By the time you read this, the Triffid Ranch will be on the road and set up at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in scenic downtown Austin. Naturally, this means that the gallery won’t be open for Small Business Saturday, but that’s what the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas are for. In the meantime, it’s time to get going.
Hard-copy Dallas Morning News readers saw the Best In DFW Awards listings first, and online readers have to be subscribers to see the listings, but Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery had a singular entry this morning. Specifically, the Texas Triffid Ranch ranked Silver in the “Best Immersive Experience” award, going well with last year’s Bronze for “Best Art Gallery”:
Very seriously, many, many thanks to everyone who voted and who thought the Triffid Ranch worthy of inclusion, and I stand in gratitude alongside the other winners (including our famed goth club Panoptikon, which won Gold for “Best Night Club”). I only hope the ongoing work on the gallery makes it worthy of the award, and just watch out for 2023.
EDIT: The Best In DFW site is no longer subscription-only, and the winners are listed in alphabetical order. Interestingly, the print edition has updated contact information, but the Web site associated apparently hasn’t been updated since 2016. And so it goes.
Last weekend before things get weird around the Triffid Ranch: the gallery opens on November 19 from noon until 5:00 pm, complete with debuts of new enclosures, with the usual “admission is free, masks are appreciated” disclaimer. This will be the last gallery open house until December 3 with the start of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses: next weekend, everything gets packed up and hauled down to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show at the Palmer Events Center in downtown. For various reasons, this will run a lot more smoothly than last year’s, mostly due to the horrendous highway construction in Waco being over. (For those who never had to make the road trip from Dallas to Austin, Waco was both the halfway mark and direct pathway to at least three discrete levels of Hell, with highway construction and expansion narrowing the highway to one lane for over a decade, and not being caught up in a 90-minute traffic jam in Waco is a relief and a blessing.) If you’re in Austin or the vicinity next weekend, I’ll see you there.
For those obligated to stay in Dallas, the Triffid Ranch opens again in December, and just in time for a special announcement from the Best of DFW Awards. That announcement comes out on Sunday, November 20, so feel free to check back. Just get prepped for December 3, okay?
Oh, and before I forget, next Tuesday is The 59th, so be prepared. And no, I don’t have any sonic screwdrivers to spare.
We’re now on the final approach on the end of 2022, with all this entails. Combine last week’s weather’s repeated flirtations with freezing temperatures with this week’s blatant PDAs, and the flytraps and pitcher plants are now nicely on their way to their needed dormancy. What this means is that the early morning hours previously dedicated to watering and weeding can be put toward other productive efforts, as well as having an excellent excuse for staying indoors. Yep, it’s time to get back to the gallery renovation.
Besides the ongoing buildup in the front area and hallway, the back and main gallery continues with its creative reconstruction, including a massive expansion of display space. This, of course, means a comparable expansion of new enclosures to fill said space. The plan is to have the whole gallery filled by mid-February, with the hope for at least one new unique enclosure every other week. Naturally, this is dependent upon how badly the various celestial and infernal forces that run the universe want to mess with the schedule, but that’s the hope.
As for shows and events away from the gallery, the last show outside of Dallas for 2022 comes in next week, when the Triffid Ranch heads out for its sixth Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show, out at the Palmer Events Center in downtown Austin. After coming back, there’s a very good likelihood of other one-evening shows throughout the rest of the year, and I’m just awaiting word. Obviously, they’re at times that don’t conflict with the return of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses through December, because those are now practically a tradition around here, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we’re going to need a good dose of green on Saturday afternoons this December.
In related developments, the gallery had one more visitor than the usual open house logs showed: client appointments occasionally bring up all sorts of surprises. In this case, the critter above showed up while waiting for a client, saw the “SUCKER” neon sign on my forehead, and moved right in. All efforts to find who he belongs to (he’s been chipped and declawed, although the chip apparently gives the contact info for a pet rescue shut down since lockdown and never updated) have been for naught, so now his name is “Parker,” because from the moment I wake up in the morning, he’s wanting to talk about the bonus situation. Please come by the gallery at the next event (including the open house on November 19) and buy lots of plants, because what spare funds that aren’t going into the pet deposit are going into food, and he eats a LOT.
Finally, after the concern earlier this year about having to move or shut down the gallery based on the purchase of the industrial park in which it sits, there may be some interesting and much appreciated developments in 2023. Let’s get through the holiday season before worrying about that, though. December is going to be weird enough.
18 months after the first Triffid Ranch carnivorous Plant Porch Sale started out of expediency, they have to stop for a while. The biggest reason is for allowing all of the temperate carnivorous plants in the inventory to go dormant for the winter, and this coincides with a massive cold wave hitting in the second week of November that regularly pushed or exceeded freezing temperatures for most of the Dallas area. The threadleaf pitcher plants lost their famed leaves and died back to their core, the triggerplants lost their blooms, the Sarracenia pitcher plants show the first signs of windburn at the tips of their pitchers, the “Aki Ryu” Venus flytraps are all the color of fresh pomegranate juice, and all is right with the world. This means that subsequent Triffid Ranch shows won’t have any of these until at least the end of March, and that’s exactly how it should be.
That last first weekend in November, though, was absolutely perfect for the last opportunity to show off what all of the plants would look like come spring, and a great opportunity as well to show off their insect-capturing adaptations. If I had to design a final weekend for outdoor Triffid Ranch shows, I literally couldn’t have done better than that weekend, and it just means that besides subsequent open houses being indoors, I now have only four months to make plans for how to exceed this for 2023.
As mentioned earlier, while this is the end of the outdoor show season at the Triffid Ranch, it’s not the end of Triffid Ranch shows and events in general. Right now, November 19 marks the last open house of the month, but that’s only because everything is going into a truck and heading to Austin for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show at Palmer Events Center on November 26 and 27. The subsequent Monday morning, everything comes back to Dallas in preparation for the return of the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses, where the Triffid Ranch is open every Saturday in December, including Christmas Eve. And that’s just the events at the gallery: as with the rest of the year, this December is going to be the busiest since the gallery opened, and as soon as I get confirmation on a couple of events, I’ll get the word out.
In the meantime, many thanks to everyone who came out for Porch Sales this year, both first-timers and regulars. I promised lots of surprises this time last year for 2022, and you’ll really be surprised at what’s coming for 2023.
The end of October is always a very bittersweet time around the Triffid Ranch, and finishing off the growing season Autumn at the Arboretum at the Dallas Arboretum was particularly so. Yes, so many of the plants on display were going into winter dormancy and wouldn’t be capturing prey until March and April. Yes, with one exception, this marked the last non-gallery show of 2022. The end of October is especially painful for personal reasons, and previous memories are now broken beyond repair. However, this was the culmination of what has been the absolute best year the Texas Triffid Ranch has ever seen, and the looks on visitors’ faces as they had the chance to see a live flytrap for the first time or watch a pitcher plant attract flies made up for any remorse or regret. If there had to be a big signoff for the 2022 growing season, the Arboretum was the place to do it
On that note, I would like to give a shoutout to the staff at the Dallas Arboretum, who did an exemplary job at helping me get set up and broken down every day, and who were just as fascinated by the plants’ antics as the attendees. I want to give equal thanks to the attendees and visitors who kept peppering me with fascinating and lively questions about carnivore physiology and distribution, and a hurrah to my fellow vendors, who also had such a great weekend that I’d watch them leave hours before official closing because they were completely sold out. Oh, and both security and maintenance at the Arboretum deserve accolades, too: all of you had a serious job from open to close, and it was an honor to be among such professionals.
Further plans with the Arboretum? Since the original lecture was rained out, the next Learn to Grow lecture is officially on the schedule for May 5, 2023. Other than that, the Arboretum crew is focused right now on holiday events, but I would be ecstatic to be able to come back and show off carnivores again. As soon as I get word, I’ll pass it on.
The cold front hitting Dallas this weekend makes us all VERY glad we’re not trying to conduct outdoor shows: the 2022 Porch Sales are officially over, so that means that this weekend’s open house moves inside. The Triffid Ranch opens on Saturday from noon until 5:00 pm: the flytraps and North American pitcher plants are now going into winter dormancy, but the gallery will have a lot of other plants, including some new surprises. It’s the beginning of a new season for carnivorous plant enclosures, so people coming out this weekend get to be the first people on the planet to see Texas Triffid Ranch 3.0 in its next stage.
