Monthly Archives: November 2021

Have a Safe Weekend

Unfortunately, the Triffid Ranch Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas don’t start this weekend, nor is the gallery participating in Small Business Saturday. There’s a good reason for it, though. The Triffid Ranch goes abroad this weekend, setting up on Friday for the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays showcase at Palmer Event Center in Austin on Saturday and Sunday, November 27 and 28. In the meantime, solidarity with friends and cohorts in retail, and the usual suggestion on an addition to the incessant Christmas music playlists:

Flytraps in Autumn – 4

One issue with raising carnivores that doesn’t get as much coverage is the issue with weeds. Since almost all carnivores need moist and acidic conditions, that means that the overwhelming choice for potting mixes involves peat. Whether it’s long-fiber sphagnum for top dressing or milled spaghnum for large pots, even ostensibly sterilized sphagnum has unavoidable seeds and spores, sometimes ones preserved within the peat for decades or even centuries. Give them the right conditions and they’ll come right up, and if not kept under control, they’ll take over and choke out the carnivores with whom they share space.

Exactly what comes up depends upon the source and the general conditions. For instance, most sphagnum has plenty of sphagnum spores, and if cared for, this can be a dependable source for live sphagnum moss. Likewise, in indoor enclosures, the main invasives are ferns, which are either cosmopolitan species whose spores moved on the wind or ones endemic to the area in which the sphagnum was collected. (Because of years of use of New Zealand long-fiber sphagnum, Triffid Ranch enclosures tend to get a wide range of native New Zealand ferns sprouting at odd times.) Outdoors, the main pests are marsh grasses, which attempt to produce large root mats on the bottom of pools and pots. Some of the invasives can even be other carnivores: sundews are famed for spreading seeds far and wide, and some people complain about the number of bladderworts that take over carnivore collections. (SOME people. Others look at it as getting two carnivores for the price of one, especially when the bladderworts bloom in spring.) Most aren’t a particular problem, but many varieties of invasive marsh grass need to be cut back before they’re impossible to remove.

As mentioned before, the biggest problem with grasses and ferns is the root system. Especially when they circle the interior of a pot, they form impenetrable webs that can’t be unraveled easily, and they flow out the bottom of the container if given the opportunity and spread. They’re also extremely tough, and attempting to tear off root balls like the one above is more likely to damage the plant you want to save. Worse, simply pulling the top growth on the plant just encourages new growth from the roots, so the roots need to go.

This sort of work requires a knife or other cutting device, and preferably one with serrated edges to rasp through especially tough roots. In this case, my best friend gave me a very nice Hokuru hori hori knife as a best man present at his wedding, and this beast is even better than the hori hori knife I’ve sworn by for nearly two decades. This one has a stainless steel blade that dulls much more slowly than the carbon-steel blade of my old knife, and it comes with both straight and serrated cutting edges. Suffice to say, the neighbors started to worry about the screams of “Sap and rhizomes for my lord Arioch!” coming from the greenhouse, and Mournblade here was a big factor. (If you don’t want a big knife like this, can’t grip a big knife like this, or want something that fits into smaller spaces, pretty much any serrated knife will get the job done. Spare steak knives at thrift stores are a great option, just so long as you aren’t expecting to use them for steak in the future.)

I imagine that this blade cuts through Pan Tang hunting tigers and Elenoin as well as it does through grass root balls, but that’s not something that’s going to be tested soon. Alas.

With a combination of slicing and pulling, the interior of the root ball is now exposed, and once the roots have been peeled from about half of the root ball, the flytrap inside is easily liberated and repotted. The rest can go into the compost pile or just on the lawn to be chopped up with the next mowing. Just beware if the removed plant has flowers or seed pods, and make sure to dump them well away from your carnivores unless you want to risk it happening again. Oh, it’ll probably happen again, at the worst possible time, but the idea here is to keep things to a dull roar so greenhouse collection cleanup is measured in minutes instead of days. As for sterilizing the sphagnum so it doesn’t happen again at all…well, do you have a spare thermonuclear device that isn’t working hard?

