Words by Jess Hagemann Photos by Matt Bradford
You may have seen her set up on downtown 6th Street or holding court in the South Congress arts district, her little wheeled cart popping with pale green and bright purple succulents. If you stopped to peruse the selection of pretty plants, you probably noticed first how unconventionally attractive they are—and second, how attractively priced they are.
“Flowers on the Fly” is the mobile version of Succulent Native, an East 5th succulent shop that on summer weekends takes to the streets to hawk their drought-tolerant wares. While the cart has been in business since 2013, Succulent Native just opened their doors in August 2016, and they’re happy as a cactus in a well-drained pot to be celebrating their one-year anniversary.
Shop owner Shannon Donaldson chalks up Succulent Native’s early success to fair pricing and a healthy Instagram following that brings fans in from all over the state. “Just because succulent arrangements are super trendy right now doesn’t mean they should cost $65,” she says. “I want everybody to be able to take a succulent home.” Accordingly, Succulent Native’s plants and pots average $5 to $12.
Unique to their brick-and-mortar location is a DIY succulent bar. Customers can choose their favorite container from a motley assortment of glazed ceramic pots, antique teacups, and aromatic cedar boxes, or even bring in a container from home. Then they pick a spiny or sumptuous succulent (all are locally-sourced) and a few cheery toppings: zany rainbow-colored rocks or sophisticated sand.
With a BFA in Sculpture, Shannon is really into “functional” art. She previously did visual merchandising for a furniture store and arrangements for a wedding florist before deciding that the varied textures, heights, and colors of succulents appealed most to her sculptor’s eye. Once the “Flowers on the Fly” cart became so popular that she started fielding calls at home on rainy days or for custom Christmas orders, she knew it was time to open a permanent base.
Between the cart and the shop, Succulent Native’s inventory and clients change so often that “you never know what you’ll find” in there. Want to see what Shannon has in stock without leaving the comfort of your home? Ogle her Instagram @succulentnative but be forewarned. On the afternoon I stopped by to say hello, the Purple Hedgehog cacti she’d posted at noon had all but sold out by 2pm. In Shannon’s words, her succulents “sell like crazy pants.”
Secret Recipe for Succulent Success: “Everybody starts as an over-waterer,” Shannon comments. “When really the secret is to barely water the plants at all.” Cactus-looking succulents with spikes thrive on one teaspoon of water once a month. More bulbous succulents (sans spikes) need one teaspoon twice a month.