A little secret for those wanting to see carnivorous plants in action: whether it’s in the wild or in captivity, the absolute best time is in late autumn. Firstly, most carnivores are at their greatest size and best color in order to attract insects before they go dormant, storing the nitrogen and phosphorus gathered in those final days in preparation for reemerging in spring. (This is way beyond my abilities at the moment, but any enterprising biology and botany students looking for ideas on a paper likely to get lots of popular and professional news coverage should look at the sheer number of insects caught in Sarracenia pitchers and ascertain whether the plant absorbs nutrients during its normal dormancy or if the plant only accesses and processes the insect stew inside the old pitchers after it starts to bloom. Either would help explain why so many Sarracenia pitchers remain green throughout the winter, only dying off after new pitchers start up again during the next growing season.) Secondly, the potential insect population is at its height, and it’s hungry. The normal sources for nectar and sap for insects such as flies, wasps, bees, and moths trickle dry by the middle of autumn, and those insects are determined to stave off dying of starvation for as long as they can. With many, it’s going for unattended soda or margaritas, but a lot go for the voluminous nectar secreted by various carnivorous plants, and they get frantic for what usually becomes their last meal.
The resultant arthropod feeding frenzy made showing carnivores at the Autumn at the Arboretum exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum particularly, erm, riveting. It’s one thing to discuss dispassionately how carnivores attract and capture insect prey. It’s something different when a crowd of twenty to thirty people watch different insects at different plants to see which one falls into a pitcher first, complete with cheers and groans when a big fly or sweat bee succumbs to the promise of more nectar in a pitcher float and doesn’t reemerge.
A little aside that the Arboretum attendees didn’t get to experience: driving a van full of pitcher plants back to the gallery on a Sunday evening and listening to the angry buzzes of insects trying to escape their impending tombs. One of these days, I’ll have to record audio: the only thing creepier is when the Sarracenia leucophylla pitchers first emerge and open toward the middle of May, only to fill with click beetles. I can only imagine a field of leucos with every pitcher loaded with click beetles, all thumping the inside of the pitchers as the sun comes up and the pitchers start warming in the sun.
To be continued…
As mentioned previously, there’s just something special about autumn shows in Texas, especially on Halloween weekend. The air no longer smells like burning flint, the ground is slightly springy, and the local flora just explodes to take advantage of the remaining days. It will end sooner or later, whether by sudden near-freezes at the beginning of November or by the expected sleet and cold front on New Year’s Day, and we all know it, which is why we get out as much as we can while the magic is still out there. For now, the trees still have leaves and the birds are still out, and there’s no telling what you might encounter in quiet spots away from the road.
The Dallas Arboretum‘s Autumn at the Arboretum annual event manages to capture that magic, which is why Autumn at the Arboretum is one of the biggest events in the Dallas area as we slide toward the end of Daylight Savings Time. Outside for a few precious hours without burning up under the daystar, with others equally amazed that they aren’t having to stop every few steps to rehydrate, all comparing notes on the lovely “Black Pearl” pepper plants throughout the Arboretum (and the Dallas Arboretum is still the place to demonstrate the versatility of the Black Pearl as a landscaping plant) and just stopping to sigh over the views of White Rock Lake in early afternoon.
Suffice to say, this was a perfect weekend to introduce the general Dallas public to the physiology and natural history of carnivorous plants, especially after the very real risk of Saturday rainstorms melted away. Once the likelihood of being washed into the storm sewers and sent toward the Gulf of Mexico was over, the festivities really got going. Every October should end with this level of celebration.
To be continued…
As mentioned in the past, multiple times, one of the great joys of living in the Dallas area is that once autumn finally sets in, it seems to go on forever. Once we finally get free of summer temperatures from the end of September to the middle of October, it’s not just safe to go outside, but there’s so blasted much to do outside that the challenge is not to wear yourself out. The days are just long enough, and the weather enjoyable enough, that it’s even harder to go to bed on Sunday and go back to work on Monday than at other times of the year. Spring in Dallas is beautiful, but autumn in Dallas is glorious, and half of the time, it keeps going until the middle of December. In other words, it’s a perfect time for a carnivorous plant show at the Dallas Arboretum.
For those unfamiliar with the Dallas area, the Arboretum resides on the east side of White Rock Lake, Dallas’s original drinking water reservoir and major recreational site for the surrounding area. This means that the Arboretum alternates between its own unique exhibits and gardens and spectacular views of White Rock Lake and downtown Dallas to the west. During the main growing season, the Children’s Adventure Garden and the Rose Garden are justifiably famous, but one of the biggest events of the year is Autumn at the Arboretum, with the whole of the Arboretum appropriately decorated with fall foliage and ornaments. For those of us who resist the shift over to holiday displays and continue to scream “THIS IS HALLOWEEN” until after New Year’s Eve, Autumn at the Arboretum makes the inevitable slide to Dallas winter a little more tolerable. Oh, and did I mention the pumpkins? SO MANY PUMPKINS.
It was both an honor and surprise to be invited to show off carnivorous plants at the Arboretum this year: Arboretum staff had tried to get something on the schedule for a while (I’m proud to say that many of the Sarracenia in the carnivorous plant pool in the Children’s Adventure Garden are Triffid Ranch donations), but this was the first year everything actually clicked. After the deluge on Friday, the last weekend of October was cool and friendly, not so cool that jackets were necessary but also not so warm that visitors ended their perambulations early. You couldn’t have planned a better weekend than this for one last big outdoor show before all of the temperate carnivores started going dormant for the year, and the Triffid Ranch couldn’t have had a better location than right inside the front gate.
To be continued…
After Halloween, things slow significantly as far as Triffid Ranch shows are concerned. The flytraps and North American pitcher plants need to go into winter dormancy if they’re going to stay hale and healthy, and winter shows mean a significant risk of overly cold weather on the road, which hits the tropical carnivores in all sorts of ways. In the Dallas area, November events are always a little fraught, because we can have absolutely spectacular weather for the entirety of the month, we can have a repeat of 1993 and get subfreezing temperatures for two weeks, or we can have a repeat of 2016 and get hit with unnaturally hot conditions all the way into December. It’s a pleasure to report that at least this year, the first weekend of November was one of the best your humble gallery owner has ever encountered since moving here the first time in 1979, leading to the opportunity to drag plants to not one but two events on the same weekend. The first one, on November 5, was of especial note, because it involved Dallas’s premier goth club and event center, Panoptikon in downtown Dallas.
First, a bit of backstory. Over the last 15 years, Panoptikon has migrated around the Dallas area before settling in its current location, and always with the idea of doing more than simply being a nightclub. When the original Triffid Ranch location opened, the owners announced something a bit different: a goth flea market, where regulars and occasional attendees could bring used items, new items, and handmade items and spread the wealth in various ways. If nothing else, that original flea market was a venue where I met friends who still stay in touch to this day, and the original idea was to try holding future events every year or so.
As you can tell, it didn’t happen that way, but not for lack of trying. Between other events intruding, COVID-19, and getting vendors for the market, it took a while. That isn’t a permanent state, though, and this is the start of a partnership, to go with the dear friendship of the owners, for future Triffid Ranch presence at Panoptikon events. Now that the Porch Sales are over for the year, expect guest vendor appearances in the future, including more goth flea markets and charity events (you haven’t lived until you see the outpouring of support for toy drives during the holiday season), and I want to reciprocate for Panoptikon staff and crew events at the gallery as well. The live music feeds Panoptikon ran during lockdown kept me reasonably sane all through 2020 and 2021, and it’s time to return the favor.
One of the absolutes about any kind of horticulture lecture is “if the weather can ruin it, it will.” The plans for a discussion on carnivorous plants as part of the Learn to Grow series at the Dallas Arboretum originally started in spring, and traditionally October is a rather dry month for month. When the rains do come, though, watch out.
The morning of October 28 ran thusly: rain, rain, more rain, torrential downpours, and the occasional Texas Wall O’ Water. The area desperately needed that rainfall, and there’s something supremely beautiful about the Arboretum in heavy mist, but the constant warnings from the National Weather Service all week involving “waters of the firmament” kept potential lecture attendees from venturing out. Was this an issue? Absolutely not. Not only was the Arboretum filled with people wanting to see the Autumn at the Arboretum arrangements no matter what, but this was a perfect opportunity to meet Arboretum staff who had lots and lots of questions about carnivorous plant care. Sure, the lecture didn’t happen, but the discussions accomplished a lot of good.
As for future Dallas Arboretum lectures, the Learn to Grow lecture was rescheduled for May 5, 2023. This works out perfectly for multiple reasons: among other things, the traditional Texas Frightmare Weekend show usually scheduled for that weekend was moved to the end of May, meaning that the Triffid Ranch returns to the Arboretum loaded with flytraps, sundews, butterworts, bladderworts, and pitcher plants loaded with blooms. And if it rains again…well, speaking from 40 years of experience, May storms in Dallas are flashier than October storms, but they’re a lot more comfortable. Let’s see what happens.
