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Born in the Netherlands, Paul won his first cactus show at school in 1959. His Opa (Grandad) gave him his first subscription to Succulenta, the Dutch C&S Society, as a birthday present in 1963 – he had been a member himself since 1933 but WWII had destroyed his collection.

He moved with his family from the Netherlands to Denmark where his collection continued to grow, under artificial lights. He remembers: “In 1967 we moved to England, supposedly just for two years. I still live there today. As I discovered girls, Irish Guinness and rock ‘n’ roll, my cactus collection went downhill, but a beaten up Ferocactus histrix somehow followed me around as I got married and moved around, from Surrey to Bristol and back to Dorking in Surrey, growing my own family. A move in 1988 gave me my own study, with my own windowsill for the lonely F. histrix. It was soon joined by many other cacti.”

Paul joined the British Cactus & Succulent Society (BCSS) and not long after found himself in the role of Secretary of BCSS Crawley Branch before moving on to Wiltshire in 2003, living some 5 km from iconic Stonehenge. A house move now also included a collection of 3,500 cacti – quite a challenge!

In 1997 Paul made his first trip to Cactus Country, three weeks with my two teenage sons travelling through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado in pursuit of cacti, before a final week of theme parks and tourist attractions around Los Angeles. This first trip fired up a passion to see cacti in their habitat in preference to pots at home. Since then Paul has explored for cacti and other succulent plants in their habitats in South Africa and Namibia, South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Peru) and North America (USA, Mexico and Cuba).

These trips occur mainly during the UK winter time, while during the summer months Paul tours the UK to share what he saw in presentations entitled What I Saw Last Winter.

Paul is a published author: The Plantfinders Guide to Cacti & Other Succulents by Keith Grantham & Paul Klaassen (1999) (David & Charles Publishing in the UK, Timber Press in the USA)

Studies continue for a monograph on the Genus Eulychnia. 

One feature of Paul’s trips has been the publication of his Trip Diaries on the internet, first on internet forums, then as Blogs: pkcactus.wordpress.com

Paul says: ‘The Cactus Trip Diaries started off as emails to my sister in the UK, to read out to my elderly parents so they could follow my exploits. They proved very useful as notes from which I could produce my presentations. My fellow travelers soon caught on, either racing me to get their own versions out or by printing out copies from which they could produce their own presentations. Then, friends from continental Europe brought photobooks of their trips to the annual ELK festival in Belgium. It was easy to merge images from my presentations with text from the Blog to produce my own souvenir books. They are available from the on-line Blurb Book store .

Paul Klaassen

Comments on: "About" (17)

  1. Karl Rumba said:


    I am a grower of cacti in Canberra Australia. I notice you have have mentioned the production of a book on Eulychnia, is that publication ready for release or does it need some more time. It is a genus that does not have a lot written about it.

    In Australia the seed of Eulychnia is a prohibited import, so I am doing a bit of research on Eulychnia, to see if the authorities will review this – their reason given was that it is an invasive species. I am not aware of Eulychnia being a problem anywhere.

    Many thanks for the Fog Catcher website it’s the best information I have come across.

    Like you I got interested in cacti and succulents early in life, then let the hobby take a backseat while raising a family. Now I am rebuilding a collection.


    Karl Rumba

  2. Joan Spielholz said:

    Paul —
    I am a grower of cacti and other succulents in Ithaca NY and I am especially excited about South African flora. I was just checking e-mail and saw reference to your blog on cacti_etc which is small now,but I’ve been on that group since the mid 1990’s. What excitement to find reference to your trip. I am looking forward to a fine adventure.

    Joni Spielholz

    • Hi Joni

      As you’ll read in the Diaries and see from previous trips, I’m primarily a cactophile but ‘had to’ see the fog in the Namib Desert to see how it compares to similar deserts in Chile and Baja California. Saw lots of interesting plants but still struggling to put names to many. Enjoy the Diaries! Hope that they’ll enthuse you to go and take a look for yourself.


