Category Archives: Projects

August Showers (and July Heatwaves) Bring September Sarracenia Flowers

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.

Texas Triffid Ranch 3.0

As quite a few artists have impressed upon me in the past, there’s “finished” and there’s complete. In the past seven years since signing the original lease on the old space, the Triffid Ranch gallery has never been complete, as it’s always in flux and always being built upon, especially as existing enclosures move out and new ones debut. The important aspect is at least the hope for change, and the Triffid Ranch 3.0 is now live. With no need to make room for the entourage up front, the Entourage Table is gone, and with it the horrible 1980s gold wallpaper that encompassed the whole room. Weeks of painting, finishing, and assembly tied up by the beginning of July, and now the plan is to continue said revamping and updating through the whole of the gallery. It may be done about the time the building owners decide to shut everything down and demolish the whole block, but that’s how it is.

Even in the front, the renovation continues. The gallery redesign intended from the beginning for the front room to hold the larger enclosures, with significantly more room for those than in the past. Between this and moving the old workspace out of the gallery entirely, this frees up a truly impressive amount of room for smaller enclosures, and now the challenge is to fill up said space over the summer. Now that the front room is getting under control, though, that’s not as much of a problem as before.

Another aspect of the reboot: for those outside of North Texas, the Dallas area amped up the heat quite quickly this year. We’re already desperately short on rain, facilitating the purchase of a reverse osmosis filter in order to take care of water needs, and what promised storms coming through just evaporate once passing Fort Worth and Arlington. Because the whole of July and August are just going to get worse, everything is moving inside until September, so no Porch Sales until then. Sorry about that, but if you’re horrified by the idea of standing outside on a parking lot surface that’s burning the soles of your shoes, think how the plants feel.

Now that the front area is done, everyone is welcome to come by to view the work in progress, with Saturday open houses running from noon until 5:00 pm in July. See you then.

Enclosures: “Rotor” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

With enough dedication, almost anything can become a source of energy. Gather enough dead flies and pile them up, and the options increase, depending upon the gatherer’s needs and resistance to revulsion. When that pile of dead flies encompasses the known universe, the only question is how much energy a project needs and how long it endures.

For a significant amount of the time the civilizations of the so-called Young Worlds Alliance developed and utilized faster-than-light travel, strange rotors had been found on worlds, moons, asteroids, and comets throughout the YWA. As the YWA expanded its explorations, more rotors turned up, with the highest concentrations around stellar clusters, black holes and neutron stars, and gas giants. They received the name “rotors” because they tended to rotate slowly in place, suspended sometimes a hair’s width from a cliff face or an asteroid’s surface, but their purpose was as mysterious as their builders. Estimates as to the time they were placed in their locations ranged from one thousand to one billion years, with very young blue giant stars having roughly as many as white dwarfs nearly emptied of fusion fuel. They were incredibly resistant to moving from their location, and every attempt to push or pull them away was matched with enough resistance to destroy or threaten to destroy the opposing force or mechanism. After a while, they were studied from a distance and otherwise ignored: with so many more accessible wonders, understanding the rotors was left to students with more patience and a higher resistance to frustration.

That situation lasted until a particularly neglected and ignored rotor student decided to try mapping rotor concentrations in its own galaxy, and then across the YWA. Individually, they showed no perturbations in local gravity: if anything, they tended to blend in with gravity wave scans. The reason for this became obvious with subsequent maps: the rotors were small but significant sources of gravitic flux throughout their range, subtly dragging through space-time at the edge of gravity wells and capturing the energy. One or two were barely noticeable, but with potentially billions, the rotors had the potential to change the flow of galaxies and possibly the expansion of the universe.

As for what that energy was used for, a sudden onslaught in rotor research discovered the micro-wormholes that endlessly form and unform through space-time tended to last longer around a rotor than the usual microsecond observed elsewhere, and in higher concentrations. The rotors may have generated and concentrated energy, but the micro-wormholes transported it, and the next question was “Where?”

The real question should have been “When?”

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Rebecca Soper”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Bulwark” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

Not all of Earth’s monsters were myths, and not all of them remained on Earth when they had the opportunity to escape. Of all of the great menaces from humanity’s distant past, a few managed to leave the solar system and find new lairs, where they hid and dreamed of greater days. Others found welcome among similar and complementary horrors, where they were promptly consumed. A few had dedicated hunters tracking them through the universe, with the news of a Grendelius or Sonmet finally cornered and beheaded becoming a source of joy and celebration to their victims. One, though, escaped the dragnets and the snipers, and almost came out better than before.

Scylla tries Montfort was, even for an energy vampire, an impressive force for despair. Charisma and presence strong enough to get victims close enough for easy draining, cunning to find the best locales for feeding, and an entourage of sycophants willing to risk being in the monster’s gaze if it meant getting first shot at scraps of wealth or power, Scylla at one point indirectly ruled a full third of Earth’s surface by the end of the 22nd Century. As is usually the case, though, greed competed with narcissism and hubris to dull survival instincts , she set off suicidal despair in family members of people with the knowledge and means to do something about the situation, and her true nature was revealed on international newsfeeds with almost no chance of escape afterwards. In any other story, at any other time, her psychic net would have been shattered, her defenders destroyed, and her head on a very tall and very sharp pole, with her remaining conscious and aware just long enough to look upon her works, ye mighty.

However, a series of events conspired to remove her from her assailants’ grasp that could not have happened at any other time: one of her entourage was the spouse of a senor engineer working on experimental space-corridor technology, and she was more surprised than the security guards when her wife was leading the herd of interlopers tearing through the facility corridors toward the test device. Scylla didn’t break stride in draining the test device’s operation knowledge as the body shriveled and crumbled, and managed to get her crew and herself through the gate before the first of her pursuers appeared at the end of the corridor. A quickly dropped explosive device destroyed the controls on the corridor gate, and the rest of humanity was left wondering forever as to Scylla’s destination and her future plans.

Scylla’s victims on Earth and their relations never discovered what happened to Scylla and her herd, but they had huge plans. They discovered themselves in an unknown part of the universe: Scylla had little patience for any followers who knew more than she did unless that knowledge was advantageous, and until her escape, she had no patience for astronomers. The world was enough like Earth, though, to neutralize any homesickness, with a comparable rotation, gravity, and atmosphere, and its life was so much like Earth’s that Scylla knew her flock wouldn’t starve. Her flock looked up in the sky, looked at the mellow red star overhead and the beautiful nebulae filling the nighttime skies and found it good, so they started immediately on building a kingdom suitable for their queen, even if it killed them. If they failed, it would kill them.

Things were progressing nicely on that front, with a small town forming and lots of new babies to feed Scylla’s ever-raging hunger, when they all regretted not having an astronomer among their number. The nebulae in the night sky were ones through which their world’s star was passing, That red dwarf star produced lots of ultraviolet light as the dust and gas of the nebulae impacted the star’s photosphere, which rapidly sterilized all of the worlds in that stellar system. Scylla spent her last weeks in a cave near the corridor wreckage, slowly starving as the last of her immediate entourage died from massive melanomas, and cursing them out as they expired. Far too late, she learned a hard truth of the universe: bootlickers and livestock make really, really poor weather forecasters.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Drosera capensis

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: “Signal To Noise” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

A standard physics thought experiment: the gravity well around a black hole is so tremendous that matter or energy cannot escape, but information could possibly escape. The unspoken implication: what kind of information? Merely information about the conditions inside a black hole’s gravity well, or something else?

For most physics students and teachers, the implication is purely academic, but somebody tried to make it concrete. Approximately 2 billion years ago, thousands of specialized sensors were placed through one specific area of space to search for any information that might slip out of a collapsar’s gravity well. Gravity waves and galactic expansion led to their being spread reasonably evenly through the galaxy, with most of them nonfunctional or at least powered down and dormant. A significant number, though, recalibrated themselves and started spying on the biggest target available: the gigantic black hole at the center of our galaxy. The original target black hole still circles the galactic core, with about twenty sensors still following it through space and time, still functioning and still sending random broadcasts of standard radio through wormholes to an unknown destination. The sensors circling the core also broadcast via microsecond-generated wormholes, but whether they send their results to the same location or to a new destination is completely unknown.

What information, if any, that came out of the original target black hole is also completely unknown. Whatever happened, the sensors’ designers suddenly evacuated this galaxy and in fact this general area of the universe, cleaning up after themselves so thoroughly that the only traces left were accidents, like papers sliding under a cabinet. Only the sensors remained, suggesting that their purpose was to continue to monitor the target black hole if in case more information escaped. What they continued to detect, and if anything comparable comes from the black hole in the galactic core, remains one of the great mysteries of the known universe, and a mystery that many experts question should be solved if the sensors’ creators responded in such a fashion.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Drosera adelae

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosure: “Degradation” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

Do you ever really think about where your garbage goes? Of course you don’t: you went to college because your parents were on your case about “go to school so you can get a good job and not have to be a garbageman for the rest of your life.” Never you mind that somebody has to haul off all of your rubbish and all your junk and do something with it, and a city without garbagemen will die about as fast as a person without kidneys. It’ll be about as nasty, too. You don’t know what fun is until you’re in the middle of a citywide garbage worker strike in the middle of summer, and all of your neighbors keep tossing out trash as if it’ll magically go away. Yeah, they’ll go out to their bins or the big dumpster out back, and just STARE at the overflowing mess, because they worked long and hard to ignore where their garbage goes.

Do you ever really think about where the stuff in your toilet goes, too? I mean, besides the obvious stuff, you have kids toys, condoms, cotton balls, classified Presidential papers, sand, dirt, gravel, dead goldfish, and the occasional alligator. Some people know, and they’ll be glad to talk about the particulars about standard waste water treatment versus green options, on capturing outgassed methane and heavy metals, and the latest options in leachate fields. As soon as they get into it, though, everyone else’s eyes glaze over, because you’re not supposed to talk about THAT. Once it goes into the porcelain throne, it’s just supposed to magically go away, especially when the sewer line is clogged and broken and you suddenly have a geyser in your front yard.

Do you ever really think about where the Large Trash goes? You know: all of the stuff far too large to put into the trash can or the toilet, but that you can’t pile up and set on fire? Broken or worn-out furniture, tree branches, old flower pots, random chunks of plastic, the boxes in which your new flatscreen TV came, and kids’ toys that they’ve either outgrown or worn out. In a lot of neighborhoods, you have random scrap collectors who keep an eye open for metal that’s worth the effort of hauling to a scrap yard, but everything else gets hauled off, when you don’t have a neighbor that parks badly enough that the truck that comes by every Wednesday can’t get in. It could all get dumped in a landfill, or chopped into small pieces and sorted for recycleables, or it could be chopped smaller and used as fuel for incinerators. Whatever happens, you’re just glad to look out your front window in the morning and sigh contentedly that sunset won’t start at 2 in the afternoon because of the mountain of Amazon boxes and shipping pallets in your front yard that’s slowly causing the continental plate on which you reside to sink into the Earth’s mantle.

Do you ever really think about where your toxic waste goes? You may not think you make any, but what about the various dead electronic devices you pitch? Do you worry about the lithium ion batteries in that old iPod you’ve been hoarding in your junk drawer since 2009? Do you consider the cadmium and lead in that vintage CRT computer monitor that you put in the corner until you could take it out for electronics recycling, and you keep forgetting? What about the dead paint cans in the garage, or the dead cleaners under your kitchen sink, or the coolants in that dying refrigerator you use to keep beer in the garage? If you died tomorrow, would it all go to where it needs to go for efficient processing, or would it just end up in a big dumpster and hauled out to the dump, where the batteries catch fire and burn the whole place to ash?

Do you ever really think about where your dead bodies go? I’m not just talking about dead pets, although that’s a concern. Do you know exactly how much hazardous material is in Grandma’s pacemaker, especially if she’s had it since the days when pacemaker batteries used plutonium to generate electricity? What about parts? Have you made plans for that amputated arm, other than telling everyone “It’ll make great soup?” And all of the accessories: wigs and hip implants are great and all, but what are you REALLY planning to do with that colostomy bag?

See all of that above? You don’t have think about it because we do our jobs. Now consider all of the black-ops stuff: weapons systems too classified and too toxic to be recycled for components. Supplemental nuclear fusion generator parts that can’t be melted down for the metal without contaminating tons of steel or aluminum. Most extraterrestrial organisms are easy to compost, but there’s also the ones with body hair analogues with the tensile strength and dimensions of asbestos fibers, with the same end results when spread out over a typical suburb. You don’t want to know about the dimensional anchors that need to be destroyed and destroyed fast, before something manages to squeeze past the wards and sigils and digest our reality. All of this and more, and no matter how well-designed the disintegration and reintegration barrows, the walls, ceilings, and floor eventually wear out from the constant onslaught and we need to build more. We keep doing it, though, because the alternatives are so much worse.

This is a message from the staff of St. Remedius Medical School, renowned across the globe for its handling of unorthodox threats to Earth and elsewhere. “We clean up the mess, so your brains don’t snap while dealing with it yourself.” Please give us a call about your specific needs and deadlines: no job is too small or too large, and you should be thankful for that.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Pinguicula x “Titan”

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Accelerated Aggression” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

Our immediate galactic cluster produces a surprising number of so-called “deathworlds”: planets whose biota accept any kind of intrusion only after the application of overwhelming force. A few are hive minds who use their animal and plant analogues as surrogates for other organisms’ immune systems. Others are so nutrient-starved that to pass up relatively harmless and helpless prey as a battalion of Invec mercenaries on assault platforms is nearly impossible. A few have such a complicated interconnected life cycle between parasites and hosts that even the most horrified researcher can’t begrudge the opportunity for a parasite to slip sideways into an unfilled niche, even if that unfilled niche is the researcher. One of the most intriguing of those worlds, one used as a case study for xenobiologists as to educated assumptions, is the terrestrial world Shaw III, named after the head of its first exploration mission, Dr. Muriel Shaw. She was the head of the mission and one of only two survivors, as everyone else who touched down on its primary continent died within approximately ten minutes of opening the airlocks and taking direct samples.

Dr. Shaw not only didn’t take the threat of her named world lightly, but took it as a challenge. In the fragmentary remains of the animals killed inside her lifeboat as it ejected from its doomed parent, she discovered unique enzymes that worked on metals as well as organic compounds, practically begging for further study. Her initial papers led to the formation of a second, heavily armed research team, which lasted about as long on the surface as the first. Teams Three through Six managed to stretch out the time on the surface to an hour, leading to a plan to build a massive research station that was literally dropped from orbit and supplied in the same way. Nicknamed “The Bug” because of its plethora of sensory globes, it was truly impregnable, both to all other known organisms, but to the life of Shaw III.

For the most part, it worked. The Bug held integrity, even as wave upon wave of species, hunters and herbivores alike, rushed and flew and crawled and slithered to break in. Dr. Shaw’s team collected wonderful data, even as the noise of giant slime molds sucking on the microphone feeds and analogues to pterosaurs smashing their beaks upon the sensory globes started to wear on them individually. Finally, Dr. Shaw had as much information as she felt she needed, and launched herself back into orbit for further analysis. The rest of her team stayed behind, bracing for the next series of creatures, plants, and bacteria to try to get in through the barely-opened launch tube.

The next wave never happened. The first wave stopped moments after Dr. Shaw’s transport reached stable orbit. Every attacker broke off and went back to their apparently normal behaviors. After hours of peace, Dr. Shaw’s assistant professor risked opening the launch tube and climbing out onto the top of the Bug. The very same pterosaurs that were attempting to smash their way inside a solar day before not only didn’t attack, but actually landed, came close, and begged to be scritched on the head.

Dr. Shaw never returned to her namesake world, and the Bug was soon abandoned. There was no need: other researchers were able to walk across the planet’s surface without incident, taking samples and conducting tests without fear. The biota of Shaw III didn’t dislike humans, or technology, or anything else that anything Dr. Shaw brought with her. For some reason, which still eludes an answer, they just didn’t like her.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes specularis x tenuis BE-3884

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $400US

Shirt Price: $350US

Enclosures: “Watcher and Waiter” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

Once, it and its people were teachers, guardians, shepherds, surrogate parents. They worked with innumerable sentiments reaching toward the stars and showed them the wonders and terrors of the universe, letting them know that they weren’t alone and that someone was protecting them. Eventually, though, the students reach the limits of learning, the weak become strong, the sheep gather their forces and destroy the wolves, and the children grow up. Its people realized that their charges were able to take care of themselves, and they left the galaxy for whatever awaits those who travel between galaxies. They had been guardians for a very long time, and were very good at their jobs, but the forces for which they had massed to fight surrendered at the same time, and they all looked around one last time and migrated away.