Flytraps in Autumn – 3

One of the best things about cleaning up the greenhouse in November is the color. Dallas isn’t known for brilliant fall foliage colors: with the exception of the occasional crape myrtle going red or purple, most of our tree colors range toward pastels. Carnivores, not being from the area, aren’t subject to the pastel rule, and occasionally go wild with late autumn color, as these Venus flytrap “Aki Ryu” cultivars demonstrate.

It’s not only flytraps going for brilliant color, either. The Sarracenia outside are also going into winter dormancy, and the S. leucophylla and its hybrids aren’t shy about brilliant patches of color as they’re shutting down. It certainly makes up for the temperate carnivores whose dormancy habits consist of going brown and shriveled in a week.

Flytraps in Autumn – 2

Every temperate carnivore shown at Triffid Ranch events has an ID tag that includes common name, Latin name, light requirements, a notice stating “Rainwater or distilled water ONLY,” and a second notice reading “Put into dormancy in winter.” The first question is always “so how do I put it into dormancy in winter? Do I put it in the garage?”

For the most part, in most places in North Texas, you can leave flytraps in dormancy in the same places that they frequented in summer. They still need full sun for at least 6 hours every day, and they still require rainwater or distilled water. They don’t need to stand in water, and in fact that’s a good way to kill them, so if you move your flytrap, move it to a place where its container won’t fill up with water during the inevitable winter rains. Otherwise, leave them outside: if temperatures threaten to get really cold, such as below 15F (-9.4C), move them to a place where they’ll be protected from wind, such as a covered porch, but otherwise leave them alone. Flytraps are mostly found in northern North Carolina (with patches in South Carolina and the Florida panhandle), so they’re adapted toward surviving rougher winters than anything we’ll see in North Texas more than once every 30 years or so. Whatever you do, don’t bring them inside for the winter: that winter dormancy is so essential for storing energy for spring that most temperate carnivores can survive a winter without that dormancy, but they generally won’t survive two winters.

The second question asked about dormancy is “how can you tell it’s gone dormant?” With most temperate carnivores, that’s easy: they stop growing and most of their trapping structures die off. Flytraps are a little more subtle, but just as fascinating.

The image above is of a clutch of the “King Henry” flytrap cultivar. “King Henry” is one of the largest available flytraps cultivars, and it’s specifically bred to produce oversized traps, usually at least twice the size of “typical” flytraps. During the summer, flytraps produce both short-stemmed traps that remain close to the ground and long-stemmed summer traps that raise well off the ground, and “King Henry” summer traps are some of the longest ones available. By the end of October in the Northern Hemisphere, the summer traps start dying off and shriveling up, and they won’t be back until the middle of May.

The summer traps may be collapsing, about now, but the traps around the crown of the plant are still growing for as long as temperatures allow. Even this late in the season, the traps may catch an occasional bug, but those bugs are going to be rare, and the trap may not get enough light to digest any prey that’s caught. All too soon, though, those traps will be there for nothing other than catching light, and older traps will even curl outward to maximize the amount of surface area able to intercept sunlight. Younger traps may still be able to close when stimulated, but usually no force on Earth will get a flytrap trap to close in the dead of winter, and you shouldn’t try, either. Even in winters so cold that the smaller traps die off, the crown of the plant remains green and continues with the mission of harvesting light.

About four months from now, we get to find out how successful dormancy was. This usually starts with new traps growing from the center of each plant, with older traps gradually dying off as they’re replaced by a new generation. If you’re really lucky, you may see a strange shoot coming from the center: these generally grow about a foot (about 30 1/2cm) high and then open tiny white flowers at the tip. Now you have something else to look forward to seeing in spring.

Flytraps in Autumn – 1

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter, the light is more diffuse, and the daily temperatures steadily head toward their average low, which means for most temperate carnivorous plants, it’s dormancy season. For American audiences, a good thumbnail for the duration of that dormancy is “from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day”: for everyone else, generally winter dormancy in the Dallas area is between the last weekend in November to the middle of March. Between that time, flytraps, North American pitcher plants, cobra plants, and temperate sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts slow down, die back, and otherwise settle in for a long winter nap. They don’t completely die back: most at least keep a few leaves in order to photosynthesize all winter, but they’re not bothering to attempt to capture prey because there’s little to no prey for them to capture, and the expenditure of energy on trap growth and digestive enzymes is more than what they’d get from converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen.

