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Originally published on April 24, 2019
Installment #10: “Snappy Answers To Carnivore Questions”
By the end of April, spring is pretty much established in North Texas. The last surprise freezes and cold snaps are two weeks in the past, and we aren’t going to see any precipitation other than rain and hail for at least another six months. The temperate carnivores are either starting or finishing with blooming, and the tropicals respond to longer daylight hours with increased growth and the occasional bloom. Here at the Triffid Ranch, show season is underway: getting to an event no longer comes with the risk of everything in the truck freezing to death, and yet we haven’t hit the traditional “swimming through pools of molten concrete” heat of summer. Since we won’t see temperatures and skies like this until at least the beginning of October, we all rush out like the characters in the Ray Bradbury story “Frost & Fire,” acting as if we are born, grow to adulthood, and die of old age within seven days.
Because it’s show season, and because of the current boom in Dallas-area shows, a lot of people ask a lot of questions and make a lot of statements. The vast majority of these are ones I welcome and cherish: one idle conversation with a couple of Air Force airmen turned me (and subsequently a slew of friends interested in preserving them in the wild) onto a population of Sarracenia pitcher plants on the east side of the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. I’m constantly coming across improved growing methods, new techniques and technology, and fascinating new sources of everything from heat-treated flint to vacuform tables. And the questions…oh, everyone should get at least one question per week that leaves you cupping your chin and nodding “I don’t have an answer for you, but now I want to get one.”
Alas, while those great questions are the next best thing to a relaxing meal and 12 hours of sleep at the end of a long day at the plant table, these aren’t the only things tossed across the table. Anyone who has ever worked retail dreads that conversation from that individual who assumes that memorizing the complete dialogue to The Princess Bride or Pulp Fiction is a suitable replacement for a sense of humor, where an item at the register that doesn’t scan automatically gets a response of “Oh, I guess it’s free, then?” (The only thing worse than the dolt who laughs loudly at his own joke is the individual who’s deadly serious, especially in stores where the line to the register already runs through most of the store.) And if they don’t get a response, they keep repeating it, louder and louder, until they either get some kind of response or they flounce off, sniffing “Well, OBVIOUSLY someone doesn’t have a sense of humor.
The Mad magazine artist and writer Al Jaffee is probably best known for his Fold-Ins, where the inner back cover has one piece of art that has a completely different meaning when folded in half to hide the center of the illustration. However, my second-favorite feature of his involved his “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” feature, where the reader could pick between multiple responses to a particularly dumb question. (My favorite feature always involved his Rube Goldbergesque technology solutions, such as the range of razors that used flamethrowers, neutron radiation, or contour-following microrazors that eliminated facial hair without taking out moles, pimples, or his favorite catchall phrase, “Yecch.”) One day, I may make up a set of cards to be given out to answer questions that aren’t worth the breath, but until then, here are 29 answers I want to give and one I wish I could give:
#1: So far as is known, there is no such thing as a man-eating plant. It’s not completely impossible, but because of a direct confrontation with the square/cube law, finding one in the future is very unlikely.
#2: No, there’s no plant that will eat your ex. I’m sure that your ex wants an answer to that very question, too.
#3: No, there’s no plant that will eat your kids. Judging by the expressions on their faces, they’re not worried about being fed to a plant, but they’re already making plans for your senior assisted living facility. I sure hope you like rats.
#4: Yes, I’ve seen the video of the Venus flytrap biting that neckbeard’s tongue.
#5: Yes, I’ve seen the video of the Venus flytrap wearing a Santa hat and beard.
#6: YES, WE’VE GOT A VIDEO.
#7: Did you know that repeatedly screaming “Feed me, Seymour!” at carnivorous plants leads to cancer of the scrotum?
#8; No, go ahead. Scream it a little louder. Just know that the tumor has to get really big before the whole scrotum can be cut or burned off, so you might want to buy a wheelbarrow in a few days.
#9: Oh, I’m sure that you’ve seen a Venus flytrap that can close so fast on your finger that it draws blood. [CITATION NEEDED}
#10: The lids on North American, Asian, and Australian pitcher plant pitchers don’t close on insects that enter the pitcher. The lids on each genus are rain guards to keep the pitcher from filling with rainwater. Once an individual pitcher opens, nothing short of scissors or a scalpel will get that lid to close again.
