For newcomers, this is a semi-regular newsletter from the Texas Triffid Ranch, Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Feel free to forward early and often, and to subscribe if you haven’t already.
For those outside of the Dallas area, you may or may not know about the current weather situation. Those of us in the Dallas area are already sick to death of it,and those of us who have been here for a while know what’s going to come next. You see, when it comes to Texas summers, there’s “hot,” where we might have a few days of temperatures above normal body heat in July, but generally we stay around or below that. Then there’s “HOT,” where we push toward 107F/40C and above, and the record highs just keep coming. We always have “hot” summers, where we deal. We get the occasional sudden thunderstorm, but otherwise it’s warm, sunny, and dry between the middle of June and the end of August. “HOT” summers, though, are an aberration of which we talk for years and sometimes for decades. I personally have lived through three, in 1980, 1988, and 2011, and we’ve had a few that came close to meeting that standard. My late mother-in-law, though, lived through the famed Drought of Record that hit Texas from 1952 to 1956, and the reason the Dallas area has so many reservoirs is because if the drought hadn’t broken at the end of 1956, 1958 would have led to an evacuation of Dallas because of a complete lack of water.
We’re not that bad right now, but it’s still going to be interesting. According to Weather.com as of July 11, we’re looking toward at least two weeks and probably three of head advisory warnings, and we’re already getting the entreaties from ERCOT, the body that manages Texas’s electrical grid, to please minimize electrical use during the day. (Yes, ERCOT and our esteemed governor learned nothing from the 2021 statewide blackout, and we’re still running on an electrical system that’s absolutely state of the art…if the state gets tossed through a time vortex and we all find ourselves in 1974.) We’re also significantly short on rainfall this year, which exacerbates the ongoing heat (the wetter the topsoil and the thick layers of clay underneath are when summer starts, the more evaporation cuts back on severe heat, and starting out June with already-dying grass and big cracks in the back yard means that the heat probably won’t break until October), not to mention filling the aforementioned reservoirs so we can drink, bathe, and water our foundations. (The reason we generally don’t have basements in North Texas is because of those thick layers of clay upon which we put houses and businesses, and as they dry, they shrink. Not only do you get big cracks, sometimes big enough to lose puppies, in unwatered areas, but the shrinking clay also causes damage to house foundations and water mains. Watering house foundations is a learned but essential skill throughout the Dallas area.)
And what does this have to do with carnivorous plants? Right now, they’re going to be suffering without assistance. Most carnivores prefer much cooler temperatures than what Dallas is experiencing right now, and those that love heat (certain species of Nepenthes pitcher plant are referred to as “stovehouse plants”) absolutely loathe the low humidity. Most outdoor carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants can adapt and get through summer for a whole new growing season in autumn, but they need help.
First and foremost, make sure that you have a good and dependable source of water. I regularly refer to Dallas municipal water as “this side of ‘crunchy,'” and it’s sufficiently loaded with salt and calcium carbonate that it’s eventually lethal to carnivores. If you were overprepared this year, you should have a surplus of rainwater already collected and sitting in barrels waiting for use. If you weren’t, as most people understandably weren’t, either the water reserves are running low or they’re going completely dry about now. If you have a few carnivores, purchased distilled water will work for a long while, but if you have many, you’re going to discover the unique aggravation of hunting down, transporting, and dispensing dozens of jugs every time you need to water your Sarracenia. As it was at the Triffid Ranch, it may be time to look at a reverse osmosis filter.
For the unfamiliar, a reverse osmosis (often referred to as “RO” or “R/O”) filter pushes water through a membrane with pores small enough to allow water molecules to go through but not larger molecules such as sodium chloride, iron oxide, or lead sulfate. Not all of the water can go through at once, so an RO filter has one outlet for pure filtered water and one for water carrying the salts and compounds that couldn’t go through the membrane, Because of the amount of stuff, from pollen to mineral deposits in the pipes, that can be found in tap water, most RO units have activated carbon and mechanical filters that “polish” the water before it gets to the membrane. Most units today are rather efficient: for every gallon or liter that goes through, about an equal amount is produced as waste. That waste water doesn’t actually have to be wasted: the outflow can be directed into the sewer, sure, but it can also be directed to water foundations, gardens, trees, and any kind of water feature that won’t have a problem with slightly more saline water. The filtered water then can either go directly to the plants that need it or into a storage tank for later use.
A regular question asked at Triffid Ranch shows “can I use RO water for my plants?”, and after extensive research, the answer is “it depends.” Should you get one intended for hydroponics or cannabis (and we should all thank the US states legalizing cannabis and industrial hemp for helping to increase the efficiency and lower the costs of RO units over the last couple of decades, the way indoor cultivation did for LED lighting systems), the resultant end water is usually fine for carnivores, although it should be tested for mineral content on a regular basis. Most of the RO units intended for producing drinking water, though, can be a problem. Pure water of both tastes really flat and dull and tends to leach compounds out of containers (Portland, Oregon is famous for its nearly pure municipal water from a reservoir fed from snowmelt, but it’s also famous for being so pure that it leaches lead and copper out of older pipes), so most bottled drinking water, even if it is vacuum-distilled, has table salt and other electrolytes added for flavor. With home RO filters intended for drinking and cooking, the overwhelming majority come with a module called a “remineralizer,” which is essentially a slow-release salt source that dissolves as water runs through it. Water from an RO filter with a remineralizer isn’t good for carnivores, so if you have the opportunity to get a RO filter solely for the plants, leave the remineralizer for people and pets.