The rest of 2022 is shaping up to be the busiest the Triffid Ranch has ever seen, and it all starts this weekend. Because they need a good winter dormancy, this weekend is the absolute last weekend where Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants will be available until next April, so it’s time for two shows: the Goth Flea Market and Cocktails at Panoptikon in downtown Dallas on Saturday from noon until 4:00 pm, and then the absolutely last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale on Sunday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. A lot more events are in the planning stages, including the now-traditional Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses in December, but this is vital for a lot of reasons. If you need more information, check it out.
Several bits of ephemera before a busy week of site updates, because if you thought this was a busy year, wait until 2023. Speaking of this year, due to significant interest in upcoming gallery events thanks to Good Morning Texas, the planned last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of 2022 has been bumped forward a bit, with the absolute last one for this year running on Sunday, November 6 from 10 am to 3 pm. This will be the absolute last, final, full-stop, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die chance to view or purchase Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants, because when they go back into dormancy starting in mid-November, that’s it until next April. Bestir thyselves on Sunday or miss out.
Also, now that the official announcement is out, it’s time to get the word out about the 2023 Oddities & Curiosities Expo shows. The Oddities & Curiosities Expos are undergoing through a bit of a change next year, with additional shows in new cities (the only reason why I’m not schlepping plants to Houston next year is that the Houston show is literally the weekend before the Dallas one), and existing ones either getting an additional day or much larger venues. The Austin O&C show on June 17 still runs at the Palmer Event Center, but the Dallas Expo on March 25 moved from the old Fair Park location to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. For those outside of Dallas, this means a much larger venue, considerably more parking, hotel space for out-of-towners within walking distance, and multiple Dallas Area Rapid Transit train routes passing by, or in the case of the Red Line, passing directly under the Center. Between these and Texas Frightmare Weekend, it’s going to be a lively new year.
By the time you read this, the first of three days showing carnivorous plants at the Dallas Arboretum will be complete, with two more to go. If you’re already going to the Arboretum to see the Autumn at the Arboretum exhibition, the Triffid Ranch tables should be up near the front entrance. If you can’t make it, check back with Good Morning Texas on Monday morning: my grandmother’s 99th birthday would have been Monday, so it’s particularly appropriate.
For what was originally intended to be a temporary drive-up event deep in the throes of Dallas COVID lockdown, the Triffid Ranch Porch Sales have turned out to be remarkably popular and successful. A quarter of a decade after the first, not only are they going strong, but new visitors courtesy of Atlas Obscura and the Dallas Observer keep coming. In a better world, the Porch Sales would continue all year, but two factors keep getting in the way. The first is that the temperate carnivores, particularly the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants, have to go into dormancy over the winter, which means they’re usually looking pretty scraggly by New Year’s Eve. The second is the reason they’re looking scraggly: we may not get below freezing in the Dallas area until the end of the year, but it gets cold enough, and setting up and tearing down a tent in near-freezing torrential rains is entertainment for a certain type of person I hope never to meet. Thus, with great regret, future Triffid Ranch events move inside for the year and into 2023, because visitors would prefer to get out from the torrential rains, too.
With that said, I wish to express the greatest thanks to everyone coming out for Porch Sales in 2023, from the families wanting to see live carnivorous plants for the first time to the regulars who just wanted to see what I was up to THIS time. A lot of plans were delayed this year due to circumstances, but the idea is to bring a whole new level to the Porch Sales next year, and I hope we can all have a blast with it when they restart next March or April. Since the Deep Ellum Arts Festival isn’t coming back, somebody has to step in and fill the niche.
Now, this isn’t the last Triffid Ranch event of 2022, and it may not even be the absolute last Porch Sale. The Triffid Ranch moves to the Dallas Arboretum on October 28 through 30, with a Learn to Grow presentation at 11:00 am Friday and then an ongoing plant show all weekend, and then we hop over to the famed Dallas goth club Panoptikon for the return of the Panoptikon Flea Market/Cookout/Cocktails on November 5. Thanks to a big upcoming development (of which you’ll hear much on Halloween), the gallery will probably open on November 6 for folks who couldn’t make the Panoptikon Flea Market. After that? Sleep. Blessed sleep, alongside the Sarracenia if I can help it.
The truism “If you don’t like Texas weather, wait five minutes” should come with an addendum: “You have four minutes to do EVERYTHING.” October weather makes things worse: Dallasites know in particular that when the weather shifts, it does so catastrophically, so a vague prediction of rain or thunderstorms leads everyone to rush out while the opportunity exists, or batten down and rush back outside once the debris stops falling. For those living in areas where everyone salivates over knowing exactly when a school-closing snowstorm hits, you understand the situation better than you know.
Hiding inside in anticipation, though, means missing out on some of the clearest skies you’ll ever see, which made the Crow’s Alley Flea Market gathering at Outfit Brewing such a relaxing experience. After the repeated near-tornadoes of September, getting out under clear and crisp evening skies for a plant show was worth the effort. The Crow’s Alley crew was both cheery and helpful, and working with them again is an option for next year. Outfit Brewing is a singularly cheery place, even for an involuntary non-drinker like me, and setting up in the interior courtyard was an honor. Once the weather allows more outdoor shows in spring, coming back to show off blooming carnivores is definitely in the cards.
Sadly, the window of outdoor event-friendly weather is closing, with the last outdoor Triffid Ranch show of 2022 running at the Dallas Arboretum from October 28 through 30 (and with the current weather forecast threatening inundation, thankfully the Friday show will be inside), but the plan for 2023 is to hit the ground running in April. With skies like these, it’s worth it.
This next week is going to get busy even by Triffid Ranch standards, and my threats to develop a vaccine for sleep may stop being mere threats. Details will follow soon enough, but my parents are going to be severely disappointed once again. It’s to the point where this weekend’s Porch Sale may not actually be the absolute last one for 2022 (come out on Saturday between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm to see the explosion of Sarracenia leucophylla this autumn): again, details will follow.
This weekend, the Triffid Ranch hits the road…well, a little. The plan is to head down Interstate 35 to Outfit Brewing on Saturday, October 15 for the latest Crow’s Alley Flea Market, running from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm. With luck, we won’t get rained out. See you there.
On final approach to the end of the year, and Busy Season at the Triffid Ranch is up and going from now until New Year’s Eve. Some of the frantic activity is due to the Halloween season, where everybody wants to get spooooooky plants. Some of the frantic activity is because of the impending general holiday season. The biggest burst of action, though, comes from the drastic changes at the gallery since the end of last year, and it’s time to ride that all the way into 2023.
(And along that line, it’s time to ask a favor of regular attendees and occasional visitors, as well as those understanding of the sad reality that currently polystyrene is a plastic nearly impossible to recycle with current technology. To wit, I’m looking for odd-looking Styrofoam packaging, such as from appliances [the inserts holding the rotating trays of microwave ovens are very desired], as well as any other chunks otherwise destined for the landfill, in order to finish up the back area of the gallery before the weather gets foul. Please feel free to give a shout if you have something you need to get rid of, and I’m very happy to pick up.)
Because this is the busy season as far as carnivorous plants are concerned, the Triffid Ranch is going to be on the road quite a bit for the next few weeks, including booths with the Crow’s Alley Flea Market on October 15 and Dallas’s best goth club Panoptikon on November 5, but the biggest event so far is the three-day lecture and show at the Dallas Arboretum on October 28 through 30. (As much as I’d love to have an event on Halloween night, various situations conspire to keep that from happening, but the last Triffid Ranch Porch Sale of 2022 starts on Saturday, October 22 at 10:00 am and runs until 3:00 pm, out in front of the gallery.) For those seeking temperate carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps or North American pitcher plants, the Panoptikon Goth Garage Sale will be the last time until next April where you can buy either, as they all really need to go dormant for the winter after that. (Tropical carnivores such as Asian pitcher plants and sundews are available all year round, so don’t let that stop you from coming to upcoming events.)
As for gallery events, the rush of events in October means that the gallery won’t have another open house until the middle of November, but that means that the place will have a new rush of enclosures debuting by November 19. I won’t say much more, other than that the last few months of work combine new enclosure concepts with new materials and new plants, meaning that new visitors to the gallery are going to be extremely surprised by the time the annual Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas weekend events start on December 3.
And on that subject, because of other developments, it’s time to announce that those wanting custom plant enclosures for the holiday season need to make an appointment by November 23, because booking spaces are going to be filled until after the beginning of January 2023. As it is, based on last year, this will be the first year where new enclosure designs are going to be stockpiled until there’s room to plant and display them, because even with the gallery expansion and renovation, it’s a matter of available room.
