Tag Archives: 2022

Have a Safe Weekend

For those unfamiliar with Dallas, the State Fair of Texas starts today in Fair Park, which means that traffic anywhere near downtown is going to be nearly impossible to traverse. We’re also coming up on the tenth anniversary of our very own Wicker Man demo, so there’s that. If you’re wanting to get outside but don’t want to deal with the impending screams of “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE, AND I BRING YOU FIRE!”, the Triffid Ranch opens this Saturday from noon until 5:00 pm, and without admission or parking fees, too.

August Showers (and July Heatwaves) Bring September Sarracenia Flowers

Under normal conditions, Sarracenia pitcher plants bloom once: in spring. Many carnivorous and protocarnivorous plants can bear flowers at different times through the year, and frail triggerplants are so profligate that the trick is to get them to stop blooming. Sarracenia, though, are very consistent. They bloom before producing traps, presumably because Sarracenia pollinators in spring tend to be top prey insects the rest of the year, and the seed pods mature throughout summer before cracking open and scattering seed at the beginning of winter. Once those blooms drop their petals in late April or early May, that’s it, right?

Well, not always. Every once in a while, you’ll see an anomaly. Toward the end of September, as temperatures cool and the pitcher plants perk up for autumn, you might find a bloom or two. The blooms may be full-sized, but the flower scapes from which they dangle are abnormally short, sometimes just a couple of centimeters tall. Any fragrance on the blooms tends to be diminished as well, from the Kool-Aid scent of S. leucophylla to the “last day of an anime convention” stench of S. flava, and the distinctive cap at the bottom of the bloom also shows anomalous development. (The image below shows the bloom cap on S. leucophylla “Compacta”, with unusual deformities and an incomplete cap, with exposed anthers.)

The hypothesis here is that these September blooms are a response to the abnormally hot and dry summer in North Texas, as well as the subsequent low humidity after our torrential rains in August and early September. These seem to be most common on S. flava and associated hybrids, with a few seen on S. leucophylla and S. minor and their hybrids. With the latter, the flower scapes range from short to normal height, with S. minor being the most likely to produce full-length flower scapes. So far, I have yet to see any on S. rubra, S. oreophylla, or S. purpurea or their variations or hybrids.

An interesting correlation, which requires further research, is that the likelihood of September blooms depends upon when the plant blooms in spring. By far, the most common September blooms come from S. flava, which is famed for blooming as much as a month before other Sarracenia species. In North Texas, S. leucophylla is particularly sensitive to late freezes in spring, sometimes only starting to bloom three weeks after all others have finished for the season.

The hypothesis: this trait expresses itself after especially stressful summers, where the plant survives but the seed pods may be damaged from extended heat. The blooms themselves appear to be viable based on the enthusiastic efforts by local bees and wasps to gather nectar and pollen, but gathering and attempting to germinate any seeds from these blooms is the only way to confirm whether the seeds are viable. I am already gathering seed from early-maturing spring seed pods and getting ready to gather ones opening later in the season, and comparing germination and growth of seedlings from each group will be necessary to determine if the September blooms are a useful strategy for a seed do-over after an especially brutal summer. We’ll all find out more for certain next spring.

Fun With Ultraviolet, the 2022 Edition

Apologies for writing about the weather all of the time, but after this brain-frying summer and subsequent August and September superstorms, merely being able to go outside without burning skin or lungs is taken for granted through most of the world. Here, though, not only do we have the thrill of not risking second-degree burns for walking outside barefoot, but there the sheer joy of stepping outside and realizing “You know, it’s warmer inside than outside.” After four months of looking at digital thermometers with a combination of rage and horror, the real fun comes when talking about the weekend, mentioning “it’s 50 degrees in the shade,” and not having that refer to Celsius.

Because of the influx of this strange not-hot weather, the local flora responds the same way we humans do: with a mad rush to make up for lost time. This was a summer so brutal that anything bearing fruit or nuts requiring large amounts of water is just exploding right now, asking for a do-over. Plants that normally bloom in the early spring are going into overdrive at the end of September, and plants that bloom all year long don’t know what to do with themselves. Even better, the rush is on for night-blooming flowers of all sorts because the insects that depend upon them will be dying or going dormant soon, which means one thing. Yes, it’s time to get out into the garden with ultraviolet lights to view the fluorescence.

As brought up elsewhere, most of the commonly available “black light” LED flashlights and lanterns pump out far too much visible light to be effective at viewing plant fluorescence, as the visible light washes out fluorescence in anything but the strongest displays. The best affordable options for backyard naturalists involve violet laser pointers, which tend to throw off large amounts of UV, and beam splitters to turn that laser light into more of a laser flashlight. In a pinch, for financial reasons and for initial experiments, the wonderful crew at American Science & Surplus offer a very cost-effective compromise, the violet kaleidoscopic laser pointer.

(Disclaimer: ALWAYS use eye protection when using a laser. Read the laser’s user guide and all labels before using. Never point a laser at your own face, that of anybody else, that of animals, or at passing aircraft. Do not point a violet laser at any apparatus, such as camera lenses, that could be affected by ultraviolet light. If you decide to ignore this advice, the Texas Triffid Ranch and all entities associated with it are not responsible, either legally or financially, for physical, mental, or financial damages. Let’s have a little common sense here, kids.)

The big advantage with the kaleidoscopic laser pointer is that for basic experiments in plant fluorescence, the pointer already comes with a diffraction grate to spread the beam around and offer endless entertainment for cats and Pink Floyd fans. Setting the pointer’s grate so it diffuses the beam the most may affect the ability to take images or video of the fluorescence effect, and anyone wanting to understand the limits of that fluorescence should consider working with a beam splitter. For quick and dirty observation in a garden environment, though, it can’t be beat.

The photo at the top of this article sums up the situation. The white pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, not only fluoresces blue along the pitcher lip under UV, but the whole top of the pitcher famously fluoresces under moonlight. The photo doesn’t do the fluorescence justice: laser pointer use not only fluoresces the upper third of the pitcher, but it attracts local moths and other nocturnal insects even more so than usual. The effect on other Sarracenia is muted under moonlight or general light pollution, so the best results come from viewing after moonrise or moonset in an area without streetlights.

Next, it’s time to test flowers already known for attracting nocturnal insects. In this case, the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) also stands out under moonlight, but the real surprise under UV is that its stamens are particularly brilliant. This helps explain why moonflowers are so popular with so many species of hawkmoth, and the plan is to test this theory next year with angel trumpets (Datura spp.) to see if they fluoresce the same way and intensity.

The real surprise in the garden this year? The spring attempt to get luffa squash (Luffa aegyptiaca) established ran right into our early summer, and the vines are only now starting to expand and produce female flowers. The flowers are also going the reverse of previous growing efforts, with the blooms opening in the evening and closing by sunrise.

That works out very well, to be honest, because luffa blooms fluoresce slightly, but the pollen fluoresces much more. On a still night, the pollen all over the bloom makes the bloom under UV look as if it were dusted with glow powder. Get too close with a camera, and the glow off luffa pollen will wash out everything else.

Naturally, this is only the beginning of experimentation. We still have at least a month in Dallas before the standard growing season is complete and all of the carnivores start going into dormancy, with so many carnivores with UV secrets. Even better, the moon is currently new, so the nights are dark even with the moon above the horizon. Expect all sorts of discoveries.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #32

For newcomers, this is a semi-regular newsletter from the Texas Triffid Ranch, Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Feel free to forward early and often, and to subscribe if you haven’t already.

Installment #32: “Me and You and a Hawk Named Ralph
(Originally published August 25, 2022)

The last several months have been for the birds, quite literally. Both at the gallery and the house, it’s all about birds, mostly crows. At the gallery, it’s a combination of crows tapping on the glass at the front door because they want to see what’s inside and juvenile blue herons hunting under the security lights at night. At home, well, I have to tell you about Ralph.

Shortly after moving into the new house, I discovered that the front sidewalk was part of the scavenging turf for a flock of crows. During the serious cold snaps last winter and into spring, the crows took advantage of a stoop out front as a hammer for cracking open acorns, and this rapidly became a site to leave a handful of shelled peanuts every morning. It’s not just for the entertainment value, either. Crows tend to chase and harangue squirrels, and the plan was to hire them out as bounty hunters before the squirrels got out in back and decided to dig up and uproot every plant in the time zone. Last year at the old house, a lone treerat got into the old greenhouse and overturned about 30 Venus flytraps all at once, probably with the justification of “Just lookin’,” so they need discouragement. 

