The Cactus Patch
Volume 4       January 2001      Number 1

Ethel M
Chocolate & Cactus

Text and Photos by Stephen Cooley

In December I accompanied my wife to a convention in Las Vegas and we took the opportunity to visit the Ethel M chocolate factory just a short drive to the southeast in Henderson, Nevada. Ethel M was founded by Forrest Mars (one of the M's in M&Ms) because he wanted to create premium chocolates. Also on the factory grounds is a marvelous four acre desert botanical garden featuring Mojave and Southwestern native succulents.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by a roadrunner who ran out of the garden, jumped up on a fence, then down onto the sidewalk to meet us as we walked from the car. He was so friendly that we felt compelled to share a bit of our breakfast with him. Having no snakes or lizards in our larder we offered some of a Hostess donut which he was polite enough to accept before trotting off into the garden again. We proceeded to the factory itself and took the self-guided tour. Being Sunday, not much was going on but we could visualize the machinery and people busily fashioning exquisite chocolates and candies. Then we went into the chocolate store where we were given samples of candy and quickly browsed through the displays and went out into the garden (assuring the ladies at the counter that we would be back to buy some chocolates).

The garden is small compared to the Huntington, but quite large compared to my cactus garden. It has winding paths and benches and is quite shady from the various desert trees. Most of the succulents in the garden seem not to mind the shade as it isn't too dark in most places (and think of the shade should you happen to visit in summer). The landscaping is done in rock, succulents, shrubs and trees. The succulents consist mainly of cacti and agaves with some yucca as well. Here you will find saguaro, ocotillo, barrel cacti, hedgehog cacti, beavertails and chollas.

Those who have been spoiled by frequent visits to the Huntington might find the variety lacking in this garden, but don't overlook it's good points: the garden is landscaped in a way that could be duplicated in a home garden. There are representatives of desert shrubs and trees which make good companions to succulents in a desert garden. The climate of the Las Vegas area is not too different from our own here in Bakersfield with cold temperatures and lack of rain about the same -- meaning that whatever you see growing in the Ethel M garden will most likely grow here as well.

We then took a quick look at the "living machine,' a recycling process which takes all the waste products from the candy making and cleans them up using aquatic plants, algae, bacteria, fish, protozoa, and snails. Amazing! (But that's a whole other article unto itself).

After visiting the garden and the 'machine' we went back into the chocolate shop where we were given more samples (even though we told them it was our second time through) and started the long and arduous task of actually having to decide which chocolates to buy. Though it was difficult, we set our expectations high and then managed to exceed them in the end. From there we went into the plant shop which had various small cacti in pots and dish gardens as well as dish garden kits. They also had books on succulents, cactus jelly, seeds of desert plants & succulents, and various knick-knacks (including a glass saguaro paper weight). We purchased a few items (including a glass saguaro paper weight) and headed for home.

All in all, the Ethel M Cactus Garden is a great place to visit though probably not worth the long drive if it were your only destination. Fortunately, Las Vegas is nearby and a common target for many (even if you don't gamble, the strip has turned into one long shopping mall) and there is a lot of wonderful desert between here and there to make quite an adventure out of the trip -- just pull off the interstate and have a look around.

For more information on Ethel M Chocolates and Cactus go to

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