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…

Have a Safe Weekend

Here’s hoping that everyone is okay…

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.

After working with several particularly large and deep containers over the last couple of years (two dead Lava Lamps and a glass water cooler jug), I picked up a secret weapon in the War Against the Wayward Ferns. Some ferns produce root mats almost impossible to ferret out by themselves, but crushing and cutting the base where the leaves meet the roots is a lethal trauma. That’s when a quick search for used surgical tools came across the wonder that is a biopsy punch. Intended for getting samples of tissue from deep within a body, biopsy punches both cut AND hold, and they do it as well with ferns as with humans. With a bit of practice, a biopsy punch can be used like alligator forceps to pluck single leaves or fernlets from a container, but they can also be used to crush and chop up plant parts that can’t be removed easily. Crunch a fern base to near-pesto, and the odds are pretty good that it won’t come back.

Done with plucking, mashing, cutting, and yanking? It’s time to give everything a good misting to wash dirt down the side of the container and settle everything. While a standard trigger spray bottle can get the job done, there’s always the issue of having to tilt both spray bottle and container in such a way that enough water gets to the bottom of the container without constantly having to reprime the sprayer. This can be bypassed either with a spray bottle with a pivoting nozzle, or by getting a spray tank and nozzle. A few pumps to add pressure, and a nearly-dry flask gets completely rehydrated in seconds.

One final extra. While the relatively narrow neck and mouth of an Erlenmeyer flask cut back on water loss, the flasks will eventually lose water from evaporation faster than they would if they had corks. Between water evaporating off the sides due to capillary action and water evaporating from the soil and transpiring from the plant, shorter bottles lose water even faster. This means that the best options for Cape sundews are either regular light waterings every couple of days or a good stout watering every week, and more often if the relative humidity in the house or office is lower than usual. (If central heat or air are running, that’s pretty much guaranteed.) Heavy waterings with longer periods between deluges seems to encourage new sundew growth, leading to lots of plantlets coming off the roots in a shorter time than if the plant were constantly topped up. Obviously, experiment to see what works the best for you, but don’t panic if you add seemingly too much water and it puddles on the top of the soil. Most of that will evaporate within a day or so anyway: now, if the whole plant is under water, you’re going to have to consider draining off some of that, but a little excess water won’t hurt a thing. Just watch for ferns as everything starts to dry out.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Terrestrial Bladderworts

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.

Now that you’ve mastered cleaning up after spoonleaf sundews, it’s time to move to something a bit more challenging. The current exercise involves a bladderwort, Utricularia calycifida “Mrs. Marsh”. (Fun fact: when seeing a name in quotation marks behind a plant name, this refers to the plant being a particular variety or cultivar, bred for specific characteristics. The original describer, Dr. Barry Rice, named several bladderwort cultivars after characters created by the American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft: a more common cultivar of U. calycifida is named “Asenath Waite.”) Many bladderworts have grasslike or mosslike leaves and are usually only spotted among other plants by their blooms, but U. calycifida produces wide paddle-like leaves. The good news is that U. calcyfida is an attractive workdesk companion all year around, and not just when it blooms. The bad news is that when the leaves die off, the leaves pile up instead of decomposing right away, and while this doesn’t hurt the plant, it makes an unappealing mess. The better news is that this is extremely easy to clean up.

For those unfamiliar with bladderworts, the genus Utricularia is known for the bladders growing from runners, with those runners commonly mistaken for roots. The bladders have sensory hairs atop an opening at one end, and when the sensory hairs are tripped by an animal blundering into it, it rapidly slurps in everything in the vicinity, gradually expelling trapped water and then digesting any animals caught inside. Bladderworts come in essentially three varieties: the most famous are the free-floating aquatic varieties, but one very large group, of which U. calycifida is part, grow in extremely waterlogged soil, and one group is only found atop the rocks under and around waterfalls. Aquatic bladderworts tend to have relatively huge bladders, regularly catching Daphnia water fleas and sometimes even mosquito larvae, but the terrestrial and waterfall species get their nitrogen for growth from catching nematodes and other microscopic soil organisms. Since every handful of peat in this container has literal millions of nematodes in it, the bladderwort will never run out of food, as the nematodes breed faster than the plant could ever collect them. Because of that, I refer to terrestrial bladderworts as guilt-free carnivorous plants: it’s impossible to watch them catch prey without a microscope, and all they need is light and water to produce sometimes stunning blooms.

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

To start, bladderworts tend to grow all year around if given a chance (ones living in temperate climates will go dormant in winter, while tropical varieties will just keep growing), so after a while, a thick-leafed variety such as U. calycifida will get clumps of dead leaves interspersed with live ones. A general guide to carnivorous plants is “if it’s brown and dead, feel free to remove it,” but since bladderworts don’t have roots, don’t pull on the leaves if you want the rest of the plant to remain in its peat mix. Instead, cut them with your scissors, making sure not to cut or bruise surrounding live leaves.

After cutting all of the dead leaves, remove them and other detritus around the live leaves with tweezers. I use alligator forceps from American Science & Surplus to get into really narrow spaces. Dispose of the dead leaves elsewhere (as with sundews, they compost well) and check the live leaves for pests such as mites.

The next job is to use the spray bottle and the tamper, but not for what you might expect. Tamping the planting mix (usually pure milled peat moss) in a bladderwort container is a great way to damage or kill bladders and their runners. However, as a newly planted container gets established and the peat settles, a crust of dried peat can remain where the old soil level used to be. Just spraying with water and just knocking off the crust with a tamper won’t finish the job, but a combination of the two works very well. The crust won’t actually hurt the bladderworts, but it looks terrible, so take the time to remove it while you’re at it.

Some species of bladderwort bloom throughout the growing season, while others only bloom in early spring (in Texas, through mid-April), and some occasionally produce bloom spikes all through the year. It depends upon environmental conditions and upon the species as to whether or not those early bloom spikes will produce blooms, so if you feel like clipping early bloom spikes so the plants have energy for blooms later in the year, go for it.

Finished clipping and removing? Now’s the time to mist down everything, and feel free to get enthusiastic. Terrestrial bladderworts like point-blank soggy conditions, so as long as they aren’t standing for too long with water covering their leaves, a good amount of water in the container won’t hurt them.

Finally, should you want to start propagating carnivorous plants, you can’t beat bladderworts: as they take over a container, just pull a plug of plant and soil from the container, put it in another with a mix of water and pure peat, and turn on the light. Use a cooking spoon to scoop up a plug if you don’t want to get your fingers muddy and put the plug into the new container: if you did everything right, you should have new growth within a month, and new blooms within a year. Didn’t think it would be so easy to start with the largest group of carnivorous plants currently living on Earth, did you?

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Sundews and Butterworts

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 the first cleanup project, it’s time to start with two Triffid Ranch show stalwarts: the spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) and the primrose butterwort (Pinguicula primulflora). Although not even closely related, they both make excellent beginner plants, being very easy to keep indoors under artificial light. In the Dallas area, due to our wildly variable humidity, they’re best kept enclosed, and their small size makes them suitable for small containers such as glass jars or bottles. Of course, the combination of bright light, high humidity, and milled sphagnum peat for a growing medium means that sphagnum moss spores will germinate and spread. Normally, this is extremely desirable, as not only does the sphagnum look nice, but the moss exudes acid into the soil, interfering with the germination and growth of other plants. In this case, though, the sphagnum grows faster than the plants inside, and occasionally it needs to be trimmed back or moved so it doesn’t choke out everything else inside of the container.

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
  • Bonsai root rake or old fork
  • Tamper

The really important tools here are the scissors, the long tweezers, the root rake, and the tamper, and many bonsai tools combine tweezers or rake with a tamper end for flattening and smoothing soil. A nice extra tool to have on hand for tall and narrow bottles is a narrow-mouth alligator forceps, sometimes called an ear polypus because its narrow mouth is perfect for reaching foreign objects caught in human ears. (Hey, I’m not judging here.) With these standard 2-quart (1.89L) jars, you probably won’t need it, but if you do, they’re available in stainless steel from American Science & Surplus.

To start, spread out your mat or towel across your work surface: wet sphagnum can sometimes stain or damage furniture finishes. Next, clean your tools before use with isopropyl alcohol to disinfect them, and set them within easy reach. The last thing you want to do is fumble your plant while trying to reach a misplaced tool. Once you’re done, open the lid if your container has one and give it a good serious look before doing anything. Get an idea of what you want to do and what you want the inside to look like, so you’ll know what you want to add and what you want to remove. If container decorations don’t move you any more, or if you want to add something to accent what’s already there, this is the time.

Before doing anything more, you need to clear out excess sphagnum strands to see what’s underneath. That’s where the forceps come in: CAREFULLY tease and pluck sphagnum away from the plants, and odds are pretty good that you’ll find more sundews than you expected. With the excess sphagnum, you can put it to the side in the container, discard it (it’ll be perfectly fine in a standard compost pile or bin), or save it to jumpstart sphagnum growth in other carnivore containers. Further away from the plant or plants, use a bonsai root rake or an old fork to pull up excess sphagnum: since it doesn’t have roots, pulling at a sufficiently thick chunk of sphagnum will just pull it up like a piece of rug.

When you’ve cleared away sphagnum to your satisfaction, now is the time to clear away any dead or dying sundew leaves. If they’re really old and moist, many old ones can be removed with a quick pull with the tweezers, but the fact that not all of them will is a good reason to use scissors instead. After each cut, wipe your blade with isopropyl alcohol to prevent bacterial or fungal infection, and pull the sundew chunks out of the container and dispose of them elsewhere. While clipping dead leaves, check on the living ones: as this picture shows, sundews getting sufficient light and humidity have the energy to produce mucilage, the adhesive each hair produces for attracting and capturing prey. With most species, a REALLY happy sundew produces bright red hair tips (fun fact: the official name for these hairs in sundews is “tentacles”) within the mucilage as an additional attractant.

Now that the sundews are clear, let’s work on the rest of the container. Sphagnum can climb the walls of most plastic and glass containers, and grows big “pillows” given half a chance, but mashing it down doesn’t hurt it at all. You don’t need much force: a gentle finger is enough to squish it in place. Said sphagnum also grows layers of algae, though, so if you don’t like the feel of slime, a tamper gets the job done, too. My handmade tamper has both a big fat end courtesy of a wine cork glued to it, and a standard blunt end for occasional gentle prying as well as tamping. If ornaments such as stones or plastic figures are in the way, feel free to pull them out and set them aside while tamping: now is a good time to give them a stout rinse in clean water before putting them back in.

With the primrose butterwort, the process above works very well with one very big caveat. Sundews reproduce both by seed and by growing new plants from their roots: give them the right conditions, and a container could fill with sundews, all genetic clones from the original. Butterworts go about things in a slightly different way. They bloom as well, and butterwort blooms are a big reason why the whole genus Pinguicula is getting so much attention these days from carnivore enthusiasts, but for reasons not well understood, dying leaves tend to sprout new plantlets that are also clones of the original. Butterworts also tend to have very weak roots, so be very careful working around a parent or pup butterwort so as not to uproot it. With luck, by the time you need to do this again, you could have anywhere between one and five new plantlets of various sizes, and if you’re VERY careful, you can move plantlets to your choice of locations within the container to do everything from highlighting a rock in the container to spelling out words. It’s your call.

Finished? Okay, now mist the container well before closing the lid, partly to replace what moisture it lost while the lid was off and partly to circulate the air a bit. Put the lid back on and put the container back underneath a light, and know that you’re ready to do this again whenever the plant needs it. And if you want to separate out plants and put them in other containers? That’s a different how-to guide for another time.