So far, it’s working. In fact, befriending crows is much like keeping cats. The flock has learned which window is my bedroom window, and if I’m not up sufficiently early to put out the daily peanut ration, they all gather around that window and let me know their concern that tribute is not forthcoming. After that, they gather around the back yard, watching me pick up junk weathering out of the lawn (a previous owner left significant archaeological traces in the form of a seemingly infinite number of Olympia beer bottle tops scattered through the yard, and I joke about collecting enough from which to forge a sword) and letting each other know “Yeah, the ginger guy is out here again, doing whatever weirdness he’s into. Doesn’t he know we’d give him a sword if he asked?”

At tribute time, everything is overseen by the presumed patriarch, a large crow with one big white feather on the top of his head that I named “Cadfael” after the Ellis Peters novels. Cadfael is very careful with his charges: he trusts that the food isn’t being tampered with, but he still doesn’t trust me personally, and nobody goes for the peanuts until Cadfael is assured that I’ve gone back inside and locked the door. He doesn’t care if I’m watching through a window, but filthy humans are expected to feed and not be seen, and nothing happens so long as he has a say in the matter. I go in, Cadfael caws three times, and the whole flock rushes in to get a bite and chase the squirrels coming from across the street to get their adrenaline fix. 

And then there’s Ralph. Ralph is a young red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaecensis) who lives in the vicinity, his hunting territory abutted by those of two absolutely monstrous-sized female red-tails, and he does very nicely on a diet of suburban cicadas, rodents, snakes and lizards, and the occasional baby rabbit. Ralph has no interest in the peanuts, although he’s swooped down once or twice to check them out and see what the big deal is about. His thing is about coming out when the crows are happily hammering peanuts for the treats inside and trying to play.

Ralph’s antics shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who knows anything about red-tails and other hawks: they seemingly live to play. I once watched a big red-tail joyously tear apart a mylar balloon caught in a cottonwood tree, hanging upside down until its talons ripped through the mylar and it dropped, that kept going until the balloon was fragments. Along a bicycle commute route in the Aughts, another monstrous female red-tail would wait for me to pass underneath her favorite street light, swoop down, and try to touch my bike helmet with her talons without my seeing her. The surprise is that Ralph keeps trying to play with the crows even after Cadfael chases him off. Cadfael attends to affairs of state, and Ralph rushes in to the younger crows, looking to wrestle. He means absolutely no harm to the crows, and the others know it and reciprocate, and that lasts until Cadfael returns and decides that intermingling of the species is completely unacceptable.

That’s when things get funny, because Ralph cannot understand why his playing with the younger crows is verboten, and he says so. Every day after being rebuffed by Cadfael, Ralph stands in the middle of the street and just SCREAMS. Ever watch a puppy desperately trying to play with an older cat, where his need to play balances out with his fear of death and he just howls in happy frustration? That’s Ralph’s life, especially since he knows he has done nothing wrong. It’s the avian equivalent of yelling “C’mon, man! I’m not doing anything!”

All the way around, this makes the morning routine for the Day Job worthwhile. The big question is what happens if either Cadfael acquiesces to Ralph’s entreaties, or something happens to Cadfael and the other crows let Ralph join the party. Either way, if this is a start of a new crow/hawk alliance, I’m glad that I’m here to see it before they walk feather-in-feather into their Neolithic period and plan their takeover of Earth. Ralph won’t be king, but I could see him as our first avian prime minister.

Shameless Plugs
Austin friends and cohorts bragged to me for years about Jerry’s Artorama for painting supplies and other serious art tools, and I finally got the chance to visit one after Dallas’s first Artorama opened up next door to the Maple Leaf Diner. Oh, dear. The combination of Canadian cuisine and art gear, especially Jerry’s extensive collection of spraypaints, promise to lead to a whole new level of Triffid Ranch expression, if they don’t kill us all first.

Recommended Reading
A lot has come through the mailbox in the last few weeks (my To Be Read pile by the side of the bed is threatening to rise up and go on a rampage like a Jack Kirby monster), but the most compelling came just yesterday. Retail Gangster: The Insane, Real-Life Story of Crazy Eddie by Gary Weiss is a kick-you-in-the-junk look not just at a New York icon (or at least the publicly created persona, as Eddie Antor was famously publicity-averse) but at the weirdness involving the chains of discount electronics stores that rose and fell through the 1980s. It’s also an object lesson to businesses small and large as to rendering unto Caesar, because underreporting sales taxes and total revenues while overemphasizing tax deductions may not get you for a while, but they WILL get you, and far too many shady characters figure that Death will get them before the IRS will.

Music
One of the highlights of the recently released Hulu movie Prey, besides the all-Comanche version, was the soundtrack by famed video game composer Sarah Schachner, currently available for download on most music streaming services. As an enthusiastic fan of Ms. Schachner’s work for the last decade, the Prey soundtrack naturally became a major work soundtrack while working on new enclosures, and here’s hoping that she becomes as influential in the 2020s as Basil Poledouris and Jerry Goldsmith were in the 1980s.

The Porch Sales Continue: September 24, 2022

North Texas may be drier than a Dorothy Parker insult, but that just makes getting out and doing things that much sweeter. Our famously flexible weather makes most of us meteorological experts, if only so we don’t have to discuss politics, and most of that is in a desperate need to know “If I go out today, will I die?” Well, the heat finally broke, with the odds being pretty good that we won’t have any more of our typical summer weather until next May, with stunningly blue skies during the day and unusually clear and crisp skies all night. In other words, we can go outside without bursting into flame, and that’s what happened at the Triffid Ranch last weekend.

For those who haven’t been to Dallas, or who haven’t been here long, it’s time for caveats. Generally, the rainier things get in October and November, the less likely we’ll get severe cold weather December through February. That’s not an absolute, as February 2021 proved, but it’s true more often than not. Right now, the immediate Triffid Ranch area hasn’t received a drop of rain since the big Labor Day Weekend storm on September 4, and the last fall this dry was back in 2012, leading to the famed Christmas Day 2012 blizzard. Now, five minutes after I type this, we could get another 20 centimeters of rain, but right now, it’s dry and crisp, and autumn in Texas doesn’t get better than this.

This coming weekend, partly because of vague chances of downpours and the opportunity to show off new developments, the party moves inside, with a traditional Triffid Ranch open house running on October 1 from noon until 5:00 pm. Don’t worry: the Porch Sales are coming back, and they’ll be running again on October 8 and 22. It’s just that the Triffid Ranch hits the road in October, with a Crow’s Alley Flea Market event at Outfit Brewing in Dallas on October 15, running from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, and the big Dallas Arboretum Halloween lecture and sale running from October 28 to 30. Please come out to buy lots of plants: I don’t have the time to develop my own safe and effective vaccine for sleep, so I need to hire someone to do the work for me.

Have a Safe Weekend

Well, the Triffid Ranch didn’t win a Best of Dallas Award this year, so it’s back to the linen mines. (Again, absolutely honestly, it was a privilege to be nominated, as it wasn’t anything I was expecting in the first place.) If you’re not local, keep an eye open for the latest newsletter. If you are local, the Saturday Porch Sales continue on September 24 from 10 am to 3 pm, and expect updates on a big indoor open house on October 1. We need to start the Halloween season on the right note, don’t we?

The Aftermath: Dallas Vampire Court Angel Stakes 2022

In the last nearly 15 years of Triffid Ranch shows and events, I’ve been honored to show off plants at a lot of singularly interesting venues and locales. The Angel Stakes charity benefit held by the Vampire Court of Dallas definitely qualified: a charity casino and raffle? At the Haltom Theater in Haltom City? On a Sunday, in the middle of a Texas heat wave? Why, don’t mind if I do!

Firstly, high kudos to the Vampire Court: they managed to pull off their first non-Dallas event with no noticeable hiccups from the outside, and with a lot of very happy patrons. More kudos to the Haltom Theater: it’s a very well-done live music venue (with a bar & grille on the side) that could very easily become a regular venue for oddball events like this that don’t really fit into Fort Worth. Most of all, kudos to everyone who came out, because between meeting a slew of folks new to the Dallas/Fort Worth area and getting back in touch with some much-missed old friends, getting home at 2 am on a Sunday was completely worth the trip.

As for further adventures with the Vampire Court? That’s completely up to them: we’ve already talked about bringing plants to other events hosted by the Court, and now it’s a matter of confirming dates and times. One thing is certain, though: this is just the beginning.

The September Porch Sales Continue

You know that old trope in war and horror movies, involving the red-shirt who stands up when everyone else is worried about snipers and/or monsters, exclaims “Everything’s fine! Come on out!”, and gets pranged in the head in front of compatriots and audience? That’s what planning for outdoor events in Texas is like. Plan for weeks to take advantage of National Weather Service predictions of spectacular weather, and we get thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes, and the occasional autumn heat wave. There’s a reason why armadillos, with all their armor, dig burrows.

