Retired zoology professor Dr Bhagwan Prasad Saxena is 78 now, but he retains a teen-like passion and zeal for all that is green, particularly cacti and succulents.
A resident of Sector 30, Saxena, who boasts of the largest cacti succulent collection in the country, is on a mission to pass on his green legacy to youngsters.
“I set up the Indian Society of Cacti Succulents in 1983 to spread awareness about cacti, their healing properties and their other unique virtues. Cacti succulents have a huge business potential as they can be used to make medicines with a minimal investment,” said Saxena, who has helped set up many cacti parks in several cities.
He has named his house ‘Cactus House’ and his three terraces and rooftop have nearly1,550 varieties of cacti.
“I have 150 rare and endangered varieties of plants in my house. I have a plant that can live without water for 1,000 years. I have four rare species of a plant named caralluma that is used in making viagra. Israel had transported this plant from India to make money,” Saxena claimed.
“Many cacti are natural medicines, but people are not aware of this. The sad part is that India is not undertaking much research in this field. I have a plant that can heal a fractured bone in 15 days as compared to medicines that will do it in 30 days and also costs a lot,” he said.
Saxena’s love for cacti led him to stay with former US presdeint Ronald Wilson Reagan for two days during a camp in 1964. Saxena, after graduating from Delhi University, went to the US and studied nine courses from different universities there.
“My fascination with cacti began in 1957, when I met Dr HC Bishnoi (a professor in DU), who had different varieties of cacti in his house in old Delhi. When I saw the cacti, I was attracted to it and started going to his house every day to look at the plants. One day, Bishnoi saw me watching the cacti and introduced me to them. The hobby has turned into a life-long passion,” Saxena said.
Saxena is so passionate about cacti that he used to spend his entire salary on buying plants for his Delhi house. His cacti collection boasts of several plants from countries the American and African continents, besides some typical Indian varieties.
“When I learnt about caralluma during my research, I had to go to Mysore in Karnataka to collect it because it was found only there. I had to stay in a village guesthouse for three days before I finally found the plant in the countryside,” Saxena said.
Today, Saxena is considered an expert on this plant in the country. The Noida floriculture society, among many others, was also formed by Saxena, who shifted to Noida’s Sector 20 in 1995. Saxena has also been featured in the journal of the British Cactus and Succulent Society.