Dallas native Payge Stevens is a wedding photographer by trade. Four years ago, a shoot took her to the deserts of San Miguel de Allende. It was the first time she saw towering desert cacti in person, and she was smitten.
Stevens was determined to bring the Southwest feel to her North Texas family home, but she learned that Dallas winters are just cold and rainy enough to prevent cacti from thriving outside. Instead, Stevens took her passion for the spiky plants indoors, potting and propagating cacti to fill her home.
When the pandemic started, Stevens’ photography business struggled to stay afloat. She lost six months of income due to cancellations and rescheduled weddings.
“I knew I needed to find something else quickly, but I didn’t want to go back to a 9 to 5 if I didn’t have to, and of course the job market was scarce,” she says. So [my husband and I] took our savings and poured it into a cactus business, hoping for the best.”
Stevens launched The Cactus Queen last year, operating out of her home. At one point, she had over 500 cacti in her space. In March, The Cactus Queen finally opened its first storefront at Southside on Lamar. The shop carries dozens of varieties, from spiky tabletop plants to towering 10-foot cacti that skim the ceiling.
This specialized inventory is what sets the shop apart from others in Dallas, says Stevens. “Cacti are all I carry,” she says. “I try to stock rare and unique-looking varieties (here’s looking at you, boob cactus), and people love finding them at a great price.”
Cacti are among the hardiest houseplants. They thrive on neglect, so they’re ideal for first-time plant parents, Stevens says.
“I loved plants for so long, but I was always the worst plant parent,” she says. “All of the plants I owned died. All of them. I had never tried to learn anything about them, and just treated them all the same.” Simple Google searches helped her accrue the cacti knowledge she has now, she says, “along with a Texas Cactus & Succulent Facebook group and good ol’ trial and error.“
Now, she’s happy to share that cacti wisdom with customers. “You forget to water your plants? Get a cactus. You forget to even think about your plants? Get a cactus,” she says. “The worst thing I catch people doing is misting their cacti. This isn’t a rainforest plant,” she laughs. “Do you think people are out in the desert misting the cacti?”
After months of business, Stevens still gets excited to head into the loft every day. “I look at all the beautiful plants up close and think of which pieces will speak to people. Some customers get plants that match their personalities perfectly, while others choose to own such a wide variety and keep coming back for more.”
“I’m so thankful this is something I get to do all the time,” she concludes. “It’s been a wild, and pokey, adventure.”
Follow The Cactus Queen at @mycactusbadmycactushood on Instagram. Shop in person inside Southside on Lamar, 1409 Botham Jean Boulevard, on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Send Stevens a message on Instagram to schedule your appointment. Click here to learn about five more plant shops owned by women.