That’s what’s happening in North Texas right now: most years, the third full week of September is when the summer heat finally breaks with a massive thunderstorm and then things come out the other side clean and cool. This may or may not happen, and if we follow what happened during the 2012 drought, we may not see a drop of rain until Christmas Day. I look at it very prosaically: one big storm around Labor Day to spook everyone, and then weekend after weekend of fabulous conditions to encourage people to take a risk and get out…in October.

It’s not October yet, but the Porch Sales continue, with the last September Porch Sale running Saturday, September 24 from 10 am to 3 pm. After that, things move inside on October 1 for an open house to show off new enclosures, and then back outside until Halloween weekend. As for Halloween…oh, the plans to be shared very, very soon.

The Triffid Ranch in the News

Well, word of the Triffid Ranch’s renovation is getting out, starting with this very nice writeup in the Dallas Observer from writer Kendall Morgan. Now to complete said renovation and validate others’ trust in making the Triffid Ranch a Dallas-area destination. (The current plan is to open the gallery for a major open house on October 1 from noon until 5:00 pm to debut new enclosures and the renovation work so far, with a Porch Sale on September 24 to give everyone their carnivorous plant fixes in the interim, and then another major open house on Halloween weekend. I hope this works to everyone’s satisfaction.)

State of the Gallery: September 2022

(For those coming in late, the following is a regular feature highlighting developments involving the Texas Triffid Ranch, including new features, events, and general strangeness. For more of this delivered directly to your mailbox, please consider the newsletter.)

The end of summer 2022 isn’t confirmed yet, and based on previous Dallas weather trends, we can’t confirm it until the end of November. It sure feels like it, though. The convection oven heat faced by the Dallas area all November finally broke on August 22, when we got a full summer of rain in the space of about two hours. The hits kept coming, too, including a surprise storm on September 4 that hit the area with hurricane-force winds. If we can trust standard Texas weather trends, this means that the next couple of months will be comprised of cool and very dry days, with spectacular night skies and a relaxed need for air conditioning, and that’s what the National Weather Service is predicting as of this writing. However, as anyone who has lived in Texas for more than three weeks already knows, we could go to an autumn where we won’t see a drop of rain until Christmas Day, and we could also go to an autumn with torrential rains and even subfreezing temperatures around Halloween. It’s happened before.

Based on the current forecast, though, we’re looking at mild temperatures with gentle nights and no appreciable precipitation until the end of the month, so that means one thing. This means that it’s time to get to work on the gallery. Weather like this is perfect for painting, and there’s a LOT of painting to be done over the rest of the season.

Firstly, because the brain-frying heat of summer is gone, the regular Triffid Ranch events are now outdoors, with lots of opportunities between now and Halloween. For September, the Porch Sales return on Saturdays, running on September 17 and 24 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on both days. Since the current weather means that the Sarracenia and flytraps are making up for lost time, it’s a perfect time to come out, look around, and figure out which plants you really need to take home.

While the Porch Sales are going on, the gallery interior continues its renovation, with work starting on the main area toward the back of the space. That’s another reason why I continue to focus on the weather, because autumns in Texas produce the right weather for bulk painting, where it’s not so hot that the paint starts drying as it leaves the sprayer and not so cold that it takes forever to dry. If anything, painting in the evening means a particularly strong and durable paint, as the paint dries slowly under cooler temps overnight and then bakes on in the afternoon. This means that a whole load of enclosures forced to wait because of summer heat are finishing up right now, and the plan is to have an evening open house to show them off on October 1.

(In that vein, because of the gallery’s expansion, it’s actually possible to create multiple enclosure series, which can be shown both collectively and individually. I’m finishing working on the concept for one such series that should be available for viewing at the October 1 open house, that should be as odd as anything else that’s ever come out of the Triffid Ranch before. Keep checking back.)

In ongoing developments, I also want to thank everyone who voted for the Triffid Ranch in both the Dallas Morning News Best of DFW Awards and the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards nominations. The Best of DFW results won’t be available until November, but the Best of Dallas awards will be announced on September 22, with a video discussion of both critics’ choice and readers’ choice winners that evening. The real fun will be watching friends and cohorts win their own awards: there’s a lot going on in this town, and every little boost helps out.

Seeing as how just having weekly Porch Sales and obsessively painting and cutting foam all week isn’t stimulating enough, there’s always more. To start out, the Triffid Ranch is a proud vendor at the Angel Stakes charity benefit from the Vampire Court of Dallas on Sunday, September 18 from 6:00 am to midnight. This is just the start of non-gallery events over the rest of the year, including a Halloween weekend lecture at the Dallas Arboretum, so keep checking back for details as I get them.

And along that line, a prompt for the near future. This Halloween, since the day itself falls on a Monday this year, promises an extra-long weekend, and since I no longer have any family obligations for Halloween, either by blood or marriage, it’s time to try a blowout for the end of the season. Again, details will follow, but it just might include the black-light carnivorous plant show I’ve been promising at the gallery since its Valley View Center days, as well as a celebration of my grandmother’s 99th birthday. The gallery has the room now, and testing commences.

And in long-term plans, there’s always the risk of making major plans and having extenuating circumstances interfere, but expect a lot of news about 2023 events in the next month. The move by Texas Frightmare Weekend to run at the end of May instead of the usual first weekend frees up that first weekend, and it’s time to get more involved in local art events. Even more importantly, the official announcement for the Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2023 schedule comes out on Halloween Day, and this may – MAY – involve new cities on the schedule. I don’t know about anybody else, but I can’t wait.

Have a Safe Weekend

Now that the last US bank holiday for a while is over, it’s time to get back to a regular schedule on Triffid Ranch events, and weather permitting, they’re going to be outdoors for a while. Yes, it’s time to restart the Porch Sales, starting at 10 am and ending at 3:00 every Saturday this month. If you haven’t voted for “Best Garden Center” in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards yet, now is a perfect time to come out and see why the Triffid Ranch is under consideration, or at least to come out and enjoy a Texas neo-autumn that promises to keep going until the end of the year. (Moving outdoors has two advantages. The first is just getting outside, so long as we don’t get a repeat of last Sunday’s explosive weather. The second is getting the gallery ready for a very important event on the afternoon of September 22, so the place may look as if Hunter S. Thompson was camping in the back while that’s happening. This way, everyone gets their carnivorous plant Recommended Daily Allowance while allowing paint to dry, I appreciate your understanding.)

The Aftermath: Labor Day 2022 Open House

I sure know how to pick an open house date. Labor Day Weekend 2022 started out beautifully: moderate temperatures, sunny skies, and a general feeling of relaxation,. Friday night moved into Saturday, and the weather was just perfect. Sunday can’t be even better than this, could it? Well, the morning was…

…and then the storm hit that afternoon. For those outside of the Dallas area, things went sideways in the space of about ten minutes, as a massive storm roared out of the north. I mean “roar” literally: most of the Dallas area was hit with hurricane-force winds, followed by heavy rain, with downed trees and power lines all over. The gallery was relatively unscathed, although it was touch and go for a while, but the original plan to move everything outside for a Porch Sale would have been a disaster. It wasn’t much better going home, as a whole series of power poles went down in the storm and took out power for about 9 hours, and internet access only came back today. Let’s just say that I’m very glad that Sarracenia are adapted to life in hurricane zones, because they got a little touch of home that Sunday.

With that, I have to thank everyone who came out for the open house, because a lot rushed out to get home before the storm hit and discovered the storm was faster. This definitely qualified as the worst weather the gallery has faced since October 2019, and that involved a literal tornado that hopped over the gallery and took out a subdivision just due east, thereby taking out power for the whole area for nearly a week. It can always be worse.

After this weekend, it’s taking a risk, but the Porch Sales return on September 10 and run from 10 am to 3 pm, and keep going, weather permitting, until after Halloween. For those who couldn’t make it this week, let’s try it again.

Have a Safe Weekend

We’re now coming up on two weeks of cloudy and wet weather after months and months of Mad Max: Fury Road cosplay (and never have I been more glad to change hair color to avoid the inevitable Immortan Joe cracks), and it looks as if we might get more water falling from the sky for the foreseeable future. That’s part of the reason why this weekend’s gallery open house is inside, at least for the moment. (Moving it to Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday is just a matter of both being contrary and getting a bit of a break.) After this weekend, the Porch Sales return, running on Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm through September, and probably continuing into November or for as long as the weather holds. Considering how much the Sarracenia love the current weather, you may see some of the best pitcher plants in Triffid Ranch history in the next few weeks, but the ones going right now are nothing to sneeze at, either.

