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  • Lezlie Sterling / lsterling

    Dr. Norman Klein blends in – comfortably in this image but not always so – with his cactus garden at his home in Rancho Cordova. "Once you start, it's truly an addiction – you can't get enough," he said. "I got hooked – literally."

  • A colorful specimens in Klein's large and varied cactus garden: a blossoming barrel cactus.

  • A colorful specimes in Klein's large and varied cactus garden: a blooming Ferro.

Seeds: Rancho Cordova cactus lover suffers for his plants

Published: Saturday, May. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 10:37 am

Love hurts. Ask any cactus collector.

Dr. Norm Klein knows all too well. His Rancho Cordova garden holds one of the Sacramento area's largest private collections of cactuses and succulents.

Hundreds of plants crowd his patio. Many more pack large stone planters.

His front yard is a desert fantasy, filled with massive golden barrels and blooming prickly pears. In spring, the neon-hued flowers attract a bevy of bees.

Klein's cactuses will be among the star attractions this weekend as the Carmichael Cactus and Succulent Society hosts its 37th annual show and sale at the Carmichael Park Clubhouse.

For the event's plant sale, he grew out many cuttings from his personal collection.

Klein, 75, admitted he's always trying to hook more cactus lovers.

"Once you start, it's truly an addiction – you can't get enough," he said. "I got hooked – literally."

Forever careful of where he turns in his garden, Klein has plenty of scars to show for his devotion.

Old wounds cover his arms. Lumps formed where spines punctured blood vessels. Long needlelike thorns have impaled his arms and legs. Curved fishhooks have burrowed into his skin.

But that wasn't the worst. Klein can chuckle about it now, but an incident last year still leaves him itchy.

"I was weeding next to a large prickly pear," Klein recalled. "I tripped on a rock and landed in the cactus. I was lying in this massive prickly pear and couldn't get up. My chin, neck, both arms, chest, abdomen, both legs, all the way down to my ankles were stuck on the cactus."

That was just the beginning of this painful episode.

"The long spines hurt, but it's the little ones you can't get out," explained Klein, a longtime oral and facial surgeon. "I started with the tweezers, but there were just too many."

Prickly pears are covered with thousands of hairlike barbed prickles (hence their name). Called glochids, these tiny spines are barely visible, but extremely painful.

"I was covered with them," Klein said. "After the tweezers, I tried duct tape. Then finally, I resorted to very coarse sandpaper. I sandpapered my entire body, trying to get those things out. I had more than 3,000 glochids on my body."

His cactuses and succulents are survivors, too. Despite Klein's best efforts to protect his collection, cold winter nights took their toll.

"We had 14 nights where it got down to 26 to 28 degrees," Klein said, shaking his head. "Then one week later, we had seven more nights below 28. It was just awful."

The vision of frozen cactuses is still fresh in his memory. Added Klein, "I lost 28 plants. Some of my barrels, I covered with three blankets – and they still froze."

But several of the damaged plants have shown remarkable resurgence. Around the sunken soft spot left by frost, a massive golden barrel is surrounded by new "pups" – little baby barrels.

"It's amazing how they'll continue to live and put out new growth," Klein said.

Klein dotes on his cactuses, keeping them tidy and comfortable. Besides sheltering them from cold and rain, he carefully monitors their health.

"I spend a lot of time with them," Klein said. "They're my buddies – even though they hurt me."

Cactus collecting takes a thick skin, he admitted.

"I've paid the price for this," he said. "If you're going to have something like this, you'd better love it."

Slideshow: Cacti collector has one of the largest assortments in the Sacramento area


Where: Carmichael Park Clubhouse, 5750 Grant Ave., Carmichael

When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Free


See displays of unusual cactuses and succulents. Hundreds of plants plus pottery for sale. Free plants to first 100 guests each day (one per family).

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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