Because of their slowing growth, winter is an excellent time to get temperate carnivores in order. Snipping off dead leaves to discourage animal pests is an obvious one, and if temperatures dropped early, as they did in Dallas this autumn, repotting and weeding is another. It’s also an excellent time to evaluate how the plant will get through the winter. If it’s in a pot that wouldn’t survive a hard freeze such as with our weeklong blizzard in February, now is a great time to move it out of said pot and into temporary accommodations that can handle a week or more of freeze stress. (Toward the beginning of March, when we’re reasonably sure that we aren’t getting a major storm, it can go back into the pot, with new potting medium, while it’s still dormant.)

Late autumn is also an excellent time to assess summer damage. The 2021 summer in North Texas was relatively mild and mellow until the beginning of September, when we had a combination of temperatures more typical for August and six weeks of strong winds and sunny skies, meaning that local humidity dropped through the floor until nearly Halloween. If we got rain, it was very quick, as in over and done in less than five minutes, so patchy as to be completely unpredictable, and rapidly evaporated in the south wind. Because of all of this, several flats of Venus flytraps intended for next year’s shows were badly burnt in mid-September, and they weren’t expected to live. The plan in November was to go through them all, toss pots where the flytraps were expired, and try to nurse the survivors so they’d get through the winter. Considering the damage, I expected maybe one pot out of every ten might be salvageable.

Well, in a classic example of “don’t throw out your plants until you KNOW they’re dead,” most of those burned flytraps came back. Flytraps and their sundew cousins regularly produce new plants from offshoots from their roots, and while the main plants burned off in September, their roots survived and came back. Fully eight of every ten not only recovered but produced whole clumps of tiny flytraps, happily catching as much light as they could.

The real surprise was the size: most of these could have passed for seedlings. Since they’re already established, though, most of these will reach full size by next summer, and let’s see what happens after that.

As for the greenhouse, it’s now full of a wide variety of Venus flytrap cultivars. I may need to schedule more shows to find homes for them all.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s nearing the end of November, and it’s coming up on the 57th anniversary of THAT day. No, not the “back and to the left” day, although you’d think it was a holiday in Dallas. Maybe the next time Dallas gives itself a new holiday, we might involve a few more Cybermen and Silurians, just to be a little different?

Renovations and Refurbishing: “Bat God”

Next on the refurbishing: the Nepenthes hemsleyana enclosure “Bat God.” When completed last year, the hemsleyana in it went into replanting shock for a short time, but then exploded with new growth. Over the last 11 months, it made up for its lost time, to the point where it’s starting to overtake the enclosure. The only problem with this: for some reason, new leaves grow and extend well-formed ribs to support new pitchers…but the pitchers aren’t growing. Changes in humidity, temperature, and air circulation all do the same thing: nothing.

With many plants, the best option for dealing with a lack of blooms or other structures is to cut the plant way back and watch it regrow. With Nepenthes pitcher plants, the best option from personal experience is to wait until the plant produces basal shoots, often simply called “basals,” off the roots or from the lower portions of the stem. The actual process is a bit more complex, but the idea is to cut the stem right above the basal and let the basal grow to full size. If the basals also don’t produce pitchers, then the problem lies elsewhere.

All of this gets tested in the next week, as a new basal sprouted early this week and promptly started growing as enthusiastically as the main vine. The plan is to remove the vine and let the basal grow on their own, take cuttings from the vine, get those rooted, and see how many of them succeed. If things work well, this not only means that “Bat God” has a hemsleyana with big prominent lower and upper pitchers so visitors can see the famed bat-attracting pitchers, but rerooted cuttings should be established and ready to be transplanted in time for the big Triffid Ranch event at Texas Frightmare Weekend next April.

Any way this works out, the renovations and updates on available Triffid Ranch enclosures continue, as well as maintenance on previously purchased enclosures. It’s going to be a busy winter.

Renovations and Refurbishing: “Antarctica In Decline” – 2

As mentioned last week, the relative free time opened up by the end of outdoor show season and the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants going into dormancy meant an opportunity to go back and renovate enclosures that needed a bit of restoration work. The combination of high humidity, high light, and motion from displaying it in multiple exhibitions meant that the centerpiece for the enclosure “Antarctica In Decline” needed to be completely redone, as the adhesive that held it together went incredibly brittle and fragile in only a few years. In addition to rebuilding and resheathing the main piece, a glass-encrusted resin Cryolophosaurus skull, the base needed some augmentation as well. It was still in very good condition for its original purpose, supporting the weight of the skull, but it needed something more.