To be continued…

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Introduction

It’s inevitable after the holidays are over: holiday buyer’s remorse kicks in, and we all look back regretfully on the things we did and the things we didn’t over the past two months. Those nights of ordering pizza because the shift from Daylight Savings Time made you feel as if you were living in a cavern. Buying that supremely Ugly Christmas Sweater even though you’ve worked from home for the last nine months. Pretending to drunk-text former coworkers, just to see what they’re up to and if it’s more fun than what you’re doing. Subscribing to HBO Max. All of this is completely understandable, but eventually you’re going to climb bleary-eyed out of the clothes hamper, look at an apartment or house that looks as if Hunter S. Thompson camped in the bathtub for a month, look down at the wine stains down your front and look up at the spaghetti stalactites on the ceiling, and decide “Yeah, it’s time to clean up for the New Year.”

Now, as every year, you have all sorts of options. I’d recommend staying far away from the gym for a while, or at least until a significant proportion of fellow gymgoers look as if they’d stay home if they were sick. (I have a gym next to the Triffid Ranch mail drop, and with that crew, if they can’t end a list of symptoms with “We call it…’The Aristocrats’!”, then they don’t think they’re that bad off.) For domicile cleaning, you can go gently with Marie Kondo reruns playing in the background while you sweep and sort, or you can use demolition charges to take off an entire end of the building, shove everything into a dumpster below, and set the dumpster afire both as a symbol of 2020 and to keep from rescuing items inside because “They’re still good!” For cleaning your computer desktop, and files that really need to be backed up so they aren’t lost, nothing is as effective as the old “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit” strategy. For your carnivorous plants, though, things are going to be easy.

To be honest, this time of the year is perfect for giving all of your plants a once-over. With temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps, North American pitcher plants, and temperate-climate sundews, they all should be well into winter dormancy by now, so they won’t mind a repotting and thorough cleanup. With tropical carnivores such as Asian pitcher plants, they’ll still be growing, but shorter daytime photoperiods mean that they’ll be growing much more slowly than they were six months ago. They also could stand a good tending to, but the actual process will be a bit different. Either way, it’s too late for standard gardening and too early for starting up tomatoes and peppers, so no better time than the present for essential carnivore maintenance.

Now, like working on a Volkswagen, you can put together a complete toolkit to take care of everything, or you can build multiple kits for specific functions, thereby avoiding losing essential tools when you pull out everything to work, say, alongside a pool full of Sarracenia. For the sake of this series, we’ll split everything up into separate kits of necessary tools, so if you focus on one group of plants, you don’t have to reserve tools you won’t necessarily need. (A very strong recommendation: get tools for your toolkit that will remain in that kit, and don’t swipe tools from other places in the house unless they’re no longer going to be used in those places. Spouses, parents, and roommates may not be as understanding about your using kitchen implements for repotting pitcher plants, especially if you brought them back but didn’t clean them properly before returning them.)

Essentials (in all kits):

  • Sharp gardening knife
  • Sharp kitchen scissors
  • Sharp trimming scissors (garden trimming scissors or ear/nose scissors)
  • Garden mat or towel
  • Hand towel
  • Long forceps
  • Whisk brush
  • Isopropyl alcohol, either bottle or sanitizing wipes
  • Spray bottle, filled with rainwater or distilled water
  • Spray bottle, filled with dilute neem oil (1/2 strength recommended by manufacturer)
  • Kitchen tub

In addition, a standard bonsai tool set can come in very handy. You may not need all of the tools all of the time, but many, such as bonsai shears and root rakes, are worth the cost.

One valuable tool for glass enclosures is a tamper, and you’ll have to make it yourself. This is a dowel rod or other stout rod (I cut a fiberglass driveway sign rod in half) with a wine cork at one end and a rounded tip at the other end. The idea is to use the tamper to tamp down and smooth out soil, moss, and other items in glass containers that won’t give enough room at their mouths to allow fingers, hands, and most tools to reach inside. Natural cork is fine, but artificial corks have the advantage of easy disinfection, and they tend to last longer.

Anyway, this is the starting point: now it’s a matter of seeing these tools in action. That comes next.

To be continued…

Have a Safe Weekend

It might be futile, but let’s see if we can set the mood for 2021, shall we?

Have a Safe New Year

Establishing the tone for 2021…

2020: The Year That Stretches

Among the more chronologically pedantic, December 31, 2020 isn’t just the end of a particular year in the Gregorian calendar, but also the end of a particular decade. Working on the idea that the calendar had no Year Zero, the Twenty-Teens didn’t end when the last few seconds of 2019 rolled through the clock. No, what we get is Year Zero at the end of each decade, where everything is in flux, neither caterpillar nor butterfly, and the actions in that year help determine what the next decade are going to be like. Think of it like a cloned cat: the reason why you can’t make an exact clone of a beloved cat is because so many of the factors that made that cat unique happened in the womb. Change the food, change the stressors the mother cat had during gestation, change any number of a multitude of factors that might cause a particular gene expression, and you have a clone that’s a genetic copy of the original, but otherwise looks and acts nothing like its progenitor.

With that concept in mind, the way 2020 went, we’re going to start out with a cat genome and get the cutest, cuddliest 40-foot Gila monster with bat wings and laser beam eyes that you’ve ever seen. For some of us, this is a feature, not a bug.

The last thing to be said about 2020, from the Triffid Ranch’s perspective? This was a year to change plans, to pivot away from video (kindasorta), and to get ready for new weirdness. If you think the gallery has changed from where it was five years ago, back in the old Valley View locale, that original gallery was such a huge jump from where things were at the end of 2010. The phrase “quantum leap” is horribly overused by half-bright marketing majors whose grasp of the concept is exceeded by the coliform bacteria in their guts, but that’s pretty much what happened over the last ten years, and now it’s a matter of seeing if this trend continues for the rest of the coming decade. Until we have a better idea of what to expect, and whether that involves blasting Harkun troop carriers out of the sky as they try to take back their former planet, take care of yourselves, and keep watching for new developments. There are still a lot of enclosures to build and stories to tell.

I’m Living In My Own Private Tanelorn, the Anniversary Edition

It finally happened. This week marks 18 years since the lovely Caroline of Caroline Crawford Originals decided to throw away all decorum and common sense and marry a former science fiction essayist, meaning that I’ve been married to someone willing to put up with my shenanigans for a solid third of my life. We ascribe many things to that longevity, besides beating the deadpool bets that the marriage would last 1/36 of that duration. Separate work areas and home bathrooms, for instance. One of the biggest, though, is having traditions tied to goals, and that’s where the annual Anniversary Spare Change Road Race comes in.

Art credit: Amanda “Shinga” Bussell

Back when we first married, our financial situation was somewhere around “grim.” The job that almost moved us to Tallahassee in 2002 (and inadvertently exposed me to the wonderful world of carnivorous plants) cratered, as my company decided that the massive software upgrade for which I was hired to write documentation just simply wasn’t going to happen. Three days before Christmas and six days before the wedding, I’m looking at moving back to Dallas and wondering what we were going to do next. At the end of 2003, I finally found gainful employ, and the next year meant finally getting ourselves back onto rather shaky financial feet. At the end of of 2004, we didn’t have enough in our bank accounts, after paying bills, to do anything for our anniversary, so we raided our respective collections of spare change, cashed them in, and bought dinner that night.

Since then, we’ve worked out a basic system that works extremely well. All through a calendar year, we collect change in one spot or another. Mine goes mostly into this ridiculously cheery Monoclonius bank purchased in the mid-1990s. At the end of the year, on our anniversary or as close to it as we can manage, we clear out our banks, head out to the nearest Coinstar machine, and cash in said change. Any coins that aren’t scanned, and a lot slip through that are perfectly good legal tender, go back into the pile for the next year. We then compare our totals, and the winner buys dinner. We then start it all over again over the next year. Just as with shows where we have adjoining booths, there’s no real rivalry here: nobody is trying to beat the other, which seriously confuses friends when they expect me to lose it when Caroline has a better show than I do. (There’s a very friendly rivalry in one case: in the last decade, Caroline has always made more than me at Texas Frightmare Weekend, and I’ve sworn that one day, I’ll beat her in gross sales. Considering that I not only need a big truck and two booth spaces to come close to the amount of inventory necessary to do so, this may be a loooooong while.)

(Yes, this bank is seriously obnoxious, but there’s a backstory. We Gen Xers remember all through the 1970s the emphasis on novelty banks of all sorts: combination vaults, Crayola crayons, and even Gum Grabbers. It says a lot about post-1980s sensibilities that by the early 1990s, toy stores were bereft of banks, even novelty ones, and this one turned up only after months of searching for something with a decent volume. Yes, it’s garish. Yes, it’s obnoxious. However, it still holds a ridiculous amount of coinage, and it’s still going strong after over a quarter-century.)

In retrospect, everything that happened in 2020 can probably be laid at our feet, because we got busy at the end of 2019. I was focused on turning the gallery into a fulltime venue and Caroline was focused on holiday shows, and we were so tired by our anniversary that we just looked at each other and said “We’ll cash in everything in January.” By mid-March, we figured that we’d just roll over everything for the next anniversary, and we know what happened mid-March 2020. I still kept collecting change, though: since the Triffid Ranch started up, the tradition was to give change in US dollar coins, and after a show or open house, loose coins went into the Monoclonius. Lunch at the gallery usually consisted of pasta or ramen, with the extra money going into the dinosaur. Even after the crash of the show circuit after state and county lockdowns, the popularity of last summer’s Porch Sales meant that the dinosaur kept getting heavier: by November, it was almost too heavy to lift with one hand, and emptying it on Tuesday took over 20 minutes. Carrying the Readercon bag that held that loot left me listing to one side, and I had only one thought: “Am I going to have to rent a handcart to move Caroline’s haul?”

Now, I understand that the fees on change machines such as CoinStar units is a bit ridiculous: in most years, even a 10 percent fee didn’t make that much of a difference, but this time would be different. The cost, though, was worth being able to watch the exact breakdown of individual coins as we waited for the final count. Caroline went first, and had an impressive final tally considering the rough year we had. Then it was mine, and I beat her total within the first big load of change in the hopper.

The final tally? I have to thank all of the Triffid Ranch regulars and new customers over 2019 and 2020, because without your assistance in the great change chase, Caroline wouldn’t have had as wonderful an anniversary dinner as she had. (For very special occasions, she asks for sushi from Hana in Garland, and being married to her for a third of my life qualified as a very special occasion.) The rest goes back into the gallery, mostly in stocking up on plants for the new year. Now the challenge is for Caroline to nearly beat me in 2021, if only because if she wins and has to buy dinner, she knows that I’ll ask for pizza.

2021: “And So It Begins…”

Okay, so you were kept up all Saturday night with a spectacular toothache, and the only option for a remedy involves visiting an emergency dentist first thing on a Sunday morning. Anaesthetics work, kindasorta, and the assessment recommends an immediate root canal if there’s any hope of saving the bicuspid. While trying to distract yourself from the sound of the drilling gear used to dig the Chunnel (and the desperate hope that, unlike the Chunnel, one drill isn’t left behind in the tooth) and the smell of burning indricothere bone, which half-heard phrase suddenly bolts you into full consciousness with a desperate search for a mirror to look for the eyebrows that buried themselves in the wall: “That’s a lot more pus than I was expecting” or “You know, we still have three days left on 2020”?

Don’t worry: I kid. Bring on the pus, now in a handy fire hose. Better that the whole office look like a set for an early Peter Jackson film than to have 2020 go on one more day than it has to.

The good news, besides 2020 going to that pit in which 2001, 1996, and 1973 belong, is that the new year is coming, complete with plans for future Triffid Ranch events. We’re currently shooting for Weekend Plant Tours on January 24 and February 14, both running from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and expect news on other events very shortly. In the meantime, it’s time to get back into the gallery and get to work.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 27, 2020

And just like that, the holiday season is done. It’s been a long, unsure season within a very long, unsure year, but we’ve passed through to the other side, and now it’s time to get everything ready for the next one. And so it goes.

At this point, I would be remiss in not thanking everyone who came out to the gallery in 2020 for doing so: in a year as rough as this one, your coming by and validating the concept behind the Triffid Ranch is incredibly appreciated. Now it’s time to get back into the workshop and justify your returning.