  3. Rob Collyer said:

    Try again…Hi Paul, Tim and I are listening to vinyl, and I played Focus, and we thought of you. Then Tim put on Jefferson Airplane which was one of your LP’s.
    How are you? We are celebrating my 60th, he’s not there yet, but I remember you being older? Now he’s playing early Chicago…Does anyone rally know what time it is? Time for a reunion.
    Give me a call on 01372 801403, or robcollyer@ntlworld.com.
    Hope this gets to you before I reach 70! 10/8/13

    • Hi Bob, looks like your attempts failed, sorry. Currently in sunny Vallenar, Chile, touring through the Atacama Desert. No rain forecast!


  4. Rob Collyer said:

    Give us your GPS details and we’ll pop over for tea. Failing that, I’ve got my first New Years’ Resolution.
    Keep safe, keep healthy, and good hunting.

  5. razel navarro said:

    hi paul i’m one of the person who fascinated with cactus.. but i never find a book that can read about them, i have a collection but i want to know more about them.. where can i find your book..i’m from montreal thanks!

  6. Dear Paul!
    I have read notes on your last Chilean trip with genuine interest. The fact is I’m going to make a month’s trip about cacti places in Chile at the beginning of the next year. It was very sorry to hear about destruction of the only known location of Thelocephala riparia.
    If you able to provide me with the GPS for this place I can make a search around in hope to find some more micropopulations.
    Yes, I remember you wrote earlier on talk with Florencia who prefers to keep their data in secret for sure but, first, in this case no reason to keep this secret just cause everything already gone and the second is that most cacti are now or will be in future under threat due to activities of native people, not cacti amateurs. And at last a real cacti enthusiast can never to take from nature last plants. Personally I cannot see possibility like this for myself. I think no cacti at all can be collected in the wild. With best regards, Alex.

    • Hi Alex,

      On this occasion I have to honour Florencia and Juan’s decision to keep the location secret – they showed me this spot on previous trips and asked me to keep it private. We are following up the issue of E. riparia with Chilean conservation officials who may have been aware of this population and may have moved it out of the way of the development work on the PanAm Highway (R5) east of El Trapiche, north of La Serena. I prefer to wait until those enquiries have been exhausted and other Chilean friends have made some investigations.

      I hope you have a great trip and that you will share your observations in a blog so that we can keep in touch with what is going on.


      • Truth to say I hardly can believe that some officials can move plants of the whole locality in a safe place if especially taken into account that this is a primary producing country of the Third World.The fact is I’m living in one like this but much larger.
        I think there are plants of this taxon still living in Chile and many other new taxones. The primary problem of any researchers is their constant dependence on availability of roads.
        Not much people want to move on their foots through desert or mountains.
        For plants to grow there is no need in any road at all. 🙂

      • Hi Alex,

        I have been traveling in Chile on a regular basis since 2001 and have seen many developments aimed at improving the infrastructure of the country. Even in 2001, when there were improvements in progress for Ruta 1, the stretch between Taltal and Paposo, we found Copiapoa haseltoniana dug up, roots covered with sulphur powder and plants tagged. We jumped to the conclusion that we had stumbled across a commercial collection operation, until the next day we found a lady, armed with a clipboard, walking along this stretch of road. Was she a law enforcement officer looking to take action or part of the illegal collecting operation? No, she was a botanist, employed by the government to identify plants that should be moved out of the way of the bulldozers and be relocated once the work had been done. Over the years we have been able to visit these plants again in their new locations and while there were high casualty figures, a number of plants seem to have taken.

        I would hardly include Chile in your assumption that it is a Third World Country. Visit the country with an open mind and be pleasantly surprised. Most Chileans I have met have a much greater awareness of the natural world around them then I find in Europe. In the ‘developed world’ we have already destroyed many aspects of our own environment and are happily exploiting and destroying countries in other parts of the world.

