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In 2014, Desert Botanical Garden received an extraordinary gift from Fred Katterman. He donated his private cactus collection consisting of more than 1,800 potted cactus from regions of Chile, northern Argentina and Peru. This donation added 131 new taxa to the Garden’s collection.

“The most remarkable thing about Katterman’s collection is that all of the plants are of known wild origin with full documentation. Most research institutions can only dream of acquiring such a remarkable complete collection,” says Raul Puente-Martinez, curator of Living Collections and research botanist.

Katterman was born in Germany and moved to the United States in 1952. An electrical engineer by training, he became a cactus enthusiast in the late 1960s after ordering a mix of cactus seeds. Thirty years later through 14 expeditions to South America, Katterman had accumulated one of the most significant private collections of cactus in the United States.

Katterman’s History with the Garden

  • 1992 – Began collaborating with the late Dr. Ted Anderson, the Garden’s cactus specialist at the time and donated more than 450 plants and 160 seed packages to the Garden.
  • 1994 – Lead the Willard Research Expedition to Peru with three members of the Garden team: Dr. Ted Anderson, Dr. Joe McAuliffe and Wendy Hodgson.
  • 1995 – Became a Desert Botanical Garden Research Associate. This non-salaried position allowed Katterman to request funding for collections trips.
  • 2004 – Lead a collections trip to the Atacama Desert in Chile.
  • 2010 – A number of Katterman’s cactus were planted in the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus Gallery.
  • 2014 – Katterman donated his full collection to the Garden.

Transporting the collection from Wantage, New Jersey, was no easy feat. Two members of the desert horticulture and conservation team, Ray Leimkhuler and Raul Puente-Martinez, flew to New Jersey and rented a 16-foot U-Haul truck. The team built wooden shelves to hold the plants in place during the 2,500-mile drive back to Arizona. Snow, rain and wind followed the truck during its five-day trip. To keep the plants alive at night an electric heater was set up in the truck to provide warmth and prevent frost damage. All 1,800 plants survived the journey and were moved into the safety of the Garden’s Greenhouse.

Since the donation most of Katterman’s collection has been documented into the Garden’s Living Collections database. Some of the collection has been planted in the Garden and is on display near Webster Auditorium and in the Sybil B. Harrington Cactus Gallery.

In 2017, the Katterman collection has been moved again. This time into the newly built Greenhouse West as part of the Hazel Hare Center for Plant Science. This 5,300-square-foot, fully automated and environmentally controlled greenhouse provides the perfect environment for all of the species in the collection.

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