As for new events, keep an eye open: right now, our main focus is going to be on taking care of some essential housekeeping before the end of the year, but we’ve also deliberated on what sort of events and when they’ll happen. Until then, stay well, stay safe, and we’ll see you in 2021.

The Aftermath: Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares at the Texas Triffid Ranch 2020

After five years of trying to organize Christmas Eve events at the gallery and having everything fall through, things worked out. For a holiday eve in a pandemic, we had an enthusiastic audience, including a very dear old friend who finally got the chance to see the new gallery, and a very excited family toward the end of the night. For a town that pretty much shuts down on December 24 after 5:00 or so, it was a great way to finish off the season.

After this, it’s time to get back into the workshop for new enclosures. In particular, keep an eye open for a surprise involving a Nepenthes diabolica, a new species previously thought to be a color variation of the notorious Nepenthes hamata.

For those who missed out on this run, and for those who want a touch of post-Christmas green, the last of 2020’s Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours starts on Sunday, December 27 at 10:00 am, and shuts down at 4:00 pm. After that, we’re still trying to figure out plans for 2021, but we have ideas. Terrible, beautiful ideas.

Have a Safe Weekend

Finishing up 2020 with double events on December 24 and December 27, while celebrating a Christmas classic from the Euclidean ideal of a heavy metal band. (Here’s also a fond memory of bassist Colin Grigson before his tragic overdose on jenkem in 2014. Rock and roll just hasn’t been the same without you, buddy.)

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 20, 2020

Less than two weeks before the end of the most intense year in memory, and things continue to get interesting. The gallery debuted two new Nepenthes hybrids which will probably be very popular beginner plants over 2021, and it’s time to expand the diversity of bladderwort species in the gallery as well. If not for this pandemic thing, we’d probably do even more.

As a sidenote, the hope is to finish at least one more enclosure by the end of the year, thereby bringing the total constructed this year to at least 21. “20 in 2020” is just a little too weird.

And for those wanting one last dose for the year, the gallery will be open on Thursday, December 24 from 2:00 to 7:00 pm for last-minute shopping, and then again on Sunday, December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for post-holiday opportunities. Since we can’t have an anniversary party this year (and I’m pretty sure nobody bet on “18 years” in the Paul/Caroline marriage deadpool), this will have to do. See you then.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 7

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

Listing holiday shopping options wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for the other half of the gallery, Caroline Crawford Originals. Many visitors to the gallery bypass the jewelry to get to the plants, but the wise ones take the time to stop and see what Caroline has to offer. Alternately, she has her own show and event schedule separate from Triffid Ranch events: last weekend was a little too cold for the plants at the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market, but jewelry never sleeps.

For those wanting to see more, both the jewelry and plants will be open on December 24 from 2:00 pm to 7:00 Central time, and we’ll reopen for the post-holiday crowd for the last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020 on December 27 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is free and masks are mandatory. And yes, there will be a LOT more jewelry on display at both.

“It’s ours this time…”

The plan was to remain open by appointment all week, and then the phone blew up this morning. To take care of last-minute shopping needs, as well as offer a quiet space for those already done with shopping, the Texas Triffid Ranch, in conjunction with Caroline Crawford Originals, is hosting the Christmas Carnivorous Plant Nightmares tour on December 24, 2020, from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Admission is free, masks are mandatory, and those who can’t make it are always welcome to come out on December 27 for the last of the 2020 Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours.

Please note: to be preemptive, while a large selection of beginner plants will be available, Venus flytraps are currently in winter dormancy and won’t be available until March. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 6

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

So now it’s down to the wire. Thanks to the previous year making every day a holiday shopping day as far as shipping volume is concerned, every online store worth its salt refuses to make any promises as to whether any purchase will arrive before December 25. Here in the States, the screaming in UPS and FedEx locations is positively deafening, because recent efforts to scuttle the US Post Office mean that both UPS and FedEx are trying to pick up the slack. If it’s not local, you’re probably not going to get it.

It’s at times like these where the default response is, indeed, “buy local.” That’s completely fair, but this also depends upon discovering what’s available. For the vast majority of the Twentieth Century, this would involve some heavily overworked Arts & Leisure section writer at the local newspaper deliberating between legitimate local treasures and what family friend of the editor or publisher needed a holiday bailout and didn’t want to have to pay for advertising. Today, the raw information is available, but the old “I didn’t know what I was looking for before I saw it” phenomenon is more pronounced than ever, and that section writer was laid off about four years ago to preserve the publisher’s holiday bonus. Thankfully, you have a terminally embittered former weekly newspaper writer turned carnivorous plant rancher more than willing to help carry some of the slack.

The only issue with “local” is “whose local?” Sadly, this means that this list is going to be horribly Dallas-centric, but this has two effects. The first is that for those already living in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch, you have options for gift shopping that you might not have had before. The second is that for those who don’t live in the area, you now have additional pressure to do so. You’re welcome. Even if all you want to do is visit, when it’s safe to do so, now you have options on what to see besides South Fork (hopelessly dated), Jack Ruby’s nightclub (demolished decades ago), or the Texas School Book Depository (only interesting when a lone woman, answering to “Missy,” walks by once a year in November to look up wistfully at the sixth floor windows). I mean, don’t let that stop you from doing that anyway: if you go by the Book Depository, just tell Missy that her grandson says hello, okay?

Numero uno, as Dallas’s greatest superhero would put it, a little goes a long way, and Dallas’s restaurant scene is so much more vital and varied than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s also in a particularly precarious situation because of COVID-19, and without eternal vigilance, it could be overrun with Applebee’s and Twin Peaks and the whole city becomes indistinguishable from Lewisville. Thanks to the wonders of modern point-of-sale processing, so many good restaurants offer both hard plastic and electronic gift cards, and you know at least one person who is going to NEED a dinner cooked by someone else in the next month. This means hopping on that phone and talking to the crews at Blu’s BBQ (Texas and Memphis barbecue), Flying Fish (Cajun seafood), Bistro B (Vietnamese), Tasty Tails (New Orleans seafood), Maple Leaf Diner (Canadian), Sababa (Middle Eastern), Chubby’s (classic comfort food, with the best strawberry cheesecake in the city), JC’s Burger House (burgers), or Del’s Burgers (more burgers, as well as excellent homemade root beer) about your efforts to spread the wealth.

Numero two-o, all that food means having something to read while eating, and while most people are perfectly happy to slog through Facebook, the idea is to amp up your experiences. The first, most obvious choice is Interabang Books, survivor of both bookstore wars and the tornadoes that hit North Dallas in 2019, as the best choice in the area for new books. Equally important for those looking for more graphic persuasions, I’ve been friends with Keith Colvin of Keith’s Comics for half of my life, and part of the reason why Keith’s Comics stores are going strong while other deeper-pocketed competitors blew up and scattered on the wind a decade ago is because of each store’s wide selection of graphic novels. (I highly recommend asking for a copy of Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club collection from Dark Horse Comics; for most, it’s a source of entertainment, but for others, it’s a source of never-ending self-aware horror.)

Numero three-o, you may or may not be surprised by the recommendation of the holistic health and wellness studio HeyyHealer, but there’s a specific reason. Namely, Triffid Ranch regulars may remember Christian “Doc” Cooper at various events, particularly the last Midtown ArtWalk at the old Valley View location before everybody in the mall got our eviction notices. Well, Doc has been busy with succulents, particularly red and yellow dragonfruit cactus, and his succulent arrangements are exclusively available through HeyyHealer. It’s all about taking care of your friends, coming and going, and if you’ve seen some of Doc’s arrangements, you’ll get that extra joy of having it all to yourself before you pass it on.

Have a Safe Weekend

The holiday vortex is producing its own event horizon, and we’re slipping into the maelstrom. This weekend is a busy one: on Saturday, weather permitting, look for Caroline and me out at the Frightmare Collectibles Horror Christmas Market in Justin from noon to 8:00 pm: I won’t have any plants as it’s an outdoor event, but look for the Caroline Crawford Originals tent for Triffid Ranch posters while supplies last. Sunday, we’re back at the gallery for the second-to-last Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour of 2020, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. If you can’t make it then, we’re reprising the Plant Tour on December 27, for everyone who wanted plant enclosures but couldn’t figure out where to put them before then. Friday, though, is clear for the moment.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #21

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Installment #21: “The Saga of Simon”

With the end of November comes the end of the main growing season. The Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants are snug in their beds and going dormant, the lights in the gallery were just switched to the winter schedule so as to encourage blooming in the spring (that’s a surefire way to get blooming in Heliamphora, especially since the gallery has no outside light to interfere with their photoperiods), and with the approach of what Dallas calls winter weather (we might actually go below freezing this week), it’s time to rest for a minute. That is, if Simon will allow it.


For those who missed the news, Simon is the new cat. We adopted him a little over a year ago, shortly after Leiber died. With him in the household, we now have two black cats, which makes my wife Caroline exceedingly happy. Alexandria, our other cat, enjoys having someone to roughhouse with, as Leiber wasn’t up for much of anything besides sleeping in his last year, and she now has a partner with whom to explore the garage when we’re home for the night. He’s a perfect little companion, and would be even better if he were a cat. Instead, I’m certain we adopted a seriously mislabeled black Labrador.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Simon is dumb or anything. As much as I miss him, I was the first to acknowledge that Leiber was so unlike his namesake that if he got any dopier, I was going to rename him “Doctorow.” Simon doesn’t trip on the carpet pattern or forget which end goes into the food and which end goes into the litter box. No, the adjective that best describes Simon is “goofy.” “Fall off the scratching post” is typical for cats. Simon is “forgetting that he has retractile claws and falling off the side of the bed” goofy. “Beg for human food and then remember that he doesn’t like human food” goofy. “Run in front of his humans in the dark and then flop to be scritched in the dark” goofy. “Figure out how to get into the attic and then howl like a basset hound because he doesn’t want to have to go back down the way he came in, and then hide under the roof supports out of range when we go up to rescue him” goofy. Oh, and then there’s “going berserk when opossums wander up onto the back porch because he wants to chase them” goofy. He’s not dumb, but he doesn’t act like a cat. Acknowledge that he’s just a dog with a bad label, and suddenly his habit of being unable to be pet because he so desperately wants to lick the petter’s hand suddenly makes sense.

Now, Simon is in fine company. Janit Calvo of Two Green Thumbs Miniature Gardens is known just as much for her dog Kitty as for her miniature garden guides. Amanda Thomsen of Kiss My Aster has constant stories involving her multiple critters. The Sarracenia Northwest newsletter has regular updates on their Sarracenia Pup. Jeff VanderMeer‘s cat Neo has a larger fan base than he does, and will probably get a deal with Netflix sooner, too. Everyone who meets Simon loves him. It’s just that the people who know and love dogs particularly fall in love with him, and Caroline gets grumpy when they note that he’s the most doglike cat they’ve ever met.

Me, I just acknowledge that Simon is a dog and leave it at that. Whether he’s fetching or wanting to go for a run (he loves surfing rugs so much that our next house may have to have hardwood floors just for him), he’s typical Simon, so I just encourage him to be who he is. Caroline, though, has issues with my encouraging him with “good puppy.”

“Simon is not a dog. He’s a KITTY.”
“Sorry, but he’s a dog. He gets into the garage and climbs into the car because he wants to go for a drive.”
“HE’S A KITTY.”
“What’s so bad about his being a puppy? Are you trying to tell your son that he can’t be his own person, and he has to go with what you say he is?”
“Do you want to give him a neurosis? He’s a KITTY.”
“Okay, then.” (Look over at Simon.) Okay, Simon, what do have to say about this?”
“Woof.”

Other News

Other News

In barely related news, exactly a year and a day after the last one, your humble chronicler has a new day job. The particularly good news is that this shouldn’t affect the gallery in the slightest, and the gallery shouldn’t affect the day job, either. That said, expect a lot of new projects: it’s amazing how many ideas get doodled out during staff meetings.