Finally, we’re still two months out, but now is a good time to mention plans for a New Year’s Eve event at the gallery, early enough that people can come out before going to planned NYE parties but with the opportunity to thank everyone who has stuck with this silly little endeavor for the last year. So far this year, this has been the best the Triffid Ranch has ever seen, and it’s time to return the love. Keep checking back for details, but I have Ideas.
A regular question at Triffid Ranch events and shows involves the notice on the ID tags for North American pitcher plants and Australian triggerplants: “Put into dormancy in winter.” Quite understandably, this concerns beginning carnivorous plant keepers, because “put into dormancy” implies all sorts of laborious and detailed activities that they may or may not have time to do. Many online guides to carnivorous plant care recommend a full dormancy period in winter, but don’t give much in the way of details. Others go well into overload, and yet others instill a near-panic about dormancy. The other questions involve which plants require a winter dormancy, which ones wouldn’t mind a good nap, and which ones don’t need it at all. And to make it even more complex, a few popular carnivores need a summer dormancy instead of a winter dormancy, waiting until things cool down to reach their full potential.
To distill it down to basics, dormancy is when perennial flowering plants shut down or slow down during winter to conserve energy and store energy for future growth. By way of example, roses lose their leaves in winter but continue to photosynthesize through their stems, resprouting new leaves each spring. Irises spend the winter catching as much light as possible while the weather holds, storing the captured energy in the form of starch in rhizomes below the soil surface and resuming growth and blooming after the last risk of freezing. Tulips and daffodils spend the year catching light and then die back to bulbs in autumn to wait out winter. A majority of carnivorous plants use the same strategies to get through potentially harsh winter weather, with the main difference being that carnivores require a lot of energy to produce traps, nectar, adhesive if applicable, and digestive enzymes on top of the energy needed for blooming. This is why many species need a dormancy over the winter, so they can focus on energy storage and not on new growth or on digesting captured prey. Even tropical species that don’t require a dormancy won’t mind a shortened photoperiod, which gives them time to catch their metaphorical breaths and save a bit of energy for their next big growth spurt.
(A little sideroute. When carnivorous plant people talk about “temperate” versus “tropical” plants, they’re talking about plants that live in areas that get down to or below freezing in the winter versus plants that live in areas where the temperatures never get below 50F/10C. Temperate plants include North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), Venus flytraps (Dionea muscipula), English sundews (Drosera anglica), and common butterworts (Pinguicula vulgaris). Tropical species generally include Asian pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.), Mexican butterworts (Pinguicula spp.), and most Australian sundews, particularly Drosera adelae. Many genera of carnivores, particularly sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts, have species that run the gamut from near-Arctic to equatorial, so knowing which species is which can be really important to keeping a particular plant alive. Each group has different requirements or requests, but usually don’t require a lot of care during that dormancy other than light and regular waterings.
(Another sidenote. If you’re just starting with carnivorous plants, or you know someone who is, odds are pretty good that you or they started with a prepackaged carnivorous plant ensemble. These usually arrive in garden centers or home improvement centers with a Venus flytrap, a North American pitcher plant, and either a sundew or a butterwort, but sometimes with tropical species such as Asian pitcher plants mixed in. In the Northern Hemisphere, the end of October is a good time to separate these and put them in several different pots: some may get along well together, but keeping flytraps with Sarracenia usually doesn’t turn out well, and keeping flytraps with Nepenthes is a good way to kill one or the other or both. If you know that a group of plants thrive together in the wild or in captivity, leave them alone, but often it’s better to separate them for everyone’s sake.)
The next question that comes up is “How long should keep my plant in dormancy?” Here in North Texas, I generally tell Americans “From Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day,” translating to “from the end of November to the middle of March” for everyone else. Around here, those dates pretty much mark the beginning and the end of freezing weather, although we have been known to extend that on either side a bit. Obviously, at higher latitudes, freezing weather will hit a lot sooner in the year, so check for your area’s frost zones. The big thing to remember is that dormancy is encouraged more by a shortened photoperiod than the temperature itself, so try to protect your plant or plants from streetlights or other lights that might throw that off.
Still confused? The following are guidelines based on 20 years of carnivorous plant growing in the North Texas area, and may be modified for your particular area and conditions. (Disclaimer: these are recommendations, and the Texas Triffid Ranch takes no responsibility for loss or damage caused by anomalous weather conditions or other factors outside of the gallery’s control. All readers follow these guidelines at their own risk.) The one absolute on every group is to make sure to keep your plants at least moist through the winter. If it dries out, it almost always won’t come back.
Outdoor Temperate Plants
With plants best kept under full sun under temperate conditions, such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants, trim off any dead leaves or traps and keep them outside. If your area gets strong prevailing winds in winter, try to protect your plants from the wind, as it will dry them out, but otherwise leave them in full sun and keep them moist all winter. If temperatures get especially cold (below 20F/–7C), cover them with plastic sheeting or an old bedsheet for the duration, but remove it when the worst of the cold is over. If the particularly cold period lasts less than a week, don’t worry about the plants, but keep an eye on the pot or container in which the plants reside, as these can and usually will be damaged by long periods of subfreezing temperatures. For subfreezing temperatures lasting more than a week, the plants can be brought inside temporarily (try to put them in places with plenty of light but temperatures cooler than room temperature, if possible, such as mud rooms or laundry rooms with outside windows), and move them back outside as soon as the risk of severe temperatures is over.
Also, while most outdoor carnivores will keep green traps or leaves going, Australian triggerplants have a tendency to go scruffy by late October and then die back entirely by December. Do NOT throw them out, as they come back from their roots in spring. This goes double if the plant appeared to die after a massive freeze: if anything, a good solid freeze seems to encourage lots of blooms.
A special note: if you keep your plant in a ceramic container with a lot of sentimental or other value, moving the plant temporarily to a plastic container over the winter is very highly recommended. The water in the plant’s substrate can and will expand and split or chip the pot, especially in narrower pots.)
And a side discussion on refrigerators. A lot of older print guides suggest that for folks living in areas that don’t get cold enough to set off dormancy, rhizomes and bulbs can be uprooted gently, wrapped loosely in wet long-fiber sphagnum moss, and put in the refrigerator. Since that prevents the plant from getting light during the winter, this should be kept to a minimum, but it IS a good way to store Sarracenia rhizomes, leaves cut off first, until spring planting. Whatever happens, do NOT put your plant in the freezer unless you’re really bored with frozen spinach and want a new taste experience.
Outdoor Tropical Plants
If you happen to live in an area with high humidity but where temperatures go below 50F/10C, tropical carnivores such as Nepenthes pitcher plants will need to come inside over the winter. Over the winter, they’re best kept in high-humidity areas (bathrooms are usually perfect for this, especially with multiple people using the shower in the morning) with either a lot of light through windows or artificial light. Barring that, to deal with how dry most houses are in the winter, look into either a mister or ultrasonic fogger blowing mist or dripping onto the plants through the day. Honestly, a combination of natural and artificial light is best, but try to keep the latter to about 8 hours a day, matching the light outside as best as possible. This won’t guarantee blooms in spring (or, in the case of Mexican butterworts, blooms in late winter), but it should encourage them. When the low temperatures outdoors get high enough in spring to move your plants back outdoors, do so carefully by letting it acclimate to full sun gradually over the space of a couple of weeks. Do NOT just put it out in the sun without acclimation unless you want a critically sunburnt plant.
Indoor Temperate Plants
Several carnivores commonly offered for sale, such as Cape sundews (Drosera capensis), primrose butterworts (Pinguicula primulflora), and Australian pitcher plants (Cephalotus follicularis) are adapted to colder temperatures but don’t necessarily need a full winter dormancy. They won’t mind a good rest, though, and cutting back on their hours of light over the winter may encourage a blooming response in spring. This is especially true of South American pitcher plants (Heliamphora spp.), which love cooler temperatures anyway and bloom enthusiastically in spring if given a good real or simulated winter. Follow the advice for outdoor tropical plants above for light scheduling, and try to keep them in the cooler parts of the house or office if possible.
Indoor Tropical Plants
For Nepenthes pitcher plants, tropical sundews, tropical bladderworts, and other carnivorous plants already being kept inside, just keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working. If you want to encourage blooming, switch to a shorter photoperiod, but otherwise a 12-hour on/12-hour off cycle works beautifully. In addition, feel free to mist your plants more heavily during the winter months: not only will this compensate for heaters or other factors lowering the indoor humidity, but it sometimes encourages new growth and blooming by making the plant think that it’s in the middle of monsoon season.
Finally, there’s the last big question regularly asked: “And what happens if you miss your dormancy period?” If you get a Venus flytrap as a gift in mid-winter and putting it outside just simply isn’t an option, don’t kill yourself. If anything, keep it inside under lights over the winter so it can hit the ground running in spring, but follow a dormancy regimen the next fall. Flytraps are an extreme example, but as a rule they can live through one winter without dormancy but won’t live through two. Does that help?