Most of the time spent on this restoration was less on the actual construction and more on selecting the individual fragments of tumbled glass to be used: because of the vagaries of tumbling, as well as in breaking up the glass in the first place (the preferred method being putting a large rock in a bucket with bottles, putting on a stout lid, and then shaking it furiously for about five minutes), there’s no telling what will come out of the tumbler and if it can be used for a particular application. To add further interest, souvenirs from the old Valley View gallery came out of storage: a combination of sparkling wine bottles from the original gallery opening and soft drink bottles from the long nights getting ready added a contrasting green to stand out from the blue-green of the main glass being utilized for the skull.

Not that this is completely finished, either. It still needs some further touchup, particularly along the lower jaw. It also needs internal support so all of the weight no longer rests on the jaw hinge: this much glass is HEAVY, and much of the failure of the original centerpiece was due to pressure of the jaw hinge failing and distorting. These, however, will only take about an hour or so to finish, and then the final centerpiece is ready to be returned to its enclosure.

The rest of the enclosure needs renovation, too, mostly to clear out ferns growing in inappropriate places and to clean out dead pitchers on the Cephalotus growing inside. That said, feel free to come out for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses in December to see the whole ensemble. Those who remember this enclosure from previous events won’t recognize it.

State of the Gallery: November 2021

As of the end of the month, it’s been two years since the Triffid Ranch moved to its next stage, and nearly two years since lockdown shut down that next stage and caused everyone to regroup. Two years later, we’re still dealing with some of the shakeout, and we’re making multiple plans to minimize the damage, to everyone, if lockdown has to happen again. It’s been two years of learning the people you can absolutely depend upon, the people who know how and when to move out of the way, and the people as dependable as a two-dollar phone. All of that is preamble, and the plan is to gather it together and really get going in 2022.

A lot has happened over the last month, and we now have a little over six weeks until everyone starts screaming “Happy New Year!” and puking on each other. Currently, the gallery is on temporary hiatus for the rest of this week and the first half of the next, just to get everything ready and get several new enclosures ready for their debut. Everything starts up with a road trip to Austin to show off new enclosures at the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center on November 27 and 28, with this as much an opportunity to talk with people about the possibility of a touring Triffid Ranch exhibition as anything else. (When working with living organisms, the logistics of where, when, and how to move enclosures takes on a special focus.) This will be the last show outside of Dallas in 2021, as well as the last show in Austin (so far) until June 2022.

After getting back and unloading, it’s a matter of getting ready for December fun. As in years past, the gallery will be open for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses on December 4, 11, and 18, from 12 noon to 5:00 pm. In years past, we had requests to open on the evening of Christmas Eve where the requestors ghosted, but we also have plenty of potential attendees who can’t come out because they normally work weekends, so we’ll also open the gallery on December 24 from noon until 5:00 pm. (After that, it’s time to head back home and watch the best documentary about Dallas retail ever made with friends.) Expect a lot of surprises during the Nightmare Weekends, as the idea is to reveal new enclosures at each open house, and there’s a lot of enclosure ideas currently on standby.

After that, the beginning of 2022 won’t be a slack period, either. We just finished a major upgrade to wireless connectivity to allow better streaming video options, so the Twitch videos should start up again, and it’s time to start lecture events again, both at the Heard Museum and with DFW Tap Talks. This is on top of talking with other galleries through Texas about exhibitions and curated shows. Oh, it’s going to be an interesting year.

Installations: “Lagerstätte”

It’s been a long roundabout trip over the last few months, but the future palaeontology-themed enclosure “Lagerstätte” arrived at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas on Sunday, where it will have a long and successful life introducing Heard visitors to Nepenthes pitcher plants. This, of course, is only the start of the fun: to offer context, the Heard also gets a poster explaining the difference between the different plants commonly called “pitcher plants,” as soon as I have it finished. Even without the context, the new enclosure was already a hit among a crowd of visitors arriving early that day, and it may have to be part of a series. (Researching future fossils and what little would remain of our civilization 50 million years from now leads to a lot of intriguing ideas for future enclosures and arrangements, and those are all burning holes in my brain in their attempts to escape. Such is the life of an artist.)

