Altman Plants is the largest distributor of succulents in the U.S.
Altman Plants is the largest distributor of succulents in the U.S.
Business to Business
January 19, 2016

A windowsill hobby becomes big business

A California couple grew their business from a single cactus to a collection in their backyard — and then on to be the largest distributor of succulents in the U.S.

Altman Plants, a wholesale nursery business spanning 1,700 acres in six states, began in Ken and Deena Altman’s backyard in Los Angeles in 1975.

“I still remember the first cactus that we owned blooming on the windowsill of Deena’s apartment,” Ken says.

The couple’s keen interest in plants was a hobby then. The Altmans would take their overflow plants and sell them to local retail nurseries. The retailers, and their customers, loved the unusual and varied plant material.

The Altmans’ business, with Wells Fargo’s help, has since grown into a green giant. The family business is the No. 1 distributor of succulents and other plants in the U.S., distributing through big box stores and grocery stores.

Altman Plants, based in Vista, California, also breeds its own proprietary succulents and hosts a botanical research lab.

The company’s extensive succulents include varieties with catchy names like baby toes, key lime pie, calico kitten, and snowflake. They also sell annuals, perennials and flowering roses.

This location in Vista, California, is one of six Altman Plants sites across the U.S.
This location in Vista, California, is one of six Altman Plants sites across the U.S.

“I think a banking relationship is most important to a company that’s trying to grow,” says Phyllis Schmedake, Altman’s chief financial officer. “You need to have somebody that’s willing to partner with you and see your vision in where you want to take the company.”

Altman’s business includes distributing the plants nationwide with its fleet of trucks, expanding into new buildings and greenhouses, and purchasing land. But Ken and Deena smile when they think back to their roots, an overflowing collection of plants in their sunny California backyard 40 years ago.

“We couldn’t believe that we got this ugly (cactus) plant and then it made this incredible flower, we were just awestruck,” Deena says. “So we started collecting them, and wherever we went we’d look for nurseries and we’d get things that we didn’t have, and before long we had amassed quite a collection.”

Golden Barrel
Yellow Vygie
Queen Victoria Agave
Old Man of the Andes
Moon Cactus
Cubic Frost
Baby Toes
San Pedro Cactus
Jade Necklace
Jelly Beans, Pork & Beans or Christmas Cheer
Crown of Thorns
Golden Barrel: Grows up to 3 feet 2 inches and can live 50-100 years.
Yellow Vygie: “Iceplants” are named for their leaves, which sparkle like ice.
Queen Victoria Agave: Drought tolerant, but also tolerates temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Old Man of the Andes: The “hairs” are protective modified spikes.
Moon Cactus: The chlorophyll-deprived red cacti must be grafted onto other plants.
Cubic Frost: A single, tubular leaf can create an entire new plant.
Baby Toes: These African plants are adapted to live in harsh, arid climates.
San Pedro Cactus: Plant overgrowth results in this fan-like “cristate” condition.
Jade Necklace: This hybrid succulent forms a “stacked pagoda” shape.
Jelly Beans, Pork & Beans or Christmas Cheer: The leaves become red when exposed to cold or drought.
Crown of Thorns: These plants are evergreen and nearly ever-blooming.