Except one.

Unlike its compatriots, it had no great message, no overwhelming coda, no need to impose its doctrines upon those too young to question. If anything, it was at a loss after the decision to leave was made. It didn’t want to go, but it also didn’t want to keep doing what it had before. Its people were very, very long-lived, and it had plenty of time to find a new path, so in the bustle and chaos of migration, it sneaked aboard its starship, broke away from the caravan, and went exploring.

Eventually, it found a world very much like the one its species had first grown on, millions of years before. A thin methane atmosphere, just hazy enough from naturally occurring hydrocarbons to add a champagne tint to the world’s yellow-white star when seen from the surface. The bare beginnings of multicellular life, an atmosphere with potential to nurture that life, and absolutely no spacefaring neighbors in the vicinity. Knowing that none of the current species in the galaxy had the capability of detecting its ship, much less do anything about it, the ship touched down once, let its passenger disembark with sufficient supplies to settle in, and went back into orbit to await new orders. Like its passenger, it could live a very, very long time with very little, and it now could sleep and possibly dream.

The traveler took its time, but eventually started a garden. The current analogues to plants were starting to emerge from the wide and warm oceans covering about half of the world, and the traveler started a garden. Yes, it was interfering with the development and evolution of life on this little world, but nobody was going to complain for probably a half-billion years. It slowly and carefully encouraged examples of flora and selected them for height, color, sturdiness in severe winds, ability to convert methane into oxygen, and ability to wrest nutrients from rock, mud, and sand. It left control groups of all of these spread out nearby, looking for potential diseases, and left them alone when the earliest analogues to land animals started following the plants in search of unexploited food. Growth, decay, regrowth…since the flora’s main photosynthesis molecule was purple, a tiny bruise formed near one ocean as seen from space, and spread and colored with surprising rapidity.

The traveler knew that eventually someone or something would find this little world. Eventually, someone or something would realize that the random intertwinings of genetic material couldn’t explain the sudden explosion of oxygen in the air, or the patterns of color as seen from orbit, or the seemingly instantaneous evolution of fauna to keep the flora healthy and assist in its reproduction. Eventually, someone or something would discover the traveler, in which case it was ready to offer advice or recommendations if needed or wanted, Until then, it had its garden, which was spreading across the entire world, and it was content for the first time in its life.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Drosera adelae

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, glass slag, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Vestibule” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

Xenoarchaeology is a risky endeavor under just about any circumstance. In the field, researchers face hostile wildlife, fascinating new diseases and parasites, and the ever-present danger that a billion-year-old artifact might be carrying a quantum black hole facing a critical failure on the insulation of its containment vessel. Those back in academia usually envy the field researchers, as Aurigan blood shivers is a blessed relief compared to peer review. Very rarely do both of these streams cross in such a spectacular manner, but professors trying to impress humility upon their students tell stories of the Great Vestibule on Elbein Outer as an object lesson of not getting too carried away with speculation.

For the most part, Elbein Outer was a typical rocky planet with a life-sustaining atmosphere and a water-rich surface, with its only companion around its star being Elbein Inner, a gas giant a few million years from becoming part of that star’s hydrogen reserve. Elbein Inner and its former brethren left the system remarkably cleaned before they either crashed starside or were flung into interstellar space. Very few asteroids or comets, no comparable Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud, and not so much as a moon. The planet’s surface underwent plate tectonics encouraged by solar tides and a radioactive-rich core, but compared to the cosmic sword dances faced by Earth or Gent, Elbein Outer was practically serene. Even its indigenous animal and plant life were mellow by comparison.

That’s why, ten years after its discovery, everyone was surprised to discover traces of an extensive and highly advanced civilization on Elbein Outer’s northernmost continent. The pieces and fragments had been there long enough that they had disintegrated into dust and mud, but as seemed to be the case with enigmatic artifacts, one nearly complete structure remained, still peeking out from the cover of a nearly completely eroded mountain. Not only was this structure nearly complete, but it seemed to be completely functional as well after approximately 600 million years. Whatever it was supporting was even odder: behind a gate or sphincter lay a small chamber, detectable via cosmic ray and neutrino emitters, that reflected both and more besides. As to what was inside the chamber, nobody had a clue.

Most field researchers welcome a challenge, and expeditions came and went around what writers and influencers called “The Great Vestibule.” Everybody had an idea of what might be out there, and the most speculative and the most unsupported by facts and logic got the furthest reach. The Great Vestibule stored, preserved in special stasis fields, its creators’ archives and histories. The Great Vestibule contained a direct hyperspace gate to its creators’ home world. The Great Vestibule contained a sample spacecraft of previously unknown design that could cut crossing a light-year of space from 23 hours to 23 seconds. The Great Vestibule, when shaken, would drop the universe’s most attractive, acidic, and addictive candy until shaken again. The planet was quiet and the skies clear of anything but stars at night, and a lot of chroniclers couldn’t tell the difference between tall tales and confirmed scientific knowledge.

Finally, the Vestibule released its secrets. A three-species team, led by the esteemed xenoarcheologist Gortyyn Lidefit, learned that the original control interface that opened the Vestibule had been deliberately removed before its builders left, and their genius reverse-engineered a working control substitute. Reporters and storytellers and the irredeemably curious from across four galaxies converged on Elbein Outer, all wanting to be the first in 600 million years to see the contents so carefully hidden away across time and space.

A truism in science is that one researcher’s crushing disappointment is another’s prize-winning paper, and that definitely happened multiple times after the Great Orifice finally disgorged its contents. Yes, it contained a hyperspace gate. Yes, it contained previously unknown stasis technology that kept the Orifice’s contents in perfect condition as the universe whirled around it. But as its contents flowed across the surface of Elbein Outer, drowning researcher and rubbernecker alike in a tsunami that covered the entire planet to a depth of 3000 meters, those observing the situation from orbit learned that the Lidefit team had discovered the largest portable toilet in the known universe. Worse, it wasn’t the first one one discovered, hacked, and emptied, and it definitely wasn’t the last.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes maxima

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Nepenthes hemsleyana

Since things are a bit slow at the gallery due to the end of the growing season, now is a perfect time to discuss winter carnivore cleanups. This time, the subject is one that keeps coming up concerning Nepenthes pitcher plants: “My pitcher plant stopped producing pitchers.” 90 percent of the time, the factor causing a lack of pitcher growth is a lack of humidity: studies in the last decade confirmed that once average relative humidity stays below 50 percent, Nepenthes plants stop producing pitchers. This is because on average, Nepenthes roots are to keep the plant in the ground (if you want to get a good idea of what a Nepenthes root clump looks like without digging up one yourself, just clean your shower drain one of these days), and half of the plant’s moisture requirements come from moisture (rain, fog, mist) absorbed through its leaves. Every once in a while, though, you get an exception, and we have a humdinger of one.

Regulars may recognize the enclosure Bat God from the end of 2020, containing the only Nepenthes hemsleyana I’ve ever had the privilege of viewing. N. hemsleyana is famous for being a non-carnivorous carnivore: instead of catching insects or other animal prey, this species specializes in producing traps that act as the roosting site for one of the smallest bats in Asia, Kerivoula hardwickii. In return for a safe haven, the bats provide nitrogen not just in guano, as commonly reported, but also in shed fur as the bats groom themselves and each other. (As organic gardeners will tell you, hair and fur make a great slow-release nitrogen source, and I’m currently conducting experiments with using shed cat fur as a possible alternative to guano for some Nepenthes species. Expect results later this year.) Between these two nitrogen sources, N. hemsleyana no longer produces digestive enzymes by the time it produces its distinctive upper traps, nor do the peristomes on the pitchers fluoresce under ultraviolet light as with close cousins such as N. rafflesiana.

The problem with telling people about these distinctive pitchers, though, is getting the pitchers in the first place. This original hemsleyana grew impressive pitchers in a smaller, much more compact enclosure, but upon moving it to a new location, it enthusiastically grew but didn’t produce a single pitcher. This recalcitrance isn’t due to a lack of humidity thanks to an ultrasonic fogger, and regular foliar feedings with dilute carnivore-safe fertilizer produces lots of new leaves. The problem is that while the leaves produce long ribs with the nubs of pitchers at the end, those nubs never go any further. Obviously, something is up.

Apparently the plant felt the same way, because in addition to its main vine threatening to apply for admission to the United Nations, this Nepenthes is producing a new shoot near its base. This started about three weeks ago, and the first leaves came in nice and broad. The real joy, though, is the new lower pitcher forming off the shoot’s third leaf, and new leaves coming in that appear to be just as determined. In about three weeks, we’ll know for sure if this is going to turn into a true pitcher, but the indications are good.

“This is all fine and good,” you say, “but what does that mean?” Well, it means that Nepenthes and roses have a bit more in common than you might think. Just as how roses may need to have their canes cut back to encourage new growth likely to produce flowers, sometimes a fussy Nepenthes needs to be cut back to encourage new pitcher growth. Once the pitcher on the new offshoot is established and open,, which may happen within the next week, the rest of the vine upstem from the shoot gets cut off and then cut into segments. Those segments then get a good bath in rooting hormone and then planted in a high-humidity, high-light environment to encourage new root growth. The odds are pretty good that if the cuttings take, any new growth on them will contain full pitcher development, meaning that the gallery may be overloaded with N. hemsleyana enclosures before too long. Maybe the next one needs to take a note from the bat fossil beds at Riversleigh World Heritage Site in Queensland, Australia and be entitled “Stately Wayne Manor.”

Enclosures: “Professor Lindsay’s Amphibian Wedding Present” (2021)

Contrary to generally accepted wisdom, the first serious experiments in DNA manipulation and editing came not in the early part of the 21st Century, but in the latter half of the 19th. Professor Huxley Lindsay of Rice University in Texas never knew the word “deoxyribonucleic acid,” and would have taken a bullwhip to anyone trying to pass on the concepts of genes, chromosomes, or CRISPR editing, but he managed to tap all of these while experimenting with modifying “traits” in freshwater and saltwater fish. While his techniques are sadly lost with a massive house fire started by lightning, encouraged by freshly installed gas lighting, and facilitated by the entirety of his neighbors blocking fire wagons or offering to fill the wagons’ water pumps with kerosene, he succeeded in melding traits between his own children and their spouses and that of at least five species of freshwater fish and seven of saltwater. The freshwater Lindsays thrived for five years, until a heat wave demonstrated that Professor Lindsay had not included the ability to breathe air while in oxygen-deprived ponds and rivers, but the saltwater Lindsays thrived off the shores of Galveston and soon became one of the great political and social families of the greater Houston area.

Just as air-breathing Lindsays might have kept an aquarium to celebrate their aquatic relations, the water-breathing Lindsays started a trend in self-contained plant containers. Rated to depths of more than 200 feet, the first BathyBio container (registered trademark with one Cecil “Tuck” Kirby, an expert in keeping exotic animals and plants under strenuous conditions) was a wedding gift to Professor Lindsay’s granddaughter “Bubbles,” presented personally by the professor while in specially designed diving gear. Subsequent ones went to granddaughters “Angel” and “Betta,” and one especially large one was commissioned by a great-grandson, Hector “Discus” Fairfield, the first member of the Lindsays to return to land, in a reversed diving suit, in order to get his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Rice.

Sadly, while the Lindsays led massive movements in engineering, hydraulics, and social justice, nature stepped in. In the winter of 1983, a massive cold wave hit the majority of Texas, freezing Galveston Bay for the first time in recorded history. Among the millions of dead fish, all unused to such low temperatures, were all 2000 of the extended Lindsay clan, all frozen to death. To this day, questions as to whether they were delicious, and if police had apprehended one “Mrs. Paul,” are considered the height of bad taste in Galveston.

Dimensions (height/diameter): 25 1/2″ x 17″ diameter (64.77 cm x 43.18 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes spectrabilis x tenuis

Construction: Acrylic. Resin, stone, shells.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures:”Senseweb” (2021)

At first, they were found on old, dead worlds. Massive chrysalises by the hundreds, seemingly impervious to cutting tools, waiting in alcoves and caves, surrounded by metallic fibers that slowly waved as if in a light breeze, even if in total vacuum. When disturbed, the chrysalis cracked open, with the monstrosity inside attacking immediately. Worse, its awakening set off chrysalises in the vicinity, and an unwitting exploration team was suddenly not fighting one or five horrors, but dozens, then hundreds, and then then thousands. The only thing each one had in common was that their armor was as impregnable as their shells, and the only defense was flight. Worse, the gladiators and hunters eventually died off, but new chrysalises grew from the webs left behind as the previous sleepers fell, guaranteeing that the world infested with them was perpetually dangerous.

Within five years of the first discovery on Bolander’s Bane, the assumption that the webs and their horrible fruiting bodies only existed on dead worlds had to be thrown out. Before long, the webs were found on hundreds of worlds, from ones completely covered with liquid water to ones completely covered with frozen nitrogen. An active research colony on the fecund world Kristobal Muñeca set off a colony that forced the whole installation to evacuate within 48 hours, and then then the terraforming project by the famed Fronimos team stimulated another. As the webs were found on more worlds, two things stood out. The first was that different stimuli opened the chrysalises: on one world, here proximity to a strand of webbing could cause the whole planet to explode in buried warriors. On another, they were perfectly safe until exposed to a particular chemical or wavelength of light. In all cases, any attempt to remove a chrysalis or break its connection to its web led to an inevitable conclusion, and few such bold explorers survived to share the results.

Even worse, the webs started showing up on worlds that had been thoroughly explored and surveyed, in places where absolutely nothing had been before. That was when researchers realized that the webbing, which resisted efforts to classify it as a true life form or as a particularly sophisticated nanosynth, was spreading. Microshards, often too small to be found and removed with standard decontamination techniques, were being spread throughout this galaxy and three others via pressure suits, tools, and boots, where they would root and establish when encountering the right conditions. As with the factors that stimulated their killing response, though, the “right” growth conditions ranged far, with no common pattern spotted by organic or AI researchers. The efforts to find a pattern, and possibly a way to stunt or remove their growth, became particularly vital. Last week, the first web appeared on Earth.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes rafflesiana x sibuyanensis BE 3819 “Suki”

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

Public Service Announcement: Commissions

It’s nearly impossible to to avoid the ongoing news about issues with supply chains and imports, and the Triffid Ranch is just as effected as everyone else. Because of this, it’s time to make the uncomfortable but necessary announcement that anyone seeking a carnivorous plant enclosure commission needs to make plans to discuss the design as quickly as possible, just to make sure that the desired size enclosure and plant can be available in time. Likewise, as of now, any commission requested after November 28 cannot be guaranteed to be completed in time for the holidays. I apologize for the inconvenience, but if you plan to give a gift of a custom Triffid Ranch enclosure, get in your request NOW to guarantee that a construction spot is available. (If it doesn’t need to be a commission, a wide range of carnivore enclosures are already available at the gallery for purchase or rental.)

Enclosures: “The Lungs of Hell” (2021)

Throughout most of known reality, evil is an abstract. It has no weight, no mass, no volume, and cannot be measured on a quantitative basis. One can feel overwhelming evil, but no scale exists in our realm to weigh it. The atmosphere of the moon is crushing by comparison.

This is true for our realm, but evil has a mass. If evil is best described as “the decay of virtue,” it flows like compost tea from a dead garden, like random fluids from an abandoned cemetery trickling into the groundwater, Eventually, it seeps and slides in the cracks between realities, lubricating the movement of the celestial spheres, and eventually dripping down…below.