For those unfamiliar with the Heard, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and offers both indoor exhibits and activities and a series of trails through its wildlife sanctuary. I may be particularly biased, though: the Dinosaurs Live! outdoor tour is something I’ve wanted to visit for years, and now setting aside time to visit is a priority.

“Hands up: who likes me?”

Far be it for me to steal a byline from the local writer best known as “The James Lipton of Fandom,” but the 2021 Best in DFW Reader’s Choice Awards were announced today, and the Triffid Ranch won Bronze in “Best Art Gallery.” Many thanks to everyone who voted, and I promise not to let this honor go to my head.

Have a Safe Weekend

No gallery events this weekend (much-needed renovations and general cleanup is on the schedule this week), but keep an eye out for some serious news from the Heard Museum as of Sunday. For those of you needing a proper Triffid Ranch experience, the new Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas schedule is live, so feel free to invite friends and family as well.

Renovations and Refurbishing: “Antarctica In Decline”

The various aspects behind the construction of a typical Triffid Ranch carnivore enclosure encompasses a lot of different disciplines, including museum exhibit design, bonsai maintenance, and zoo enclosure construction. Since each enclosure is intended to be as much of an art piece as a structure containing live plants, a lot of issues only make themselves noticeable after years of constant exposure to heat and moisture, and sometimes they blow up in a really good way. Today’s refurbishing/materials object lesson involves the Australian pitcher plant enclosure “Antarctica In Decline”(2018)

While “Antarctica In Decline” was a fabulously popular enclosure, it had a few issues that begged for a revamp. The centerpiece (above) was a combination of tumbled bottle glass (Topo Chico bottles, specifically, which produce a beautiful lake-ice effect when tumbled for a week) and fiber-optic cabochons for eyes over a resin Cryolophosaurus skull. As originally chosen, the yes were a color that blended in with the surrounding glass, making it hard to see exactly where the eyes began. In addition, the whole construction was done with what glass I had available at the time of construction, which wasn’t much. Another year of glass tumbling produced considerably more, of a wide variety of shapes and general sizes, which allowed a renovation that combined the feel of the feathers that were probably on a living Cryolophosaurus face with that of freshwater ice. In addition, the base on which the completed centerpiece sat was supposed to be lighted, but the LED lights installed inside never worked as expected. It was time to tear it apart and start fresh.

The real problem, though, lay less with the glass than with the adhesive used to keep the glass together. Traditionally, this sort of aquarium-safe construction requires use of either silicone, which has to be done all at once because cured silicone generally won’t adhere to itself, or epoxy, which has a short time in which to apply it and major problems with outgassing while it cures. The first time around, the idea was to use a supposedly water-safe cyanoacrylate supeglue, and that glue was definitely strong enough to hold everything together. The problem was that its manufacturers had no information on longterm exposure to heat and moisture, and water’s unique properties include the ability to get into microscopic cracks and expand them into larger and larger cracks. The upshot was picking up the centerpiece when conducting enclosure maintenance and having the glass shell peel free from the skull core and collapse like a stale tortilla chip. It’s definitely time to tear it apart and start fresh.

And that’s what’s going right now., New contrasting eyes. A drastically different adhesive, with probably a light coat of thinned epoxy to help keep everything together. A revised arrangement of glass pieces on the whole sculpture to make the final face more streamlined and recognizable as a dinosaur. (I loved the number of people who saw it as a dragon, but they always got defensive when they learned about the Cryolophosaurus connection.) In addition, it was time to update the base as well, with different colors and shapes of glass so it stood out.

In any case, for those wondering why the gallery isn’t open this weekend, it’s because all day Saturday and most of Sunday belongs to restoring an old friend to new glory. When the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start on December 4, you’ll be able to see for yourself whether it worked.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn

Regular visitors at the gallery might note that the space’s break room is a bit loaded with, erm, interesting decor. Ever since the traveling show days, friends have gifted me with all sorts of plant-related toys and accoutrements, all of which are now up on a series of shelves circling the ceiling of the break room. It’s loaded with all sorts of cultural detritus: Monster High Venus McFlytrap, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, Groot, Treebeard, Zhaan, Medphyll (still my favorite Green Lantern after the obvious contender), and I’m trying to figure out how to get a Pink Bunkadoo seed up there. The overwhelming favorite, though, involves one Dr. Pamela Iseley, former botanist in Gotham City and currently married to one Harleen Quinzell.