        Availability of roads: it’s a human feature as old as history itself. Relating it to cacti: plot all the location information of all cacti on a map and you have a very good representation of the areas road and railway networks as well as military exploits along the US / Mexican border.

        On your forthcoming trip, will you be trying to see as many different species over as large an area as is practical or will you focus on one area and explore it on foot in great detail? And how will you get to such places? Just stick to areas near Santiago Airport or use Ruta 5 to get there quickly and in comfort? You are right: plants do not need roads to grow, but for us to enjoy, observe and study plants, roads are extremely useful, if not essential.

        Enjoy your trip!


  7. Alex, I agree with you.

    • I’m really glad that Chileans are trying to safe their nature unlike in many other countries.
      As for Thelocephala riparia I guess that the location was some sort of classified though this wasn’t a military object and plants themself were so tiny and hardly visible unlike C. haseltoniana you were writing about before. So the possibility for their salvation is not too high. And this may be guilt of such explorers like Florencia and Juan which know of the plant presence in immediate vicinity of potentially hazardous area and didn’t do anything to protect them.
      Taking into account I’m going in Chile in first time I would prefer to see more plants around all country. But in case of travelling on regular basis I definitely would try to search in some restricted and potentially interesting places. I have to mention that there is no need warm house and soft bed for every night. So a week in wild desert without roads cannot be real trouble if all supplies are sufficient.
      Thank you for comminication and your wish.

  8. Breck Breckenridge said:

    The problem I seem to have with enjoying the diary is that it is arranged on these pages backwards. And I have not figured out how or if one can jump to the beginning day of a trip instead of laboriously scrolling down page after page and hitting “Older Posts”. Have I missed something here? I read the posts of each day as they originally appeared and was beside myself to see at last the completed posts with photos, but now I don’t know how to look at them!

    • Hi Breck,
      Yes, it’s not the way I want it either – it’s OK while the trip is ‘in progress’ and ‘today’ appears at the top of the pile, but, like you, I prefer to read the reports for older trips from ‘start to finish’. If anyone reading this and knows a solution that can be implemented relatively quickly, I’d be happy to oblige. The easiest way that I know is to use the calendar on the left side of the screen to select the start date of the trip – in this case 12 October 2013 and then move to the next day.

      Lack of time is my greatest challenge. I came back from Chile on 30 November and started work on selecting images, adding them to the appropriate page and doing some tidying up of typos etc. Not a quick task, to select 100 out of 6,600 images, while carrying on with the other aspects of life, like Christmas and family. The images in the Diaries will form the backbone of my 2014 presentations, the first of which looms in April! In between, I leave in less then a month’s time for a 7 week trip to Mexico, so I’m tied up for planning for that trip as well.

      I do what I can, but this remains a non-income producing hobby activity.

      When time permits I turn the reports of each trip into a book using Blurb Smartbooks on-line self publishing. The software to produce these books (can be downloaded for free) allows me to down load the pages for a particular range of dates in ascending order – oldest date first – and I can then tinker with lay out and add more images and text – so it’s the second proofreading opportunity. The end result is a book that is quite expensive and commercially not suitable for publication – they are just my souvenir copies to leave to my kids in (hopefully, many) years to come.

      One solution would be to use the automated download function of the text from Blurb and then put it into Adobe Indesign publishing software to produce a print-ready.pdf file that I can sned to a digital print firm to get copies at a much more affordable price. All this takes time too and as I said before, this is a hobby and I have a life to lead as well.

      I come back from Mexico on 3 April and then start my season of talks in Europe – mainly the UK. I finish in October at the Australian convention in Brisbane. I won’t be bored in 2014!

      Many thanks for your continued interest in my trips.


  9. Breck Breckenridge said:

    Dear PK, I totally understand your situation. No need to mention your limited time or resources. What you do with both is a wonder believe me. I will study your suggestions on how to circumvent the WordPress system. Great trip by the way and I wish you luck on your speaking trip upcoming. With all good wishes, Breck Breckenridge in Lodi, CA, USA

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