(A little sidenote for us North Texas folks. Many of the RO filters intended for Colorado use, if you know what I mean and I think you do, come with transparent filter canisters so users can gauge how close the filters are to needing replacement. After just a couple of weeks of use, you’ll be amazed at how much rust is in Dallas municipal water and how much those filters catch. After a month, you’d think someone dropped a Ford Pinto into the filter. Be prepared to change the filters and flush the RO membrane a lot more than recommended by the manufacturer, because our water so close to being a rust porridge as it is, and the mineral concentrations that precipitate out as sediment are only going to get higher as the reservoirs from where the water came get lower. I could make jokes about “Do you want selenite? Because this is how you get selenite” when letting local water evaporate in the sun, but those of us who practically need acid to get mineral deposits off shower stalls and sinks won’t find them particularly funny.)
Now that the water is taken care of, it’s time to discuss heat. Right now, even plants in their native habitats are going to show signs of heat stress when faced with Dallas temperatures. Some handle it better than others: Venus flytrap traps tend to burn off when exposed to excessive heat, while Sarracenia pitchers get replaced with long flat bladelike leaves called phyllodia to continue to catch light even when it’s too hot and dry to catch insects. Others are going to die without some kind of protection.
Let’s start with outdoor plants. You know those incredibly cool black skull pots that you wanted to put your Sarracenia in back in March? Right now, they’re probably steaming the poor plant’s roots if they’re in direct sun. Setting the pot in water may not be enough, so use light-colored covers, such as an old sheet, to keep the direct sun off the pot (don’t use aluminum foil or reflective barrier sheeting to do so: if you don’t know why, ask a baked potato) if you can’t move it, or move it to a place that gets morning sun but afternoon shade if you can. Likewise, since Dallas’s prevailing southern wind slurps the moisture out of everything, try to keep your carnivores in a place reasonably sheltered from the wind. Whatever happens, do NOT let your plant dry out, because it won’t come back if completely dessicated, so watering heavily first thing in the morning and then checking on it or them in the evening is about the only way to go. If you live in an apartment where the only outside growing area is on a balcony, you may have to bring your plants inside temporarily while the heat is extreme, because most Dallas apartment balconies become convection ovens in late summer.
Indoor plants such as Nepenthes pitcher plants and Cape sundews aren’t going to be spared just because they’re not out in direct heat, so they need additional care, too. Air conditioning is one of the main factors that makes Dallas even remotely liveable in summer, and AC units condense a lot of moisture out of the air inside of a house or apartment. This means that more water than usual is going to evaporate from enclosures and plant tissues with the drier air, and this is aggravated if the only place to leave the plant is in front of an AC vent. If you keep your plants in enclosures, put the top on and seal them off to spare them the worst of the lowered humidity (remember, Nepenthes stop producing pitchers when the average humidity goes below 50 percent, and they die if exposed for too long to humidity below 30 percent without an additional source of humidity such as an ultrasonic fogger or a chameleon dripper), and try to keep it closed as much as possible. Either way, keep a very close eye for signs that they or their substrate are drying out, and don’t be afraid to overwater slightly if they appear to be losing more water than usual because of the increased AC activity. Most importantly, watch cool-loving plants such as Cape sundews or highland Nepenthes for signs of heat stress and get them into cooler spaces as quickly as possible. If you catch it soon enough, the plant may be in shock, but it should make a full recovery if given half a chance.
The big thing to remember is that while things are stressful now, eventually the heat is going to break. Dallas usually gets one big day-long thunderstorm on or near Labor Day, and the amount of rainfall we get after that determines how long the heat will last into October and November. The important thing to remember is that we should be back to chilly weather by the beginning of December…and then we have all of the issues with cold to worry about. It may stop, but it never ends.
31 years ago, my life went through as massive an upheaval as it did at the beginning of 2022, and I credit the Seattle artist David Lee Ingersoll and his much-missed comic Misspent Youths for getting through 1991 alive and relatively unscarred. Let it be said that his Redbubble page is full of wonders, and a Misspent Youths banner now acts as a sunshade for my office to keep out the afternoon heat. Look for a poster in the gallery in the very near future.
The research on potential new enclosures never stops, and the exemplary book The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Mark P. Witton and Ellinor Michel hits all of the right notes. For all of the interest in Waterhouse Hawkins’s famed statuary, any information in the past was relegated to fragments in various books, so getting an authoritative guide to the first 3-dimensional dinosaur reconstructions on Earth and the surrounding park in which they stood is a particular joy.
Dallas has a justified reputation for odd music, both thanks to the city’s inherent character and the complete inability for local artists of all sorts to get any recognition or acclaim until they hit it big somewhere else. To the massive “Dallas music that will give you a brain hemorrhage” playlist goes Panic Surfer, a one-man death metal band with an ultraviolet sense of humor. Naturally, this is catnip to me, said as a terminal Hatebeak fan, and here’s hoping that this is just the start.