(Slightly related, the Reader’s Choice ballot for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards is still open for a week, and you can vote once per day per email address. Naturally, the real thrill of getting nominated for “Best Garden Center” is just in the nomination, but I’m also recommending write-in votes for Panoptikon for “Best Dance Club,” DFW Reptarium for “Best Pet Shop,” and the much-appreciated and totally underrated Toni Youngblood for “Best Realtor.” If you have to vote for anybody, vote for them.)

(Definitely related, the latest Triffid Ranch Newsletter is out, and feel free to read about Cadfael the crow and Ralph the red-tailed hawk, among other things. If you like it, please subscribe, but I’m not offended if you want to stick to small doses.)

And by the way, even if you can’t make it to the open house this weekend, keep an eye on the site this weekend. There’s a lot of news coming down the pipe over the next few weeks, and it’s going to be wild.

State of the Gallery: August 2022

(Dedicated to the memory of Nancy Crawford, whose 90th birthday would have been today. Without her gentle encouragement for 20 years, the Triffid Ranch probably never would have happened.)

Ever been in an amusement park and got in line for a new rollercoaster, and right when you get strapped into the car and sent on your way, the earth gives way and all of you go barreling into an abyss that lay beneath the whole park? And when you gently hit bottom, you find yourself cornered in a city full of vampires that have been feeding on humans above them for centuries? And you manage to take on the vampires with a spare boba tea straw that fell from above, organize the various servant races the vampires have been breeding for menial labor and midnight snacks, relay light from the surface via spare fiber optic cables buried by the CIA, and burn the vampires to ash? And then when you get back to the surface, you discover that the vampires were the only thing keeping a species of sentient exoparasite from the rim of the galaxy and a species of hyperintelligent dinosaur from taking over Earth themselves, and your chainsaw is in the shop? And when you lock them all in stasis tombs deep below the surface of Ganymede, you find artifacts from an indescribably ancient civilization that lead you to their perfectly preserved home inside a series of nested Dyson spheres, and you get exclusive real estate rights to the equivalent living area of three billion Earths?

That’s what August 2022 has been like, but with carnivorous plants.

The best part? 2022 has been this wild, and we still have four months left.

Folks outside of the Dallas area might have heard or read about the bit of rain we got on August 22. The Tallahassee-level deluge wasn’t enough to get us out of severe drought yet, nor will the expected rains through the beginning of September, arriving about a month early compared to most years. However, every bit helps, as do the delightfully cool temperatures right now as compared to three weeks ago. The last time I experienced an August that ended like this was in 1987 (I spent my 21st birthday slogging through rainwater so high that it came up to the axles on my bicycle, and I was having the time of my life doing so), and considering how 1987 went, I’m packing a spare parachute just in case somebody else needs it.

The gallery itself continues to undergo its ongoing renovation and metamorphosis, with the front area, now mercifully entourage-free so that visitors can actually get into the place, pretty much finished and ready for new enclosures. The renovation and remodeling of the back area begins in September, although new lighting and shelves are already there. Considering how well the last open house in August went, the first open house of September attempts to continue the tradition, only moving from Saturday to Sunday, September 4 in order to allow folks who couldn’t get to the gallery on Saturdays to have a chance. Keep coming back through the year and take one picture each time, and you’ll get a view worthy of George Pal and Wah Chang.

One of the other benefits of the ongoing cool and wet outside is that the Sarracenia and flytraps, long semi-dormant in the extreme heat of July and August, are now simply exploding with new growth. as things cool off, the regular Triffid Ranch events move outside for a return of the Porch Sales. Depending upon the weather, expect Porch Sales every weekend until Halloween (in case of rain, everything moves inside) every weekend where the Triffid Ranch isn’t attending a show elsewhere. In addition, the new Porch Sales will feature also guest vendors, the number to be announced in the future.

And speaking of shows, it’s time for a range of local and out-of-town shows in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, the Triffid Ranch can’t be out for this weekend’s Plantopia in Arlington, but I’m signed up for the Crow’s Alley Flea Market in Bedford on October 15 and 29, and then there’s the long-running Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays two-day event at the Palmer Events Center in Austin on November 26 and 27. After THAT, it’s all local events at the gallery for the rest of 2022. Since the Day Job offers the whole last week of 2022 as additional vacation time, there may be one last big event before New Year’s Day 2023, but that’s still being discussed.

(On the subject of 2023, things got very interesting with Texas Frightmare Weekend, moving for next year to the Irving Convention Center for Memorial Day weekend. As brought up before, TFW moved to the Irving Convention Center next year due to massive upgrades to the whole of Terminal C at DFW Airport, and one of the upshots was the ability to upgrade to 10×10 spaces as opposed to the smaller spaces in which the Triffid Ranch had been presenting plants since 2009. This means a LOT more plants, enclosures, and other possibilities, and the next eight months are dedicated to stretching the limits of enclosure design and technology specifically to take advantage of the increased space.)

Finally, there’s still a bit over a week to vote in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards, and the Triffid Ranch was nominated for “Best Garden Center,” so give love to all of the other things that make Dallas such a fun city when we put our minds to it. Me, I’m happy to be nominated, but if the Triffid Ranch should win, the afterparty open house is going to be the stuff of legends.

In the interim, it’s back to the linen mines: as mentioned, the renovations continue, and with them comes a ridiculous amount of room for new enclosures. Again, come out to the gallery on September 4 to get a view now, and be amazed at how much gets put in between then and the end of the year, especially compared to last year. You’ll boogie ’til you puke.

The Aftermath: Seventh Anniversary Open House

Sometimes it’s hard to believe how far the Triffid Ranch has come: it’s been fourteen years since the first-ever Triffid Ranch event and seven since the original gallery opened at Valley View Center, and there’s always something new to put together. This time around, the first stages of the new gallery renovation were reasonably complete, with oh so much more to do in the back area of the gallery and only so many 78-hour days to best exploit. (I kid: I never use anything that short.) Between the revised front area, the revamped and relit hallway, and the space available for additional tables, the beginning of Year Eight was as impressive as hoped back when this all started in the spring.

Considering that the opening date was also the birthday for one of the ea (rly visitors, this was one hell of a birthday. There’s still so much more to do (the whole back area hasn’t had a stem-to-stern revision since the middle of 2020), but at least now it’s a matter of knowing how much is left instead of how much needs to be done first.

To stir things up a little bit, to take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend, and to facilitate those whose work or life schedules keep them from being able to attend Saturday open houses, the next Triffid Ranch open house is on Sunday, September 4, running from noon until 5:00 pm. See you then.

Have a Safe Weekend

The rains finally returned to Dallas, the whole city is nicely soggy, and the National Weather Service predicts even more. In many ways, we’re repeating August 1987, and considering how much that year changed the rest of my life, I’m not complaining.

For those curious about Triffid Ranch events, it’s time for the big blowout. The Texas Triffid Ranch Seventh Anniversary Party and Carnivorous Plant Open House starts Saturday, August 27 at 3:00 pm and runs until 9:00 for your plant-viewing pleasure. If you can’t make it, September and October are going to be packed with events: some of which are still forming, but at least expect a major open house on Labor Day Weekend.

And to boost the signal, voting in the Dallas Morning News Best in DFW Awards ends at midnight on August 26, and the Triffid Ranch is nominated for Family Attraction in “Entertainment” and Best Adventure Within a Day’s Drive and Immersive Experience in “Things To Do.” Do what thou wilt. (The Triffid Ranch was also nominated for “Best Garden Center” in the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards, but voting there continues until September 10. Feel free to vote early and often.)

Finally, today’s song selection has multiple points of reference, and not just because of the storms earlier this week that soaked everything. Let’s all wish Shirley Manson a very happy birthday today; if I’d been three hours more premature, she and I would be the same exact age. (For the first time in ten years, I feel that I can celebrate my birthday, so there’s that, too.)

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 7

And that’s how Aquashella Dallas 2022 ended. Two days of unrelentingly enthusiastic attendees, asking excellent questions, and eventually we had to pack it all in and go home. It’s always bittersweet when a show this good ends, and the only hope is to try it all over again next year and do it even better.

As always, I would like to thank the staff of Aquashella Dallas for a wonderful experience all the way around (the only issue all weekend, the outdoor temperature, was completely out of their control), and also many thanks need to be extended to the attendees and general visitors. You’re the people for whom i do this, and all of you made attending next year’s shows a certainty. Thank you again.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 6

One of the many perks available at Aquashella Dallas this year involved glasses. Specifically, every attendee received a pair of Fritz UV Coral Reef Viewing Glasses included with admission. According to attendees visiting the various live coral dealers throughout the show, these glasses filtered out blue light coming from the LED lights used everywhere, making the corals appear even more fluorescent than usual. Unfortunately, vendors didn’t qualify for glasses, but my gallery neighbor, who came out to view the show with friends, gave me his pair, and I’m waiting for a good cloudy day to see if these glasses offer unorthodox views of various carnivores, particularly Sarracenia pitcher plants.