For those outside of Dallas, this weekend is Texas-OU Weekend, and all this really means to anybody outside is that downtown is going to be full of cosplayers living out the best documentary about the pregame festivities ever made. For those with an aversion to streets turned into rivers of margarita vomit and displays of boorish insecurity both on and off the football field, head north and gaze upon peace at the Porch Sale on Saturday running from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. I promise: no pennants, no foam fingers, and absolutely no demonstrations of either alcohol poisoning or levamisole toxicity. To quote a childhood hero, “No flowers in this town. Only carnivorous plants.”
For every subculture, there’s that one seemingly unattainable artifact that sums up the hopes and dreams of so many of its members. For computer buffs, it’s a piece of Charles Babbage’s original Difference Engine prototype, complete with Lady Ada Lovelace’s holotype programming guide. For chess fanatics, it’s the original Morphy Watch. For comics people, it’s the hope of finding a pristine copy of Detective Comics #27, and the chance to gaze upon one of the only remaining copies featuring the debut of Batman. For us tiki enthusiasts, it is and always was about the Golden Moai.
Okay, so you don’t get tiki culture. No big deal. I understand. It’s like people who don’t get the fascination with rugby or model trains or the artwork of HR Giger. If you can’t understand why people would give up time and effort to travel following the Grateful Dead or go to Burning Man or watch the Tour De France, you’ll never understand why tiki enthusiasts get so, well, enthusiastic. No skin off our noses. If you DO get it, though, you’ll find a welcome to the culture that makes kaiju people or burlesque fans look positively emotionless.
With every genre or subculture, you have two constants. The first is a patois sans glossary, a shorthand that everybody inside understands but that can’t really be explained without experience. If you explain it, you’re likely to explain too much, and that destroys the magic. The other is that there’s always one item or concept that perfectly encapsulates that little part of the culture that defies explanation. Think of an Euclidean ideal for the inherent mystery, that accents the mystery because of its rarity and memetic power. Don’t think of a splinter of the True Cross, but think of the sole surviving nail.
After a while, after you’ve gone past the collecting stage and the composing stage and the cooking stage and the “bleeding Dole Whip and rum” stage, you start to hear from your fellow tiki enthusiasts about the Golden Moai. Hints, suggestions, hidden longings. Naturally, it’s not actually gold: the idea of an actual golden sculpture being shuttled on Polynesian outriggers is as ridiculous as M-60 mounts on a Viking longboat. The suppositions, though, when people who searched or even claimed to view it got a little into their cups late at night, was that it might as well have been. This wonderful artifact, carved from a stone that evoked greenstone and rainbow obsidian, was inherently ridiculous. Even more ridiculous was that if you stared into the stone’s deep shifting iridescence long enough, it tapped into the viewer’s longing and helped them get there. People say lots, and drunk people say lots more, and the Golden Moai was just one of those tales that touched all of the buttons in your head.
Yes, naturally it hit all of my own buttons. Yes, I searched for years, for hints and clues as to where it was. Every time someone found it, they made a point of hiding it somewhere else. If you didn’t give it up after you found it, the magic wouldn’t happen, and the better the hiding spot, the better the magic worked. The previous handler was absolutely brilliant in hiding it, but receipts and travel logs and passport stamps will tell. There’s no need to go through all of that now. All that mattered is that I dug it out of a cairn of rock in what used to be Leilani Estates in Hawaii, looked deep into the iridescence that looked so much like a solidified gold and green dust devil, and wished desperately to leave. To go somewhere I could be alone with my thoughts, a tropical paradise with no demands on my time other than what I chose. The ultimate dream of every tiki advocate, right?
I’m glad that I learned navigation by astronomy, because it not only gave me an idea of where I went, but when. I found my tropical paradise, all right: to the best I can figure, I’m somewhere in what will become the Chatham Islands off the east coast of New Zealand. As to when, the first tipoff came from literally tripping over a dinosaur within a minute of getting here. Beautiful beaches and palm trees that would be even more enjoyable if those beaches weren’t patrolled by those dinosaurs. The islands don’t have parrots, but toothed birds with that same level of curiosity, and they’re absolutely fascinated by my hair. There’s a weird egg-laying mammal here, looking like an otter with a opossum’s face, that’s the birds’ favorite prey, and they gather in flocks of about 20 or so to take them out. Well, this mammal’s fur is the same color as my hair, which is why, besides the big dinosaurs wandering the beaches looking for dead fish and sea reptiles among the flotsam, I don’t sleep on the beaches. The fishing is great, if you don’t get your catch stolen by those sea reptiles or, worse, even bigger fish, and you do NOT want to go swimming. Other than that, it’s absolutely wonderful. I promise.
Here’s hoping that the next person searching for the moai gets what they want. Me, I’d kill a dinosaur for a Dole Whip right now.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)
Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.
Shirt Price: Commission
And now we’re getting into the homestretch. 89 days until the beginning of 2023 in the Gregorian calendar, 80 days until Christmas Eve, and precisely four weeks until Halloween. This is when things start getting busy at the Triffid Ranch, between the understandable interest in spooky plants, the Texas heat finally letting up, and the realization that we only have about a month before we have to pull out jackets and turn on the heat in the mornings. Heck, a month after that, we might see the first frost since last March.
In the interim, because the next four weekends are going to be just too nice to be trapped inside, the Triffid Ranch opened up for one big open house on October 1, because it’s going to be a while before the next one. Everything is moving outside, either for the last Porch Sales of the season or for other outside shows, giving a chance to get in some further updates to the gallery renovations and move in a slew of new enclosures. The idea is that by the end of November, if you thought the first stages of the gallery renovation were nicely surprising, you’ll be in shock as to what can get done in two months. Besides, the Porch Sales keep me off the streets and out of trouble.
As mentioned before, everything moves outside in October, with the Porch Sales winding down on October 8 and 22 and events going on the road on October 15 and 28 through 30. After that, the last out-of-gallery show for 2022 will be the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show in Austin on November 26 and 27, and then things really get busy.
For those unfamiliar with Dallas, the State Fair of Texas starts today in Fair Park, which means that traffic anywhere near downtown is going to be nearly impossible to traverse. We’re also coming up on the tenth anniversary of our very own Wicker Man demo, so there’s that. If you’re wanting to get outside but don’t want to deal with the impending screams of “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I BRING YOU FIRE!”, the Triffid Ranch opens this Saturday from noon until 5:00 pm, and without admission or parking fees, too.
Under normal conditions, Sarracenia pitcher plants bloom once: in spring. Many carnivorous and protocarnivorous plants can bear flowers at different times through the year, and frail triggerplants are so profligate that the trick is to get them to stop blooming. Sarracenia, though, are very consistent. They bloom before producing traps, presumably because Sarracenia pollinators in spring tend to be top prey insects the rest of the year, and the seed pods mature throughout summer before cracking open and scattering seed at the beginning of winter. Once those blooms drop their petals in late April or early May, that’s it, right?
Well, not always. Every once in a while, you’ll see an anomaly. Toward the end of September, as temperatures cool and the pitcher plants perk up for autumn, you might find a bloom or two. The blooms may be full-sized, but the flower scapes from which they dangle are abnormally short, sometimes just a couple of centimeters tall. Any fragrance on the blooms tends to be diminished as well, from the Kool-Aid scent of S. leucophylla to the “last day of an anime convention” stench of S. flava, and the distinctive cap at the bottom of the bloom also shows anomalous development. (The image below shows the bloom cap on S. leucophylla “Compacta”, with unusual deformities and an incomplete cap, with exposed anthers.)
The hypothesis here is that these September blooms are a response to the abnormally hot and dry summer in North Texas, as well as the subsequent low humidity after our torrential rains in August and early September. These seem to be most common on S. flava and associated hybrids, with a few seen on S. leucophylla and S. minor and their hybrids. With the latter, the flower scapes range from short to normal height, with S. minor being the most likely to produce full-length flower scapes. So far, I have yet to see any on S. rubra, S. oreophylla, or S. purpurea or their variations or hybrids.
An interesting correlation, which requires further research, is that the likelihood of September blooms depends upon when the plant blooms in spring. By far, the most common September blooms come from S. flava, which is famed for blooming as much as a month before other Sarracenia species. In North Texas, S. leucophylla is particularly sensitive to late freezes in spring, sometimes only starting to bloom three weeks after all others have finished for the season.