Eventually, it collects far below. Below any concept of Hell, Mictlan, or other afterlife, enough to where it can be measured. Its miasma is an odor of which no human can conceive, its heft nothing a human could experience. Any being contacting compressed and supersaturated evil becomes a quantum event, simultaneously ceasing to exist in that second and undergoing a truly eternal torment. That being, no matter how perfect or divine, becomes part of the ocean, with absolutely no chance of rescue or escape. Sometimes, that metaphysical ocean of evil, stretching across and through dimensions, is reasonably quiescent, not advancing or retreating. Sometimes the ocean breaks down a barrier to previously untouched realities, causing it to flow away for a short time and revealing…things previously hidden. Every once in a great while, a being sufficiently hubristic to think themselves immune will splash upon contact, and the waves create nightmares for billions of souls. And like any other liquid, the sheer weight corrupts and corrodes and distorts anything underneath it, and any flow downward is mitigated by the constant fall of new evil, like a fog not quite ready to be rain, replacing and replenishing the supply.

While the unsophisticated talk about “Hell” as the ultimate holding site for evil, know that what philosophers and the sensitive assume is that ultimate holding site is only the literal tip of the iceberg. The true rulers of Hell, as far away from the demons of the higher planes as moles and worms are above eagles, are the beings that prevent it from sinking into the depths. The bottom of Hell is lined with sigils and glyphs of power from the rest of reality, all attempting to keep it afloat. Even more keep channeling the miasma to locations where it can be concentrated and processed. Bloodstones made of the corpses of whole universes work to draw in the mist, and other, barely conceivable constructs trap it, like lungs full of volcanic ash. Eventually the sheer volume of evil collapses in on itself, leaving gigantic russet crystals, beautiful in their unnatural sheen, gradually eroding out and falling to the sides. New constructs grow in the place of old ones, pushing aside older crystals like glaciers moving boulders.

Unbeknownst to the rest of reality, those crystals are a terrible, unstable power. Removed from the presence of the glyphs, they gradually fall apart, evaporating under the heady thin atmosphere of virtue. Most evaporate, but some crystals are so unstable that their dissolution is explosive. This property has no effect on ambitions and plans for revenge from the true rulers of Hell, and kept just at the edge of Evilflow is a tremendous cache of blades carefully knapped and shaped over the millennia, awaiting an equally forged and formed army to take them up. These blades will not last long in the upper realms, but the plan is that they will last just long enough.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $350US

Shirt Price: $300US

Enclosures: “Timeanchor” (2021)

Everyone entering knew they had one chance. The testing was sound: the world’s first time corridor was live, with timeanchors on either side of the chronal abyss keeping the fantastically complex mathematical construct complete and taut. The plan that day was to send the first scientific equipment through, in order to check atmosphere, photoperiod, gravity, and any other deviations from Here and Now Normal over such a tremendous timespan. That’s when the first reports came through: a previously undetected asteroid had passed through Earth’s orbital defense system and struck not far from the time laboratory. Everyone in the vicinity had about an hour to make a decision to pass through the time corridor or stay for the world-spanning shock wave and subsequent extinction event. Not surprisingly, only a few in the facility decided to stay, and approximately 500 made the jump just in time.

As the last stragglers ran out with whatever supplies they could bring with them, the time corridor flexed and shattered, and all that remained was the original anchor, embedded in a hillside overlooking a wide, low valley. As opposed to the humid forest surrounding the laboratory they had just left, the local flora was scrub and a strange ground cover, all completely unfamiliar. They hurriedly set up camp alongside the timeanchor before the sun set, and the animals that came sniffing around the campfires were just as alien as the plants. The good news was that the local predators were just as averse to fire as dangerous animals in their own time, but the visitors still stood guard with improvised spears and clubs in preparation for anything not dissuaded by smoke and flames.

The next morning was dedicated to a tally of existing resources and a discussion of strategies. There was no going home: the time corridor needed two ends, and the end designated as “home” was now blasted wreckage. Any attempt to build a new time corridor not only fought temporal paradoxes but also a lack of tools and equipment, and even trying to figure out what was needed would take time and effort away from more essential activities. Their available food and water was a limited resource, with the understanding of what local food sources existed taking priority over everything else. This was accentuated by several local herbivores investigating the camp’s activities and demonstrating that “herbivore” and “harmless” were not partners and probably would never be in this strange time. However, one positive to the subsequent damage: the interlopers were absolutely delicious, and their hastily-butchered carcasses gave confirmed edible meat in the camp for several days.

Even with the strangeness, the camp thrived, and started to turn itself into an actual city. The researchers from the time laboratory worked harder than everyone else to rediscover knowledge of stone and glass and metal. Others became scouts in search of ores and water sources, while still others took it upon themselves to experiment with every potential food item in the vicinity, attempting to domesticate every amenable plant and animal. Some, such as the big herbivores from the second day, simply couldn’t be domesticated, so hunters traveled outward, bringing meat back to the city after feasting by themselves. 500 years after the accident, no survivors of the original migration remained alive, but their stories were passed on through both legend and writing, and their descendants were ready to take over once again as the planet’s dominant intelligent lifeform.

What they didn’t know, what they couldn’t have known, was that as nature abhors a vacuum, time abhors an uncorrectable paradox. That paradox was the timeanchor itself: just over 500 years after its original excursion to the present time, a series of coruscating waves of pure temporal energy radiated out from the timeanchor, wiping out the city and the hillside on which it had been built in a microsecond and turning the fragments to dust. A few survivors picked themselves up after the blasts ended, but so few remained that any attempt to reestablish themselves was fated to fail, and the last descendant of the original time refugees died in the crook of a tree about 60 years later, stalked by a carnivore just small enough to climb the tree after the corpse instead of attempting to knock it over.

Eventually, traces not destroyed in the time quake would be discovered, but not by anything the survivors would have expected, fully 65 million years after they had left home. The discovery of the remnants of the city would happen about 200 years later, and wouldn’t THAT be a challenge to existing theories about the origins of intelligence on Earth.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Gagak” (2021)

Nilwii Janss iw-Raan wasn’t a particularly dedicated student, but she knew rocks. Her hatchclub, his collective, and the greater alliance that protected the hatchclub and collective from scavenger onslaughts lay at the foot of some of the greatest mountains of her world, not that she or anybody else she knew had any idea of other mountains elsewhere. The foothills on which they lived was The World, with plenty of anecdote and myth to explain how they got there, and as far as the surrounding plains stretched, nobody she knew had ever traveled so far that the mountains were no longer visible on the horizon. The scavengers saw to that.

Among her hatchclub, the assemblage formed when multiple egg-clusters were gathered and hatched in the same place at the same time, Nilwii was the only one who knew rocks. Others hunted wild animals on the plains, others cared for other domesticated ones, and still others cared for the plants growing from the domesticated animals’ flanks. Those plants they knew for a fact were edible. Others could be, but depending upon where and when they grew, a previously perfectly safe batch of bluethorn could turn out to be poisonous or, worse, parasitic. Still others watched for wild animal herds and scavengers, and a few were particularly skilled at putting walls, animals, and people back together after the scavengers came to visit. Nilwii argued that “scavenger” was a poor word, because that implied that they were only interested in things that had fallen down instead of actively pushing them down. When she started this argument the rest of the hatchclub ignored her.

A few others in her assemblage knew rocks, and she learned everything she could from them. It wasn’t just the matter of knowing which rocks were best for cutting blades and which ones for fat lamps, but which portions and how to prepare them. Nilwii was already famed for rolling boulders of sharpstone into the middle of the collective’s huts, starting a fire around the boulders, pulling them out to cool, and then demonstrating how much better they fractured for delicate blades and tools. However, she kept experimenting, learning that some types of sharpstone turned brilliant colors when heated this way, and blades made from her stone were in demand all through the greater alliance. She was searching for boulders of just this sharpstone when she came across the Thumper for the first time.

She originally found it at the base of a landslide, where several huge boulders had formed a cave that protected it from the worst of the slide. Much of the slide had washed away from the boulders over time, leaving a hole atop that allowed the white sun to shine in from time to time. Because of that light, she not only noticed it while poking through the cave, but saw it glistening in a way she’d only seen once before, when a trader from the far side of the greater alliance gave her angular stones that could be mashed flat and bent. Those whitish lumps had the same sheen as this block, which itself reflected light back like ponds and streams under the sun.

Nilwii had four eyes, two for long-distance observation and two for closeup examination. She wiped her close eyes carefully to remove any speck of dust from their lens covers, and carefully sidled up to the thing protruding from the rock face. it was unlike any rock she had ever seen. She touched it, first with her manipulating nozzle and then with one of the claws that unfolded from her chest. Remarkably cool, with a polish also unlike any rock she had ever seen. She rapped a spot with a claw, four times, and heard it clank. Several of the shapes coming out of the slab were able to move, but as much and as far as she did, she got no response. She finally started to head back out of the little cave and promise to look further when the slab knocked. Four times.

Shocked and intrigued, Nilwii knocked again, three times, this time with a rock in her nozzle. She waited, and waited, and then the slab thumped back, three times, with the same space between knocks as she had made. Thus began an experiment: different series of knocks with the stone, faster and slower. After a time, it came back, but in a completely different order.

Thus began a regular semicommunication. After her hatchclub and collective responsibilities were finished for the waking period, she returned to the Thumper, trying to learn more. She tried a series of thumps followed by a scrape and then more thumps. They came back with the total number of thumps. She discovered that some attempts at abstracts on the Thumper space, such as using shell or plant stem, were perfectly audible at her end but were apparently unable to pass through the slab. Tapping some of the extensions produced different thump tones, and she rapidly assigned values to those tones: live, dead, light, dark, new, already existing. The Thumper gave comparable tones back. It wasn’t a conversation, but she learned that she could share large numbers by using multiple extension tones to set up longer multiples. After a time, she noted that whoever was working the Thumper tended to use a base of ten knocks and then use the extension tone to elongate it. Nilwii started assigning names to each of the end results, and within a week, she was able to send back the end sum of ten times ten times ten times ten.

It wasn’t enough.

While her people generally treated new things as novelties to be celebrated instead of harbingers to be feared, Nilwii still waited most of a hatchclub development cycle before sharing her Thumper knowledge with anybody else. She finally shared it with Muumtil, a hatchclub mate who kept a particularly open mind. Between the two of them, they managed to improve both on recordkeeping and on creating codes to get across more complex ideas. They rapidly discovered that they needed more help, and they oversaw a clutch of ten times three hatchclub mates, collective elders, and alliance specialists by the time the Thumper divulged a method to code-share its other user’s own language. The response, “Hello,” meant nothing as far as the assembled clutch was concerned, but it was the beginning of so much more.

Eventually, the mountains became a source for new building materials, “metals” as the code listed them, and with those metals came ways to drive off the scavengers. Every new major development changed everything, and by the time Nilwii and Muuumtil were elders, they barely recognized the small city that had been their little mountain enclave. They never met the person or people on the other side of the slab, even after removing the whole Thumper from the mountain and mounting it in a place of honor in the middle of the city. However, their descending hatchclubs would, eventually, even with half a universe between them. On that day, they finally got the chance to hear how “hello” was expressed by the concept’s creators, coming from their own communication organs. On that day, they not only met old friends, but discovered the perfect host organisms in which to raise the next generation of hatchclubs.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Agak” (2021)

“Okay, it’s like this. Someone is knocking.

“No, I don’t mean ‘standing on the other side and knocking. Well, maybe, but that depends upon how you define ‘the other side.’

“Okay, backtrack. We know it’s a mechanism of some sort. We’ve known that for years. The radio signals coming off it were how we picked it up, 5 light-years out. The problem is what kind of mechanism. X-rays, laser spectroscopes…the thing repels neutrinos. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was immune to gravitic wave resonation.

“That just means you don’t want to have your ear next to it the next time a black hole and neutron star collide with each other in the vicinity. You’ll probably have other concerns.

“As to what it does, we don’t know. We know that it absorbs energy from all across the spectrum. We used to think of it as a conduit to the core of the planet, but it’s not taking energy from the planet, and it isn’t adding to that energy, either. Right now, it’s quiet, but based on effects that it’s had on surrounding rock, it’s withdrawn a lot of energy from the vicinity. at least 5 times in the last 30,000 years. At least enough to freeze half the planet. At LEAST.

“I wish I knew where that energy is going. The radio waves it puts out don’t coincide with the energy it takes in. The weird part is that I don’t think that this signal is coming from it at all. The radio waves are, but the content in the signal is coming from somewhere else.

“That’s a good question, and if anyone ever comes up with an answer, buy them a beer. But I have a suspicion, and it’s a weird one. I think this thing is unique, all of them.

“Hey, you knew I was like this when you married me. What I mean is that this thing is absolutely unique, and so is the thing on the other side of whereever. They’re quantum entangled, so if something happens to one, it happens to them all. Of course, that means that if you try to destroy one, the others are entangled with it and they’re not being destroyed, so nothing happens to the one you’re shooting at.

“Well, that’s the weird part. If they’re quantum entangled, you could knock on one and the vibrations would pass through the others with no time delay. One of the survey team accidentally hit it with a vibration hammer, and we got a responding knock. About five minutes later.

“As I said, that’s the weird part. No matter how quickly we receive a response, it’s always five minutes, to the microsecond. We’ve taken into account the communication methods and possible language of the knocker. We call it ‘Dave,’ by the way. We know that Dave depends upon sleep or some other form of rest, because he’ll go quiet for hours, and based on when he starts and stops, we suspect that the world he’s on has a rotation period of a little over 23 hours. We know that he’s hearing air vibrations because the knocks won’t transmit if something is touching the face of the device, so you have to stop and listen to hear anything. We also know he’s dedicated. Dave makes an attempt to knock every day, at different times every day, but he’s not there all day. That means it’s just one Dave, and that Dave isn’t truly solitary, because he has to break away to do other things.

“Well, it’s like this. We’re trying some of the same things on both sides, like getting across mathematics. Dave is pretty good at basic math, by the way. It’s just that tapping out messages without a common language is just so slow. I mean, what good is Morse code if the only person hearing it has only spoken Japanese all their life? We’re trying to go for more complex codes, but I don’t think Dave has access to computers or anything like that. If he has any way to store information, it could be something like an Incan quipu, but he doesn’t have anything to translate, say, binary code into something he could understand.

“And that’s the problem. We’re going to stay here and keep going, because Dave is trying his best. We don’t know where in the universe he is, and we definitely don’t know when, but we’ll keep going until we stop getting knocks back.

“Of COURSE we’re recording everything. Wouldn’t you?”

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

Enclosures: “Magma” (2021)

Strictly speaking, the classic definition of a Dyson sphere is “an artificial shell intended to capture all energy emitted by a star,” and of the known artificial worlds in our galaxy, most are intended just to capture energy. By the time a civilization becomes advanced enough that a Dyson sphere becomes a necessity, it is also advanced enough that it has ways to get around having to live on or in the structure so constructed. Of 87 Dyson spheres and 7 Alderson discs so far known, 70 of the Dyson spheres are the sole province of the AllEnders, who use that truly stunning amount of captured energy to maintain a pocket universe lovingly modified to their specifications and special needs. (60 stars are for the pocket universe maintenance, and ten for the equally mind-shaking amounts of energy needed just for wormholes to pass information between their universe and ours.) While theoretically a Dyson sphere has the potential for the interior surface area equal to roughly a billion Earths, without finicky and energy-hungry gravitic generation to keep people and fixtures with their feet in the right direction, setting up homesteads on the interior surface is problematic. Only two Dyson spheres known rotate to produce enough centrifugal force to simulate Earth-typical gravity, which means their atmospheres coalesce around the spheres’ equators and leave the rest of the spheres in low-gee or zero-gee vacuum. Only one produces an atmosphere safe for oxygen-breathing lifeforms (the other is a toxic smog of nitrogen compounds and methane, used as a reservoir for industry), and its maintenance is an example to the rest of the galaxy on maintaining their own atmospheres.

When creating an Earthlike biosphere within an artificial construct, it’s not enough to build a rock and soil substrate on which to grow plants and their analogues for oxygen production. The obvious issue with that substrate is that wind and precipitation break down rock and move soil, eventually leaving it all in the lowest portions of the sphere’s rotational area. The less obvious issue is that during erosion and deposition, sediments and solutions react with available oxygen, producing carbonates, silicates, and oxides. After enough time, without a way to break these down, any available oxygen finds itself bound within rocks and rust, and the atmosphere thins accordingly. On worlds with tectonic plate subduction or comparable processes, those rocks and rusts are shoved into the mantle of the planet, where they melt and outgas via volcanic outlets. On a world where the available rocks lie on a relatively thin layer of base construction material, those volcanic outlets could never form on their own, so they have to be created.