This led to questions, and musing, and a possible course of action if what I seek actually exists. If it doesn’t exist, or if it’s not possible, you’ll never know, but if it does, expect a much more interactive display at next year’s show.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 5

(This space left blank, Just go to Aquashella Dallas next year, and get your tickets as soon as they’re available. Judging by the crowd here in 2022, the lines for same-day ticket sales are going to be long and very, very sweaty. Buy them in advance, so you have more time to check out the live coral displays.)

(Really. Just make plans for next year, or go to Chicago in October. You won’t regret it.)

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 4

A little sidenote about Triffid Ranch shows and events is that everything gets measured in “vans.” The stackable tubs used for moving plants and other show gear are a godsend for transport, and a standard U-Haul van packed to the gills has room for up to 16 tubs and still have room for shelving, tables, lights and battery (thank Arioch for LED lighting, because my current setup can run lights for two days without recharging), essential non-plant accessories (tablecloths, extension cords, ID tags, and cleaning supplies, among others), and hauling carts. (I always carry two: one big pneumatic-tired cart for hauling the heavy stuff, and a foldable cart for moving items in spaces where the big cart can’t fit.) If the show is local, there’s always the option of rushing back after unloading and unpacking to get more, venue and staff willing, but if the show is outside of Dallas, what I can jam into the van is all I’ll have. Larger trucks are an option, but finding a rental truck that also has air conditioning in the cargo area (a necessity in Texas in the summer, unless I’m driving solely at night and unpack first thing in the morning) also has to be balanced with potential sales versus the cost of fuel. It’s a tricky deal, which is part of the reason why Triffid Ranch booths at outside shows tend to be filled with lots of beginner plants as opposed to ones only of interest to specialists and collectors.

While there’s an advantage to being close enough to home that it’s possible to reload the van, that also has to be balanced. It’s really easy to have an excellent show on Saturday, completely fill another van for Sunday, and find yourself having to wrangle multiple trips to take everything back if Sunday’s show is a dud. Alternately, you can find yourself making so many sales on Saturday that not having enough surplus means you’re staring out over empty tables all Sunday, as most events and venues frown very hard on breaking down early. As I said, it’s a balance.

That said, I had high hopes for Aquashella Dallas, and attendees and staff outshone my best expectations. The only issue for attending other Aquashella shows is that based on this one, and the multiple return trips to the gallery to get more plants, I’m going to need a bigger truck.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 3

Newcomers to Dallas have every reason to be wary when a local asks “So…what brings you to Dallas?”, but it’s almost always for a legitimate and benevolent reason. Dallas was and is built off waves of people moving here from elsewhere (I myself came here on the big Oil Boom wave in the late 1970s/early 1980s), and there’s always a reason. Nobody just decides to pick up a dart, throw it at a map, and decide “Hey, I’m moving to Dallas today!” Whether it’s for family or career or school or because they fell in love with the place after seeing a rerun of the PBS adaptation of Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, there’s always a story, and I for one love hearing those stories. It’s even better when those stories involve something that someone living here for four decades didn’t know about, and suddenly you have a serious conversation.

Suffice to say, Aquashella Dallas is FULL of stories. The absolute best part comes from casual tourists who have never been to North Texas in their lives: discovering that a particular event caused people from all over the planet to come to Dallas, in the middle of one of the worst heat waves in Texas history, means we must be doing something right, and we have to work harder to keep doing so.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 2

It’s been a very, very long time since I had the opportunity to go to a big aquarium show (early 1986, to be exact), and one of the things I’d forgotten was how dedicated aquatic people are to hitting as many shows as they can. It’s one thing for regular attendees of an annual show to plan life events around that one big show, and many people look at touring shows and plan several dates, either ones within their vicinity or ones where they’re already planning to visit family and friends. However, the folks at Aquashella have only one counterpart that compares, and that’s the music festival fan. I’ve done a lot of shows in the last nearly 15 years, and this was the first time both attendees and fellow vendors were actually disappointed when they asked “Are you going to be at the next show?” and I had to decline.

In retrospect, though, it makes a lot of sense. It’s not just that aquarium people have as wide a range of specialties as music festival folks, as well as the enthusiasm to travel the country and the world to keep up with their passions. It’s that every aquarium show really will have a range of touring displays and local vendors that make you risk missing out if you don’t hit as many as possible. The other half of the fun, also, is the sense of community among aquarists: tetra people and discus people may look quizzically at gar or axolotl people, but nobody’s putting down the other’s loves. If anything, from my booth alone, I caught several conversations about specific fish species that went from “we’ll have to agree to disagree” to “I’m going to have to try that just on your recommendation.” That’s the sort of enthusiasm that more hobbies and genres need.

All said, it’s too late for me to make the road trip with plants to Chicago for the next Aquashella show…this year. Next year, though, I may have to skip the Orlando show solely because of the date (late February shows mean not having Sarracenia, flytraps, or other temperate carnivores still locked into dormancy), but it’s high time to bring the Triffid Ranch to other cities outside of Texas, and I should have plenty of vacation time on the Day Job to let me do that.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – 1

From the register side of the table, one of the more intriguing aspects about Aquashella Dallas was the brand and community awareness aspect. With the overwhelming number of vendors at other Triffid Ranch shows, from Texas Frightmare Weekend to the Oddities & Curiosities Expos, they’re also selling, and there’s always a dynamic of turning to the side to see how everyone else is doing. Many of the Aquashella booth crews, including my immediate neighbors from Tetra, were there to get the crowd excited about upcoming products and releases. As such, that meant having very experienced booth crews coming by to ask exactly why the Triffid Ranch displays were set the way they were, and offering suggestions on improvements when the only answer I had was “That’s a really good question.” They also had lots of insights into an entire slew of shows with which I had absolutely no experience, so talking shop about show attendance and potential new events was both illuminating and very, very relaxing.

The best part of discussions with neighbors, besides their surprise that I was familiar with Tampa thanks to the Convergence goth convention in 2008, was talk about the other Aquashella shows in Orlando and Chicago. The original pre-COVID plan for expanding the Triffid Ranch’s range included finally attending shows outside of Texas, and when all of your neighbors ask “Are you going to Chicago?” because they honestly think the Chicago attendees would love carnivorous plants, well, you pay attention. I’ll burn all of those bridges at the end of the year.

To be continued…

The Aftermath: Aquashella Dallas 2022 – Introduction

It all started in the Before Times, when a representative from Aquashella, one of the biggest aquarium shows in the country, stopped by the Triffid Ranch booth at the NARBC Arlington show in February 2020 and asked “Would you be interested in showing your plants at the Aquashella Dallas show?” The answer was typically understated (quote: “If you nail a duck’s foot to the floor, does he waddle in circles?”), and plans for later in 2020 made quite quickly. Well, anybody not knowing why the 2020 show didn’t happen was obviously in a coma until last week, and we should all be very envious of their situation. Last year, the Aquashella crew tried again, and the finalized date coincided with my best friend’s wedding, and priorities are priorities. The third time, though, was the charm, as Aquashella moved from Dallas’s Fair Park to Dallas Market Hall in 2021, and it was definitely worth the wait.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Aquashella specializes in aquatic wonders, both in freshwater and in saltwater, and the overwhelming majority of my fellow vendors focused on fish, tanks, and decorations, as well as coral, live plants, and tank augmentations. A few were devoted to axolotls and other aquatic amphibians, and a few spread out to reptiles, but most focused on fish and fish accessories. Nobody was expecting to see carnivorous plants, much less see them up close, and even the record heat of that weekend didn’t dissuade Dallasites from coming out to ogle the pitcher plants and sundews. Two days and thousands of people, and the crowds didn’t let up until about 90 minutes after the show was supposed to be finished. It was WONDERFUL.

To be continued…

2022 Open Houses: The August Edition

As of August 22, the months of lack of rainfall at the Triffid Ranch were rectified. In fact, Dallas’s biggest concern right now involves flash flooding for the rest of the week. At the moment, both the gallery and the greenhouse are in good shape, and living near the top of a hill has its advantages. The main thing is that a dearth of appreciable precipitation, an issue since last June, is now rectified, and the carnivores are now awash in, quite literally, more water than they know what to do with. For the Sarracenia in particular, the rain and subsequent high humidity are long-awaited blessings, and we’re apparently going to get a lot of it over the next week.