And the collection keeps building for various reasons, but the Poison Ivy figures, toys, Lego playsets, and other petrochemical recreations have one aspect that appeals to a carnivorous plant rancher. As opposed to the default, Poison Ivy figures don’t automatically come with Venus flytrap-inspired accessories. In fact, what surprised me was finding a spare McDonald’s Happy Meal figure from 1993 that featured Ivy in a vegetation-festooned car that had not a flytrap-inspired claw, but a carnivorous bloom. Honestly, I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had a working triggerplant bloom on the front.

And how does this work? Well, a lot better than many toys from that time. (Please excuse the squeaking: I’m now exactly twice the age of this toy, and I squeak and rasp when I move too much these days, too.)

A little penetrating oil (something that won’t attack aged plastic), and this goes up on the shelves, next to the ever-increasing collection of DC Bombshells Ivy figures. Now I’m looking for a figure of (extremely NSFW) Frank, but only if it comes with a voice chip.

The Aftermath: The Last Autumn Open House of 2021

It was quiet, and it was concise. The beginning of November is always a relatively quiet time, when cooler weather encourages everyone to stay in and bolster themselves before the holiday season starts. As such, the last autumn open house for 2021 went without major issue, and now it’s time to get everything ready for winter.

The main upshot of last weekend’s show is that Venus flytrap and North American pitcher plant season is now over. Between shorter days and cooler temperatures, these, temperate sundews, and the Australian triggerplants are going into winter dormancy, so they’ll be missing from Triffid Ranch shows until the beginning of April. The good news is that with a long winter nap, all of these are more likely to have a good blooming season in spring, so keep an eye open for the 2022 Manchester United Flower Show toward the middle of spring.

As for upcoming events, the next two weekends are going into a massive gallery renovation and rearrangement, including preparation of a slew of new enclosures that will be ongoing through the end of the year. The weekend of November 27, the Triffid Ranch makes its last road trip of 2021 to show plants at the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show at Palmer Event Center in Austin, and then everything comes home starting on December 4 for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open house series. (By request, since Christmas itself falls on a Saturday, we’ll be opening the gallery on December 24 from noon until 5:00 for everyone who either has the day off or who wants to come out during lunch breaks if they’re working. Besides, December 24 is also Fritz Leiber‘s 111th birthday, and I imagine he’d have loved a party full of carnivorous plants.)

Have a Safe Weekend

If you’re in a need for green, the last open house of autumn is coming up on Saturday, from noon until 5:00 pm. Better get scooting, though: this will be the last open house until the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses start up on December 3. That’s the explanation for the break: it’s a matter of being ready for both these and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 27 and 28. You understand, don’t you?

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 3

After writing about carnivorous plant issues on this site for the last decade, it’s always funny when unrelated discussions lead right back to the subject at hand. A week ago, the subject was on bee burn, where Sarracenia pitcher plants catch more stinging insects than the plant can digest, particularly at the end of the growing season. A little trip to the Texas Hill Country, specifically to the town of Wimberley, independently demonstrated why.

Shortly after the actual wedding ceremony was over, when everyone sat down with beverages of their choice, we found ourselves surrounded by paper wasps. They weren’t aggressive, but they were persistent, and gentle shooing didn’t do much to convince them to go elsewhere. They weren’t just going for open drinks, either: they were going for particular pieces of clothing or jewelry, and even particular shades of lipstick. After a few minutes of consideration, Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals, official wedding jeweler and spouse of nearly 19 years to your humble chronicler, discovered that all we needed to do was set out a spare glass full of something sweet at each table, and the wasps left us alone to get a good drink of margarita sugar syrup or Sprite. In the process, we were making our own artificial Sarracenia without realizing it.

