin said in a letter to the club. "All who attended remarked on the organization, friendliness and helpfulness of HSCS volunteers. The speakers also loved Ted Drewes." Summer trips to Ted Drewes' famous ice cream stands are a long-standing St. Louis tradition.
Program Schedule Sets Trend
A unique schedule and the respected reputation of the Missouri Botanical Garden brought conventioneers from as far as the Netherlands, India, South Africa and Australia to the St. Louis Airport Marriott Hotel in north St. Louis County for the event.
In a first for CSSA, the conference schedule grouped two days of succulent programs at the beginning of the convention, followed by a day of field trips and two more days of presentations on cacti. CSSA's 2005 convention will also apply this successful schedule formula.
This year, programs by international scholars and botanical experts addressed topics from cactus containers to cultivation. Local event organizer Mike Hellmann said the programs were designed to share new developments in the hobby, and some were presented by "the people who discover the plants."
Noted botanical explorers John Lavranos and Sheila Collenette gave captivating talks on "exotic lands and wonderful plants." HSCS Editor Kathy Malon said CSSA writer Roger Brown's "Pampering Your Cacti" program touched the hearts of those who attended.
"How many of us have attended a lecture that brought tears to our eyes and a lump in our throats?" she asked in the Henry Shaw Cactus Digest. HSCS member and convention organizer Bob Harris closed out the succulent sessions with a well-received demonstration of bonsai techniques for succulents.
Fun Field Trips
During the welcome reception, Missouri Botanical Garden Herbarium Curator James Solomon explained the garden's important role in exploration for and conservation of succulents and other plants. His employer's institution was a field trip focal point. Visitors' tours of the garden facilities included the world-renowned herbarium and library, where historical documents and preserved specimens were viewed.
Other field trips traveled to Cass Bonsai Garden, Woodlawn Gardens greenhouse and the home and plant collection of Mike Hellmann in Edwardsville, Ill. Conventioneers who needed a break from cacti and succulents could visit the St. Louis zoo, art museum and Jewel Box conservatory in St. Louis' Forest Park.
Big Cactus Sale
A further dimension of the convention was a cactus sale open to the public. The commercial vendors who sold plants and pots at the Marriott were quite pleased with their sales, Thomann said. "Even the people at the hotel bought lots of plants," she said. An auction of rare seeds, plants and cactus-theme items also raised over $5,400 for the CSSA Research Fund.
Welcome to Midwest
Although the 2003 convention's Midwest location failed to attract some show regulars from the southwest United States, it made travel easier and less expensive for attendees from other parts of the country.
"It's fun to have new people with a common interest in plants come to the area and enjoy the sights we take for granted," Thomann said. Some CSSA members "think we're a bunch of rednecks, but are astonished at how well we grow plants here."
The first convention of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America was held in St. Louis in July of 1941. HSCS also hosted the biennial convention in 1959 and 1983. The 2003 event was "won" in a bidding process that Leo Martin began with an impressive presentation at the 1999 convention.
Henry Shaw Cactus Society and other host chapters do not gain monetarily from CSSA conventions. Hellmann said it is an honor -- and responsibility -- to host the conventions, for they propagate further interest in cacti and succulents. "It's a way to help make the hobby what we really want it to be," he said.
Thomann said much of the success of the 2003 convention was due to extensive planning and organization by HSCS board members Harris and Hellmann. Dozens of other society members helped out, too.
"Many thanks to the CSSA officers and board members who helped us pull this off," Thomann wrote in the Henry Shaw Cactus Digest. "And many thanks to all the society's volunteers, who were there to lend a hand wherever we needed them. We couldn't have done it without all of you!"
NOTE: This event was also referenced in "Stuck on Cacti," an article that appeared in the Lifestyle section of the June 14 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The full text of this article is available for a small fee in the P-D Archives section of http://www.stltoday.com, the Post-Dispatch website.
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