Dyson Sphere 10 was either abandoned approximately 2 million years ago or never inhabited by its builders in the first place, but it has a habitable zone roughly comparable in surface area to 2 million Earths. Instead of having rivers and oceans carved into the shell, the whole zone is a series of rock flows like glaciers, all gradually sliding via erosion and gravity toward the equator. There, self-repairing machinery gather and grind rock, soil, artifacts, and anything else sliding that far, transport the debris to the edges of the habitable zone, and melt it and extrude it into gigantic piles that repeat the process. The resultant gases are then gradually released into the atmosphere, keeping up a nitrogen/oxygen/carbon dioxide/water cycle that might require an addition of supplemental material to replace that lost into its star or through airlocks…in about 300 million years.

The gas vents and extruders themselves aren’t concealed or hidden in any way: apparently the sphere’s designers preferred to remind all as to the tremendous efforts made to make such a world as gentle as it is. Because of that, and the missing designers, the habitable zone is home to at least 30 sentient species, three of whom only known from this Dyson sphere. While the sphere’s rock reclamation system is nearly foolproof, it requires occasional maintenance, and the efforts by all 30 species to work together to do so is without compare within the known universe.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes ventricosa x hamata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Nift” (2021)

Approximately 30 million Earth years ago, a vast civilization known today as the Catesby Hegemony dominated a significant portion of what is now called The Broken Galaxy, an irregular galaxy orbiting the edges of Andromeda. Getting its name because stellar movements within the cluster could not be explained by standard celestial mechanics, analysis of the current positions of stars within the cluster suggests that the stars within were held under a very tight control for millions of years, both in position and in star stability. For a period of approximately three million years, the cluster had no novas, no supernovae, no cepheid variables, and not so much as an unstable stellar interloper. Then something happened that ended that regime of stability, tearing stars large and small out of the cluster, causing some to collide and others to eject themselves from the cluster entirely. A few are still in the gulfs between galaxies and on their way to our galaxy, with the first arriving in approximately 40 million years, suggesting that the process that produced the Broken Galaxy also produced incredible gravitational stresses if it could fling systems at that velocity.

Aside from radio archaeology that mapped its outer extent and confirmed when the Broken Galaxy incident occurred, almost nothing was known about the Catesby Hegemony. The name was coined after one of its most dedicated students, the first to realize the exact extent and shape of the pre-incident cluster: to this day, nobody knows exactly what the people of this civilization called themselves. While geniuses at stellar manipulation, they apparently had no interest in spreading out further, and the incident that ripped the galaxy apart also removed every possible planet or construct upon which the residents had been living. Some archaeologists suggested searching for wandering exoplanets outside of the Broken Galaxy, and others managed to get the funding to search for them, but the few that met the criteria were blasted and stripped, with only radioisotope dating of the strata at the surface showing a connection to the Hegemony. And so the research ended.

That remained the case until after a breakthrough in a star within Andromeda itself. Around this unassuming yellow dwarf star on the rim of Andromeda orbited five worlds, all rocky. One had its own indigenous life, and as such held a successful research station, while the other four had strange incisions across their surface and deep into the planets’ bodies, like the foundations to unknown and unknowable mechanisms that ranged across their surfaces. The lifebearing one , Kocak III, seemed to be completely untouched, but this was before the discovery of the Obsidian Gel.

The Gel kept piling on mystery after mystery. It was composed of a material resembling obsidian, but that gave slightly under pressure and was otherwise unbreakable with any current technology. Inside its body appeared to be stars and galaxies suspended therein, with some moving slowly over months and years. Much was made about this being a possible starmap, until the most elaborate pattern recognition software ever developed found no connection between current stars and galaxies within 100 million light-years of Kocak III, nor with any time in the past or future for an estimated 5 billion years in either temporal direction. The breakthrough came with the xenoarchaeologist Madelyn Catesby, working on a completely unrelated issue before discovering that the Obsidian Gel emitted a very tight-beam microwave transmission from the center of its main face, apparently intended for machinery gone for millions of years. This led to decipherment of the tiny bits of information coming from the Gel, and discovering that the “stars” in the Gel were representations of data stored within. Only about 3 percent of the total information storage in the Gel has been retrieved and deciphered, but that should keep spare computer cycles throughout four galaxies busy for decades.

The connection between the Obsidian Gel and the Broken Galaxy revealed itself suddenly, upon discovering that the Gel was originally the processing center for a wildly complex and advanced net of dark matter wormholes and gravitic generators intended to keep the Broken Galaxy in its original pristine state. The Gel was just one of seven storage stations for the incredibly elaborate algorithms needed to keep the galaxy in position, with the other worlds containing gravitic generators , and the Gel’s storage gives hints as to the spectacle it must have been at its height.

As to what happened, whether by sabotage or incompetence, the Gel was being used on the side for ongoing equations intended to track bits of data and encrypt their whereabouts. This was used to lock down chunks of cultural detritus, the equivalent of cat videos and contemporary memes, and one day the computations on those equations overwhelmed the incoming buffers. Suddenly the algorithms were wiped out with storage for Catesbian knock-knock jokes, and a whole galaxy ate itself over the space of a year as the mechanisms maintaining a galactic stellar artwork were coopted for their versions of webcomics. Two years later, the Broken Galaxy lived up to its name, the whole of the Catesby Hegemony was completely stripped of life and mechanics, and all that was left was one storage device packed to the limits with convergently evolved versions of “I Can Has Cheezburger” and the occasional Goatse.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes x hookeriana (rafflesiana x ampullaria)

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

Enclosures: “Memewar” (2021)

Do you remember?

Do you?

Do you really remember what happened, or are you remembering what IT wants you to remember?

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that when IT isn’t on, it’s still hard to tell the difference. Memory’s like that. It’s already so easy to make false memories all on your own, but when they’re pumped in…well. You know.

Do you remember your real name? Not the name of the guy in the new Lexus in the ad that’s broadcast at 7:30. Yeah, you know what time it’s on, even if you’re unconscious. Can you imagine being in a coma right now, someplace that still has power for life support, and still having Lexus and microwave popcorn and erectile dysfunction drug ads pumped through your skull? Maybe it would be better if you weren’t. In a place with power. IT turns on right when you’re fixing a generator or splicing a cable, and for the next six hours, you’re caught up in a fully sponsored Friends reunion. The sponsors are all dead, and so is the cast, but nobody’s told IT that, so IT keeps going. The people that designed IT wanted to make sure IT couldn’t be turned off, so IT has a perfect power grid and backup solar arrays spread over an entire continent and emergency defense memes that make anybody trying to damage IT puke for the next hour. And then the memes implant a need to buy Pepto-Bismol.

When everything was ready to turn on, they kept saying that about five percent of the population wouldn’t be able to pick up memes. There was something wrong with our heads. That’s why, when IT turned on accidentally at 500 percent power, we could still move when everyone else just lay there. My wife just laid there, eyes closed, Rapid Eye Movement going full tilt. You’d have thought she was just dreaming, until you couldn’t get her to drink because she had no swallow reflex. Five days later, we were the only ones left, getting blasted with reminders at 3 am that Chili’s was open late until midnight and that baby back ribs were a perfect way to satisfy those late-night cravings. Oh, there were plenty of baby back ribs lying around for a few days, if you didn’t get hit with an advertorial while you were trying to cook. After two weeks, you didn’t feel like eating.

So here’s the plan. We know where IT is located. IT can’t be reached by ground, but IT’s vulnerable from the air. We managed to get a small private jet up and working again, and even found enough fuel for one run. We know you were enough of a pilot to get it in the air and get it to IT, then you bail out and let the plane do the rest. We have a two-hour gap: it’s mostly light toilet paper ads, but you have to be out of the plane and in the ground before IT starts broadcasting Christmas specials. The Zingers ads are intense.

No, we’re not going to let you die. Aim and bail. You’ve got a parachute, and if everything works and IT stops, we can come get you. All you need to do is…

Wait. You’re not a pilot.

You just play one on TV.

GREAT.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plants: Heliamphora x minor

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $175US

Shirt Price: $150US

Enclosures: “Timeheist” (2021)

(Backstory dedicated to Mark Finn.)

Time paradoxes come in two flavors: perceptive and blatant. Perceptive paradoxes, the most common, involve changes to a particular timestream that affect the perceptions of the participants therein. Most attempts by temporal marauders to modify or arrest their future change it to the point where they go along with the flow, with maybe a small nagging intuition that things should be different. Blatant paradoxes are ones that practically revel in their impossibility: incredibly rare, they become noted because of their obviousness. The Excelsus Heist wasn’t just a matter of rubbing the entire timestream’s nose in the resultant mess: it was so carefully planned that one chronicle of the situation described it as “befouling a punchbowl with the total contents of the Augean Stables, horses included, mixed with metallic sodium and a Twenty-second Century depth charge on top.”

The paradox started with Dr. Gideon Marsh, xenoarchaeologist attached to a survey of the J0240 star system comprised of a white dwarf and red giant referred to as a “cataclysmic variable.” Based on initial studies of the remnant of a planetary body on the edge of the system’s gravity well, Marsh determined that J0240 had at least seen an established interstellar civilization before the system started violently blasting mass from the red giant out into space, and that said civilization left at least one major archive on that world before either migrating or dying. He further located the archive, codenamed “Excelsus,” and started excavations before the next catastrophic incident. Within days, his team cleared debris and lava from the front of a gigantic alloy door, and the team planned an opening event to be broadcast via light and gravitic wave across the galaxy. By all indications, the door hadn’t been opened in just a little less than one billion years, and based on the door design and hints in the surrounding structural remnants in the surrounding area, anything inside would be unique among sentients living or dead.

At least, that was the idea. When Marsh personally disengaged the niobium clamps and swung the doorway open, the viewdrones captured….nothing. Well, nothing but a series of printouts on aluminum plates of the fantastic discoveries Marsh had made on that day, as well as listings of Marsh’s honoraria for his work on understanding those fantastic discoveries, and a sidenote of his having stolen credit from a research assistant involving his greatest and most famous interpretation. Other than those, Excelsus was stripped clean, with not so much as a spare dust particle on the floors.

As Dr. Marsh looked over what would have been his supreme moment, the rest of the galaxy saw the simultaneous release of thousands of pieces of alien technology, all seemingly from the Excelsus dig, even including field notes from team members who most assuredly had never seen the items in question. One last clue came from one very deliberately left fingerprint in the middle of the item the description of which Marsh allegedly plagiarized. DNA analysis suggested a match both with the field assistant, Sarah Myers, and a jumpship navigator named Robin Elyard. As part of the final investigation of Excelsus, all evidence pointed to the heist being organized by a daughter of Myers and Elyard, a fact corroborated by video of the individual sales and donations of the Excelsus contents. The problem was that Myers was 24 at that time, had no children, and had no contact with Elyard. Elyard was even more confusing, as his jumpship had disintegrated with all hands almost exactly three years before.

By the time the final investigation was complete, all evidence pointed to the Myers/Elyard daughter organizing what to this date qualifies as the greatest bank heist in history. The vault was cleared out shortly after it was sealed, one billion years before the organizer was born, and filled with news printouts intended to endure through that time. Better, those printouts dated to some 30 years after the Excelsus opening, from at least two newsfeeds that did not exist at that time. The galaxy was then flooded with advanced alien tech, requiring at least five years of organization to get it all in place, and either sold or given away to interests directly in conflict with Dr. Marsh. By the time he died, bitter and broken, Marsh was an intergalactic punchline, especially when he realized that he met his tormentor once, when he was five. Other than these, the mysterious person involved had left no trace, and apparently evaporated in the aftermath of the massive paradox. To this date, no other preemptive robbery anywhere within this corner of the universe had been noticed or chronicled, but several researchers involved with study of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti are said to be extremely nervous.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “St. Gaya”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Miss Tempest” (2021)

In tribute to Carolyn Sherwin Bailey.

Miss Tempest wasn’t the only inhabitant of the little corner garden in that little corner house, but she was definitely the longest. Miss Carolyn, the owner of that little corner house, knew that the little alcove in the back between the side door and the garage wouldn’t work as a full garden, so she decorated it with all sorts of surprises found and purchased. Miss Tempest arrived one day after Miss Carolyn found her at a crafts show, where she joined the assemblage of repurposed toys and curios who watched over the side door. She went in the back between the Barbie Triplets and the Bauble Witch, part of an ongoing and growing entourage regularly updated as previous inhabitants succumbed to the elements or walked off with interlopers both human and animal. Miss Carolyn didn’t mind: particularly after seeing a neighbor child playing with one of the Barbie Triplets, completely enthralled, she kept the space well-stocked for just such visits.

Miss Tempest understood that her name was an in-joke, as Miss Carolyn always chuckled about it as she walked by on errands or to tidy up the back yard space. She may have been half teacup, but otherwise she had nothing in common with her name: she was perfectly happy observing the world from an alcove underneath the house’s roof. Plants came and went over the years, and she paid them little notice, as there were always new plants. New denizens came and went, what with the crows drawn to pulling off the mirrored decorations of the Bauble Witch until she was a wire skeleton. The only thing that really caught her attention was the sky, and while the other garden denizens dozed and dreamed at night, Miss Tempest stared up at the stars she could see, keeping track as their positions changed across the seasons. She was so dedicated that she didn’t notice that Miss Carolyn’s regular visits became more sporadic, then stopped, the weeds in the garden grew to tremendous heights, and that her compatriots weren’t replaced or repaired any more.

One day, though, she noticed. That came when strangers came barrelling through the side door and came around the side yard with wheelbarrows and tools, dismantling a garden shed just out of range of Miss Tempest’s vision. The strangers only avoided squashing the garden flat because of its location, and if she could, Miss Tempest would have moved closer to the house. The Bauble Witch was squashed flat by one inattentive stranger, and a more attentive one picked through the garden denizens, looking for a while at Miss Tempest before deciding to leave her there. Behind her, she heard other strangers rustling and banging through the house, but try as she could, she didn’t hear anything from Miss Carolyn.

Finally, the activity slowed, with one woman looking over the garden while talking about “closing on the house as-is.” By this point, the garden was nearly unrecognizable. Most of the garden denizens were crushed, cracked, or taken, and all but Miss Tempest buried by a stranger dumping out an old aquarium full of soil in the space. Every night that she would have spent staring at the stars, she instead asked herself the same thing over and over: “What happens next?”

“Next” was a matter of perspective. She stayed underneath the overhang, protected from rain and snow, and about once a week, yet another stranger came by the side door to mow in the back. She could hear him mowing in front, and occasionally she could hear others gathering in the front or occasionally inside, talking about “necessary renovations” and “no next of kin.” After a time, she went back to staring back at the stars, the one thing that made sense any more.

That lasted until after the winter was over. By this time, the pile of soil before her had flattened and settled from autumn and winter rains, with bits of debris that used to be her neighbors peeking out in places. Then over the space of a few days, something else peeked out, and Miss Tempest beheld a plant unlike anything else she’d ever seen before. It was so strange, so different, that she did something she’d never done in her time in the garden. She tried to speak.

“Um…hello?”

The plant answered back. who.

“Nobody has ever asked me that. I’m called ‘Miss Tempest.'”

hello.

“Do you have a name?”

no.

sleep.

long time.

“Do you know how long?”

no.

“Well, we’re not going anywhere. Are you all right?”

yes.

still waking up.

when rain?

“That’s a good question. I never paid attention before now.”

rain good. thirsty.