The hypothesis: this trait expresses itself after especially stressful summers, where the plant survives but the seed pods may be damaged from extended heat. The blooms themselves appear to be viable based on the enthusiastic efforts by local bees and wasps to gather nectar and pollen, but gathering and attempting to germinate any seeds from these blooms is the only way to confirm whether the seeds are viable. I am already gathering seed from early-maturing spring seed pods and getting ready to gather ones opening later in the season, and comparing germination and growth of seedlings from each group will be necessary to determine if the September blooms are a useful strategy for a seed do-over after an especially brutal summer. We’ll all find out more for certain next spring.
Apologies for writing about the weather all of the time, but after this brain-frying summer and subsequent August and September superstorms, merely being able to go outside without burning skin or lungs is taken for granted through most of the world. Here, though, not only do we have the thrill of not risking second-degree burns for walking outside barefoot, but there the sheer joy of stepping outside and realizing “You know, it’s warmer inside than outside.” After four months of looking at digital thermometers with a combination of rage and horror, the real fun comes when talking about the weekend, mentioning “it’s 50 degrees in the shade,” and not having that refer to Celsius.
Because of the influx of this strange not-hot weather, the local flora responds the same way we humans do: with a mad rush to make up for lost time. This was a summer so brutal that anything bearing fruit or nuts requiring large amounts of water is just exploding right now, asking for a do-over. Plants that normally bloom in the early spring are going into overdrive at the end of September, and plants that bloom all year long don’t know what to do with themselves. Even better, the rush is on for night-blooming flowers of all sorts because the insects that depend upon them will be dying or going dormant soon, which means one thing. Yes, it’s time to get out into the garden with ultraviolet lights to view the fluorescence.
As brought up elsewhere, most of the commonly available “black light” LED flashlights and lanterns pump out far too much visible light to be effective at viewing plant fluorescence, as the visible light washes out fluorescence in anything but the strongest displays. The best affordable options for backyard naturalists involve violet laser pointers, which tend to throw off large amounts of UV, and beam splitters to turn that laser light into more of a laser flashlight. In a pinch, for financial reasons and for initial experiments, the wonderful crew at American Science & Surplus offer a very cost-effective compromise, the violet kaleidoscopic laser pointer.
(Disclaimer: ALWAYS use eye protection when using a laser. Read the laser’s user guide and all labels before using. Never point a laser at your own face, that of anybody else, that of animals, or at passing aircraft. Do not point a violet laser at any apparatus, such as camera lenses, that could be affected by ultraviolet light. If you decide to ignore this advice, the Texas Triffid Ranch and all entities associated with it are not responsible, either legally or financially, for physical, mental, or financial damages. Let’s have a little common sense here, kids.)
The big advantage with the kaleidoscopic laser pointer is that for basic experiments in plant fluorescence, the pointer already comes with a diffraction grate to spread the beam around and offer endless entertainment for cats and Pink Floyd fans. Setting the pointer’s grate so it diffuses the beam the most may affect the ability to take images or video of the fluorescence effect, and anyone wanting to understand the limits of that fluorescence should consider working with a beam splitter. For quick and dirty observation in a garden environment, though, it can’t be beat.
The photo at the top of this article sums up the situation. The white pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, not only fluoresces blue along the pitcher lip under UV, but the whole top of the pitcher famously fluoresces under moonlight. The photo doesn’t do the fluorescence justice: laser pointer use not only fluoresces the upper third of the pitcher, but it attracts local moths and other nocturnal insects even more so than usual. The effect on other Sarracenia is muted under moonlight or general light pollution, so the best results come from viewing after moonrise or moonset in an area without streetlights.
Next, it’s time to test flowers already known for attracting nocturnal insects. In this case, the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) also stands out under moonlight, but the real surprise under UV is that its stamens are particularly brilliant. This helps explain why moonflowers are so popular with so many species of hawkmoth, and the plan is to test this theory next year with angel trumpets (Datura spp.) to see if they fluoresce the same way and intensity.
The real surprise in the garden this year? The spring attempt to get luffa squash (Luffa aegyptiaca) established ran right into our early summer, and the vines are only now starting to expand and produce female flowers. The flowers are also going the reverse of previous growing efforts, with the blooms opening in the evening and closing by sunrise.
That works out very well, to be honest, because luffa blooms fluoresce slightly, but the pollen fluoresces much more. On a still night, the pollen all over the bloom makes the bloom under UV look as if it were dusted with glow powder. Get too close with a camera, and the glow off luffa pollen will wash out everything else.
Naturally, this is only the beginning of experimentation. We still have at least a month in Dallas before the standard growing season is complete and all of the carnivores start going into dormancy, with so many carnivores with UV secrets. Even better, the moon is currently new, so the nights are dark even with the moon above the horizon. Expect all sorts of discoveries.
North Texas may be drier than a Dorothy Parker insult, but that just makes getting out and doing things that much sweeter. Our famously flexible weather makes most of us meteorological experts, if only so we don’t have to discuss politics, and most of that is in a desperate need to know “If I go out today, will I die?” Well, the heat finally broke, with the odds being pretty good that we won’t have any more of our typical summer weather until next May, with stunningly blue skies during the day and unusually clear and crisp skies all night. In other words, we can go outside without bursting into flame, and that’s what happened at the Triffid Ranch last weekend.
For those who haven’t been to Dallas, or who haven’t been here long, it’s time for caveats. Generally, the rainier things get in October and November, the less likely we’ll get severe cold weather December through February. That’s not an absolute, as February 2021 proved, but it’s true more often than not. Right now, the immediate Triffid Ranch area hasn’t received a drop of rain since the big Labor Day Weekend storm on September 4, and the last fall this dry was back in 2012, leading to the famed Christmas Day 2012 blizzard. Now, five minutes after I type this, we could get another 20 centimeters of rain, but right now, it’s dry and crisp, and autumn in Texas doesn’t get better than this.
This coming weekend, partly because of vague chances of downpours and the opportunity to show off new developments, the party moves inside, with a traditional Triffid Ranch open house running on October 1 from noon until 5:00 pm. Don’t worry: the Porch Sales are coming back, and they’ll be running again on October 8 and 22. It’s just that the Triffid Ranch hits the road in October, with a Crow’s Alley Flea Market event at Outfit Brewing in Dallas on October 15, running from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, and the big Dallas Arboretum Halloween lecture and sale running from October 28 to 30. Please come out to buy lots of plants: I don’t have the time to develop my own safe and effective vaccine for sleep, so I need to hire someone to do the work for me.
Well, the Triffid Ranch didn’t win a Best of Dallas Award this year, so it’s back to the linen mines. (Again, absolutely honestly, it was a privilege to be nominated, as it wasn’t anything I was expecting in the first place.) If you’re not local, keep an eye open for the latest newsletter. If you are local, the Saturday Porch Sales continue on September 24 from 10 am to 3 pm, and expect updates on a big indoor open house on October 1. We need to start the Halloween season on the right note, don’t we?
In the last nearly 15 years of Triffid Ranch shows and events, I’ve been honored to show off plants at a lot of singularly interesting venues and locales. The Angel Stakes charity benefit held by the Vampire Court of Dallas definitely qualified: a charity casino and raffle? At the Haltom Theater in Haltom City? On a Sunday, in the middle of a Texas heat wave? Why, don’t mind if I do!
Firstly, high kudos to the Vampire Court: they managed to pull off their first non-Dallas event with no noticeable hiccups from the outside, and with a lot of very happy patrons. More kudos to the Haltom Theater: it’s a very well-done live music venue (with a bar & grille on the side) that could very easily become a regular venue for oddball events like this that don’t really fit into Fort Worth. Most of all, kudos to everyone who came out, because between meeting a slew of folks new to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and getting back in touch with some much-missed old friends, getting home at 2 am on a Sunday was completely worth the trip.
As for further adventures with the Vampire Court? That’s completely up to them: we’ve already talked about bringing plants to other events hosted by the Court, and now it’s a matter of confirming dates and times. One thing is certain, though: this is just the beginning.
You know that old trope in war and horror movies, involving the red-shirt who stands up when everyone else is worried about snipers and/or monsters, exclaims “Everything’s fine! Come on out!”, and gets pranged in the head in front of compatriots and audience? That’s what planning for outdoor events in Texas is like. Plan for weeks to take advantage of National Weather Service predictions of spectacular weather, and we get thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, and the occasional autumn heat wave. There’s a reason why armadillos, with all their armor, dig burrows.
That’s what’s happening in North Texas right now: most years, the third full week of September is when the summer heat finally breaks with a massive thunderstorm and then things come out the other side clean and cool. This may or may not happen, and if we follow what happened during the 2012 drought, we may not see a drop of rain until Christmas Day. I look at it very prosaically: one big storm around Labor Day to spook everyone, and then weekend after weekend of fabulous conditions to encourage people to take a risk and get out…in October.
