This Coimbatore school teacher has an enviable collection of cacti and succulents

From Shemalatha’s extensive collection
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Departing from traditional rewards, Shemalatha Sundar, a biology teacher, implemented a unique system of awarding cacti to students who achieved top scores in exams. Saravanan, one of her students, fascinated by the cacti, discovered an online marketplace for the plants through Facebook, igniting the spark for a business idea. Shemalatha thus began sharing her cacti online with detailed descriptions and captivating photos, eventually creating a successful business venture.

Rows upon rows of cacti, in every imaginable shape and size, terracotta pots overflowing with cacti and succulents greet us at the terrace of her home in Vadavalli. “It all started with around 200. I now have close to 2,500 varieties,” says Shemalatha.

Shemalatha Sundar

Shemalatha Sundar
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Cactus and succulents are flowering plants that can be grown easily in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Cacti are xerophytic plants adaptable to dry sunny locations with minimal humidity; combined with infrequent watering needs, this makes them a compelling choice for plant enthusiasts.

“There is a wide range of shapes and sizes, from towering columnar structures to globular forms and even flat, prickly pads. This variety allows for the selection of a cactus that complements existing decor and creates a unique focal point within a space,” says Shemlatha.

Despite facing initial resistance due to cultural beliefs associating cacti with bad luck, her business thrived after the pandemic as people adopted gardening and sought low-maintenance indoor plants. Constant care can promote healthy growth of cacti; potting is the key: a mix of river sand, perlite, and coco pit is essential. Fungicide is crucial for the growth of the plant.

Fungicide is crucial for the growth of the plant.

Fungicide is crucial for the growth of the plant.
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Shemalatha has a keen understanding of her customer base. Some people are drawn to the decorative appeal of cacti, while others are avid collectors, seeking to expand their prickly empires. Still others find these succulents a source of stress relief, a welcome addition to their zen spaces.

“I connect with cactus and succulent enthusiasts on Facebook, where I actively participate in relevant groups, sharing details about my plants. Size, height, and price are clearly listed to make it easy for potential customers to find the right cacti,” she says.

Cacti can make for a flexible side hustle option, requiring minimal investment. With years of experience under her belt, Shemalatha shares a valuable tip: to water plants in the evening since cooler temperatures minimise water evaporation from the soil and leaves. This allows the roots to absorb moisture effectively.

Cacti can make for a flexible side hustle option, requiring minimal investment. 

Cacti can make for a flexible side hustle option, requiring minimal investment. 
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

Shemalatha explains that sansevieria is a popular choice for its air-purifying properties and ease of care. While some believe it removes electromagnetic radiation, research suggests its primary benefit lies in improving indoor air quality. Shemalatha has implemented rainwater harvesting system at her home. This sustainable practice utilises collected rainwater for irrigation, promoting healthy plant growth.

A visit to Thailand last year yielded a spiky treasure trove. Shemalatha visited the Chatuchak flower market there to add new varieties to her collection. According to her, even a small space like a windowsill is all one needs to begin a journey into cactus entrepreneurship.

The plants are priced from ₹50 to ₹5,000. Visit her on Instagram @Shemasundar

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