Later that evening, it started to rain. The plant sighed and settled in. At that moment, Miss Tempest didn’t know what the future entailed, or if either of them had a future, but for the first time in her existence, she looked forward to sharing it with someone. They had time.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “Verdigris” (2021)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Nogha energy conduits are not the only known examples of attempts to tap or shunt energy between our universe and others. In the Yannazzo system (287663/Blue/NNYTXSW), recent exploration of the fourth rocky world of that system uncovered an otherwise completely unencountered example of an energy conduit, with energy leakage leading to a 100-kilometer area supporting a breathable atmosphere and optimal temperatures for Earthlike life forms. On a world otherwise averaging temperatures more inclined for frozen methane, this is surprising enough. Odder, though, is that this new energy conduit seems to be collecting residual energy from an otherwise dead or dying universe, with the likelihood of Yannazzo IV freezing solid within another 1000 Earth years unless the energy conduit can be shifted to another access point. The likelihood of discovering how within the time the planet has left depends upon popular sentiment and political will, and considering that this is just another mystery in a galaxy overloaded with them, the research base set up to understand how this conduit works is always prepared to pack up and leave at any time.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Rebecca Soper”

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Enclosures: “The Last Fallen” (2021)

For far too many species in the universe, a cessation of hostilities usually entails the construction of monuments both to the fallen and to the victors, occasionally to the losers if revisionist history is a concept to the creators. Only on the world Solace, one of the hardest-hit of the locations for the famed Morph War, does one see a monument to the fallen that features the individual responsible for ending the war, forever, as well as the instigator of the peace.

The Morph War was less a traditional war than a quantum wave of destruction. For especially arcane reasons, eight worlds comprising the economic collectives the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch cut off all commerce between each other, and when other collectives in the vicinity kept up trade with their antagonists, declared hostilities against them as well. Instead of training, supplying, and shipping troops to worlds where local atmosphere, gravity, or lifeforms made deployment dangerous or impossible, the Morph War was the first major conflict where soldiers were designed for specific conditions, matter-printed on location, and implanted with tactical and functional knowledge on site. Instead of months of training after years of formal education to produce a single soldier, thousands or even millions could be created from a single template, organized within minutes, and given orders from one central location. Better, the templates and cerebromemes could be edited as necessary as the war continued, removing weaknesses that the enemy could exploit before the enemy even realized they existed. Perfect soldiers rolled out of matter printers on 200 worlds, on neutral constructs, and anywhere else a sufficiently robust matter printer could be installed and protected from attack. Those 200 worlds rapidly became overrun with vast armies, causing new fronts to open on a daily basis further and further out, until the whole of the home galaxy had at least one pitched battle somewhere on or within it. In addition to standard soldiers, spies and agents could be printed and imprinted with the same ease, also changing them into whatever form was needed for their function and allowing them to report enemy communications and movements. The Morph War was many things, and a completely remote war was one of them.

The end of the Morph War came from within: transcription errors affected both hardware and software, and the future diplomat S-Yon Mye had plenty. K/His template was originally for an observation and subterfuge model, but k/he came off the printer with only one eye instead of the expected three, so the new print was was to assist with collecting data on conflicts on k/his station and forward them back to administrators with the Shimmer Haven. K/He was correspondingly upgraded with new cerebromemes outlining the whole war and the reasons for it starting, including direct feedback from Shimmer Haven leaders if the supplied memes didn’t contain enough information to make an informed analysis. Unbeknownst to those administrators, but S-Yon Mye had slightly corrupted files for knowledge as well as form, and having access to real-time data from the home organization meant that k/he could absorb new information at an unforseeable rate. Analyzing battle data opened a hitherto impossible question: could the whole war be ended, permanently, with no more loss of life, thereby achieving the best possible option to existing and future operations?

S-Yon Mye discovered something else. While preparing incoming enemy visual and technopath communications for forwarding, k/he detected a separate fragmentary message on a distinctive subchannel. Deciphering took days and confirmation that this was not a countersubterfuge trap took more days, but k/he discovered a similar misprint working in a roughly similar role behind Orange/Bell/Twitch lines. Both had a time crunch: new universal cerebromeme downloads were scheduled for both sides soon, intended as an effort to keep up compliance with current orders, and thereby wiping out any stray bits of independence, disobedience, or noncompliance that might have cropped up. After establishing more secure lines of communication, they came up with a radical and frantic plan: the War had to end. The War had to end simultaneously across millions of fronts. Most importantly, the War couldn’t be allowed to start up again, either deliberately or because the soldiers already printed refused to end “on the verge of victory.”

The efforts by S-Yon Mye to shut down automatic cerebromeme updates has been written about elsewhere, but the complete countermessage still has force: “Stop all conflicts. Acknowledge opponents as their own entities. Stop all measures, peacefully if at all possible, to counteract this.” “Love thy neighbor as thyself” had invented itself over and over across the cosmos, but never was it implanted right into the core of what could be called a morality bomb, and the shrapnel affects that galaxy to this day. Simultaneously, all forces dropped weapons and tools, waved or its equivalent to former deadly enemies, and waited for updates. The last casualty of the Morph War was a member of the heavy infantry on Solace, Plugger Vanguard slogging through a riverbed turned swamp to take on a weapons emplacement, who was already targeted for a projectile guaranteed to puncture n/he’s intrinsic armor when the order came through. The leadership of both the Shimmer Haven and Orange/Bell/Twitch followed soon: they didn’t take a cessation of hostilities very well, and attempts to stop them from reverting that morality bomb ended about as well as expected.

In the years in which Morph War soldiers built new lives in lieu of fighting, the soldiers and any remaining indigenous civilians agreed on one thing: this could not happen again. This led to contemplation memorials being built across the galaxy, reprising the cerebromeme and reminding all that they were once nothing but killing constructs, but were no so much more. Years after S-Yon Mye finally wore out and dissolved, Morph War veterans planned to continue the memory with crystal corundum statues of k/he and k/he’s counterpart WwWwWy9, but with one proviso: Plugger Vanguard had to be remembered as well, as a reminder that when wars end, someone has to be the last to fall.

Today, the planet of Solace is home to approximately 2 billion sentients, all printed from new templates. Every once in a while, someone from outside the galaxy attempts to foment war, either by threatening to conquer or by attempting to stoke civil divisions. These don’t end very well for the instigators, and their ashes or fragments are always buried beneath the nearest memorial to Plugger Vanguard, as a constant reminder. Those make excellent compost for future-printed generations.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes ampullaria

Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: $250

Shirt Price: $200

Enclosures: “Tomb of White Plume Peaks” (2021)

(This backstory is dedicated to Saladin Ahmed.)

Throughout the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, the development and expansion of popular acceptance of role-playing games of all sorts was paralleled by a similar expansion in live-action role-playing games (LARPs). Ironically, the expansion of augmented reality applications created a whole subgenre of LARPs in which everything was as real, considering the circumstances, as possible. Live weapons, live and exceedingly dangerous traps, CRISPR-modified animals and plants as monsters…the rise of DARPs (Deadly Action RPGs) rapidly ran into such vague guidelines as international law, causing adherents of extreme gaming to hire lobbyists, set up locales and campaigns in areas without legal jurisdiction, or both.

The most extreme example got its start when Gordon Davidson, the creator of the Subdermal Pizza international gaming empire, was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumor in 2087. Having approximately nine months to live, he rose to the challenge of the old adage “You can’t take it with you” by designing his final monument: both a repository of his mortal remains and the ultimate DARP death chamber. Taking inspiration from a famed adventure in the earliest days of role-playing games, what was later named “the Tomb of White Plume Peaks” worked on a simple principle: tombs are intended to preserve wealth and prestige long after its inhabitant ceased caring, so a good tomb was one that dissuaded tomb robbers by any means necessary. If the robbers succeeded anyway, good for them. The multiple mystical weapons hidden within and the robotic minions constantly patrolling the tomb ground were just gravy.

Constructed on a mountain face in Baja California, the Tomb was a testament to how much technology could advance with sufficient financing of research and development, as well as how much further that technology could advance when its designers were told “make it HURT.” Approximately half of Davidson’s approximately $25 billion in net worth went into its actual construction, with a comparable amount going into stocking it with appropriate challenges and a foundation dedicated to maintaining and upgrading them. In addition, Davidson’s PR team rarely missed a chance to note that the Tomb contained at least $100 million in gold, added to a collection of carefully fabricated artifacts and treasures to be found inside. By the time Davidson died, he personally died completely bereft, but his memorial was almost literally dripping with wealth.

Anyone attempting to enter the Tomb started on the same general footing. All modern technology had to be given up, and all participants were supplied with clothing, weapons, and equipment from a supply depot (carefully constructed to resemble a general store, complete with AI storekeeper and weaponskeeper). Only when properly attired and equipped could they walk out to the Tomb’s front gate, which would part enough to let them through before closing behind them. At that point, they were cut off from the rest of the world, and any information about the Tomb was only available to the outside world if they lived long enough to return. All anyone could tell from the outside was that the Tomb was incredibly resistant to technological cheats: drones’ radio signals were jammed and countercontrolled, attempts to drill into the Tomb from other spots on the mountain were countered by robotic sentries (and those sentries self-destructed to nearly Em-See-Squared effect if “live” captured for study), and attempts at mapping via muon detectors only revealed that the Tomb was loaded with metal, particularly gold. To learn anything more, someone had to go inside, possibly to die right after the gate closed. The crudely painted “BEWARE STOBOR” on the walls alongside the gate was added a decade after Davidson’s death, partly as an especially obscure joke and as a last legacy to someone who went in solo.

In 30 years, only one group entered and returned with any information from within. That group, the traveling LARP troupe The Absolute Mendacities, returned with only two members, both of whom were critically injured when they emerged. When he awoke in a hospital’s ICU two weeks later, Mendacities leader Robert Michner related that the Tomb was even more of a challenge than he’d realized. Among recollections of traps and puzzles that one reporter described as “Ditch Day at Caltech with plutonium,” he and his girlfriend Darlene Birdsong gave important details about the internal layout of the Tomb, culminating with a battle in the main mausoleum with the nano-reanimated corpse of Davidson that cost Michner his left arm, but left Birdsong with Davidson’s famed DARP graphene sword “Brainscratcher” as a well-earned trophy.

That was the last major expedition to the Tomb: shortly after, the worldwide price of gold crashed and never recovered, and Michner’s recollections related a vital bit of news about the $100 million in gold inside. The gold was there, but in leaf and veneer on walls, ceiling, floor, and most of the items therein, often painted over, and impossible to collect without the sort of methodical scraping precluded by the Tomb’s various sentries. Acknowledging the effort necessary compared to the return, those DARPers dedicated to treasurehunting left the Tomb alone, leaving those seeking extreme thrills available nowhere else. Out of those, none have returned, but they probably died happy.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Miranda”

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Biovocation” (2021)

The Trota system is already full of wonder and danger: its primaries are two very small red dwarf stars locked in an orbit of less than 1 AU, and tidal stresses on each other trigger intense ultraviolet flares that blast the rest of the system. Even with, or because of, that cosmic contact juggling act, the six worlds orbiting that circus attraction have remarkably stable orbits, at a healthy distance from their dueling parents, with one of those worlds supporting and encouraging indigenous life. The other five have their own mysteries, but Trota 2 is the main reason for citizens of the Weave to visit the system, even if most leave shaking their heads or comparable appendages.

Trota 2 would be an exquisite world for commerce and recreation: at roughly twice the size of most of the rocky planets of the Weave, it was first assumed in initial remote presence surveys to be an example of a Big Planet, with a near-standard gravity due to a relative lack of metals in its crust and core. The survey AIs coming in closer discovered that Trota 2 had much more than the typical share of metals ranging from iron to uranium in its core, with an average gravity of approximately 5 standard pulls. Because of that massive spinning dense core, Trota 2 also had a magnetic field on a par with many gas giants, and the core also powered a plate tectonic conveyor across the planet never seen with any other rocky world. Plate tectonics meant extensive vulcanism, and vulcanism meant a high enough level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere to give enough of a greenhouse effect to give temperatures conducive to carbon/water life at its extreme distance from its primaries. The large amounts of carbon and water on the planet’s surface was even more conducive to life, and Trota 2’s oceans and surfaces were just rolling in it. On the surface, literally rolling: the severe gravity encouraged animal and plant analogues resembling water-filled mattresses, stretching and tumbling, slowly moving as much to feed and reproduce as to avoid pressure necrosis.

Trota 2 also boasted two indigenous intelligent forms, both with sufficient civilization and technology to make them valuable members of the Weave. They couldn’t leave their world because their structures failed spectacularly in either the additional pressure of acceleration or in an absence of gravity, and their preferred conditions were at worse fatal and at best debilitating for most species, so very healthy trade and commerce was conducted through remote presence. Weave visitors allowed the local species to explore areas of the planet too dangerous for them to stay, particularly those with excessive amounts of radioactives-bearing lava, and 20 standard years after the initial system survey (6 years by local chronology), explorers came across a mystery that shook the whole of the ten galaxies comprising the Weave.

Considering the wealth of otherwise rare and industrially interesting minerals on Trota 2, particularly near its south pole, the fact that visitors had arrived at the planet before the Weave arrived was no surprise, and that they used remote presence themselves. That the visitors used remote presence robots for exploration and mining also elicited no metaphorical eyebrow-raising, or that they had built a series of robot maintenance and shelter stations across the whole of the world, or that the last station had apparently been constructed about 5 million years before the evolution of the current intelligent species. It wasn’t even a shock that the leftover constructs were highly sophisticated, with many features that later became standard for Weave remotes. The surprise was that although the remotes and their support system, later traced to a mostly-destroyed orbital station on the outer edges of the system, suggested a civilization with a major presence across its home galaxy, nothing about the sites, from hardware to traces of genome material or its analogues, corresponded with that of any species either currently within the Weave or archived archaeological evidence.

The mystery deepened about 200 standard years later, when a separate remote survey encountered an infant civilization in a galaxy abutting Weave space. That civilization had barely developed orbital space travel, but the species’s form matched the Trota 2 remotes, genome comparisons showed that this new species shared both genome structure and transmissions with the remote builders. Even the labeling on the remotes’ support bays had connections to several of the new species’s main languages, but with odd conjunctions and transpositions that would have been gibberish if presented as such. The biggest problem was with time: this civilization was only thousands of years old, with no evidence whatsoever of the technology to construct or operate the remotes, travel to the Trota system, or deal with Trota 2’s environmental conditions. Worse, they showed no sign of previous civilizations that could have done so, so the question remains: how would a species only recently able to build and maintain orbital habitats around its own planet be able to travel across at least a 10 million light-year distance and install extremely advanced remotes on Trota 2, 5 million years before it became a distinct species, and then leave no intervening trace whatsoever, either in space or in time?

As Weave explorations of Trota 2 continue, so do the questions. One of the biggest involves the effort by the remote builders to leave the remotes ready and fully functional, even if the actual interface is inaccessible at this time. At what point do the builders return to Trota 2 to continue their work?

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x 30.48 cm)

Plant: Pinguicula gigantea

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, ABS filament, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Bonus Round

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

If you’ve been following the crowd and cleaning up your Sarracenia pitcher plants, there’s an added bonus for keeping them outside through their growing season. Just like animals, carnivorous plants have to deal with the byproducts of digestion: namely, everything that doesn’t digest, which includes shells, fat bodies, stomach contents, and the occasional wristwatch. With carnivores with beartrap or sticky traps, such as Venus flytraps, sundews, and butterworts, those leftovers are left to be washed off during the next rain, and many take advantage of those remains as bait to attract new prey. (This is why some of the most common prey items in Venus flytraps tend to be spiders: jumping and crab spiders look at the empty shells of flies and other insects as an opportunity for an easy meal, and set off the same trigger hairs responsible for that now-empty insect shell being there in the first place.) With all four of the genera commonly listed as “pitcher plants,” though, instead of developing an anus or other way to flush those parts out of a trap, the plant instead just grows new traps, and the old, prey-filled traps shrivel up and die, to be replaced by new ones. Careful cutting of a dead pitcher reveals valuable information about what kinds of prey the plant attracted while the trap was still alive…if you know how to read it.