Before our much-appreciated break in the heat, though, the ongoing heat and dust are a usual issue in August in Texas, and that continues in most years until the end of September. This means that people are loath to get out into the heat if they can possibly help it, and if they do, it’s usually for as long a luxuriation in air conditioning as can be managed. Ergo, things were a little slow at the Triffid Ranch open houses this year, but that just gave more time to focus on finishing things for the seventh anniversary evening open house on August 27.

As for the future, those plans have to wait until after the August 27 anniversary event. One thing is for sure: if the brutal heat doesn’t return and this is truly the end of temperatures above blood temperature in the Dallas area, the outdoor Porch Sales return in September…some with guests.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feed Lot Clearance Sale – #31

For newcomers, this is a semi-regular newsletter from the Texas Triffid Ranch, Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery. Feel free to forward early and often, and to subscribe if you haven’t already.

Installment #31: “Dealing With Texas-Level Heat
(Originally published July 11, 2022)

For those outside of the Dallas area, you may or may not know about the current weather situation. Those of us in the Dallas area are already sick to death of it,and those of us who have been here for a while know what’s going to come next. You see, when it comes to Texas summers, there’s “hot,” where we might have a few days of temperatures above normal body heat in July, but generally we stay around or below that. Then there’s “HOT,” where we push toward 107F/40C and above, and the record highs just keep coming. We always have “hot” summers, where we deal. We get the occasional sudden thunderstorm, but otherwise it’s warm, sunny, and dry between the middle of June and the end of August. “HOT” summers, though, are an aberration of which we talk for years and sometimes for decades. I personally have lived through three, in 1980, 1988, and 2011, and we’ve had a few that came close to meeting that standard. My late mother-in-law, though, lived through the famed Drought of Record that hit Texas from 1952 to 1956, and the reason the Dallas area has so many reservoirs is because if the drought hadn’t broken at the end of 1956, 1958 would have led to an evacuation of Dallas because of a complete lack of water.

We’re not that bad right now, but it’s still going to be interesting. According to Weather.com as of July 11, we’re looking toward at least two weeks and probably three of head advisory warnings, and we’re already getting the entreaties from ERCOT, the body that manages Texas’s electrical grid, to please minimize electrical use during the day. (Yes, ERCOT and our esteemed governor learned nothing from the 2021 statewide blackout, and we’re still running on an electrical system that’s absolutely state of the art…if the state gets tossed through a time vortex and we all find ourselves in 1974.) We’re also significantly short on rainfall this year, which exacerbates the ongoing heat (the wetter the topsoil and the thick layers of clay underneath are when summer starts, the more evaporation cuts back on severe heat, and starting out June with already-dying grass and big cracks in the back yard means that the heat probably won’t break until October), not to mention filling the aforementioned reservoirs so we can drink, bathe, and water our foundations. (The reason we generally don’t have basements in North Texas is because of those thick layers of clay upon which we put houses and businesses, and as they dry, they shrink. Not only do you get big cracks, sometimes big enough to lose puppies, in unwatered areas, but the shrinking clay also causes damage to house foundations and water mains. Watering house foundations is a learned but essential skill throughout the Dallas area.)

And what does this have to do with carnivorous plants? Right now, they’re going to be suffering without assistance. Most carnivores prefer much cooler temperatures than what Dallas is experiencing right now, and those that love heat (certain species of Nepenthes pitcher plant are referred to as “stovehouse plants”) absolutely loathe the low humidity. Most outdoor carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants can adapt and get through summer for a whole new growing season in autumn, but they need help.

First and foremost, make sure that you have a good and dependable source of water. I regularly refer to Dallas municipal water as “this side of ‘crunchy,'” and it’s sufficiently loaded with salt and calcium carbonate that it’s eventually lethal to carnivores. If you were overprepared this year, you should have a surplus of rainwater already collected and sitting in barrels waiting for use. If you weren’t, as most people understandably weren’t, either the water reserves are running low or they’re going completely dry about now. If you have a few carnivores, purchased distilled water will work for a long while, but if you have many, you’re going to discover the unique aggravation of hunting down, transporting, and dispensing dozens of jugs every time you need to water your Sarracenia. As it was at the Triffid Ranch, it may be time to look at a reverse osmosis filter.

For the unfamiliar, a reverse osmosis (often referred to as “RO” or “R/O”) filter pushes water through a membrane with pores small enough to allow water molecules to go through but not larger molecules such as sodium chloride, iron oxide, or lead sulfate. Not all of the water can go through at once, so an RO filter has one outlet for pure filtered water and one for water carrying the salts and compounds that couldn’t go through the membrane, Because of the amount of stuff, from pollen to mineral deposits in the pipes, that can be found in tap water, most RO units have activated carbon and mechanical filters that “polish” the water before it gets to the membrane. Most units today are rather efficient: for every gallon or liter that goes through, about an equal amount is produced as waste. That waste water doesn’t actually have to be wasted: the outflow can be directed into the sewer, sure, but it can also be directed to water foundations, gardens, trees, and any kind of water feature that won’t have a problem with slightly more saline water. The filtered water then can either go directly to the plants that need it or into a storage tank for later use.

A regular question asked at Triffid Ranch shows  “can I use RO water for my plants?”, and after extensive research, the answer is “it depends.” Should you get one intended for hydroponics or cannabis (and we should all thank the US states legalizing cannabis and industrial hemp for helping to increase the efficiency and lower the costs of RO units over the last couple of decades, the way indoor cultivation did for LED lighting systems), the resultant end water is usually fine for carnivores, although it should be tested for mineral content on a regular basis. Most of the RO units intended for producing drinking water, though, can be a problem. Pure water of both tastes really flat and dull and tends to leach compounds out of containers (Portland, Oregon is famous for its nearly pure municipal water from a reservoir fed from snowmelt, but it’s also famous for being so pure that it leaches lead and copper out of older pipes), so most bottled drinking water, even if it is vacuum-distilled, has table salt and other electrolytes added for flavor. With home RO filters intended for drinking and cooking, the overwhelming majority come with a module called a “remineralizer,” which is essentially a slow-release salt source that dissolves as water runs through it. Water from an RO filter with a remineralizer isn’t good for carnivores, so if you have the opportunity to get a RO filter solely for the plants, leave the remineralizer for people and pets.

(A little sidenote for us North Texas folks. Many of the RO filters intended for Colorado use, if you know what I mean and I think you do, come with transparent filter canisters so users can gauge how close the filters are to needing replacement. After just a couple of weeks of use, you’ll be amazed at how much rust is in Dallas municipal water and how much those filters catch. After a month, you’d think someone dropped a Ford Pinto into the filter. Be prepared to change the filters and flush the RO membrane a lot more than recommended by the manufacturer, because our water so close to being a rust porridge as it is, and the mineral concentrations that precipitate out as sediment are only going to get higher as the reservoirs from where the water came get lower. I could make jokes about “Do you want selenite? Because this is how you get selenite” when letting local water evaporate in the sun, but those of us who practically need acid to get mineral deposits off shower stalls and sinks won’t find them particularly funny.)

Now that the water is taken care of, it’s time to discuss heat. Right now, even plants in their native habitats are going to show signs of heat stress when faced with Dallas temperatures. Some handle it better than others: Venus flytrap traps tend to burn off when exposed to excessive heat, while Sarracenia pitchers get replaced with long flat bladelike leaves called phyllodia to continue to catch light even when it’s too hot and dry to catch insects. Others are going to die without some kind of protection.

Let’s start with outdoor plants. You know those incredibly cool black skull pots that you wanted to put your Sarracenia in back in March? Right now, they’re probably steaming the poor plant’s roots if they’re in direct sun. Setting the pot in water may not be enough, so use light-colored covers, such as an old sheet, to keep the direct sun off the pot (don’t use aluminum foil or reflective barrier sheeting to do so: if you don’t know why, ask a baked potato) if you can’t move it, or move it to a place that gets morning sun but afternoon shade if you can. Likewise, since Dallas’s prevailing southern wind slurps the moisture out of everything, try to keep your carnivores in a place reasonably sheltered from the wind. Whatever happens, do NOT let your plant dry out, because it won’t come back if completely dessicated, so watering heavily first thing in the morning and then checking on it or them in the evening is about the only way to go. If you live in an apartment where the only outside growing area is on a balcony, you may have to bring your plants inside temporarily while the heat is extreme, because most Dallas apartment balconies become convection ovens in late summer.