Shameless Plugs

I’ve plugged the considerable talents and tastes of my Canadian little sister Tristan Riskseveral times, but for those looking for something whimsical with which to get the taste of 2020 out of their mouths, I’d like to recommend giving her new Nonesuch figure line a viewing. Caroline proudly displays her Nonesuch in her studio, and I suspect that she may need another, because.

Recommended Reading

I should be saving this for the ongoing Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guides, but it’s no surprise that the late Ray Harryhausen was a major influence upon Triffid Ranch enclosures, and Ray was one of the many childhood heroes I accidentally and inadvertently scared the hell out of (a list that included Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, Harlan Ellison, and Johnny Rotten) in my sordid youth. If you can get to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to view the Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema exhibition, do so, but if you can’t, the accompanying catalog of Harryhausen artifacts, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is essential reading.

Music
Long nights in the gallery require lots of music, and due to an odd form of aphasia, I have a much better time concentrating on certain tasks with music with no lyrics whatsoever. That’s why the music of Peter Roe gets regular play on weeknights, and why his album Time Traveller hasn’t become the basis for a whole movie is beyond me. Go load up via your favorite streaming service, and thank him for me if you know him.

State of the Gallery: December 2020

Well. Two weeks out before the end of 2020, a year deserving of many descriptions, and a few of those not being profanities. Depending upon who’s asking, this is either the last year of the last decade or the first year of the new; based on hard experience, years in the Gregorian calendar ending with “0” are generally ones of transition, a chronal chrysalis where the old decade is digested in order to set the form for the next. What sort of strange butterfly bursts free is a good question, because we usually don’t get an idea of what escaped until about halfway through the decade, and by then it’s too late to shove it back into the cocoon and let it cook for a while longer or set the cocoon on fire.

As to what the shiny new 2020s is going to bring the gallery, we’re in strange seas. Ten years ago, the gallery didn’t exist, and even five years ago, it was going through its own strange birth pains. Nearly four years ago, the whole shabeen moved to its present location, and it’s still undergoing reorganization and reevaluation to best utilize the space. That continues: this last summer’s massive renovation was just one stage, and those who remember the gallery back when it was still part of the Galleries at Midtown wouldn’t recognize it. This, of course, is a good thing.

One of the biggest changes in the last month, of course, is that your humble gallery operator just started a new day job. This honestly made gallery work much more productive, and the time spent every evening in the gallery gives spice to the next day’s work. As 2021 progresses, that should continue, especially as temperatures warm and the temperate carnivores start waking up.

As far as special gallery events and functions are concerned, everything right now depends both on the current onslaught of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of the currently approved vaccines intended to get it under control. Both the porch sales of last summer and autumn and the recent Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours allowed safe and secure events to be an option, and while we’re not sure exactly when events start again in January, rest assured that the break after December 27’s tour will be short and succinct.

Otherwise, this sounds like broken vinyl considering circumstances over the last few years, but it’s time to gear up for the new year. If — IF — vaccine use breaks the back of COVID-19, the show and event schedule won’t be as packed as the original plan for 2020, but it will definitely be more active than 2019. To that end, besides bringing in a whole new series of beginner Nepenthes hybrids (including the delightful hybrids “St. Gaya” and “Rebecca Soper,” the latter being the absolute purplish Nepenthes since the “Bill Bailey”), it’s time to get back to offering hot pepper bonsai again, as well as expanding gallery space to a new collection of butterwort, bladderwort, and sundew enclosures. The real vaccine we all need is one for sleep, because that’s the one thing getting in the way of new projects.

And one last note: this installment is dedicated to the memory of my uncle Charles “Corky” Graham, a huge influence on my sordid youth and a quiet reminder of humility and peace in adulthood. If you want to respect his memory, get any kid in your life a Spirograph: my memories of practicing with one, with his help, are memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my days. Hail and farewell.

Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours: December 13, 2020

We’re in the home stretch now. Nearly halfway through the month, at the end of the year, arguably at the end of an extremely tumultuous decade. Certainly, had you told 2010 Me that regular weekly carnivorous events would be both possible and popular, the look of disbelief would have been worthy of a greeting card. But there we go.

This weekend’s show was like most events in Dallas in December when torrential rains hit: rather slow at first, and then cabin fever overtakes the aggravation of driving in the rain. It ultimately led to quite a cross-section of first-time visitors, including a last-minute rush of viewers after the rain finally stopped.

The rest of the schedule for 2020 gets a bit interesting. Before the next gallery Plant Tour on December 20, it’s time for a sidetrip for the Frightmare Collectibles Christmas Horror Market in Justin on December 20, from 12 noon to 8:00 pm. (No plants because this is an outside show, and the emphasis will be on jewelry from Caroline Crawford Originals, but I will be out with Triffid Ranch posters for those asking for one, and everyone is welcome to come out to the Plant Tour on Sunday.) After that, the gallery will be open by appointment only during the week, but we’ll reopen for the last Plant Tour of the year on December 27. (Incidentally, this will also be a lowkey celebration of our 18th wedding anniversary: isn’t it amazing that I haven’t been turned into a bog mummy by now?) As for 2021, well, we’re still working on that.

Have a Safe Weekend

We’re now nearly halfway through December, 10 days away from the winter solstice, and 20 days away from the end of the Gregorian calendar year. We’re also two days away from the next Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tour, starting at 10:00 am and ending at 4:00 pm. Either way, it may stop, but it never ends.

Enclosures: “Bat God” (2020)

Of all of the mammals, the bats are the most egalitarian when it comes to their government. Dogs are too tempted by autocrats. Cats are too averse to leaders. The elephants live so long that they constantly second-guess longterm plans, and the shrews live such short lives that they reinvent their entire society over a summer. The whales and dolphins constantly reinforce their society by turning abstracts into instantly identifiable memes disseminated by sonar and long-distance call; rodents are lucky to hold family groups together with pheromones. The ungulates mistake individual reaction to stimuli for decisive collective action, and the primates are too busy shrieking for attention to pay attention to anything else. Only the chiropterans, one of the oldest mammal families and certainly the most prolific, have the time and the wherewithal to create their own gods at their own pace.

Insects, fish, fruit, blood, nectar. The bats continued their ancestors’ war against the dinosaurs, both based on total numbers and on their diets. They migrated to better feeding grounds and hibernated to wait for better feeding, hiding from the daystar in caves, tree hollows, primate shelters, under leaves, in pitcher plant traps. They never conquered the land or the ocean, and why should they? What was the point of conquest when the wind was free?

Even so, all thinking beings make gods when administrative tasks become too onerous, and bats make theirs for their purposes. The difference between them and all other mammals is that instead of creating a noble template of what they could accomplish, they elevate one of their own with the understanding that this is transitory. For one full year, one bat becomes the archetype for all chiropterans: that year counts not against the bat’s average lifespan, and it neither feeds nor needs to fear predators. Instead, it bathes in the collective wants and needs of bats across the world, gliding on now-invisible wings to every enclave of its order, examining changes in the world and plotting strategy to allow the bats to utilize those changes. At the end of the year, it spreads its observations and solutions across all batkind before reentering the world as just one among many. That bat’s successor as the one Bat God had no advance warning that it would be chosen, and no previous Bat God would ever be chosen again. Nothing could improve an individual bat’s chances, and so no bat strove to do so. The chosen Bat God also could not retain its memories of that experience, which was probably for the best for all. Power, ambition, the desire for conquest or control: this was alien to bats, and each Bat God made certain during their tenure that this continued.

This was a system that worked for millions of years, as other mammal groups rose and fell forever, and the Bat God took the lessons from those others and memorialized them. In millions more years, their world would be consumed as the daystar expanded and swallowed everything within its range, and the bats would look to their god and murmur “Good job. We did well.”

Original vampire bat design by Monica “Monarobot” Robles Corso.

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

Plant: Nepenthes hemsleyana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic sheet, fancy stone.

Price: $400

Shirt Price: $350

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 5

Considering that 2020 for so many people has been less about “I wish I’d lived in a cave all this time” than “that nuclear waste dump is seeping into my perfectly pristine prehistoric cavern and poisoning all of my dinosaurs,” the constant requests to help others outside of immediate family can be rough when you don’t know if you’re going to need assistance yourself in a few weeks. It’s even harder when we’re watching cultural anchors such as restaurants and nightspaces collapsing through no fault of their own other than “it’s dangerous to gather in large groups and socialize,” especially with those where video streams and takeout simply aren’t an option. If you’re in that situation or bumped up against it, no pressure whatsoever: I’ve been there so many times that all anyone has to do is mention the years 1986, 1991, or 2001 and watch me twitch. This week’s Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions guide is for those with the means to help out, big or small, and who want additional options.

Firstly, if you want to go big to tackle the biggest need, contributing money to your local food bank is a great place to start. Right off the bat, considering the number of people unemployed or underemployed since last March for whom food security is a real issue, even a tiny amount makes a huge difference to an individual or a family that otherwise would go hungry. Dedicated newsfeed doomscrollers might have caught the coverage of the tremendous lines in Dallas waiting for their individual turns for help from the North Texas Food Bank, and many of us immediately turned around and donated what we could. With the likelihood that anything approximating a downturn in COVID-19 cases may not happen until next March, and that so many businesses can’t even consider reopening until after those cases are under control, that’s where Triffid Ranch money left over from paying bills has been going. Having been there, I want to make sure that anybody needing a hand up has it now.

Feeding our own is a priority, but then there are others. Donations to local animal shelters are just as important, even with the increased numbers of adoptions from stay-at-home workers, because the bills have to be paid after the adoptees leave. That goes double for zoos and aquariums where animals can’t go home with the keepers to save on maintenance costs. From Dallas, consider a contribution to the Dallas Zoo Annual Fund, especially to assist with animal care and keeper pay at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park. (On a personal note, the plan back in January was to make a contribution to the Annual Fund to cover food costs for the Dallas Zoo’s crocodile monitor. Now, though, with the Children’s Aquarium shut down for the duration, caring for the Aquarium’s albino alligator, Australian lungfish, and one of the largest alligator snapping turtles in captivity is just as important.)

For the last decade, Triffid Ranch shows and events have flyers from Bat World Sanctuary to highlight one of Texas’s gems, and things are getting tight for the sanctuary crew, too. With the impending release of a new Nepenthes enclosure intended to highlight bats’ contributions to carnivorous plant lore, it’s time to up the contributions there, too. We’re all in this together.

One of the things that’s hurt the most about 2020 wasn’t just the collapse of Triffid Ranch shows, but also the opportunity to bring plants to schools and museums to share with folks whose sole exposure to carnivores is online. Skype a Scientist is a new organization intending to take advantage of technology: it connects virtual classrooms with a serious need for new stimulation with scientists happy to lecture on their specialties, with an emphasis on classrooms where the funding might not be available otherwise. If any one organization makes me giggle “I love living in the future,” Skype a Scientist is it, because I would have done just about anything to have had access to this sort of resource when I was in school.

Finally, while it may be obvious, the International Carnivorous Plant Society not only keeps members of the carnivorous plant community connected and informed, but its efforts to protect carnivorous plant habitat and genetic diversity are needed especially now. (As an extra for those of us having to make lots of PayPal payments, the ICPS may be chosen as a preferred PayPal charity, with 1% of sales going to the ICPS for its education programs. Considering how much glassware I purchase annually, I’m hoping that this helps, and there’s no reason why more people can’t do it, too.)

As always, if it’s just not possible to contribute to these or any other charity, don’t sweat it: times are rough for everybody, and this is not about guilt. The important part is that we’re all in this together.

Next week: Buying (Dallas) Local

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Right now, the greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is in our default December weather system: generally sunny and mild, with temperatures at dawn flirting with freezing and temps at dusk considerably higher, with very good chances for surprise frost, snow, and even sleet. Because of that, many of our native plants and the best-adapted of our introduced species base their winter dormancy on photoperiod instead of temperature. A lot of people here do the same thing the closer we get to the winter solstice. Not everything follows that schedule, and for a few, it can be lethal.