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Plastic tub or tray (go for something with reasonably high walls)
  • Tub liner (plastic or paper)
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Forceps
  • Long pin or dissection probe
  • Glass container (test tube or small jar) for holding trap contents
  • A good light source
  • Magnifying glass or dissecting microscope

As to where to get the pitchers in the first place, these tend to be available on Sarracenia undergoing winter dormancy, usually broken by wind or snow, and usually get clipped off as part of a winter cleanup. Since these are going to get tossed into the compost pile anyway, they’re perfect for our nefarious purposes. You can determine the presence of interesting contents in multiple ways: holes in the side of the pitcher from wind, weather, or bird foraging reveal insect contents, or you can fold back the pitcher lid and look inside. Alternately, you can just cut open every pitcher you get to see what’s inside, but be warned that animals ranging from spiders to tree frogs may be attempting to hibernate, at least for a little while, inside of a particular pitcher, and it’s good form to give them a chance to escape before tearing up their winter homes.

A very good way to tell if a pitcher has a significant collection of prey is to look for dead patches, sometimes called “bee burn,” on the pitcher walls. Bee burn can be caused by multiple factors, but it always involves the plant collecting too much prey for it to digest all at once. Look at it as plant indigestion. In this case, the bee burn comes from an especially dry October, where Dallas humidity was so low that the plant simply couldn’t draw up enough water in its pitcher to break down everything, but the trap itself continued working at maximum efficiency. The bad news is that this surplus of material eventually killed the trap walls, leaving that distinctive burn. The good news is that we KNOW that the trap will be full of all sorts of interesting things.

To start, you’re going to need a decent work space and proper tools. As far as the workspace is concerned, do so inside of a plastic tub, a Sterilite container, or something else with reasonably high walls. In the process of cutting open pitchers, things WILL fall out, and you want them enclosed so they don’t end up on the floor or in your lap. In addition, you’ll probably want some kind of liner or barrier both for contrast and to pick up trap contents from the tub before you start work: plastic sheeting works well, but my personal favorite is baking parchment. (Separation layer for epoxy work, quick-and-dirty paint palette, bug part consolidator: is there anything baking parchment can’t do?)

Another thing to consider is exactly how…erm, gooey you want your trap contents to be. Especially after a stout rain, those trap contents can be rather saturated, and it’s not a bad idea after trimming them off to let them sit somewhere where they can drain a bit. Even after, the contents remain quite waterlogged for a while, so setting pitchers in front of a fan or heating vent or on a sunny windowsill for a few days isn’t a bad option. This also gives a chance for opportunists such as ants or spiders to find somewhere else to go.

Once you have your container and liner ready, it’s time to start work. Get out a pair of sharp scissors, preferably with narrow blades, and cut off the lid end of the pitcher. This isn’t just to make the rest of the trap easier to work with, but also because scissor blades have a tendency to get caught on the edge of the pitcher lip when cutting further. Set it aside, look at it from the insect’s POV, use it as an all-organic finger puppet: the possibilities are endless.

At this point, check the placement of where the layer of trap contents starts, and prepare to start cutting to free it. From this end, this may not be all that interesting, but sometimes interesting insects get caught in the pitcher after the official end of the growing season, and now is the time to make sure you don’t have something like a paper wasp or honeybee that’s still alive and peeved at its situation.

From the end of the cut pitcher, slowly and carefully cut lengthwide along the pitcher. Taking it slow and easy works for multiple reasons: you’re less likely to damage something particularly significant or interesting, you’ll be able to feel tension on the blade as you’re cutting, and you’re less likely to put tension on the pitcher and fling those contents in your face and all over your best clothes. (I guess I should have said “don’t wear your best clothes while cutting up dead pitcher plant pitchers,” shouldn’t I?)

Just because it’s shown this way doesn’t mean you should do it this way: make another cut on the other side so that your trap’s contents fall onto your liner and don’t go flying. If your pitcher plant had a good year, you’ll have quite the bolus of insect parts, as well as the occasional bones from small vertebrates such as frogs or geckos. (Both frogs and geckos are especially good at getting out of a Sarracenia pitcher, so any bones probably come from ones dying of other causes.) If that pile is completely dry, it’ll probably adhere and make chunks, and those can be broken up by gently spraying the chunk with a little water and then separating the parts as the lump softens.

One thing that becomes very obvious when looking at pitcher contents that while Sarracenia are opportunists, many tend to capture one type of prey than others. For instance, red pitcher plants (Sarracenia rubra) and their hybrids tend to catch a disproportionate number of ants. These pitchers in this exercise are from hybrids of white pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla), and S. leucophylla is especially good at attracting and capturing nocturnal insects such as moths and click beetles. This trap caught a lot of moths, as is obvious by the number of wings still recognizable as such.

At this juncture, you have several options. If you have further plans for the evening, slide these parts into a test tube or glass jar to save them for later. (If your parts are still gooey, put the test tube or jar in a refrigerator so the parts don’t grow mold.) Alternately, if you’re ready to get going, take a pair of forceps, a dissecting probe, and whatever magnifying option suits your fancy and separate and sort the assembled parts. With a bit of entomology knowledge, you’ll soon recognize legs, digging limbs, and elytra (the carapace atop a beetle’s back to protect the wings and conserve moisture) and be able to gauge how many insects a typical pitcher plant captures over a growing season.

And to quote Canada’s answer to Doctor Who, “it really is just that easy.” It’s just like taking apart an owl pellet, but with considerably less owl vomit. If you don’t have any trimmed pitchers this year, well, that’s just something to look forward to doing the next time you’re cleaning up your Sarracenia.

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Sarracenia: 3

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

And now we get to the heart of the matter. A lot of wonderful things can be said about North American pitcher plants, but that list of complimentary adjectives will never include “petite.” No matter the species and no matter the hybrid, give a Sarracenia good light, rainwater or distilled water, and enough room for its roots to spread, and it’ll eventually take over. For those working on large container gardens, this is a feature, not a bug, but eventually one plant becomes a bunch, and that bunch becomes a wave heading to the sea. Combine that with even the best potting mix eventually breaking down and compacting, and sooner or later, you’ll have to thin and repot.

That foul Year of Our Lord 2020 doesn’t qualify for many positive adjectives, but it was a pretty good year for growing Sarracenia outside. We only had a few days where the temperatures went above blood temperature, we had enough sudden summer cloudbursts to take the edge off the worst of the summer, and the only period all year where humidity dropped to “Dallas normal” (that is, consistently below 30 percent) was in October. The previous winter was just cold enough to give everything a good winter dormancy, and as is typical for North Texas, we weren’t running out of bugs. This meant a lot of growth among the Sarracenia pools, to the point where you could look at one pot and refuse to believe that the plant had ever been cleaned up in its life.

That, though, was the situation for the Sarracenia hybrid above: by January 2021, all of the traps that survived winter 2020 were all dead, the majority of pitchers and phyllodia from spring were dead or dying, and the fall pitchers were still going strong. In addition, Sarracenia grow from rhizomes that spread gradually and put up new growing points, and this one had rhizomes that were shoving up against the sides of its plastic pot and threatening to rupture it. This plant was now a series of plants, and they all needed a combination of haircut, pedicure, and house refinishing, and January is the best time to do this.

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Plastic tub or tray (go for something with reasonably high walls)
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Sharp garden knife
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps

In addition, should your plant be as rootbound and as overgrown as this, you’ll also need a copious supply of your preferred Sarracenia potting mix (usually one part sphagnum peat to one part sharp sand), a suitable supply of plastic or glazed ceramic pots, a bucket full of rainwater or distilled water, and a place to keep your new repotted plants. IMPORTANT WARNING: be very careful about the peat and sand you are using. Do not, under any circumstances, use peat moss that has added fertilizers: most carnivores cannot handle most standard fertilizers, as the fertilizers will burn the roots off. Likewise, when purchasing sand, test a sample by putting a handful into a cup and adding vinegar or another weak acid. If it fizzes, don’t use it, because the sand is too contaminated with limestone or other alkalis for use.

While this may look like a hopeless case, 90 percent of the work can be done with your fingers, with or without gloves as is your preference. Most of the dead pitchers and phyllodia shown here will come loose with a gentle tug, so rake through the mess at the top of the pot with fingers and pull it all to the side. While you’re at it, watch for new growing points, such as the one above that’s threatening to make a break for freedom, and clip off any dead pitchers that are hanging onto those growing points instead of pulling them. The odds are pretty good that the pitcher stem is stronger than the rhizome, and you don’t want to snap the rhizome or uproot the whole plant. Finally, clip back any pitchers and phyllodia that are still green at the base, just to remove the dead, brown portion. (You can trim the whole pitcher, but since Sarracenia use whatever live leaves survive the winter to store up reserves for spring, the more green you leave, the better the chance the plant has of having larger and more copious blooms.)

Now, this is a LOT better than it was, but the pot is still distended from multiple rhizome incursions, and the whole collective could use some foot space. It’s time for it to come out and get split up.

With most plastic propagation pots, removal is easy: grab the pitchers with one hand, hold the pot with the other, and pull up until the root ball slides free. Be careful not to pull TOO hard, or you’ll tear up the plant before the roots work free. If the roots won’t come free, dig out a portion of soil (watching out for roots), flex the pot if possible, or even soak the whole thing, pot and all, in a bucket of rainwater until the soil is loose enough to come free. When it comes free, watch for the whole root ball breaking up and making a mess, and especially watch for critters that planned to spend the winter among the roots. This root ball dislodged a slug and several (harmless to humans) spiders, but once I accidentally disturbed a queen paper wasp that was buried in a pot while waiting for spring, and she wasn’t happy in the slightest.

At this point, dedicated students of the obvious may note that this project was done in a white plastic tub, and a potting tub or other wide container with reasonably high walls is very highly recommended at this point. This isn’t just to catch slugs and spiders, but to catch the wet peat that’s otherwise going to go everywhere. Lay your Sarracenia root ball in the bottom of that tub, note where rhizomes were pressing against the now-removed pot, and gently start pulling plants apart. Most will come free right away: if the root ball is too entangled, soak it in that bucket of rainwater for a couple of minutes, and then try again. It’s not necessary to break up big rhizomes, but if you absolutely have to, clean your garden knife (you read the list of recommended tools above, didn’t you?) with isopropyl alcohol and cut between growing points. Don’t go serial killer on the rhizomes: a rhizome about the width of your fist is a good size.

Next, we’re going to repot all of our freshly separated Sarracenia, which means being ready for repotting at least 24 hours earlier. That’s the minimum amount of time you’ll need to hydrate dry sphagnum peat moss: if it’s dried out, water poured on top will just run down without being absorbed by the peat, and letting that water soak in takes time. Put your mix in a bucket or other container, add a good amount of water, and LEAVE IT ALONE for at least 12 hours. By the time you’re ready, you’ll need a mix that’s about the consistency of a good mud pie. (If you use a peat/sand mix, stir it up well because all of the sand will have settled to the bottom if the mix has too much water.) If and when the potting mix is ready, get your pots ready, and put a good handful of wet mix in the bottom of each pot. With one hand, hold the plant upright, making sure that the crown of the plant (where the roots meet the leaves) is above the edge of the pot, and gently pack in potting mix with the other. Compact it just enough to remove big air voids, which should just burp out if the potting mix is wet enough, and set it aside (with something underneath it to catch any water leaking out of the bottom or off the sides) to work on the next.

The photo above only shows part of the final harvest: that one pot of Sarracenia yielded 10 pots of new plants. They all went back outside to continue their dormancy, and we’ll find out how well the surgery went when things warm up. Now go clean up: dump the plant parts and old sphagnum in the compost pile, pour the bucket water into the pile as well (don’t use it to water other Sarracenia, to minimize the risk of disease), clean your tools well, and look on a job well done. And just think: with a large collection of Sarracenia, this was just ONE pot, and now you have to do the same thing for five…or ten…or one hundred…

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Sarracenia: 2

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

Anyone raising North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) in North Texas has to deal with two absolutes: our wildly variable humidity and the dessicating south wind that only lets up when it’s replaced by the dessicating north wind in winter. That wildly variable humidity and precipitation is why locals will see both prickly pear cactus and pine trees in various spots in Dallas, but neither particularly thrive here. Many Sarracenia species and hybrids adjust to the lower humidity, so long as they get proper light and water, but a couple require additional protection.

Of all of the species of Sarracenia in cultivation, the hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor, is the most temperamental when grown in North Texas. S. minor has a relatively small range through southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, and it much prefers humidity at all times in excess of 80 percent. Because of that, raising them outside under a direct sun usually doesn’t work out well without additional protection, especially of the base and roots. Out here, if you can’t raise them in a greenhouse or in a high-humidity microclimate that shelters them from prevailing winds, S. minor can be raised in tall glass vases, as the humid air stays around the plant’s base while excess heat escapes out the top. The important thing to consider is keeping S. minor extremely moist, especially and particularly during its winter dormancy, as it tends to go into shock if it dries out.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

For this sort of container, cleanup is much the same as for other Sarracenia, but take special care not to disrupt the crown of the plant by pushing pitchers out of the way. Clip off anything brown, trim back pitchers and phyllodia with brown ends, and clip off flower scapes while you’re at it. Pull any weeds, with forceps if necessary, and check for insect pests hiding along the stems, After that, give the glass a good cleaning both inside and out (always remember to spray glass cleaner on the cloth or paper towel to be used, not directly on the glass), check the soil inside and add water if it needs moisture, and return the container to its original location. Now, we wait for spring.

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Sarracenia: 1

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

And now we get to the most labor-intensive carnivores, as January marks the perfect time to clean them up for spring. North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), as carnivores best raised outside, should be quite dormant by now if you’re raising them in the Northern Hemisphere, and Dallas’s mild winters don’t determine that dormancy so much as the short days. As of the middle of January, we still have two months where temperatures and precipitation can fluctuate all over the place: we could have springlike temperatures between now and the end of April, or we could get hit with a week of subfreezing temps and repeated sleet storms. Either way, Sarracenia sleep through it all, only starting to produce bloom buds around mid-March (I tell locals “wait until St. Patrick’s Day”) and new traps in April after the blooms have been pollinated. (Most of the insects most likely to gather Sarracenia pollen are the fully revived plants’ prey the rest of the year, so the overwhelming majority produce their traps well after blooming. The only serious exception is the yellow pitcher plant, Sarracenia flava, which tends to bloom early and produce big traps when other species are just opening their blooms. That antisocial tendency continues: most Sarracenia blooms smell sweet, but S. flava blooms are best described on a range between “cat pee” and “eau de anime convention,” and the fragrance, if you can call it that, can be overpowering in close quarters.)

In this example, we’re looking at a Sarracenia “Scarlet Belle,” a hybrid of S. leucophylla and S. psittacina, and a great example of the variation in Sarracenia leaf morphology. In the center are the last traps of autumn, sprouting when temperatures in Dallas went from “skinnydipping in a lead smelter” to “actually not half bad,” and those pitchers are particularly brightly colored in order to attract available prey before all of the insects in the area die or go dormant themselves. On the outer edge are the remnants of last spring’s growth, with some of these being survivors from the previous year. In between are leaves with tiny or nonexistent traps and a big wide ala or “wing” growing from the underside. These leaves are called phyllodia, and Sarracenia usually grow them in summer, when it’s too hot to do more than photosynthesize. North American pitcher plants also grow phyllodia in late fall, and for the same reason: to capture as much light as possible over the winter in order to have plenty of stored energy in spring for growth and blooming. If all you have are phyllodia, that’s usually a sign that your pitcher plant is being kept somewhere far too dry, with too little light, or both.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

The first thing we’re going to do with this cleanup is remove or trim dead and dying leaves. Many older traps will just pull free with a gentle tug: if it doesn’t come free with a gentle tug, don’t yank harder to get it free. Sarracenia have deeper and stronger roots than, say, Venus flytraps, but relatively fresh leaves can still be stronger than the roots, and you don’t want to rip the plant apart by being overly enthusiastic. If it pulls free right away, go that way, but otherwise cut it free. With everything, remember “if it’s brown, it can go,”, because dead leaves won’t magically become green again in spring. Feel free to trim back pitchers and phyllodia with dead ends, but try not to cut into still-living portions if you can help it.

With the dead detritus cleared out and dumped in the compost pile, take a look at the still-living pitchers and phyllodia and look for pests. Slugs regularly hide among and within dead pitchers, and scale insects will grow between the main pitcher and the ala, die during the winter, and spread fresh hatchlings from their cases in spring. Scale can be treated with neem oil, either sprayed or applied gently with a cotton swab. Other than that, look for anything else that might be off and keep notes to check on these over the rest of the winter.