Indoor plants such as Nepenthes pitcher plants and Cape sundews aren’t going to be spared just because they’re not out in direct heat, so they need additional care, too. Air conditioning is one of the main factors that makes Dallas even remotely liveable in summer, and AC units condense a lot of moisture out of the air inside of a house or apartment. This means that more water than usual is going to evaporate from enclosures and plant tissues with the drier air, and this is aggravated if the only place to leave the plant is in front of an AC vent. If you keep your plants in enclosures, put the top on and seal them off to spare them the worst of the lowered humidity (remember, Nepenthes stop producing pitchers when the average humidity goes below 50 percent, and they die if exposed for too long to humidity below 30 percent without an additional source of humidity such as an ultrasonic fogger or a chameleon dripper), and try to keep it closed as much as possible. Either way, keep a very close eye for signs that they or their substrate are drying out, and don’t be afraid to overwater slightly if they appear to be losing more water than usual because of the increased AC activity. Most importantly, watch cool-loving plants such as Cape sundews or highland Nepenthes for signs of heat stress and get them into cooler spaces as quickly as possible. If you catch it soon enough, the plant may be in shock, but it should make a full recovery if given half a chance.

The big thing to remember is that while things are stressful now, eventually the heat is going to break. Dallas usually gets one big day-long thunderstorm on or near Labor Day, and the amount of rainfall we get after that determines how long the heat will last into October and November. The important thing to remember is that we should be back to chilly weather by the beginning of December…and then we have all of the issues with cold to worry about. It may stop, but it never ends.

Shameless Plugs

31 years ago, my life went through as massive an upheaval as it did at the beginning of 2022, and I credit the Seattle artist David Lee Ingersoll and his much-missed comic Misspent Youths for getting through 1991 alive and relatively unscarred. Let it be said that his Redbubble page is full of wonders, and a Misspent Youths banner now acts as a sunshade for my office to keep out the afternoon heat. Look for a poster in the gallery in the very near future.

Recommended Reading
The research on potential new enclosures never stops, and the exemplary book The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Mark P. Witton and Ellinor Michel hits all of the right notes. For all of the interest in Waterhouse Hawkins’s famed statuary, any information in the past was relegated to fragments in various books, so getting an authoritative guide to the first 3-dimensional dinosaur reconstructions on Earth and the surrounding park in which they stood is a particular joy.

Music
Dallas has a justified reputation for odd music, both thanks to the city’s inherent character and the complete inability for local artists of all sorts to get any recognition or acclaim until they hit it big somewhere else. To the massive “Dallas music that will give you a brain hemorrhage” playlist goes Panic Surfer, a one-man death metal band with an ultraviolet sense of humor. Naturally, this is catnip to me, said as a terminal Hatebeak fan, and here’s hoping that this is just the start.

Have a Safe Weekend

Two more weeks of gallery updating before the big August 27 seventh anniversary open house, and everyone is welcome to come by to see everything in progress. The gallery is open on August 13 from noon until 5:00 pm: there’s still so much to do, but you should be thrilled with what’s already completed.

“Vote Now Space Cowboy…”

As mentioned with the nominations for the Dallas Morning News Best of DFW Awards last week, it’s awards season in the Dallas area. The big surprise this week is that the Texas Triffid Ranch was just nominated for the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards 2022, under “Best Garden Center” in the Shopping & Services section. (The Triffid Ranch is much more of an art gallery than a garden center, much to the consternation of boomers who leave upset that it isn’t an actual ranch, but I’m not complaining.) Not that this is a complete first (the Triffid Ranch won “Best Little Shop of Horrors” in 2017), but it’s a new decade, a newly updated gallery, and a host who has a new hair color, and this is the first time the gallery has been nominated for open voting by the strange and terrible mutants of the Dallas area. Voting is open every day until September, just in time to come around for the big seventh anniversary open house on August 27, so do what thou wilt, and here’s hoping for a plaque at the annual Best of Dallas Awards ceremony. Not bad for Dallas’s pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery, eh?

Awards Season Is Nigh

Well, it’s that time of the year: the beginnings of regional awards season. Between now and the end of November, Dallas newspapers both daily and weekly, magazines, and Web sites all rush to process nominations and awards finalists for their views of what makes Dallas and immediate environs so interesting. Right now, the Best of Big D Awards at D magazine are being announced tonight, and the Dallas Observer Best of Dallas Awards haven’t even opened up to nominees yet, so smack between the two is the Dallas Morning News Best In DFW Awards.

Thanks to the efforts from previous visitors and cohorts, it was quite the surprise to discover that the Texas Triffid Ranch was nominated for not one but three categories. (The Triffid Ranch made bronze in the “Best Art Gallery” listing in 2021, which was enough of a surprise.) These include Family Attraction, Adventure Within a Day’s Drive, and Immersive Experience, and there may be others that I can’t find yet. Many thanks to those who nominated the gallery, and further thanks to everyone who chooses to vote for the finalists. One ballot per email address can be made each day, so feel free to go berserk, and voting is open until August 26. And if you aren’t sure, feel free to come out to the August gallery open houses to see for yourself.

Have a Safe Weekend

No open house this weekend: with the promise of much-needed rain in the Dallas area (and I’m getting really sick and tired of being called “Muad’Dib,” especially since I’m more of an Edric), it’s time both for continued renovation of the gallery and getting things ready for Aquashella Dallas next weekend. With luck, this next week will not only be perfect for painting new enclosures, but for helping the Sarracenia recover from last week’s brutal heat. We’ll see.

2022 Open Houses: July 23

Well, the gallery renovation continues, and last weekend’s open house gave a wonderful opportunity for both regular visitors and new patrons to view the progress. The next few weeks continue the progress, with hope that everything will be in a decent place by the time of the seventh anniversary open house on August 27

Even with the unrelenting heat, this week’s opening was enthusiastically received, and I can attest that it’s only going to get more lively once the heat eventually breaks. Yes, that will probably be the middle of October, but that’s Texas for you. In the meantime, the heat just means more of an excuse to stay inside and work on new additions and new enclosures, so look at the rest of July and all of August as an opportunity to rebuild reserves.
Sadly, the gallery will be closed on July 30 in order to prepare for Aquashella Dallas on August 6 and 7, but everything starts back up again on August 13, with evening events planned for August 27 and Labor Day weekend. See you then.

Have a Safe Weekend

The heat continues, but should you be looking for an air-conditioned hidey hole, the gallery is open on July 23 from noon until 5:00 pm. If you need to get out, this may be the last time for a while: the gallery will be closed on July 30 in order to prepare for the Aquashella Dallas show on August 6 and 7. The open houses start back up again on August 13, so this will be your last chance for a while. If you can’t make it on Saturday, stay cool, and we’ll see you in August.

Upcoming August 2022 Events

Because August is the only month of the year without an official federal holiday, the Triffid Ranch has to take up the slack, and that means open houses after the Aquashella Dallas show on August 6 and 7. The usual noon-to-5:00 open houses resume on August 13, and things switch to a seventh anniversary blowout on August 27. As always, admission is free and masks are recommended, and if you’re averse to going through the whole Eventbrite dance of Europe to get tickets, rest assured that you don’t need tickets to attend. (The Eventbrite listings are mostly for local news venues to include open houses in their event calendars.) At bare minimum, look at it as an opportunity to get out of the heat, get into air conditioning, and view the renovated front space now that the entourage has vacated the premises. The plan includes debuting a whole new series of enclosures by August 27, so if you don’t view them earlier, you can view them then. And so it goes. (And no, the dinosaurs shown here are not located at the gallery. Yet.)

2022 Open Houses: July 9 and 16

It finally happened. Not only did the summer heat ride in like a Komodo dragon with a mouth full of pinworms and candiru, but we’re looking at the worst heat the state of Texas has seen since the last drought in 2012. We’re not talking about “oh, this is a minor inconvenience” heat: we’re talking about “this could KILL you” heat. Minus-40 may be a gosh number, in that it has the same value in Fahrenheit and Celsius, but that’s not true of positive-40. For Americans, we’re now hitting 107F, and for everyone else, we’re hitting 40C. Either way, it’s completely understandable that nobody wants to get out in this, especially with the repeated warnings about rolling blackouts through Texas if our antiquated and mismaintained electrical grid should conk out due to record use.

This is why I have to thank everyone who chose to come out to the last two open houses, because you didn’t have to. You could have been at a water park, or in a mall, or safely in a bottle of liquid nitrogen, or any place where the temperatures don’t turn unprotected victims into Near Dark cosplayers. instead, you came out to view carnivorous plant enclosures and check out the ongoing renovations to the gallery, and for that, I can’t thank you enough. It gives extra incentive to keep going, and going I shall.

For those who missed out on previous attempts, the gallery is open for one more open house on July 23, and then it’s going quiet for two weeks to get prepared for Aquashella Dallas on August 6 and 7. As always, admission is free and masks are recommended. After that, keep checking back, because the open houses return in August, with a very special evening open house on August 27. See you then.

