Visiting The King of Rare Plants in Arizona

Maybe it's because I grew up in Los Angeles with an itch to always explore its outer most fringes which often included the desert, or maybe it's because my ancestral homelands are reminiscent of these barren landscapes that know so much.  Either way, I immediately fell in love with Tucson and its landscapes, from the Barrio Historico District to its street art and eclectic shops ( prickly pear cactus jelly!)

But I didn't come to Tucson to explore.  The real reason I came to Tucson was to meet the man who is responsible for the worldwide popularity of these beautiful plants below:


Enter Mark Dimmitt.

photo by keegam shamlian

photo by keegam shamlian

Mark Dimmitt is the king of rare plants, the champion of all their oddities. He is best known for creating never before seen hybrids of the adenium, a plant native to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

His hybrids began an adenium crazy across Asia that still hasn't stopped. He's also responsible for singlehandedly raising a rare corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum, which he donated to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif. The bloom at the Huntington became the first of its kind in the Western U.S. and brought in more visitors to the gardens than at any other point in their history.

It was the corpse flower that first tipped me off to Mark's existence - a small mention in a blog post at the Huntington meant I instantly had to meet the man who was obsessive and creative enough to raise a plant that smells like rotting meat and then donate it to a major botanical organization. 

Over the course of a month, I got to know Mark, who graciously allowed me to shadow him at an international orchid show and ask him and his equally-obsessed plant friends many questions about botany and biology.  I drove to Tucson to visit him at his home that he shares with two shy black cats and over 10,000 plants. 

The result, with brilliant photos is published at The Guardian: Meet the obsessive botanist who became king of rare specimens