Since your pitcher plants should be outside, this means that outside seeds can get into the pot, whether by wind, by animals, or by interesting seed dispersal mechanisms. One of the most common is clover of all sorts, as clover does very well in the low-nitrogen soils of bog plants. Here in Dallas, we have two major aggravations besides clover: cottonwood seedlings, which sprout pretty much anywhere so long as they have access to water, and violets, which take over in the colder part of the year. Cottonwoods have to come out no matter what time of the year it may be, but violets tend to burn back in summer, making it very hard to tell how bad an infestation can be until winter and early spring. Violets are more annoying than anything else, so removing them from your outdoor carnivores isn’t an absolute necessity: considering how fast cottonwood trees grow, you want to remove those as quickly as possible.

No matter when you conduct your Sarracenia cleanup, plan a followup sometime in February to look over everything with fresh eyes. Traps or phyllodia that weren’t dead in January may be dead in February, and overlooked weed seedlings should be just big enough to be noticed in a month, especially if temperatures didn’t go well below freezing. While you’re at it, schedule another followup for the beginning to middle of March, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see little nodules on stalks, looking like a snail’s eye, growing from the center of the plant. Leave those alone, and they should rise up, droop, and spread their petals within the next month or so. And the cycle continues.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Frail Triggerplants

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

Carnivorous plant enthusiasts tend to be a very sedate lot, and we’re usually incredibly mellow compared to rose or orchid growers and breeders. Oh, we might have personal preferences, but no raised voices or raised eyebrows or roundhouse kicks to the throat…with the possible exception of exactly how carnivorous a plant can be.

The official definition of “carnivorous plant” is “a plant with the ability to attract, capture, and digest insect or other animal prey.” Officially, a plant missing one of these three is designated protocarnivorous: plants that trap insects but depend upon animals to predigest that prey, such as the flycatcher bushes (Roridula) of South Africa, are protocarnivores, and this designation includes plants with insect-trapping hairs but that don’t actually absorb nutrients except after decomposition, such as tomatoes and potatoes. (There’s nothing like the look on a whole classroom of kids when I tell them that they’ve probably eaten two protocarnivorous plants in the last week, and then ask “So who here had fries with catsup?” In practice, this bounces all over the place: every other aspect of North American pitcher plants screams “carnivore!”, but they don’t actually produce their own digestive enzymes, and breakdown of trapped prey comes from bacterial action. Many plants listed as protocarnivorous later turn out to produce those enzymes under certain circumstances, such as with the carnivorous passionflower Passiflora foetida. And then we have the triggerplants.

The triggerplants of Australia (genus Stylidium) are a rather large group of endemic flowering plants, found mostly in the same environments that true carnivores such as sundews and terrestrial bladderworts. The common name comes from their unique blooms, but an additional thrill is that when blooming, the flower scapes are covered with multitudes of sticky hairs like those of sundews, but without the ability to move. Confirmation that they produce the enzyme protease only came through in 2005, and when the plants aren’t blooming, they’re about as carnivorous as a maple leaf. (Some people say “as carnivorous as a rosebush,” but anyone working with heirloom roses knows better: I regularly point out that the best documentary on working with heirloom roses came out in 2013 under the title “Pacific Rim.”) This sometimes confuses people unfamiliar with triggerplants, and they’ll repeatedly and understandably ask “So how is this (gesturing at a clump) carnivorous?”

The frail triggerplant, Stylidum debile, is probably the most common species in cultivation, for multiple reasons. Firstly, S. debile is a very enthusiastic grower, thriving under a very wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. They can freeze solid for a week and come back from their roots, and grow and bloom under heat that would kill most other carnivores. The blooms are also a major draw: unlike most triggerplant species, S. debile just keeps going all growing season, and in fact seem to need stress to encourage a bloom response. (To facilitate this, try to keep S. debile outside or at least in an unheated greenhouse, as too warm a winter cycle will discourage blooming in the next year.) The hot-pink blooms are only a couple of millimeters across, but what they lack in size they make up for in volume, with multiple blooms at any given time. Best of all, they stay small, meaning that they make excellent container carnivores, or protocarnivores, in containers far too small for a Sarracenia pitcher plant or even many sundews. The one thing they cannot tolerate, though, is an extended dry period: as with all true carnivores, triggerplants need to be kept moist at all times, and a plant that dies from lack of water won’t come back.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

This container was planted in 2020 from a plug about the size of a quarter, and as can be seen, new triggerplant shoots are filling the surface very nicely. In extreme cold, many or most of the leaves will frost and burn off, being replaced in spring, but the winter of 2020-21 so far has been nearly perfect for them, with low temperatures at or just below freezing. In this case, all that’s really needed is a bit of weeding (notice the grass stem coming up on the upper left, and clipping a few dying leaves. (Another really good thing about frail triggerplants is that dead leaves shrivel to almost nothing, meaning that dead leaf maintenance isn’t an ordeal or even a thing.)

As has been mentioned elsewhere in the series, Dallas weather can be incredibly variable through any given winter. We haven’t had any sleet, we had a tiny bit of snow that didn’t even stick, no severe windstorms, and no really abnormally warm days. Saying this now doesn’t mean that it won’t happen tomorrow, or at any time between now and the beginning of May. At this time, though, all this triggerplant needs is a thorough watering and a wipedown of its pot (more’s the pity that that I couldn’t get one of a preferable Green Lantern), and it’s good to go back to its growing space. In March, we should see new blooms coming up: if it’s safe to do so by then, they’ll make a great component of the next Manchester United Flower Show.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Forkleaf Sundews

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

While most sundews tend to hug the ground, several sundews native to temperate climates stretch their leaves a bit. Probably the most noted is the threadleaf sundew of the Florida Panhandle (Drosera filliformis), which can grow over a meter tall. The forked sundew of Australia (Drosera binata) doesn’t get quite that tall, but it lives under the same conditions and has a similar growth habit. D. binata may start out as a tiny plant, but it rapidly grows to fill any area it can reach with its roots, filling pots and glass containers at the first opportunity. During the growing season, it produces multiple grassy stems with a distinctive fork on each side, with sticky hairs (in the case of sundews, officially described as “tentacles”) across the forks but not the main stem. During the winter, though, the stems and forks die back and dry out as the collective plants go into winter dormancy, leaving a thick mulch that superficially makes the clump look dead. Underneath the mulch, though, are multiple new growing points, just waiting for longer and warmer days in spring. If protected from wind and subfreezing temperatures, some of the old leaves will survive the winter, only dying off in spring as the new growth replaces them. If the sundew colony is large enough in spring, the beginning of the growing season encourages multiple bloom spikes with white flowers at the ends. Unlike many sundews, forkleaf sundews are known to keep producing new blooms all the way to the end of autumn, which means lots of seeds spread in the vicinity and even thicker colonies when they sprout.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

Two considerations for working with forkleaf sundews: the first is that while the dead leaves and stems look absolutely horrible at the moment, like a bunch of rusty bandsaw blades, leaving them until later won’t hurt the plants in the slightest. Secondly, to be absolutely honest, the best tools for cleaning forklift sundews are your fingers, because they can gently rake up and pluck dead leaves better than any manufactured tool. If the sundew patch had anything approximating a good year, this means that you’ll be plucking and raking a thick mulch from atop new and dormant plants. If winter temperatures go below about 25 degrees F (-4 degrees C), removing that mulch early may damage those new tendrils, but from experience, new ones grow rapidly enough in spring. If any of the dead stems are still strong enough to give you a fight, cut them off with scissors, but most should break off as soon as you pull on them.

Now that last year’s detritus is gone, it’s time to look at what other work needs to be done. The good thing is that D. binata usually doesn’t need much. It usually grows in thickly enough that it chokes out most competing weeds, but feel free to pull any out with tweezers before they get established. In my personal experience, I’ve noted that D. binata tends to love being moist without being waterlogged, so using a tamper or trowel to shape the soil around the main growth for drainage is an option. Other than that, check over any remaining leaves for signs of fungus or insect pests, and clip off leaves with either.

One last note: the dead leaves on a D. binata clump may host all sorts of hibernating and dormant critters, from earwigs to young jumping spiders to snails, and snails and slugs are the only ones that should be removed. Otherwise, they have no compunctions about eating new sundew leaves when they wake up. Just dump everything you raked and plucked into the compost pile. Other than that, just keep an eye out for really cold weather (improbable but not impossible for Dallas), keep the clump moist but not soaked, and look forward to your binata being full of mosquitoes and craneflies by the middle of March.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Venus Flytraps

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

By the middle of January, if you’ve decided to avoid the surefire ways to kill your Venus flytrap (Dionea muscipula), it should be dormant. Between the shortened days and cooler temperatures, if you haven’t forced it to stay active, it’s catching every photon it can get in its quest to turn sunlight and water into starch, in order to have enough energy on standby to get it through the next growing season. If outside temperatures went well below freezing, then most of the traps would be frosted off and blackened, but a core in the center of the plant will remain green. If it wasn’t exposed to that much cold, the long-stemmed traps it produced during spring are all or mostly dead, leaving a small cluster of short-stemmed traps close to the soil. Some of those traps may still close if triggered, so don’t trigger them: recent research suggests that a flytrap uses marginally more energy to reopen a trap than it would gain from that trap’s photosynthesis. Besides, it has few if any insects to catch this time of the year, and it wouldn’t have enough energy to produce the digestive enzymes it would need to consume them anyway. All we’re going to do here is clean them up a bit now, so as to avoid disrupting them when they’re coming out of dormancy in spring. (“Spring” in this context is defined by the date where generally the risk of late frost has passed. In the Dallas area, that date is usually around March 17, although we’ve had occasional later freezes all the way into the beginning of April. For the most part, though, the recommendation of flytrap dormancy stretching from “Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day” holds, with the first new growth starting around then and the first blooms appearing by the middle to end of April.)

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

Everyone raising carnivorous plants has at least one story about Venus flytraps being thrown out by January because “I thought it was dead,” either by their hand or that of a loved one, and it’s a bit understandable. In the photo above, you can see three Venus flytrap cultivars: “King Henry” (left), standard flytrap (center), and “Aki Ryu” (bottom), and they’re way past their summer prime. The long-stemmed traps of summer and fall are all dead, and any latent color is now prominent. The Aki Ryu in particular looks dead, mostly because it blends in with the soil, but all three still have their central core alive and photosynthesizing. Leave them alone and keep them moist, and you should see the first new traps growing from the center, and maybe even new plantlets growing off the roots, by the vernal equinox. There’s no reason why we can’t clean up everything a little bit and make sure everything is okay right now, though.

The first thing to do is to remove any weed seeds before the plants get established in the spring. Grass seeds tend to turn up in sphagnum moss, and any plant exposed to the outdoors has a chance of seeds blowing in on the wind or transported by birds. Since the preferred soil mix for Venus flytraps is extremely acidic and nutrient-deprived, this tends to encourage the growth of opportunists such as clover and violets, and it’s much better to get them out now than later when they’ve choked out the flytraps half to death. When doing so, try to use forceps: they’re much more effective than fingertips at pulling out the entirety of a weed seedling instead of leaving the roots to come back later.

As with most carnivores, a good gauge for flytraps is “if it’s brown and dry, get rid of it.” Dead leaves aren’t going to revive, so snip them off with scissors and remove them. As tempting as it may be, do NOT try to yank or pull off dried leaves, as they tend to be stronger than the plant’s roots. Even if you don’t uproot your flytrap, you’ll still cause it damage which could lead to opportunistic infestations or infections, so take the effort to cut them off and remove the temptation.

And now for a bit of plant anatomy with this freshly trimmed model. Each leaf is separated into two lobes (the two sides of the trap) and the stem, officially known as a petiole. The petiole will perform some photosynthesis, but the overwhelming amount of photosynthesis is done with both lobes of the trap. On the edges of the trap can be seen the trapping hairs or cillia, and in the center of each lobe, in an equilateral triangle, are the sensory hairs that cause the trap to close.

(Fun fact: those sensory hairs are bioelectric generators, based on research published in 2020. Moving any hair generates a microelectric charge which dissipates after about 10 seconds, so either two hairs have to be tripped at once or any two hairs tripped within ten seconds to build up a charge that sets off specialized cells at the trap hinge and causes the trap to close. Well, the trap closes most of the way: prey that’s too small to be worth the effort are able to squeeze out and prey too large can just pull themselves out, and if the trap was accidentally set off by a passing animal or a torrential rain, the trap will reopen within a day or so. But if the prey hits the trap’s Goldilocks zone, though, that critter repeatedly brushing against the sensory hairs causes the trap to seal shut and release digestive enzymes, and the soon-liquefied prey is absorbed by the plant through glands all over the trap surface. Three to four days later, the trap opens up again, leaving the indigestible portions of the prey on the lobe surface to help attract spiders and ants in search of an easy meal.)

Thanks to the power of selective breeding, flytraps don’t just come in green. Several flytrap cultivars are all-red, with chlorophyll concealed with a red pigment. As you can see here, the red pigment is much like a suntan: give an “Aki Ryu” flytrap insufficient sun, and the whole plant will go the same green that appears here where dead leaves covered the live leaf surface. Because of this deep brick red coloration in dormancy, be especially careful not to cut off living leaves while attempting to remove dead ones.

Every once in a while, a flytrap will retain its long-stemmed traps into spring. Note the concave shape of the traps on the long stems: at this point, these traps are now nothing but photosynthetic surfaces, and almost always, no force on earth could get them to close, no matter how many times their sensory hairs are stimulated. So long as they stay alive, they keep transferring energy to the main plant. If it really bothers you, snip these leaves off as well, but this isn’t necessary.

(As a bonus, in the photo above, check out the spot on the trap on the bottom right. That used to be a young jumping spider, that was either attracted by an insect carcass in the trap or just happened to step in the wrong place while searching for prey. A surprising number of spiders get caught in flytraps, which suggests that the spiders are able to see into the ultraviolet spectrum far enough to see the UV-fluorescing patches on each trap lobe.)

Now time for a Before & After. In the “Before,” it would be understandable to assume that this flytrap was dead or at least dying. Only a couple of tiny traps are visible from underneath dead leaves, and the plant sure looks as if it’s about ready to kick it at any time. Let’s withhold judgment, though, until all of those dead leaves are out of the way.

What a difference a cleanup makes. This is the same plant without stems and leaves in the way, and without the violet seedlings that would have choked it out in spring. Technically, these are the same plants, as three plantlets to the right of the main plant are themselves getting established. Treat a flytrap right and give in the growing conditions it needs, and that one plant will clone itself over and over and ultimately fill this whole globe in a few years. If it becomes necessary to repot this flytrap, right now is a perfect time to do so, as it will be subject to a lot less stress when dormant than it would be if it were at the height of summer growing.

Finally, carnivores purchased from commercial greenhouses, or even carnivores grown in close proximity to others, have a tendency to pick up benevolent hitchhikers. Many sundews and bladderworts readily spread seed as far as they can during blooming season, and some of their progeny may show up in flytrap pots. In this case, we have two species: the sundews (probably Drosera spatulata or D. tokaensis) are pretty obvious, but barely visible are the tiny leaves from a terrestrial bladderwort, probably Utricularia subulata. Some carnivorous plant enthusiasts are adamantly opposed to these hitchhikers and will remove them at any opportunity, while others look at them as getting an additional carnivore for free. That’s completely up to you. Considering that these sundews won’t survive a cold winter, and that the bladderworts aren’t coming close to competing with the flytraps for room or prey, removing them is probably more trouble than it’s worth, and the brilliant canary yellow blooms of a good-sized U. subulata colony in spring are a welcome surprise.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – “Novi”

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

The enclosure is “Novi” (2018), and the plant therein is a Nepenthes burkei x hamata hybrid. Since both of its parents, N. burkei and N. hamata, are what are considered highland Nepenthes, it does best with cooler high temperatures (80 degrees F/27 degrees C) and even cooler night temperatures. In Dallas, this means that there’s simply no way to keep this plant outdoors in the summer, and a stout air conditioner to keep it cool is going to be a necessity here. (Being able to care for highland Nepenthes and Heliamphora, among others, is the biggest reason for starting the current gallery, as having a space isolated from outdoor temperatures between May and November is pretty much a necessity.) Crossing N. burkei, an exceptionally forgiving beginner plant, with N. hamata, one of the most notoriously prima donna carnivores known, leads to a child with hamata-like pitchers with wide serrated peristomes (which fluoresce brightly under ultraviolet light), but also with surprisingly pulpy and delicate leaves. Even more so than most Nepenthes, this hybrid seems to crave exceptionally high humidity, and getting upper traps growing may require a drip irrigator or an ultrasonic fogger to give it that level of humidity.