It’s not October yet, but the Porch Sales continue, with the last September Porch Sale running Saturday, September 24 from 10 am to 3 pm. After that, things move inside on October 1 for an open house to show off new enclosures, and then back outside until Halloween weekend. As for Halloween…oh, the plans to be shared very, very soon.
Well, word of the Triffid Ranch’s renovation is getting out, starting with this very nice writeup in the Dallas Observer from writer Kendall Morgan. Now to complete said renovation and validate others’ trust in making the Triffid Ranch a Dallas-area destination. (The current plan is to open the gallery for a major open house on October 1 from noon until 5:00 pm to debut new enclosures and the renovation work so far, with a Porch Sale on September 24 to give everyone their carnivorous plant fixes in the interim, and then another major open house on Halloween weekend. I hope this works to everyone’s satisfaction.)
Have pity, because this weekend is going to be busy. Things start up on Saturday, when the September Porch Sales continue, running from 10 am to 3 pm. After that’s done, it’s time to catch a disco nap and get everything packed for the Vampire Court of Dallas Angel Stakes casino night fundraiser in Haltom City on Sunday night. For the latter, expect a lot of white pitcher plants: I have no idea why Sarracenia leucophylla isn’t more popular among the goth community, and it’s time to rectify this.
(And for those in the Dallas art community, a little extra: the Cedars Union is hosting a lecture on writing effective press releases on Tuesday, September 20, and I’ll be out there to see what more I need to learn, which is probably quite a lot. For those who can’t be there in person, it’s streaming, so feel free to jump in.)
(For those coming in late, the following is a regular feature highlighting developments involving the Texas Triffid Ranch, including new features, events, and general strangeness. For more of this delivered directly to your mailbox, please consider the newsletter.)
The end of summer 2022 isn’t confirmed yet, and based on previous Dallas weather trends, we can’t confirm it until the end of November. It sure feels like it, though. The convection oven heat faced by the Dallas area all November finally broke on August 22, when we got a full summer of rain in the space of about two hours. The hits kept coming, too, including a surprise storm on September 4 that hit the area with hurricane-force winds. If we can trust standard Texas weather trends, this means that the next couple of months will be comprised of cool and very dry days, with spectacular night skies and a relaxed need for air conditioning, and that’s what the National Weather Service is predicting as of this writing. However, as anyone who has lived in Texas for more than three weeks already knows, we could go to an autumn where we won’t see a drop of rain until Christmas Day, and we could also go to an autumn with torrential rains and even subfreezing temperatures around Halloween. It’s happened before.
Based on the current forecast, though, we’re looking at mild temperatures with gentle nights and no appreciable precipitation until the end of the month, so that means one thing. This means that it’s time to get to work on the gallery. Weather like this is perfect for painting, and there’s a LOT of painting to be done over the rest of the season.
Firstly, because the brain-frying heat of summer is gone, the regular Triffid Ranch events are now outdoors, with lots of opportunities between now and Halloween. For September, the Porch Sales return on Saturdays, running on September 17 and 24 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on both days. Since the current weather means that the Sarracenia and flytraps are making up for lost time, it’s a perfect time to come out, look around, and figure out which plants you really need to take home.
While the Porch Sales are going on, the gallery interior continues its renovation, with work starting on the main area toward the back of the space. That’s another reason why I continue to focus on the weather, because autumns in Texas produce the right weather for bulk painting, where it’s not so hot that the paint starts drying as it leaves the sprayer and not so cold that it takes forever to dry. If anything, painting in the evening means a particularly strong and durable paint, as the paint dries slowly under cooler temps overnight and then bakes on in the afternoon. This means that a whole load of enclosures forced to wait because of summer heat are finishing up right now, and the plan is to have an evening open house to show them off on October 1.
(In that vein, because of the gallery’s expansion, it’s actually possible to create multiple enclosure series, which can be shown both collectively and individually. I’m finishing working on the concept for one such series that should be available for viewing at the October 1 open house, that should be as odd as anything else that’s ever come out of the Triffid Ranch before. Keep checking back.)
In ongoing developments, I also want to thank everyone who voted for the Triffid Ranch in both the Dallas Morning News Best of DFW Awards and the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards nominations. The Best of DFW results won’t be available until November, but the Best of Dallas awards will be announced on September 22, with a video discussion of both critics’ choice and readers’ choice winners that evening. The real fun will be watching friends and cohorts win their own awards: there’s a lot going on in this town, and every little boost helps out.
Seeing as how just having weekly Porch Sales and obsessively painting and cutting foam all week isn’t stimulating enough, there’s always more. To start out, the Triffid Ranch is a proud vendor at the Angel Stakes charity benefit from the Vampire Court of Dallas on Sunday, September 18 from 6:00 am to midnight. This is just the start of non-gallery events over the rest of the year, including a Halloween weekend lecture at the Dallas Arboretum, so keep checking back for details as I get them.
And along that line, a prompt for the near future. This Halloween, since the day itself falls on a Monday this year, promises an extra-long weekend, and since I no longer have any family obligations for Halloween, either by blood or marriage, it’s time to try a blowout for the end of the season. Again, details will follow, but it just might include the black-light carnivorous plant show I’ve been promising at the gallery since its Valley View Center days, as well as a celebration of my grandmother’s 99th birthday. The gallery has the room now, and testing commences.
And in long-term plans, there’s always the risk of making major plans and having extenuating circumstances interfere, but expect a lot of news about 2023 events in the next month. The move by Texas Frightmare Weekend to run at the end of May instead of the usual first weekend frees up that first weekend, and it’s time to get more involved in local art events. Even more importantly, the official announcement for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2023 schedule comes out on Halloween Day, and this may – MAY – involve new cities on the schedule. I don’t know about anybody else, but I can’t wait.
Now that the last US bank holiday for a while is over, it’s time to get back to a regular schedule on Triffid Ranch events, and weather permitting, they’re going to be outdoors for a while. Yes, it’s time to restart the Porch Sales, starting at 10 am and ending at 3:00 every Saturday this month. If you haven’t voted for “Best Garden Center” in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards yet, now is a perfect time to come out and see why the Triffid Ranch is under consideration, or at least to come out and enjoy a Texas neo-autumn that promises to keep going until the end of the year. (Moving outdoors has two advantages. The first is just getting outside, so long as we don’t get a repeat of last Sunday’s explosive weather. The second is getting the gallery ready for a very important event on the afternoon of September 22, so the place may look as if Hunter S. Thompson was camping in the back while that’s happening. This way, everyone gets their carnivorous plant Recommended Daily Allowance while allowing paint to dry, I appreciate your understanding.)
I sure know how to pick an open house date. Labor Day Weekend 2022 started out beautifully: moderate temperatures, sunny skies, and a general feeling of relaxation,. Friday night moved into Saturday, and the weather was just perfect. Sunday can’t be even better than this, could it? Well, the morning was…
…and then the storm hit that afternoon. For those outside of the Dallas area, things went sideways in the space of about ten minutes, as a massive storm roared out of the north. I mean “roar” literally: most of the Dallas area was hit with hurricane-force winds, followed by heavy rain, with downed trees and power lines all over. The gallery was relatively unscathed, although it was touch and go for a while, but the original plan to move everything outside for a Porch Sale would have been a disaster. It wasn’t much better going home, as a whole series of power poles went down in the storm and took out power for about 9 hours, and internet access only came back today. Let’s just say that I’m very glad that Sarracenia are adapted to life in hurricane zones, because they got a little touch of home that Sunday.
With that, I have to thank everyone who came out for the open house, because a lot rushed out to get home before the storm hit and discovered the storm was faster. This definitely qualified as the worst weather the gallery has faced since October 2019, and that involved a literal tornado that hopped over the gallery and took out a subdivision just due east, thereby taking out power for the whole area for nearly a week. It can always be worse.
We’re now coming up on two weeks of cloudy and wet weather after months and months of Mad Max: Fury Road cosplay (and never have I been more glad to change hair color to avoid the inevitable Immortan Joe cracks), and it looks as if we might get more water falling from the sky for the foreseeable future. That’s part of the reason why this weekend’s gallery open house is inside, at least for the moment. (Moving it to Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday is just a matter of both being contrary and getting a bit of a break.) After this weekend, the Porch Sales return, running on Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm through September, and probably continuing into November or for as long as the weather holds. Considering how much the Sarracenia love the current weather, you may see some of the best pitcher plants in Triffid Ranch history in the next few weeks, but the ones going right now are nothing to sneeze at, either.
(Slightly related, the Reader’s Choice ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is still open for a week, and you can vote once per day per email address. Naturally, the real thrill of getting nominated for “Best Garden Center” is just in the nomination, but I’m also recommending write-in votes for Panoptikon for “Best Dance Club,” DFW Reptarium for “Best Pet Shop,” and the much-appreciated and totally underrated Toni Youngblood for “Best Realtor.” If you have to vote for anybody, vote for them.)