The character shown above is a Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis), a very common lizard ranging through most of the southern United States, with Dallas and Fort Worth marking the western edge of its range. Besides its fame for changing its skin color between brilliant green to deep brown, thus its common name “American chameleon,” Carolina anoles are also famed for their refusal to drink water from standing sources, preferring to lap dew and condensation from leaves and just about any other available surface. In the Dallas area, even considering their intense territoriality, they tend to collect in surprising numbers, and they’re out on any day warm enough to allow them to move in the afternoon. Not only are they adept vine and bush climbers, but thanks to lamellar pads on their toes like those of geckos, they also skitter across vertical wood, brick, and even glass. If they can get a purchase, they’re extremely hard to catch, which is why I don’t catch them: half of the fun with the anoles in and around the greenhouse is getting them trusting enough that I can get close enough to touch, and one big male that loves camping in a potted grapefruit tree has a thing about puffing up his dewlap and challenging me when I’m using the hose, solely so I’ll set the hose sprayer to “mist” and soak him down so he can get an evening drink.

While their climbing skills are legendary, apparently they have limits. For reasons related elsewhere, Venus flytraps in the Dallas area are best grown in glass globes, brandy snifters, vases, and other tall glass containers so they get the high sunlight, high humidity, and good air circulation they crave. Those glass globes tend to create a pitfall trap for them: either due to the angle, the temperature, or both, anoles this time of the year have a problem with climbing into glass containers and being unable to climb out, especially when chasing the same insects that the flytraps already attract. In busier times, this wouldn’t be an issue, between regular waterings twice a week in the summer and the regular Porch Sales, any trapped anole might spend hours inside a globe before being rescued. This time of the year, though, with the flytraps going dormant and checkups every week, a trapped anole could be injured or even killed by remaining in a plant globe, especially if nighttime temperatures went to or below freezing. The odds of this one ending up in another globe are pretty poor (unlike many people, anoles tend to learn from their mistakes), but that’s no guarantee that it won’t happen to another.

With this in mind, it’s time for a homework assignment. As mentioned before, anoles are exemplary climbers, but they need something to climb other than the underside interior of a glass globe. Lots of objects qualify, so long as they neither contaminate the soil inside the container, block off light to the flytrap, nor spread diseases. In this particular case, all of the globes waiting for spring now have a sprig of bamboo rising above the lip, just in case. It’s not much to do, but it should be enough to save anoles, jumping spiders, and the occasional mouse from a slow and undignified death. For those with Triffid Ranch flytraps, and for those just following my growing recommendations, consider doing something similar, just in case. And so it goes.

And now it’s time for rentals

It’s been months in the making. (The original plan was to announce it in mid-March, at the beginning of show season, but we know how that turned out.) It’s been delayed by developments and put off due to priorities, but now it’s time to bring up that Triffid Ranch enclosures are now available for rental. Details here.

Have a Safe Weekend

No Carnivorous Plant Tour this Sunday: the gallery is reserved this weekend for a private function. However, the Tours are coming back for December 13, 20, and 27, and for those whose schedules prevent viewing the enclosures on Sundays, there’s always the option for appointments. Until then, music.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 4

Now that the holiday season is running in earnest, it’s time to talk about books. 2020 has been a kidney stone of a year, and my wife regularly tells an anecdote related to her about how the best way to dislodge a kidney stone is by riding rollercoasters. While I’m suspect of the medical accuracy, there’s something to be said about giving unorthodox treatments a try.

When visitors to the gallery ask “where did you come up with this?”, I can’t really point to any one thing and say “This one thing caused this one thing to pop out of my head and make a big mess on the floor.” The advantage of starting the gallery this late in life means that I had 40-odd years to pick up little things and roll them around before starting. The influences on the backstories behind each new enclosure? That’s easy: that’s what a sordid youth spent reading everything I could find from Harlan Ellison, John Shirley, Ernest Hogan, and Saladin Ahmed will get you. Everything else, though, comes from dribs and drabs from any number of sources, some of which has been rattling around in the old brainmeats since the early 1970s. The enclosure One Giant Leap, pictured above? That came from a dream right after watching the landing of Apollo 17, which is the only lunar I still remember. And that’s the one where I can point out the specific inspiration.

If any particular good has come from 2020, it’s been the opportunity to read, and a lot of really good volumes collecting past inspirations and influences hit bookstores this year. Among many others:

Just about 30 years ago, at the beginning of my dubious writing career, I came across a singular book on a much more realistic exploration of an alien world than had been presented in most fiction. No capture, no bringing back, no killing and stuffing of alien life forms; no beaming down a ship’s entire command staff and one lone hapless organ donor. Instead, we all got a singular look at an alien ecosystem with essential rules (none of the animals ever evolved eyes, so their main senses were sonar and heat sensors across their bodies) and a backstory that the exploration of that world by humans would take nothing but paintings and leave nothing but perceptions. Nearly three decades later, Wayne Barlowe’s book Expedition ” is finally back in print, with a glorious cover (the painting in the original edition was printed so the painting in question was split by the binding) and a very high-quality reproduction of the original 1990 edition. Even better, this one comes in both hardcover and paperback, meaning that those searching for a copy for decades can snag a hardcover for considerably less than collectors and speculators were offering on eBay.

It’s hard to state how much of an influence Ray Harryhausen was on so many aspects of the fantastic these days: so artists, writers, filmmakers, and academics point to at least one of his films, and sometimes many, as saving them from the life of a meth dealer or weekly newspaper music critic. (To this day, Valley of Gwangi is one of the two films that makes me unapologetically weep at the end, the other being Alien.) The National Galleries of Scotland definitely felt that his filmography was worthy of a full exhibition, and the catalog for Ray Harryhausen: Titan of Cinema, full of anecdotes from his daughter Vanessa, is available for perusal even for those who can’t consider travel these days. For those who can, the exhibition runs until next September, and a boy can dream.

It’s been a very long strange trip over the last 25 years, when a chance encounter with the first issue of a comic titled Johnny the Homicidal Maniac introduced the general public, or at least the public unfamiliar with the late, lamented goth magazine Carpe Noctem, to Jhonen Vasquez. His most famous creation, the Nickelodeon cartoon series Invader Zim, came out six years later, and the Chris McDonnell book The Art of Invader Zim goes into detail on what probably qualified as simultaneously the oddest series ever released by Nickelodeon and by far one of the most long-lived as far as popular support is concerned. This one has particular personal appeal: friends describe my marriage as especially disturbing Delenn/GIR fan fiction, as my poor long-suffering wife acknowledges every time she asks “So what do you want for dinner?” and I give her the only appropriate answer.

In one aspect of life, kids today really DO have one thing easy: the number of television shows with movie-quality special effects is nothing short of incredible, as fans of The Mandalorian and The Expanse can attest. When I was your age, laser effects were done in-camera, planets were paintings, and spacecraft were built one bit at a time. Martin Bower was and is one of those spacecraft builders, getting notice with such shows as Thunderbirds and Space: 1999 and then moving to film projects such as Alien and Outland. The volume Martin Bower’s World of Models is an essential reference for those looking to return to the retro world of practical effects: because when the server farm seizes up and the software crashes, sometimes the best way to get something to shoot is to build it, one piece of polystyrene at a time.

Finally, it may seem odd to include a coloring book in this collection, but Coloring Space 1 is by the artist Christopher Doll, a longtime friend and fellow troublemaker whose live painting Twitch stream has been a source of great peace through this foul year 2020. Chris continues in a space art tradition with a very long history, and it might behoove a few book editors to look at some of his space and fantastic art, because breweries sure like it.

Next week: reasons to shop in Dallas.

The Aftermath: Triffid Ranch Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, November 28 & 29, 2020

And now we’re in the thick of the holiday season. The good news is that the gallery is no longer in a shopping mall, and the better news is that a combination of considerate patrons and a vastly updated air circulation system means that the current gallery is much safer for indoor events than the old one was. (Well, that and the decided lack of asbestos.) The original plan was for one Plant Tour on Saturday the 28th, where upon finishing, I’d catch a plane for Philadelphia for training for a new day job, and then come back on December 11 for the next show. For obvious reasons, the flight has been delayed and I’m staying in Dallas, so we performed a rarity: being in Dallas and open on both Small Business Saturday and Artist Sunday. It worked out well.

In between Sunday plant tours, things are going to get awfully interesting this month. December will debut several new enclosures, including one that has been on the back burner for years, and expect to see Triffid Ranch enclosures in places you wouldn’t otherwise have guessed. There may even be an outside event in December: the details will be shared as they’re available. Just know that as opposed to most Dallas holiday events, this one will be free of Christmas music, aside from the obvious anthem.

Due to the gallery being reserved for a private function, the Carnivorous Plant Tours are taking a break on December 6, but will return for December 13, 20, and 27. (You need to find something to fill the gap left by the tree, right?) Now time to get back to work and make more.

Have a Safe Black Friday Weekend

Just a friendly reminder: the Triffid Ranch is closed on Black Friday, but we’ll be open both Saturday and Sunday (November 28 and 29) from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. In the interim, stay warm and stay safe (a call in particular for friends and cohorts working retail), and in the age of COVID-19, be REALLY glad that the gallery isn’t still in a 1970s-era shopping mall. (The movie may be quaint by today’s standards, but it’s still the best documentary about 1980s-era Dallas ever made.)

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 3

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

If anyone had cared enough to ask me back in January about the essential fashion accessory of 2020, “facemasks” probably would have rated somewhere below “glow-in-the-dark codpieces” and slightly above “a revival of bellbottoms.” (Honestly, my fear was “Panama Jack T-shirts, the Next Generation” would be the definitive fashion statement of the new decade, and so my inherent cynicism once again torpedoes fame, fortune, and that honorary degree from the University of Phoenix.) To be fair, those of us who inhaled the Misha Nogha novel Red Spider, White Web 30 years ago had our suspicions, but when we weren’t running around in cloned sharkskin armor, either, it was easy to assume that this was a future that wasn’t going to happen. Until it was.

Back in March, masks were purely a matter of survival: something to block off particles and aerosols of yecch from making contact with your respiratory system. In the first few days of the pandemic, we were too busy screaming “CORAL!” to worry about making a statement, but by the end of 2020, face masks were a previously inaccessible surface for expression, advertising, and letting your fellow humans know that backing off was a really good idea. Even with impending COVID-19 vaccines, facemasks may be the fashion statement of the decade, as they also do wonders for fending off flu and air pollution, hiding silent comments, and adding to headphones and books the notice to public transit users that the wearer isn’t interested in a conversation. All of these are laudable uses.

The question, as always, though, is “which one?” Not all masks are created equal, but we’ve definitely gone beyond the early stagest of throwing ideas up against the wall and hoping something sticks. Now with minimum standards for quality and coverage, it’s all about longterm comfort, allowing the focus to go next on art. Because of that, and because I share sympathies with lionfish and blue-ringed octopi on warning passersby as what they should expect, the pile of new masks to rotate through keeps growing.

(And on a sidenote, a little extra on washing masks that’s only obvious in retrospect. While washing them in a standard laundry load works for a lot of them, handwashing usually increases their effective lifespan. In addition, for those of us of the male persuasion with particularly slow-growing facial hair, shaving takes on a particular focus when wearing a mask because of hair follicles catching on the inside and pilling the fabric. That’s why I wash masks every day after use, with a bit of shampoo to degrease and disinfect, then hang them up to dry over the rest of the day. It’s easy, efficient, and much gentler on fabrics than tossing them in a washing machine. But that’s just me.)

As mentioned, the pile of masks keeps growing, because the selection keeps growing as well. I’m hoping to be able to turn everybody onto Triffid Ranch poster masks soon, but until that happens, here are several designs that will both help keep you safe and surprise your neighbors at the same time. This also gives me an opportunity to return to my modeling days of the early 1990s and do selfies that don’t scare children and small animals. (The model background, by the way, is an absolutely true story, but it’s been published elsewhere if you want the details.)

To start, old friend and paleoartist Scott Elyard is back to his usual hijinx, and that includes introducing unsuspecting passersby to the Devonian arthrodire Dunkleosteus.