Have a Safe Weekend

July continues like passing a softball-sized kidney stone, and we’re still at least two to three weeks before the first Halloween decorations start showing up in stores. In the interim, the Triffid Ranch can fill in for that lapse, complete with an indoor open house on July 16. Let’s just make it to August, okay?

State of the Gallery: July 2022

So…what about this weather, huh?

The first half of 2022 was more than a bit of a tribulation: even with everything happening this year, the end of that first half still counted as the best year the Triffid Ranch had ever seen. The first stages of the gallery renovation were complete and accessible to clients and visitors, shows and events were even more successful than in previous years, and people loved the new changes. The plan for the second half of 2022 was more of the same: build upon everything done so far, go wild with new enclosures, and end 2022 with the biggest party possible. I mean, New Year’s Eve falls on a Saturday this year, so why not hold one last big showing and party to celebrate everything that had come before, right?

Yeah. Things may get even more interesting than before, including the possibility of moving.

The news about the fate of the gallery’s location and the surrounding industrial park hasn’t really been news for a while: according to several people working for the company, the property owner started a six-year plan to tear everything down and build a retail/apartment block, very much like the block across Spring Valley Road, about four years ago, and COVID-19 only delayed the situation. As of last March, when getting the locks changed, I first learned of both this six-year plan and the possibility that things could change sooner if another company bought the property. The first hints that something was happening when the property manager asked for verification that every tenant on the property had their certificates of occupancy in order and inspected the fire alarm systems over the July 4 weekend. I just learned yesterday that the second option happened, and that a new company just bought the whole complex. I’m fully expecting a complete announcement in the next couple of days.

And what does this mean for the gallery? Well, the current lease expires in March 2023, so there are several paths in which things could go over the next seven months. The first is that absolutely nothing changes other than where the rent payments go: the new owner may decide to just keep things going the way they are and wait until the general world financial situation stabilizes. Another possibility is a massive update and improvement: a big strip plaza just east of the gallery was purchased by new owners and massively renovated, and it’s now turning into quite the hangout for those looking for barbecue, pizza, and Middle Eastern cuisine. A third is that things will continue but without renewing leases until everyone moves out: this happened to a big medical office building due west, and it was quickly and efficiently demolished immediately after the last tenant left. The fourth, and it’s always a possibility at any time, is that the new owners decide that the land is more valuable than the rents they’re receiving, give everyone 60 days’ notice, and tear everything out by Halloween. (A medical office facility due east was stripped out that way about four years ago. In that time, the property remains stripped, as a succession of companies have bought the property, started digging trenches for storm drains and water and power inlets, shut down, and sold to someone else. At this point, having seen this happen so many times in Dallas and the surrounding suburbs in the last 40 years, eventually someone will finally build something on this spot, but it may take decades before anything other than weeks actually come up.)

The good news is that, unlike the surprise announcement of the Valley View gallery location being shut down, this has been on the horizon for a while. Right now, not only is the city of Richardson pushing to diversify tenants at a huge block of industrial park spaces just north of the gallery, but Richardson is working toward making these spaces friendlier for artists and others: while checking out the area last night, I discovered where all of the escape rooms and axe tournament spaces had gone over the last few years. Moving to a new location is on the table, and so is staying at the current location for another two years, and I’m already taking advice on good locations if the lease ends early and I have to clear out before the bulldozers start. Right now, it’s all up in the air, and if I get to stay until after the beginning of 2023, that’s longer than I expected.

In the meantime, it’s time to get back to work. If you haven’t had the chance to see the gallery under State 1 of the renovation, feel free to come out to the open houses on July 16 and July 23. (The gallery will be closed on July 30 in order to get ready for the big Aquashella Dallas show at Dallas Market Hall on August 6 and 7.) One way or another, August is going to be a blowout month, with both noon-to-5-pm open houses through the month and a big evening show on August 27. After that, who knows?

Have a Safe Weekend

It’s the beginning of July, which means three things in Dallas: it’s painfully hot, it’s painfully sunny, and nobody will be able to shut up about it until mid-September. The next Triffid Ranch runs on July 9 from noon until 5:00 pm: the gallery has AC, cold drinks, and a whole new layout for your carnivorous plant-viewing pleasure.

Texas Triffid Ranch 3.0

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

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

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

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

Have a Safe Canada Day Weekend

While it may not feel like it in Texas, today is Canada Day, and this entails the now-obligatory trip to Dallas’s best Canadian restaurant with the flower emblem of Newfoundland and Labrador. After that, it’s back to getting the gallery ready for Saturday’s reboot, and possible discussions on inspiration for an upcoming enclosure. Until then, “So remember: if the Sontarans don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

State of the Gallery: June 2022

Well. It’s not understating things to say that June was an excellent month in the best quarter in the history of the Triffid Ranch, in what’s already the Triffid Ranch’s best year since it opened. Between open houses, Porch Sales, and outside events, 2022 has been a spectacular year so far, all the personal tribulations aside, and the plan is to make it even bigger for the rest of the year. At the rate things are going, I may have to rent space at Dallas Market Hall to have enough room for plants during the holiday season.

(And speaking of Dallas Market Hall, here’s the friendly reminder that the next big Triffid Ranch show is at Aquashella Dallas at Market Hall, on August 6 and 7. If things go quiet in July, it’s only in order to get those things ready. This may be even bigger than this month’s Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo and Texas Frightmare Weekend combined, and that’s saying something. I’m definitely going to need a vaccine for sleep until mid-August.)

Aside from that, the big news involves the gallery renovation and reboot. For the moment, the back of the gallery is going to stay (mostly) unchanged, although with a lot more room as the working area gets cleared out and moved. The front, though, will be unrecognizable. The Entourage Table is gone since there’s no longer any need to seat a now-moved entourage, freeing up a truly amazing amount of room for larger enclosures. Both front and back are undergoing massive changes between now and the end of the year, but the front needed it the most, so removing the sigils and covering over the awful 1980s-era gold wallpaper that was in the place on move-in were the priority. This also gives folks who haven’t been to the gallery in a while an extra incentive to see what’s inside. (Incidentally, this gives further opportunities to expand into contemporary museum design: the Triffid Ranch obviously isn’t a typical art gallery, and moving from an art museum look toward more of a natural history museum motif makes more sense.)

Another reason for the gallery revamp has everything to do with the outdoor temperature. Based on last year, holding Porch Sales outside until Halloween made perfect sense, but this summer is already overly hot and sticky, even by Dallas standards, so moving things back inside for July and August is going to be necessary for both visitors and plants. The Porch Sales will probably make a return in September, depending upon the weather, and they’re definitely returning for October to show off Sarracenia colors, but if the rest of the summer is like June, impersonating a Gila monster and moving underground is both safe and sane. (Discovering what was going on with the new AC unit installed in 2020 made a big difference, too, and the back is now considerably more comfortable in the summer heat than it was last year. I might even try another Nepenthes edwardsiana enclosure this year, now that I know the AC can keep it sufficiently chilly.)

Otherwise, once the gallery reboot is complete, it’s time to get back to debuting new enclosures, which now can be designed and assembled without taking up valuable display space. New materials, new techniques, new references…the first half of the year was rough, but that just set up opportunities for the second half, and everything will focus on a whole extravaganza for the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas shows in December. We have four available weekends then, including Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, and getting started early never hurt anybody. In fact, it might be necessary.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – Finale

Every show away from the gallery brings up the eternal question about the volume of plants being hauled out: “Too little or too much?” Last year’s Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo pushed that to the limit, with nearly everything being hauled off, so the plan this year was to bring out as much as was humanly possible. With previous years’ interference gone, the plan was to pack the van as tightly as possible with as many plants as possible, short of strapping goldfish bowls to the roof. (Considering the heat that weekend and the perpetual traffic jam that is the city of Waco, the halfway point between Dallas and Austin, that might not have gone over well.) Seemingly impossibly, the crowds at the Expo were even larger than last year’s: most shows start to peter out about an hour before closing, but many vendors, myself included, were still making sales a half-hour after the official close of the show, and a lot of us went back home with nearly-empty cars, vans, and trucks. Many of us are loath to admit that we were almost glad that the Expos are only one-day shows: if the Austin Expo ran for two days, I’d have needed a 15-foot truck to hold everything.

And that finishes it up. Many, many thanks are extended to the crew at Oddities & Curiosities Expo for managing to pull this off at so many locations every year, more thanks are extended to neighboring vendors who had to listen to me extol the features of carnivorous plants for eight hours (all of my neighbors were an absolute hoot, by the way), and the most thanks to the people who figured that Austin summer heat was no reason to stay home that weekend. Thank you all again, and now I have to make plans to exceed everyone’s expectations for 2023.

Fin.

The Aftermath: Austin Oddities & Curiosities Expo 2022 – 7