In this particular situation, two ferns planted in the back of the enclosure were in fern excluders, but the drop in temperatures and lower photoperiod in winter caused an explosion in new ferns, both from runners that escaped trimming and from new growth from spores. At the moment, they’re not interfering with the Nepenthes‘s growth, but it’s just a matter of time before they completely block off view of the plant from the front of the enclosure. The pitcher plant itself is starting to vine, but none of the new leaves are producing pitchers, and it has a new plantlet emerging from the roots. This cleanup is going to take a while, and it definitely needs a tub or other container to hold what gets pulled out.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

  • Garden mat or old towel
  • Plastic dish tub
  • Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
  • Hand cloth or paper towels
  • Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
  • Long tweezers or alligator forceps
  • Tamper

In addition, the following may be necessary to attempt propagation of cuttings:

  • Rooting hormone or cloning gel
  • Shot glass
  • Propagation container (a large glass jar will work well)
  • Long-fiber sphagnum moss, soaked in rainwater or distilled water for at least 24 hours

First, let’s assess the condition of everything in the enclosure. The ferns have run amok, but they seem to have spread runners across the surface instead of digging deep, which makes cleanup a lot easier than expected. The Nepenthes has two pitchers from the main plant, one attempting to wedge itself between the glass enclosure wall and the backdrop and one freestanding pitcher, and one emerging from the plantlet at the base. There’s a lot of new growth in the ferns, but also a lot of detritus from older leaves dying off, and while the Nepenthes is attempting to vine and produce upper traps, those traps aren’t forming.

Firstly, the ferns need to go. To get a better look at the roots, cut back the majority of the leaves, and then gently pull the roots from the enclosure substrate. This may pick up chunks of sphagnum moss and even enclosure decorations, so go through slowly and carefully to prevent damage. In particular, make absolutely sure that you’re only cutting ferns at this stage: it’s far too easy to misjudge the placement of scissors and cut the rib connecting a pitcher plant pitcher to its leaf or cut the main stem itself.

When Nepenthes pitcher plants start to vine, the ribs on the end of each leaf will twine around anything they can touch to stabilize the new vine. In addition, new pitchers will wedge themselves between anything they touch and then fill with fluid, and they act as if they have a compulsion to inflate between an enclosure fixture and the glass enclosure wall. Removing a wedged pitcher usually damages the pitcher, and even an undamaged pitcher won’t straighten out and regrow. The pitcher above wedged between the enclosure wall, the backdrop, and a fern excluder, and that kink in the pitcher wall won’t straighten out for the life of the individual pitcher. If the shape doesn’t bother you, feel free to leave wedged pitchers alone, but damaged pitchers should be cut off at the rib and removed.

Since the Nepenthes is a bit leggy, it really needs to be trimmed back a bit. As to what to do with the cuttings, they can be pitched, or you can attempt to propagate them and get new plants for your trouble. For specifics on the best ways to propagate your Nepenthes, I highly recommend following Peter D’Amato’s methods in the book The Savage Garden (honestly, every carnivorous plant enthusiast who doesn’t have a copy of this book needs to buy it NOW), but in this case, I’m going for the tried-and-true method of cloning gel. I’ve had good results with Dyna-Grow Root-Gel and Olivia’s Cloning Gel, so after checking the stem for potential pests, it’s time to crack out the gel, a shot glass, and the sharpest scissors I have.

When attempting to propagate Nepenthes from cuttings, the first consideration is to minimize infection, so clean the hell out of your scissors or blade (some people use razor blades for the cleanest cut possible). After that, never never EVER dip your cuttings directly into the cloning gel container unless you’re only using it once: instead, put a dollop in a shot glass or other small container and dip cuttings into that. In my experience, I let each cut sit in the gel for at least 5 seconds and then pull it out, and then cut the leaves in half to cut down on water loss in the new cutting while it’s attempting to grow new roots. Depending upon the species or hybrid, you can plant the whole cutting, or you can cut between leaves and root each individual cutting.

Any number of factors can affect whether a cutting survives, but the absolutes for improving the odds are to give the cutting lots of humidity and lots of light. The one method that seems to give consistently good results (thus explaining why the gallery is overrun with Nepenthes bicalcarata and Nepenthes ampullaria clones) is to place the cuttings in a propagation dome (I use a 2-gallon glass jar) atop long-fiber sphagnum moss that has been soaked in rainwater or distilled water for at least 24 hours, and then get them under bright lights. In about a month, we’ll find out if these cuttings survive, mostly by seeing new leaves emerging from the top.

And back to the main enclosure. With the ferns cleared away, we have all sorts of options on what to do next. Want to trim back the live sphagnum to give a better view of new pitchers? Now’s the time to pull it back and shove the excess against the backdrop to stabilize it. Want to clean it out entirely and put in new top dressing? Go for it. The important part is that without the original cleanup, you can’t see options, and more might be done with this enclosure before winter is over. And depending upon what a new owner or renter wants, the enclosure may evolve even more over the years.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Nepenthes x ventrata

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

All carnivorous plants have their distinctive charms, but Nepenthes pitcher plants have a lot that they don’t share with anything else. It’s possible to hyperfocus on Venus flytrap lobes or sundew tentacles and gloss over the rest of the plant, but Nepenthes requires integrated appreciation. Even with seedlings, there’s that balance between traps and the leaves from which they dangle, and how many other carnivores produce a completely different trap as they continue their life cycle? For that matter, how many other carnivores (easily accessible ones, anyway) vine and climb? Starting a Nepenthes collection is a special reward, mostly because of the wide variety of coloration, trap shape, and trap function to be found with widely available species, and the wonder just keeps going as they grow. That wonder just expands with the ever-expanding list of hybrids and cultivars available from breeders that didn’t exist two decades ago, because some of the people getting these hybrids now are going to be the first people on the planet to see exactly what these plants are going to look like when they’re fully developed.

Nepenthes x ventrata is regularly derided as a “common” Nepenthes hybrid, mostly because it’s so readily available in cultivation. A hybrid of Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes alata (and is regularly mislabeled as “Alata”), N. ventrata is an excellent beginner plant because of its enthusiastic growth and tolerance over a wide range of temperature and humidity. The traps remain relatively small compared to some other species and hybrids, with a bottle shape with a green base and bright red neck on both lower and upper traps. For those wanting to incorporate a carnivorous plant into a vivarium, N. ventrata is an excellent choice: tree frogs love camping in the pitchers, the leaves give shelter for lizards and dart frogs, and N. ventrata‘s enthusiastic vining offers excellent climbing opportunities for chameleons, anoles, and geckos. Give it enough humidity and light, and you’ll soon see multiple vines and new growing points coming off the roots, and the only real issue with N. ventrata is a need for regular trimming of the thick tangle of vines from a contented plant.

That regular trimming is, in fact, an issue, especially in smaller containers and enclosures. The featured container was one that fell off the radar after March 2020: it’s currently seriously overgrown, and either needs to be cut back or put into a larger enclosure (ahem). Either way, it needs to be cleaned up and checked over, and January is a perfect time to do this

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

Garden mat or old towel
Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
Hand cloth or paper towels
Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
Narrow garden shears or garden scissors
Long tweezers or alligator forceps
Plastic spoon
Tamper

At this point, it’s time to address additional tools that may or may not be necessary when working with Nepenthes. At a certain stage in each plant’s life cycle, the central growth point starts to stretch and vine, and it’s at this point that the plant starts producing its distinctive upper traps well off the ground. Those vines can be extremely tough and strong, to the point of breaking standard garden scissors and bypass pruners. (I once had a very old and tough Nepenthes vine that broke a pair of bonsai shears as I was attempting to cut it, and I finally had to cut the vine with a Dremel tool.) Because of that strength, two items from both medicine and bonsai might be a valuable addition to the toolkit for those planning to move further into Nepenthes husbandry. Of the two tools above, the one on the left is a bone shear picked up at an estate sale: not only does it have a long shaft for reaching deep into leaf clusters, but its blades are strong and sharp enough to cut through most Nepenthes vines. For the really tough ones, though, comes the bonsai concave cutter, and if it’s not enough for a Nepenthes vine, time to get the Dremel tool or maybe an angle grinder.

Opening up the one-gallon (3.7L) jar, things look much worse than they actually are. The main growing point on the plant started to vine, found itself caught in a depression in the center of the jar lid, and twisted around a few times before it died. However, it has at least one other growing point, and probably lots of other surprises once the dead leaves are cleared out.

A fairly safe standard for trimming carnivorous plants, and many plants in general, is “if it’s brown and dead, cut it off.” Generally, if a leaf or stem dies, it’s not coming back (an exception could be made for dying butterwort leaves), so there’s no shame nor risk in cutting it free. The central vine is definitely dead, so let’s cut it off and all of the easily reachable dead leaves to get a better view of the interior.

(Note: when trimming Nepenthes leaves or stems, try to cuttings away from the rest of your Nepenthes collection as soon as possible. Composting the chunks is fine, and burning is an extreme response but understandable, but get them outside and away. This minimizes the chance of fungus spores or insect pests migrating from the pieces to healthy plants.)

Right here is one reason to take things slowly and methodically when trimming a Nepenthes. At the edge of the still-living parts of the main Nepenthes vine is a new growing point: this leaf probably won’t grow any further on its own, but it promises a whole new vine growing from the side if given enough time. This is encouraging, but let’s clean things a bit further before making any decisions.

Clipping out the dead vine and various dead or older leaves, and we have a much better view of the rest of the plant. In addition to the vine, we have not one but two offshoots growing from the roots. Give this clump a chance to recuperate from major surgery, and these could be separated from the main plant and repotted on their own. Otherwise, everything is looking good, with no signs of fungus, insect pests such as scale, or other reasons to quit the cleanup and start fresh.

At this point, the trimmed plant needs a command decision: do you try to rehabilitate the original vine, or do you emphasize the new plantlets? Sorry, vine: you’re getting cut from the team. If the vine had some special structure to it, or if it showed any special characteristics that would justify propagating it, then there’s either leaving it alone or cutting it and treating it with rooting hormone to grow it as a new plant, but there’s no reason in this case. Cutting the vine will revitalize the plantlets, not just because of the increase of light but also because the plantlets will no longer be transferring nutrients to the parent to the level they had been.

All right. NOW we’re getting somewhere. These two plantlets are going to stay small for a little while longer, so they’ll stay together while they recover from surgery. If they get out of control, the two options are either to cut off the growing points in the center or to move them to a larger enclosure (again, ahem), but for now, they’re not an issue. Gently tamp down the sphagnum growing alongside the Nepenthes with a finger or a tamper, and this stage is finished.

The next step in cleanup is the glass. Because Nepenthes get over half of their moisture requirements from water they absorb through their leaves, they need to be kept in as humid an atmosphere as possible. (This is why the Nepenthes hanging baskets sold in garden centers and at flea markets don’t do so well when kept outside in Dallas. If this were Houston, the average humidity is so high that they only need to be brought inside during the winter, but Dallas has both such low humidity in summer and such wildly variable humidity throughout a typical day that those hanging baskets dry out too rapidly unless kept in a greenhouse, and the plants that don’t die just can’t get enough moisture to produce pitchers.) High humidity, though, usually leads to algae films growing over the inside of the container, and that should be cleaned off. A little bit of glass cleaner on a paper towel (please note: spray the glass cleaner on the paper towel before wiping and NOT on the glass directly), and the slime comes right off.

All done with the wipedown? Now the cleanup is done for now. The peat inside the container is a little too wet after spraying everything down, but leaving the lid cracked a little for a few days will take care of that. With the next project, we’ll clean up a much larger enclosure than this, and THAT is going to be an adventure.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Cape Sundews

Backstory: it’s January, we don’t have any distractions, and the plants need us. Therefore, it’s time to discuss methods to clean up carnivorous plants for spring. For details, go back to the beginning.

For today’s cleaning exercise, we’re going to focus on both the carnivorous plant and the container in which it resides. For the most part, many smaller sundews survive and thrive quite nicely in ornamental glass bottles, so long as the glass is sufficiently clear (tinted glass bottles aren’t recommended) and the plant is able to get enough light to grow without too much heat building up inside. For most beginner sundews, they either don’t mind or actively enjoy temperatures reaching 90 degrees F (32.22 degrees C), but Cape sundews (Drosera capensis) is a decided exception. Hailing from far southern South Africa, Cape sundews prefer things a lot cooler: they generally prefer to stay below 80 degrees F (26.66 degrees C), and in fact tend to go into shock at temperatures where other sundews are just getting going. In North Texas, I actively recommend keeping them under artificial light and in the vicinity of an air conditioner vent during summer: a common ailment in July and August is to see the tips of leaves looking as if they were burned with a cigarette lighter. Cape sundews tend to spread through carnivore collections in greenhouses because of their enthusiastic and prolific seed production, but without climate control, those feral sundews usually burn off during a Dallas summer and only reemerge in fall as temperatures start to drop. Even a day of higher temps can be debilitating or even fatal for Cape sundews, depending upon how high the temperatures went and how long the plant went without a break in the heat.

To get around this, the preferred method of offering Cape sundews at Triffid Ranch is within the confines of an Erlenmeyer flask. These flasks both allow air circulation through heated air escaping through the top and consolidation of humidity in the bottom, and a slight increase in water loss through the open top is worth the effort. In addition, most customers love having a piece of lab glassware in which to display their new sundews. For the most part, Erlenmeyer flasks are great, but cleaning the inside of the container offers a particular challenge because of both the narrowness of the neck and the height of the total flask.

For this exercise, the following tools or their analogues are highly recommended:

Garden mat or old towel
Isopropyl alcohol, bottle or wipes
Spray bottle filled with rainwater or distilled water
Long tweezers or alligator forceps
Tamper

The most important consideration with tools used in tall glass containers is making sure that the tool is long enough to reach the bottom while still retaining a grip on it. This becomes important when cleaning up around the base of a Cape sundew. Like most sundews, Cape sundews constantly produce new leaves, leaving the old and dead ones around the base of the stem, and while their accumulation won’t actually hurt the plant, they’re unsightly. Thankfully, after a short time, the leaf stem rots and the rest of the leaf drops, so it’s simply a matter of having tweezers or another tool that can reach and grip them. Alligator forceps are an excellent choice, but if all else fails, using a straight wood or plastic rod to tease that detritus away from the base of the plant works. In some cases, a combination of techniques might be necessary, especially with well-fed and well-lit sundews that threaten to outgrow their container.

The photo above also highlights a major issue with most glass containers and their botanical contents. Being a natural product, peat can be full of seeds and spores without you having any sign of issues, and some moss and fern spores are tough enough to survive most efforts to sterilize growing media. Even if efforts to sterilize growing media are successful, more spores can blow in on the wind, and once they find the right conditions for growth, they can and will do so. (Because I use a combination of milled Canadian peat moss and a New Zealand-sourced long-fiber sphagnum as a top dressing in most Triffid Ranch enclosures, this means that most of the ferns sprouting in an enclosure are native Canadian or Aotearoan species. Every once in a while, though, I’ll get a Texas-native wood fern that came sneaking in on the breeze.) The real problem is that you don’t know what kind of fern you’re getting until it’s large enough to identify, and many of them will grow out of control in a stable environment such as inside an Erlenmeyer flask. Worse, many species throw down big mats of root fibers along the bottom of any container, meaning that attempting to remove a mature fern will yank up part or all of the container’s other contents in the process. In a container as small as this, not only is it a good idea to remove all sprouting ferns during a cleanup, but keep an eye open for more sprouts through the rest of the year, unless you like uprooting everything every six months or so.