You may be most familiar with Dr. Lisa Buckley for her Bird Glamour postings on Twitter (which are essential viewing for anyone interested in both stage makeup and bird plumage coloration, and she has an extensive collection of masks on Redbubble dedicated to ornithological ostentation. Her main research is on ichnology (the study of tracks, trackways, and other trace fossils), and who could resist having a map of Bellatoripes fredlundi tracks across one’s face?

Chelsea Connor already has my heart due to her unrelenting love of anoles, but her mask design is the best answer to the question “is that snake venomous?” ever made. (I have a great appreciation for the venomous snakes of North Texas, and spotting a big cottonmouth basking alongside drainage ditches near downtown Dallas is always a highlight of the day. I also agree without reservation that the best way not to be bitten by a snake, venomous or not, is not to do anything dumb enough to allow a bite to happen in the first place.)

In addition to creating comics (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I Feel Sick, Fillerbunny) and TV shows (Invader Zim), Jhonen Vasquez creates masks. So many masks. In particular, the Space Jerk design was essential for starting my new day job, so I can blend in among all of you other filthy human bloatlings until the day I finally escape this horrible planet long enough to blow it up. But perhaps I’ve said too much.

Finally, Mónica “Monarobot” Robles Corzo is already justifiably renowned for her frankly stunning Mesoamerican interpretations of kaiju and other monsters, and you’ll have to wait only a short time to see one of her works incorporated into a new Nepenthes hemsleyana enclosure out at the gallery. (If you know anything about N. hemsleyana, you’ll have a hint as to what to expect, and I guarantee that you’ll still be wrong.) She’s taken her distinctive style to mask design, and both the Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc designs are personal favorites around the gallery during both porch sales and weekend plant tours. And if the Shin Godzilla print is more up your alley, who can complain?

Next week: books. Lots of books. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, December is going to be rough enough, but January is going to be a month for staying home and reading.

New Triffid Ranch Plant Tours: The Holiday 2020 Edition

Okay, so it’s the beginning of the holiday season. Travel out of town is right out this year, and let’s face it: if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, the only movie that sums up Thanksgiving weekend 2020 is Alien. For those for whom the holiday season is problematic or unbearably painful, we’re looking for something reasonably safe in the year of COVID-19, with not a trace of tinsel. Far too many of us working retail have wanted to be in a position where the manager who insists upon running Christmas songs all day starting November 1 gets tied up, eyes propped open like Malcolm McDowall’s in A Clockwork Orange, and forced to watch The Polar Express until his ears bleed. Things aren’t as bad as they were 40 years ago, where television, radio, and theater gave no other options, but it would be nice to take a break once in a while.

That’s why we’re proud to announce the upcoming Weekend Carnivorous Plant Tours, starting on Saturday, November 28 at 10:00. The idea is to open the gallery on Small Business Saturday to allow new visitors to view the entirety of the gallery and returning visitors to see the new enclosures made since their last visit. (For many, they understandably haven’t seen the inside of the gallery since our Lunar New Year open house back at the beginning of February.) After that, we’ll open again on November 29, take a short break for a private event on December 6, and then resume on December 13, 20, and 27. After that, well, that’s what 2021 is for. As always, masks are mandatory and their proper wear is vital, with the gallery sanitized between visitors. (Due to Dallas County ordinances, no more than 10 visitors can enter at any given time: we apologize for the inconvenience, but this is for everybody’s health.)

The best part of all of this is having the opportunity to debut new enclosures every week: including commissions, 2020 has been exceedingly busy, and the plan is to average out at one new enclosure every two weeks since the beginning of the year. Will we do it? CAN we do it? Well, you’ll have to come out to the gallery every week to find out.

Otherwise, the gallery is as always open by appointment through the end of the year for those wishing to view or purchase an enclosure outside of the Plant Tour schedule: unfortunately, a new day job prevents keeping the gallery open every day through the season, so appointments will be vital. Anyone with questions is free to ask: otherwise, we’ll see everyone starting November 28.

Enclosures: “Innovator” (2020)

Assumption: when cataloguing examples of advanced technology throughout the known universe, most students attribute the developments to a specific species or civilization, and further attribute those developments to some sort of racial will to forge and refine it. Reality: with far too many of the really esoteric discoveries throughout the Five Realities, everything comes from one individual or one small group, and the rest of said species or civilization wouldn’t have recognized it if they had been beaten over their nervous system with it. This can sometimes be dangerous, as the people of what is now catalogued as Devenport’s Rotating Holiday (SCC918/256/AMCHH4) discovered the hard way. It can be far more dangerous to those left behind to stumble across isolated innovations, as subsequent visitors keep discovering the hard way.

The specifics on exactly who created what is now called The Innovator are forever lost, but what remains in archaeological sites on Devenport’s Rotating Holiday suggest a random developer with a combination of absolute hubris and an unlimited fountain of resources. Built in an isolated area to take advantage of geothermal power, the Innovator also tapped into a series of radio, gravitic, and synthotelepathic telescopes built into surrounding mountain valleys, thus allowing it access to information streams from surrounding worlds to a distance of as much as 70 million light-years in every direction. The collating and processing system used by the Innovator is still completely unknown, and researchers soon learn why if they get too close.

The basic theme behind The Innovator is improvement: physical, electronic, metallurgic, mental, social, and/or theological, sometimes several at once. In its simplest use, an item is brought to within range of a series of sensory arms, and the item is transformed into an incrementally improved form, with the being bearing the item given powerful synthotelepathic instructions on one possible use. For instance, a lump of chert would be modified via nanosmoothing into a knife with a three-molecule-wide edge, with those molecules artificially strengthened to resist wear and damage, and the individual delivering it informed on its used for advanced tree grafting techniques. Bringing a chunk of hematite may, with three different bearers, present complete plans for a Bessemer steel forge, a detector for near-planet asteroids, or a single-use device for boosting the hemoglobin in oxygen-breathing life forms to offer immunity to hydrogen sulfide poisoning. The ultimate benefit of any improvement is up to The Innovator: a famous example was a Carrik warlord who presented a nuclear device in the hope of creating an ultimate weapon: when detonated, the improved device removed all of the Carrik from both space and time, and knowledge of them today comes from cataloging traces of their absence, like breath on a mirror.

The Innovator’s effect isn’t limited to nonliving forms, either. While most attempts to affect research animals are mostly inoffensive (a noted exception was the use of Earth golden hamsters for a test; the innovation was the ability to digest lignin and other complex polymers without the need for symbiotic bacteria, leading to an even more foul-tempered rodent able to thrive on most plastics), any attempts to access the Innovator’s operating system or physically interfere with its functions are met with massive retaliation AND upgrading. This may be physical, with tools and computers innovated to destroy any functionality that could threaten the Innovator. Sometimes it is electronic, with software and firmware left with widened capabilities but without any way to focus on the Innovator. The most insidious, though, are the social upgrades, ranging from individual morality to that of an entire civilization. This almost definitely led to the extinction of the inventor’s people, but whether this was due to the creator attempting to shut down the Innovator or someone else attempting to improve it is still ambiguous.

Today, anyone can visit the Innovator: any attempts to prevent access, including a six-species fleet attempting to saturation-bomb Devenport’s Rotating Holiday with fusion planetbusters, fail within moments. Some of them return with massive leaps in knowledge. Some don’t return, and arguments persist as to whether the Innovator improves them by making them a part of its network, or if it simply improves them beyond the need to live in three-dimensional space. As always, mileage may vary.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Have a Safe Weekend

Okay, lots of interesting news this weekend, starting with the fact that since last Sunday’s gallery tour turned out so well, we’re doing it again on November 22, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, 57 years to the day my hometown got its unofficial motto “Well, aside from THAT, Mrs. Kennedy…” As always, we’ll be disinfecting regularly and mask use over the nose and above the chin is mandatory. Because of sudden developments involving a new day job, we’re still deliberating on opening for Small Business Saturday on November 29, the subsequent Sunday, or both. Stay posted.

And as a shoutout to good friends who made the mistake of inviting the triffids across the threshold, two additional developments. For obvious reasons, the Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays show in Austin can’t run this year (and I had such plans for a “Back and to the left” gag on Sunday that would fit right in), so they’re hosting a Blood Bazaar virtual event from November 21 until the end of the year. In the same vein (see what I did there?), Loyd and Sue Cryer of Texas Frightmare Weekend stayed very busy over the ongoing shutdown with their new store Frightmare Collectibles, which officially opens on November 21. Go give them both lots of love, and expect some Triffid Ranch surprises from both in subsequent weeks.

As for festivities, there’s one more on November 23, and it’s personal. Whether or not you enjoy the show, there’s one thing for which I have to thank 57 years of Doctor Who: the character that’s the closest I’ll ever get to getting my grandmother back. And if after reading this you think “that explains SO MUCH,” you’re right.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 2

Curious about what this is all about? Go back to the beginning.

This week in Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions, we’re going to talk about food. Now, for Dallas folks, I could bring up local joys such as The Maple Leaf Diner, Tasty Tails, Sababa, and Blu’s Barbeque, but that’s not fair to everyone else, and the idea of these gift options is that they’re open to everyone, regardless of travel options and lockdowns. Instead, we’re going to talk about heat.

Texas cuisine has a reputation for revving the Scoville scale, but what makes it work is an understanding of the flavor that the heat complements and compliments. That’s an overriding concern with most vendors at ZestFest, the largest spicy foods show in the US: any idiot can dump a kilo of ground Carolina Reaper pepper atop an otherwise perfectly good hamburger and post video of the subsequent prolapse on YouTube, but the artist knows when just a little gets the job done and when the chef needs to take the controls of the Titanic and yell “Full speed ahead! Let’s turn that chunk of ice into margaritas!” Therefore, some suggestions on all aspects of that joy, starting with where to start when you don’t know where to start.

When starting with good and hot food, it’s often best to go with someone who knows what they’re doing and trust their assessments. Just like following a film critic with whom you may not always agree but who makes you contemplate going into new cinematic territory, you may have to poke around and find someone with a similar appreciation of heat, and my personal guru in that regard is Mike Hultquist of Chili Pepper Madness. Recently, he’s been expanding into reminding people of Cajun remoulade and horseradish sauces, and his recipes are never boring. Best of all, if going through online listings doesn’t work for you, his cookbooks are dangerous to read in bed unless you look forward to drowning in a pool of your own drool. May I recommend his recipe for peri peri sauce?

In a lot of circumstances, you may just want something easy: you’re not in the mood to or not able to make a full fiery dish, or you want to kick up something that everyone else in the family wants to keep bland. (Speaking from experience, New England-style clam chowder is always improved with a good dose of Tabasco or sriarcha sauce, but I don’t dare spice it to my preference for guests.) That’s why keeping tabs on a good shaker bottle for your own augmentation comes in handy, and Defcon SaucesMalum Allium spicy garlic powder is an excellent addition to roasted vegetables, particularly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. My beloved wife Caroline, who admits that she can’t handle much heat, has a love for Malum Allium, but also for the Feisty Fish Rub from Mom’s Gourmet. We go through a lot of spices (mostly because we eat a LOT of roasted vegetables these days), but we keep coming back to each of these, and we’ll probably have a more extensive list for 2021.

And for those who want to go past merely eating hot and want to grow hot, there’s really good news on that front, too. Specifically, while a lot of really good seed suppliers offer excellent pepper species and hybrids, you can’t go wrong with the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University and its wide range of pepper seeds. Personal recommendation: my favorite variety from the Institute is its Numex Halloween: not only does the foliage go deep purple-black with sufficient sun, but the peppers go from black to orange as they ripen, and they’re now an essential part of my notorious goth salsa recipe. But don’t pay attention to me: go wild and try something that surprises you, because that range of seeds includes some doozies.

Well, that’s it for this week: things are going to get interesting, what with American Thanksgiving and all. Feel free to expand upon this list in the comments, too: half of the fun is in the sharing.