The explanation for the wasp invasion was easy. While larval wasps are enthusiastic carnivores, adults are nearly invariably sweet-tooth acolytes, with a diet mostly made up of nectar, honeydew from aphids and scale insects, and whatever other sugary treasures they can find. (That attraction to sweets applies also to more derived wasps such as bees and ants, which explains how you get ants.) To this end, the members of the angiosperms, the plant order comprising flowering plants, that don’t depend upon wind for pollination depend upon insects, and nectar is an extremely effective way to employ insects’ services. Between sugar and bright patterns visible under ultraviolet light, we have approximately 90 million years of co-evolution between insects and angiosperms, and all of the pitfall carnivorous plants use one or both to capture prey.

What’s going on now is the end of the wasps’ life cycle, at least involving these. Most paper wasps designate one female as a queen, and she promptly finds a spot in a woodpile or compost pile to spend the winter before reemerging in spring. The others keep going on as long as they can find food, but with local flowers fading for the year, the competition with solitary and gregarious bees and the occasional indigenous hummingbird gets intense. By the end of October in Texas, the few paper wasps that haven’t become food for birds, spiders, or praying mantises are desperate for any available food source, which is why they come running to uncovered soda, wine, or mead. Since wasps see mostly in ultraviolet light, they’ll also check out any item that fluoresces under UV in the hope of catching a spare bit of nectar missed by everything else, and most humans would be amazed at how many items of clothing, jewelry, or makeup pop under UV. Eventually, that runs out, and the few wasps that don’t die of starvation will die with the first serious cold snap. That cold snap arrives in Wimberley this week: the odds are really good that these wasps will be dead by the weekend, but as the political writer Charles Pierce says every Friday about dinosaurs, they lived then to make us happy now. And so it goes.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 2

On a recent trip to Wimberley, Texas, you’d think there would be a lot of time to photograph Texas flora, and that would be true if there wasn’t a wedding going on. There was still time for a few snaps, but a more extensive look at the plants of the Hill Country requires more time, preferably during blooming season in spring. Even so, there was plenty to see.

Mangueys aren’t necessarily native to the area, but they grow extremely well in Central Texas. Not only are they impressive additions to rock gardens, but their tough leaves and sharp spines discourage everyone but humans from messing with them.

Want a touch of international floral history? Here’s why prickly pear cactus were introduced to Australia: members of the genus Opuntia are hosts for the cochineal bug, the source for the colorant carmine. Said bugs produce a white fluffy camouflage to protect against wasps and other predators and parasites, and by the end of the growing season, it can get a little thick.

Wimberley may be in the middle of semi-desert, but with suitable water harvesting capacity, it can be awfully friendly to other tropicals. This little pond at the wedding site both utilizes local limestone (usually so festooned with holes and small tunnels that it’s often sold in aquarium shops as “holey rock”) and just the right amount of water lilies and papyrus to make it magical both during the day and when lit at night.

While one of Texas’s many clichés involves it being covered with cactus (particularly the saguaro, which is only found in Arizona), cactus is just part of the wide range of trees, shrubs, grasses, and herbs growing in the state’s desert and semidesert regions. Most cactus spread their seeds via fruit-eating birds, and sometimes there’s no telling what will show up where. This little one was underneath a combination of “cedar” (actually Ashe’s juniper, Juniperus ashei, the source of winter allergies throughout the state) and mesquite, so it might not last long, but it just might if the area around it is cleared by fire or human action. Either way, good luck to it.

To be continued…

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn: Wimberley, Texas – 1

Okay, so last weekend, two of my best friends got married. They’d been connected via a wide net of mutual friends and acquaintances for the last three decades, but they first met in person while attending the very first Triffid Ranch open house in 2015, and it’s all been downhill from there. They eventually set a time and a place for a wedding celebration, and the time was the one time where the place was at its absolute best. The place was the town of Wimberley, Texas, due west of San Marcos, south of Austin, and right in the middle of the famed Texas Hill Country in the center of the state.

This wasn’t the first time I’d been to Wimberley, but it had been, erm, a little bit of time since the last visit. Wimberley was on the map for decades due to its art galleries, particularly those showcasing its glass artists, as well as its bonsai nursery. The last reason I’d had to be in Wimberley in the last third of a century, though, was for the long-defunct Wimberley Hillacious bicycle race, competing through the 1980s as a worthy competitor for the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred bike race in Wichita Falls. (The Wimberley race was in October, thereby bypassing both the brutal heat of summer and the equally brutal cedar allergy season of December and January. However, it was a bit more of a challenge both because of its impressive hills and the equally impressive headwinds, and a 10-mile race in Wimberley was as much of a workout as the 50-mile in Wichita Falls.) Let’s just say that Wimberley has changed just a little bit since then.

