(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)
Killer Plants: Growing and Caring for Flytraps, Pitcher Plants, and Other Deadly Flora by Molly Williams
Published: Running Press, 2020
Over about the last 15 years or so, the emphasis on carnivorous plant books has been on spectacular photography and intense detail on obscure species, to the point of where a typical book on the subject would be a danger to spectators below if it fell off the shelf. Consequently, most books for beginners have either gone out of print or been relegated to the “EVERYONE knows about this one” pile, right at a time when the sheer amount of carnivorous plant information online exploded. So much information and not enough time: what does a newbie do?
In many ways, Molly Williams’s Killer Plants is a throwback to the 1970s. It contains no photos, and its only illustrations are charming drawings by Marisol Ortega. Those illustrations and the text are in two colors and black, with an understanding that if the reader wants more detailed references, that’s what the Internet is for. Most importantly, Killer Plants is written for the city-dwelling carnivorous plant enthusiast, someone who might not have access to a greenhouse or elaborate growing facilities, and the thumbnail guide to making your own distilled water (a pot of simmering water, a container inside to catch the distillate, and a pot lid full of ice) wouldn’t have been out of place in a Euell Gibbons book 50 years ago. None of these are liabilities: if anything, it’s refreshing. Killer Plants is a quick read (I finished it on a puddlejumper flight out of Philadelphia), but it gives an excellent overview for anyone still vacillating between admiring carnivores and wanting to start growing them.
If I had any issues with the book, it’s more due to personal preferences and experiences (regular readers know my stance on trying to use carnivores to control insects inside and out), and anyone spending more than a year with carnivores knows that book advice isn’t absolute until we can teach the plants to read. These are really minor quibbles, though. For beginners and the carnivore-curious, Killer Plants is an excellent reference and waystation while searching for growers and further information (including an excellent Resources chapter that lists nurseries all over the world), and it’s small enough to slip into a pocket or backpack for offline reading. This one came out with very little fanfare in 2020 when the rest of the world was a bit more concerned with other issues, so it needs a boost. Very recommended.