Sunday Carnivorous Plant Tour: November 15, 2020

After a very long hiatus, regular events in the gallery, as opposed to out on the front porch, started up again on November 15, with full mask and cleaning protocols in place. It’s been a long strange trip, but the Triffid Ranch is back and open for business.

As for the future, we’re taking a cue from our friends at Frightmare Collectibles and planning a much more regular schedule for Sunday events. Keep an eye on the schedule for the rest of November and all of December: the gallery will be closed on December 6 for a private event, but we’re also planning post-Christmas events for those who need a touch of green after the winter solstice.

Anyway, the next Carnivorous Plant Gallery Tour (that’ll work for a name) starts at 10:00 am on November 22, and runs until 5:00 pm that evening. If you can’t make it then, we’re shifting the schedule slightly for Small Business Saturday on November 28, and will be open on November 27 by appointment. See you then.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #20

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale is a regular Email newsletter, with archives available on the main TTR site at least a month after first publication. To receive the latest newsletters, please subscribe.)

Originally published on October 16, 2020.

Installment #20: “An Ode to a Plastic Watering Can”

In the greater scheme of things, especially these days, it’s not a big deal, but it’s time to mourn just a little. After 31 years and innumerable liters of water, my first watering can died of age-related wear and tear, and it deserves a fair eulogy.

The long strange trip that currently ends with the Texas Triffid Ranch originally started in the spring of 1989. Like most Gen Xers, I previously had precious little time for gardening both because of endless hours of doing the zut work in my parents’ gardens over the years and with the general “I don’t have time for the likes of YOU” attitudes of garden centers at that time. One day at the grocery store, though, I found a packet of luffa squash seeds dumped on a shelf where someone had decided that they didn’t want to take it back to where they’d picked it up, and remembering reading a magazine article about a week before about how those odd sponges occasionally offered for sale came from a plant and not from some odd sea creature, I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose. Besides, I was working nights: back then, that meant that a weeknight home life consisted of watching the one or two television stations that hadn’t signed off at midnight, reading, or staring at the ceiling.

Raising luffa squashes was definitely a diversion.
That year’s gardening plan was about as pathetic as you could expect from a pre-Internet 22-year-old with no guidance and no mentorship. Said luffas were planted in reused gallon milk jugs full of potting soil purchased from the 24-hour grocery store next to my apartment, with lots of “compost” (orange peels and dead refrigerator leftovers) in the bottom, with no idea of what the adult plants looked like or what they needed. That first year, expectedly, was a nightmare, but one of the side benefits was realizing that watering a good dozen jugs every day meant needing a sturdier container than another recycled milk jug. This meant making another trip to that 24-hour Skaggs Alpha-Beta and grabbing a watering can from its “Seasonal” aisle.

The can itself wasn’t anything special, but it was. That year, several grocery stores in the Dallas area carried the same green plastic watering can with a white plastic rose (sprinkling rose, not flower rose) on the end, with a stout handle and a sturdy short neck. Apparently multitudes of younger gardeners than I have very fond memories of their grandmothers using that same style of watering can, and more memories of said grandmothers searching for a replacement when it finally wore out. In my case, it was large enough to be practical for apartment gardening without necessitating constant trips back to the sink for refilling, short enough that it could get into tight places, and tough enough to handle sitting on an apartment porch in a North Texas summer without cracking or degrading. For what I was trying to do, it was perfect.

Even better, it kept being perfect. The next year included a move to a new apartment with a much larger balcony, which necessitated a much wider collection of plants. During the winter, that can was essential in watering a big philodendron chunk I had rescued, and that plant stayed with me for years. That can stayed with me for a further move to Dallas’s Exposition Park, where it was invaluable in assisting the owners of the long-defunct Club No in turning a former dry cleaners storage area into a vine-covered back patio. It moved with me to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Texas. It lasted through two marriages, the whole of my writing career, several subsequent moves, and the beginnings of the Triffid Ranch as a hobby with delusions of grandeur. Even after the start of the gallery, it saw use in the greenhouse for watering individual plants for shows and events, and it acted as if it would last forever.

Well, it lasted until it didn’t. One day while ladling out rainwater from one of the rain barrels, it started to leak. That little watering can, which had survived so much, finally blew out along the bottom edge, both from a loss of plasticizers over the last three decades and general wear, and attempting to fix it with silicone or epoxy putty just meant that it would blow out again in another spot before too much longer. It was relegated ceremoniously to the recycling bin, with the hope that after being chopped and reconstituted, no matter the item, it is appreciated and loved as much as that can was.

Hail and farewell, watering can: I’ve searched for a month for a comparable can, and know I probably won’t find one as great as you were.

Shameless Plugs

A word out for an old friend and friendly adversary: folks in the Portland area may be familiar with tax lawyer and desperately needed blogging gadfly Jack Bogdanski, and he and I have been friends from a distance for about a decade. Although we may disagree fervently on specific issues all over the place, one of the reasons why I respect him so much is that he has the same change-it-or-lose-it love for Portland that I have for Dallas, and at the same intensity. Mr. Bogdanski famously quit blogging several years back in order to focus on serious law research, but he’s now back, he’s continuing his wild swings between Portland politics and little joys (his recent discussion of analog music was wonderfully nostalgic), and I have a desperate need to take him out for dinner and thank him for playing Harlequin to Portland’s City Hall Ticktockmen once it’s safe to do so.

Recommended Reading

The latest Spectrum fantastic art collection just arrived, and that’s all I’m going to say other than “Buy it now.” Next year, I AM entering the competition.

Music

One of the good things about having friends who are so much cooler than I’ll ever be is getting exposure to all sorts of cultural detritus that wouldn’t have floated this way otherwise. That’s why I have to thank the Canadian actress and model Tristan Risk for turning me onto the garage surf band the Neptunas, because the band’s latest album is a very welcome antidote to the usual impending winter blues. I suspect that it’s time to pay royalties to play their newest album at the next big gallery open house (either November or December), because life is too short not to.

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s going to be a long week: the Triffid Ranch Sunday Tours start on November 15, and all of this is preparation for some major news at the end of the month. Please don’t feel obligated to come out on Sunday, especially considering recent Dallas COVID-19 news, but if you do, your presence is appreciated.

Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions 2020 – 1

Many moons back, back when the Triffid Ranch was purely a venue that popped up at local shows and events, this site ran a regular series of recommendations for annual gift-giving, on the idea of spreading the wealth and giving further recommendations to venues that needed wider exposure. Starting the brick-and-mortar gallery, along with day job obligations, cut into opportunities to continue, but the ongoing kidney stone and appendicitis cosplay known as 2020 gives whole new opportunities to pay back old favors, hype up respected friends and cohorts, and generally spread the wealth. It may have been a rough year, but that makes helping out your friends that much more vital.

To start off this series, which will keep going every Thursday through the end of the year, it’s time to start with the regular question brought up at Triffid Ranch shows: “Do you ship?” The reason why you don’t see a handy online store on this site is because of the size, heft, and relative delicacy of the enclosures and containers available for sale, and the inability to guarantee that any of the finished enclosures could survive a trip through any currently available delivery service. Even if any given enclosure could handle hauling, lugging, flying, and disembarking, there’s no guarantee that the plants would. (It’s enough of a white-knuckle ride to drive them around the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to make deliveries.) I may not be able to ship, but it’s time to look at carnivorous plant dealers who do.

With that in mind, below is a basic list of excellent carnivorous plant dealers with whom I’ve had good encounters in the past, and some of whom for whom I’d take a bullet without hesitation. All are very good about the plants they offer, and for those looking for particularly exotic species should give them all a viewing. These include:

  • California Carnivores: on this side of the Atlantic, it’s hard to talk about the carnivorous plant hobby without bringing up one of the oldest and largest carnivorous plant nurseries in the United States. Owner Peter D’Amato has probably done more to promote carnivores in the US than anybody else in the last 30 years (his book The Savage Garden is still one of the essential texts on carnivorous plant care), and his crew gleefully expand what we know about carnivores as often as they can.
  • Black Jungle Terrrarium Supply: Located on the opposite side of the continent from California Carnivores, Black Jungle already has a justified reputation for its variety and quality of dart frogs, but it also carries a wide selection of carnivores, including an enthusiastic collection of low-elevation and high-elevation Nepenthes pitcher plants.
  • Sarracenia Northwest: Back to the West Coast, Sarracenia Northwest is one of the gems of the Portland area. While its regular open houses aren’t happening under current conditions, its online selection is always full of very healthy plants (one Brocchinia I purchased six years ago is so enthusiastic in producing pups that if it turns out to qualify as a unique cultivar, I’m naming it “Martian Flatcat”), and the newsletter stories of Sue the Sarracenia Pup are worth subscribing all on their own.
  • Pearl River Exotics: One of the reasons to check out Pearl River is for its regular Nepenthes presales, with a great combination of pure species and hybrids.
  • Carnivero: A relatively new carnivorous plant nursery, Carnivero is already a good reason to plan a road trip to Austin once the pandemic is over. In the interim, Carnivero’s online selection is always interesting, and I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of their unique Nepenthes hybrids before too long.
  • Jersey Devil Carnivorous Plants: Lots of people who don’t know any better make jokes about New Jersey, and folks in New Jersey make jokes about the Pine Barrens. The Pine Barrens are a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since this strange trip began, because of its variety of endemic carnivores and orchids, and Jersey Devil pays special attention to the Barrens’ most famous carnivore, the purple pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. (Keep an eye open for next spring, because I want to be the first Texas carnivore dealer to carry Jersey Devil specials.)
  • Plano Carnivorous Plants: It’s a common misconception that the Triffid Ranch is the only carnivorous plant dealer in the greater Dallas area. Not only is this not true, but when customers ask about particular plants that I simply don’t have room to carry, I send them to talk to Dylan Sheng at Plano Carnivorous Plants. Dylan is a little more than a third of my age, and I want to be just like him when I finally grow up.

Well, this is a start: in the interim, take advantage of the relatively calm weather this week and get in your plant orders now, before it starts getting cold out. You won’t regret it.

State of the Gallery: November 2020

One of the only issues I’ve ever had with the Henry Selick film The Nightmare Before Christmas involves the ending. For all of the celebration of Santa Claus traveling the world and replacing all of Jack Skellington’s creepy toys with traditional Christmas gifts, not one kid – not one protogoth kid – was screaming and crying and begging Santa to leave a Jack gift behind. I just picture that kid watching the Russian dolls loaded with scorpions being hauled off, swearing right then and there that when s/he grows up, there’s going to be one little part of the world where Halloween never ends, and then finding that a lot of other kids feel the same way, so they start an enclave, and that starts a movement…

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes, Triffid Ranch plans for November. Absolutely no connection to the previous paragraph. None at all.

Well, now that Halloween is over, it’s time to switch gears slightly as far as the gallery is concerned. No more Porch Sales until at least the end of March, both because of variable weather and because all of the Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants need their winter dormancy. Right now, the emphasis is on introducing new Nepenthes, Cephalotus, and Mexican butterwort enclosures through the winter, as well as giving opportunities for everyone to see them. To that end, the first of the November indoor plant tours starts on November 15, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and those plant tours will continue on selected Sundays until spring. (By various necessities, these won’t be running every Sunday, owing to starting a new day job in December and ongoing events with Caroline Crawford Originals at the beginning of the month, but details will be posted as they become available.)

Concerning shows outside of the gallery, everything is still in the air, in some cases quite literally. The latest news concerning a potential COVID-19 vaccine has already started a race with various venues to schedule indoor shows for 2021, and it’s the view of this proprietor that it’s far too early to discuss returning to a regular event schedule when Texas just crossed, as of today, one million known cases. Unfortunately, the combination of live plants and heavy glassware means that shipping isn’t an option, which means that online events such as the Blood Over Texas Blood Bazaar also aren’t an option at this time.

On the subject of the Blood Bazaar, one of the only bits of good news in the last eight months is the solidarity between friends and cohorts in the online community, and it’s time to return a whole slew of favors. It’s been a very long time since the last Post-Nuclear Family Gift Suggestions cavalcade of purchasing opportunities, and that starts up again as of Thursday. Expect lots of recommendations on everything from masks to toy dinosaurs, with a lot of tips on carnivorous plants and carnivorous plant accessories.