#11: Oh, I’m sure that you DO know of a pitcher plant that can close its pitcher after capturing insects, and that your uncle is raising them in an undisclosed location “so his discovery won’t be stolen.” [CITATION NEEDED] Is your uncle a baron, last name of “Munchausen”?
#12: No, I’m not offended when I explain how the pitcher lid works and you wander off with your kid, telling him/her “That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” I can only suspect that you have the same attitude toward expert advice from emergency medical techs, tax lawyers, and federal prosecutors, and that you’re going to make a large fortune by investing your 401(k) in Theranos stock.
#13: Carnivorous plants are defined by their ability to attract, capture, and digest insect and other animal prey. Please note that there’s a big difference between “attract, capture, and digest” and “control.”
#14: No, one lone Venus flytrap won’t control your housefly problem.
#15: No, one lone Venus flytrap won’t control your cockroach problem.
#16: No, one lone Venus flytrap won’t control your mosquito problem.
#17: No, one lone Venus flytrap won’t control your bedbug problem.
#18: No, one lone Venus flytrap won’t control your problem with raccoons, opossums, armadillos, fruit bats, chickens, stray dogs or cats, or kids that won’t stay out of your yard. Have you considered land mines?
#19: No, smoking Venus flytraps won’t get you high. Let your best friend Beavis test this for you if you don’t believe me.
#20: No, cannabis is not a carnivorous plant.
#21: No, I have no interest in raising cannabis alongside the carnivores.
#22: No, there’s not “a lot of money” in raising carnivores, but that’s not why I do it.
#23: I’m actually flattered that you aren’t going to pour your retirement fund into selling carnivores because “there’s not any money in it.” Might I recommend pouring that money into Funko POP figures?
#24: Yes, I know you disapprove of anybody doing anything where “there’s not any money in it.” Might I give your kids a few helpful suggestions on senior assisted living facilities?
#25: Yes, the tags on each plant specifically states “Rainwater or distilled water ONLY.” That means that you can only water it with rainwater or distilled water in our area, because Dallas municipal water is best described as “crunchy.”
#26: No, you can’t boil tap water to make it safe for carnivores. Rainwater or distilled water.
#27: Does your bottled water read “Distilled Water” on the side? It doesn’t? Then it’s not safe for carnivores.
#28: Does your bottled water read “Spring Water” on the side? It does? Then it’s not safe for carnivores.
#29: Just because you put tap water in a bottle marked “Distilled Water” doesn’t automatically make it safe for carnivores. If educational organizations were subject to the same lemon laws as auto companies, your high school and college would have to be nuked from orbit.
#30: Wait. You…you just made a fictional carnivorous plant reference so obscure that I haven’t come across it before. Would you like a job?
Well, some of you may have heard about the latest addition to the Triffid Ranch board of directors, but for the rest of you, you’ll find out about the new cat Simon soon enough. Yes, Alexandria finally has a chew toy of her very own to replace Leiber: the only thing aggravating about having two black cats in the house is that they both go out of their way to stalk me as I’m heading out of the house first thing in the morning. And unlike Alexandria, who is constantly amazed that my night vision is much better than that of most humans, Simon knows exactly where he can hide in deep shadow without being observed. The next few months are probably going to be full of Simon stories, as he’s a lot smarter than he lets on. Because of his habit of staring up soulfully and stage-falling at your feet, he’s already received the nickname of “Critter”: those familiar with the Clifford Simak short story “Drop Dead” will appreciate the humor.
The wait was worth it, the new Redfern Natural History book Cephalotus: The Albany Pitcher Plant is now out, and it’s no exaggeration to refer to it as the definitive guide to this oddball carnivorous plant. It’s going to come off as controversial in spots (the discussion on Cephalotus cultivars will probably set off a few bar fights), but its relatively small page count compared to other Redfern carnivorous plant volumes says more about how little Cephalotus has been studied before now. (A small note: if you want a copy, snag it NOW. Most copies were preordered, the book will not be reprinted once the current run sells out, and I suspect that the only way most people will be able to snag a copy a year from now is by staking out estate sales.)
Seven words: new Hatebeak single “Birdhouse By the Cemetery“. If telling you “Hatebeak is a metal band whose lead singer is an African grey parrot” doesn’t get you to download this puppy as soon as you can, then we really don’t have anything else to discuss.