In the last 33 years, Wimberley became a lot less isolated, particularly as far as Austin gentrifiers were concerned. (As we discovered on our second night in town, when the wine mom getaway contingent in the adjoining lodge room decided to climb atop the building and stomp across the roof at midnight. The next morning, they gave every indication that “being so hung over that they couldn’t remember their names when checking out of the hotel” was a default state.) Back in 2011, the area was hit particularly hard by the last big statewide drought, with water having to be shipped in by truck to keep people from dying, so most new businesses and subdivisions had extensive water harvesting towers, as did schools and hotels. Likewise, highways and sideroads were recently expanded as much as possible to handle the increased traffic, giving Wimberley the same general vibe as areas around Dallas in the Eighties. On top of everything was the realization that the gap between the usual summer heat and the influx of cold winter weather was going to be extremely short in 2021, and the Halloween festivities in town gave a note of fervency, because the period between needing sunscreen and hats and needing heavy jackets and gloves wasn’t going to last for long.

To cut to the punchline, the wedding went through without problems, from the bagpiper opening everything to most of the guests coming in costume because of the season. (The bride was so far away from being a Bridezilla that we all joked about asking the piper if he could play an appropriate theme for her arrival.) Yeah, the best man looked as if he stole Boris Johnson’s toupee, but that couldn’t be helped thanks to the lack of humidity. 10/10; would attend again.

To be continued…

Enclosures: “Lagerstätte” (2021)

Incoming: Report from the Archaeologist Guild, 91198312-1145

Abstract: Description of a uniquely preserved fossil bed dating approximately 65 million years before the present

Details: While the fact that our planet once had an extensive civilization across all major landmasses has been established for at least 60 years, that civilization is still poorly understood. Due to extensive chemical weathering of the surface, the traces of what is commonly referred to as “Civilization Q” consist predominately of metal oxides and a layer of microplastics found on the same bedding horizon in both land and ocean tectonic plates and cratons. This has changed significantly with the discovery of a large fossil bed found at coordinates (redacted), dated to within twenty years of the most recent microplastics deposits known. The bed preserves significant examples of noncontemporary plastics, glasses, and metals, including the earliest known examples of silicones, exceptionally well-preserved iron and aluminum alloys, and traces of artificially produced radioisotopes including uranium, cesium, and plutonium. Most surprisingly, the deposit includes both preserved machine components and structural frameworks of now-extinct organic forms, both sessile and motile examples, preserved either as impression molds or as silica replacement of empty molds.

The main deposit is one slab, detached from a higher layer on cliffs at (redacted), which appears to be a sudden accumulation of materials from a sudden event such as a flood or avalanche. The majority of the fossils in this slab are relatively unweathered plastics, mostly nylon and polyethylenes, but a significant number of unweathered metals including copper, gold, iron, aluminum, tungsten, and neodymium-boron composites. Glasses are relatively rare but exist both as shaped and amorphous pieces. Most of the fossils are disassociated forms, but some show examples of early articulation and control structures, as well as traces of power systems. Reconstruction of the original forms is necessarily speculative due to extensive damage to structures before preservation, but some structures suggest final constructs of extensive size, something that was not suspected previously at such an early stage.

The blend of synthetic and organic fossils was also surprising: most fossil beds from that general time period are comprised completely of organic forms. Most interestingly, strata immediately above this bed preserve examples of early machines dating to shortly after both sessile and motile organic forms had become extinct, and no examples of organic forms are known in more recent fossil beds. This site may possibly not only include information on Civilization Q, but on the early evolution and development of mechanical and electronic life on this planet, including our own. Our only hope for more clarification on our early history comes from finding more sites such as this, as rare as they may be.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes ventricosa

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Ongoing Triffid Ranch fun in 2022

The official announcement came out today, so it’s time to note that the Texas Triffid Ranch returns to the Oddities & Curiosities Expo in 2022: Dallas at Fair Park on March 26, and the Palmer Event Center on June 18. And now to start getting ready.