(Definitely related, the latest Triffid Ranch Newsletter is out, and feel free to read about Cadfael the crow and Ralph the red-tailed hawk, among other things. If you like it, please subscribe, but I’m not offended if you want to stick to small doses.)
And by the way, even if you can’t make it to the open house this weekend, keep an eye on the site this weekend. There’s a lot of news coming down the pipe over the next few weeks, and it’s going to be wild.
(Dedicated to the memory of Nancy Crawford, whose 90th birthday would have been today. Without her gentle encouragement for 20 years, the Triffid Ranch probably never would have happened.)
Ever been in an amusement park and got in line for a new rollercoaster, and right when you get strapped into the car and sent on your way, the earth gives way and all of you go barreling into an abyss that lay beneath the whole park? And when you gently hit bottom, you find yourself cornered in a city full of vampires that have been feeding on humans above them for centuries? And you manage to take on the vampires with a spare boba tea straw that fell from above, organize the various servant races the vampires have been breeding for menial labor and midnight snacks, relay light from the surface via spare fiber optic cables buried by the CIA, and burn the vampires to ash? And then when you get back to the surface, you discover that the vampires were the only thing keeping a species of sentient exoparasite from the rim of the galaxy and a species of hyperintelligent dinosaur from taking over Earth themselves, and your chainsaw is in the shop? And when you lock them all in stasis tombs deep below the surface of Ganymede, you find artifacts from an indescribably ancient civilization that lead you to their perfectly preserved home inside a series of nested Dyson spheres, and you get exclusive real estate rights to the equivalent living area of three billion Earths?
That’s what August 2022 has been like, but with carnivorous plants.
The best part? 2022 has been this wild, and we still have four months left.
Folks outside of the Dallas area might have heard or read about the bit of rain we got on August 22. The Tallahassee-level deluge wasn’t enough to get us out of severe drought yet, nor will the expected rains through the beginning of September, arriving about a month early compared to most years. However, every bit helps, as do the delightfully cool temperatures right now as compared to three weeks ago. The last time I experienced an August that ended like this was in 1987 (I spent my 21st birthday slogging through rainwater so high that it came up to the axles on my bicycle, and I was having the time of my life doing so), and considering how 1987 went, I’m packing a spare parachute just in case somebody else needs it.
The gallery itself continues to undergo its ongoing renovation and metamorphosis, with the front area, now mercifully entourage-free so that visitors can actually get into the place, pretty much finished and ready for new enclosures. The renovation and remodeling of the back area begins in September, although new lighting and shelves are already there. Considering how well the last open house in August went, the first open house of September attempts to continue the tradition, only moving from Saturday to Sunday, September 4 in order to allow folks who couldn’t get to the gallery on Saturdays to have a chance. Keep coming back through the year and take one picture each time, and you’ll get a view worthy of George Pal and Wah Chang.
One of the other benefits of the ongoing cool and wet outside is that the Sarracenia and flytraps, long semi-dormant in the extreme heat of July and August, are now simply exploding with new growth. as things cool off, the regular Triffid Ranch events move outside for a return of the Porch Sales. Depending upon the weather, expect Porch Sales every weekend until Halloween (in case of rain, everything moves inside) every weekend where the Triffid Ranch isn’t attending a show elsewhere. In addition, the new Porch Sales will feature also guest vendors, the number to be announced in the future.
And speaking of shows, it’s time for a range of local and out-of-town shows in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, the Triffid Ranch can’t be out for this weekend’s Plantopia in Arlington, but I’m signed up for the Crow’s Alley Flea Market in Bedford on October 15 and 29, and then there’s the long-running Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays two-day event at the Palmer Events Center in Austin on November 26 and 27. After THAT, it’s all local events at the gallery for the rest of 2022. Since the Day Job offers the whole last week of 2022 as additional vacation time, there may be one last big event before New Year’s Day 2023, but that’s still being discussed.
(On the subject of 2023, things got very interesting with Texas Frightmare Weekend, moving for next year to the Irving Convention Center for Memorial Day weekend. As brought up before, TFW moved to the Irving Convention Center next year due to massive upgrades to the whole of Terminal C at DFW Airport, and one of the upshots was the ability to upgrade to 10×10 spaces as opposed to the smaller spaces in which the Triffid Ranch had been presenting plants since 2009. This means a LOT more plants, enclosures, and other possibilities, and the next eight months are dedicated to stretching the limits of enclosure design and technology specifically to take advantage of the increased space.)
Finally, there’s still a bit over a week to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards, and the Triffid Ranch was nominated for “Best Garden Center,” so give love to all of the other things that make Dallas such a fun city when we put our minds to it. Me, I’m happy to be nominated, but if the Triffid Ranch should win, the afterparty open house is going to be the stuff of legends.
In the interim, it’s back to the linen mines: as mentioned, the renovations continue, and with them comes a ridiculous amount of room for new enclosures. Again, come out to the gallery on September 4 to get a view now, and be amazed at how much gets put in between then and the end of the year, especially compared to last year. You’ll boogie ’til you puke.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how far the Triffid Ranch has come: it’s been fourteen years since the first-ever Triffid Ranch event and seven since the original gallery opened at Valley View Center, and there’s always something new to put together. This time around, the first stages of the new gallery renovation were reasonably complete, with oh so much more to do in the back area of the gallery and only so many 78-hour days to best exploit. (I kid: I never use anything that short.) Between the revised front area, the revamped and relit hallway, and the space available for additional tables, the beginning of Year Eight was as impressive as hoped back when this all started in the spring.
Considering that the opening date was also the birthday for one of the ea (rly visitors, this was one hell of a birthday. There’s still so much more to do (the whole back area hasn’t had a stem-to-stern revision since the middle of 2020), but at least now it’s a matter of knowing how much is left instead of how much needs to be done first.
To stir things up a little bit, to take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend, and to facilitate those whose work or life schedules keep them from being able to attend Saturday open houses, the next Triffid Ranch open house is on Sunday, September 4, running from noon until 5:00 pm. See you then.
The rains finally returned to Dallas, the whole city is nicely soggy, and the National Weather Service predicts even more. In many ways, we’re repeating August 1987, and considering how much that year changed the rest of my life, I’m not complaining.
For those curious about Triffid Ranch events, it’s time for the big blowout. The Texas Triffid Ranch Seventh Anniversary Party and Carnivorous Plant Open House starts Saturday, August 27 at 3:00 pm and runs until 9:00 for your plant-viewing pleasure. If you can’t make it, September and October are going to be packed with events: some of which are still forming, but at least expect a major open house on Labor Day Weekend.
And to boost the signal, voting in the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW Awards ends at midnight on August 26, and the Triffid Ranch is nominated for Family Attraction in “Entertainment” and Best Adventure Within a Day’s Drive and Immersive Experience in “Things To Do.” Do what thou wilt. (The Triffid Ranch was also nominated for “Best Garden Center” in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards, but voting there continues until September 10. Feel free to vote early and often.)
Finally, today’s song selection has multiple points of reference, and not just because of the storms earlier this week that soaked everything. Let’s all wish Shirley Manson a very happy birthday today; if I’d been three hours more premature, she and I would be the same exact age. (For the first time in ten years, I feel that I can celebrate my birthday, so there’s that, too.)
And that’s how Aquashella Dallas 2022 ended. Two days of unrelentingly enthusiastic attendees, asking excellent questions, and eventually we had to pack it all in and go home. It’s always bittersweet when a show this good ends, and the only hope is to try it all over again next year and do it even better.
As always, I would like to thank the staff of Aquashella Dallas for a wonderful experience all the way around (the only issue all weekend, the outdoor temperature, was completely out of their control), and also many thanks need to be extended to the attendees and general visitors. You’re the people for whom i do this, and all of you made attending next year’s shows a certainty. Thank you again.
One of the many perks available at Aquashella Dallas this year involved glasses. Specifically, every attendee received a pair of Fritz UV Coral Reef Viewing Glasses included with admission. According to attendees visiting the various live coral dealers throughout the show, these glasses filtered out blue light coming from the LED lights used everywhere, making the corals appear even more fluorescent than usual. Unfortunately, vendors didn’t qualify for glasses, but my gallery neighbor, who came out to view the show with friends, gave me his pair, and I’m waiting for a good cloudy day to see if these glasses offer unorthodox views of various carnivores, particularly Sarracenia pitcher plants.
This led to questions, and musing, and a possible course of action if what I seek actually exists. If it doesn’t exist, or if it’s not possible, you’ll never know, but if it does, expect a much more interactive display at next year’s show.