Finally, 2020 was intended to start with a serious expansion in both additional Triffid Ranch shows and local business opportunities, and the pandemic put paid to both before things got too involved for the year. Now that businesses are reopening, it’s time to announce the next phase of the Triffid Ranch business empire: the opportunity to rent enclosures. Keep an eye open for the details very soon, but for companies and individuals who would like the uniqueness and prestige of a carnivorous plant enclosure without the maintenance, or who want to switch things out on a regular basis, you now have an option. Again, details will follow very soon.

Other than that, back to the linen mines: new enclosures won’t build themselves. And if you think this is exciting, wait until December.

Enclosures: “Supernova Express” (2020)

Out of all of the successful and failed projects by early spacefaring civilizations that ultimately allowed their successors to become what we now call “galactically aware,” two of the most influential came from the now-sadly-extinct species Bolun. Originating on a particularly life-conducive world orbiting a remarkably stable yellow dwarf star in an arm of our own galaxy, the Bolun were culturally obsessed with spreading their knowledge and society as far as they could manage, and they were the first known civilization in our corner of the universe to utilize what humans called the remora wave, a method of piggybacking information onto gravity waves. As neutron stars and black holes collided and washed time-space with outwardly spreading gravity waves, the remora wave dragged information about the Bolun, everything from vital scientific information to attire patterns, to anybody who could pick it up. Eventually, any reasonably technological species attempting to study gravity would pick up incoming gravity waves, and little irregularities in the observed data usually led to stumbling over the remora wave packets. Before long, others were dropping their own cosmic broadcasts into the rippling fabric of space-time, giving everything from elaborate plans for faster-than-light vehicles for gaseous entities to Swedish meatball recipes (which most civilizations had already developed, but that was another mystery to be discussed at another time).

The other Bolun project with unexpected returns was the development and expansion of slimeworlds. The universe is particularly good at making small rocky planets at a suitable distance from light and heat for optimum life conditions, but without anything approximating living other than attempts at RNA replication. The Bolun thought that a shame, and as soon as they had the ability to visit those worlds directly, first by FTL craft and then by time-web and zero-point shifts, every world they found conducive to life but free from it received a large shipping platform full of specially tailored molds, algae, and other bacteria and protists intended to use the available resource bounty around them. Even after the Bolun were gone due to a zero-point detonation that took out their main sphere of influence approximately 500 million years ago, other spacefarers visiting slimeworlds used said slime as raw replication materials, as substrates for colony worlds, or just simply dropped off their own preferred biota and swore to come back and visit once the stew was finished cooking. With many worlds, this happened so many times that new visitors often left detailed information in subsequent remora waves, just so future paleontologists didn’t go insane trying to understand a particular slimeworld’s natural history millions of years later. Genetic resurrections, penal colonies, intended utopias, deliberate mashups of seemingly incompatible biomes…the slimeworlds were the universe’s sourdough starter, and the results were sometimes too strange for eating.

Such was one particular slimeworld visited by the famed musical artist Jody Clem (2386-2467, Old Calendar). This world, at that time only known by an identification number and not a name, was located in a particularly ripply part of space-time: outwardly, the tremendous gravity waves slamming its vicinity did little more than encourage a bit more solar flare activity in its star, but the remora waves chasing them were full of data packets from at least thirty extant and extinct species from across the universe. The planet itself wasn’t especially habitable: previous dumpings of life from previous visitors had left it with vast savannahs of acidic moss prowled by giant reptilian analogues comparable to the extinct rauisuchids of Earth’s past, with little reason for anyone of any known species to want to live there. For Clem, this was perfect.

Clem’s vision was to build a receiver to pick up remora wave packets, which then translated the packets into music. Based on a unique algorithm developed specifically for this project, the translator gave particular information a musical value, which then played out across the world’s largest moss savannah. Depending upon the remora waves’ content, the resultant auditory output could be anything from a light sussurus to a blast of sound that could kill at close proximity, with most end results best resembling freeform jazz.

At first, response to Clem’s giant amplifier ranged from dismissive to horrified, and discussion led to others going to listen for themselves. Some started noticing that certain musical themes self-generated from time to time, depending upon the news and trivia picked up on incoming remora waves. A few could even extrapolate further galactic events and trends based on long listens to the Clem amplifier, and a few swore that with dedicated study and interpretation, the Clem amplifier might even give clues as to the future.

Today, a small spaceport lies just over the horizon from the amplifier, and most visitors deliberately travel on foot or analogue in order to take in the daily output on their visit. This isn’t particularly safe, as some musical themes tend to attract the giant saurians, who respond with either bemused curiosity or hunger. Even with that threat, government officials, artists, essayists, historians, and wanderers collect at the base of the amplifier, listening for clues, inspirations, messages, and warnings. To an individual, they usually do not recognize the underlying message they heard until it is far too late to do anything about it.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 15 1/2″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 39.37 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis “Elizabeth

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Huntington’s Folly” (2020)

Sometimes astroarchaeological discoveries lead to deeper mysteries, and one of the greatest in the annals of our galaxy involves massive structures known as Nogha entropy conduits. Named after the world on which the first was discovered, Nogha entropy conduits do precisely that: the current theory on their purpose and operation is that each one taps into the quantum foam, the froth of emerging and receding universes of which our universe is just one tiny bubble, and anchors on one specific universe where physical laws are drastically different from those in our own. Some draw energy from its anchored universe and either broadcasts it or stores it (the latest conference discussing that function and the implications therein didn’t lead to bloodshed, but it came close) in order to affect some unknown significant change. Others instead funnel energy, particularly in the form of entropy, into their anchored universes: without being able to observe those anchors, whether this is simply as a waste vent or intended to affect specific changes in the anchors is unknown. The creators of the Nogha entropy conduits are unknown, although they apparently spread conduits throughout at least five observable galaxies. The conduits’ operation is unknown, with all attempts to dismantle or deconstruct conduits failing, in some cases catastrophically. The reasoning behind the conduits’ placement is unknown. Most questions about Nogha entropy conduits have the same answer: “Unknown.”

The larger mystery, though, came from the seeming discovery of a Nogha entropy conduit on Earth itself, in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. Previous discoveries of conduits tended to concentrate either on the far edges of galactic cores or on the outer rims, particularly on planets or dwarf planets in orbit around red or blue giant stars. Even more perplexing, although the conduit was in a particularly rugged and challenging area, it should have been discovered centuries before, either by First Nations hunters or European explorers, and the mystery deepened when a photo of the mountain on which the conduit had been implanted turned up: as of 1943, Old Calendar, the conduit did not exist, and all previous conduits had a provenance of between 2 and 5 million years. Even more confusion piled up when research showed that the conduit was of Earth manufacture, within the previous 100 years, and was completely nonfunctional. While it appeared at most levels to be an authentic conduit, it was nothing but a facade on a mountainside for unknown purposes.

Part of that mystery was solved with an unrelated mystery, involving the hyperspace gate developer Chase Huntington. The land on which the fake conduit was discovered belonged to Huntington before he disappeared in 2312, with his regularly doing business from a hunting lodge overlooking the rock face. The notoriously introverted Huntington never allowed visitors to this lodge, and receipts from and to various shell companies connected to Huntington show a significant outlay of funds for a large construction project of unknown specifics, with all parties involved locked into extensive non-disclosure agreements with equally extensive penalties. Even more curiously, while Huntington helped finance several astroarchaeological expeditions, he himself had a fascination with deliberate fake extraterrestrial artifacts: he bought carefully constructed forgeries and fabrications that were labeled as inauthentic, and regularly presented them to cohorts and competitors to watch their responses.

To this date, the general consensus on Huntington’s entropy conduit was that it was the classic definition of a “folly,” the tradition of wealthy landholders to construct fake ruins intended to invoke past glories. Huntington certainly had the motive and the money, and considering that the land on which his folly resided was donated to the Canadian government upon being declared legally dead, it may have been one massive prank after another. This, though, still has to contend with Huntington’s disappearance: no sign of him ever turned up on Earth, even after an extensive search, and no record of his going offworld has ever turned up. This led to even further study of the folly by amateur archaeologists and enthusiastic laypeople, many using the term “there has to be a pony in here somewhere,” on the idea that Huntington may have reconstructed an entropy conduit that transported matter instead of energy and that worked…once.

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

Plant: Commission

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission

Shirt Price: Commission

Have a Safe Weekend

No shows or events for this weekend: after the Porch Sale schedule for the last six months, it’s time for a minor break before getting ready for indoor sales through November and December. Details will follow very shortly, but expect the Sunday schedule to continue for the foreseeable future.

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November…

Because (a) my current presence in North America is due partly to overly enthusiastic celebration of Gunpowder Treason on its 300th anniversary, (b) I still bow to nobody in my appreciation of Alan Moore, and (c) I am a hopeless fan of Violet Carson roses:

The Last Porch Sale of 2020: This is bat country.

At the end of December, when we all raise a virtual toast to the death of 2020, the eulogy on its gravestone will most likely be “Man plans, God laughs.” At the end of the outdoor carnivore season, six months after starting the first of what became the Sunday morning Porch Sales, this might as well have been carved into all of our foreheads, too. The original plan for this year was to take the Triffid Ranch on the road, with multiple events in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even New Orleans: when all of that imploded as shows shut down for everyone’s safety, the Porch Sales were a last-minute hope that all of the work started in January and February wouldn’t be completely wasted. As it turned out, they went beyond everyone’s widest expectations.

Sadly, just as the Porch Sales were really taking off, it’s time to shut them down for the year. Part of this is because of the outdoor carnivores: if they haven’t already from last week’s unusually cold weather, the Sarracenia pitcher plants and Venus flytraps start going into winter dormancy soon. The other is based on long, hard-earned experience with Texas weather, where we can go from shirtsleeves and sun to sleet in a matter of minutes, and we’ve so far lucked out on having to set up tents in a torrential rainstorm. (Even if we did, there’s absolutely no guarantee that anyone would show, and can you blame them?) Based on the response this year, and the fact that COVID-19 is pretty likely to be continuing to run amok by the time the flytraps wake up, they’re going to start up again in 2021. It’s just going to be a long five months until then.

Once again, this isn’t saying that the Triffid Ranch is shutting down over the winter. Anything but. This next week is dedicated to cleanup and maintenance (in particular, putting into storage things essential for the Porch Sales that just get in the way today, such as tents and coolers), and then we restart Sunday events inside the gallery. Details will follow (in particular, a big development that came up last Friday will affect the Sunday event schedule in December, so we’re not nailing down a schedule just yet), probably around November 7, so keep checking back for confirmation. As always, the gallery is open for those wanting to discuss commissions or purchase of existing carnivore enclosures, and details on enclosure rentals will be up and available soon.

Once again, many thanks to everyone who came out to the Porch Sales, no matter what time of the year that was, and thanks to those who braved heat, thunderstorms, windstorms, and threatened tornadoes to wander among the carnivorous plants. Here’s just hoping that 2021 isn’t as interesting, in the Chinese curse sense, and that we all get through 2020 in good health. We’ll see you next spring.

Have a Safe Weekend

Okay, lots going down over the next week, including Saturday’s Halloween Day Porch Sale, what would have been my grandmother’s 95th and my father-in-law’s 89th birthdays respectively, that much-promised Halloween full moon (which should be visible in the Dallas area shortly after dark), and hopefully a lot of good news next week. In the meantime, I plan to join a slew of friends in celebrating the end of the Halloween season with various movies, and I dare anybody coming of age in the 1980s in the UK (or anybody in the US with access to MTV) to hear this song and not think about the greatest vampire ever.

Time for Video Nasties

Slight interlude: as promised, the YouTube channel has been updated with work that really needed to be posted a while back. In the interim, I hope you enjoy Pitcher Plants In Moonlight and Texas Triffid Ranch at NARBC Arlington. With a bit of practice, I might actually get good at this.