Tag Archives: 2022

The Aftermath: Lunar New Year Open House 2022 – 2

As seems to be par for the course for the Year of the Tiger, it’s an exciting time around the Triffid Ranch. Fiona Forney at the Richland Chronicle, my alma mater’s school newspaper, added an interview in the February issue just in time for the open house, also in time to show off 15 kilos of weight loss since this time in December. (On top of everything else, I’m having to get new clothes.) The outdoor carnivores, predominately Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants, are moving to the new growing location this week, and the old residence will be stripped of any traces of me by the end of February. The new house is getting into shape, with a lot of sculpting and construction gear currently at the gallery moving there over the next few weeks, and the extensive carnivorous plant and bonsai library at the gallery is already in its new location. (The real fun comes with getting it organized so that references can be found quickly, and I now appreciate the Dewey Decimal System more than ever.) Oh, and on the Day Job front, extensive renovations on the current building mean that I’ll start working from home, with an office that overlooks the loquat tree I dug up and relocated from the old house. As Matt Howarth always used to say, it may stop, but it never ends.

As things warm up, the open houses will change as well, with a return of the outdoor Porch Sales toward the end of March. Right now, though, they’re staying indoors, considering the massive temperature shifts outdoors from “Arrakis” to “Tran-ky-ky.” However, expect some massive changes in the next few months, and expect some exciting new enclosures once the house moving is complete. Among other things, the Porch Sales will have companions through 2022, and I’m already organizing plans for bigger activities through the rest of the year. Details will definitely follow.

In any case, for those who couldn’t get out here last weekend, you’ll get another shot with the Valentine’s Day Massacree and Carnivorous Plant Open House on February 12, from noon until 5:00. Keep an eye open for further open houses and other events, because it’s going to get busy by the time the flytraps and North American pitcher plants start coming out of dormancy.

The Aftermath: Lunar New Year Open House 2022 – 1

It happens so often that it’s a Dallas punchline: make any plans on the first weekend of February, expect an ice storm to hit right when the event starts. And so it was with this Lunar New Year, with massive ice and snow storms (at least, by Dallas levels) stopping everything in the area all day Thursday and Friday, with things finally starting to melt off on Saturday. Although a last-minute cancellation was a valid concern for everyone’s safety, temperatures rose just enough on Saturday morning that with the help of plenty of rock salt on the steps, the latest Triffid Ranch open house went through without issue. Good thing, too: a lot of people really wanted to get out of the house on Saturday.

Of particular note is that the big Nepenthes rajah enclosure Gyre, originally constructed for the Half Price Books flagship store just before COVID lockdown, has a new and happy home, meaning that it’s time to build new ones to fill the gap. The next few weeks are going to be busy, but that pretty much summed up last year, too.

To be continued…

Have a Safe Weekend

Icepocalypse or no, this Saturday is the big Texas Triffid Ranch Lunar New Year open house, running from noon until 5:00 pm. It’ll be cold (it seems as if this weekend is always the one with the massive Dallas snow and ice storm), but not cold enough to keep it from going. See you then.

Weather Alert: Icepocalypse 2022

Things have been a bit busy around the Triffid Ranch this week, what with Ice Storm Landru (hat tip to a dear friend for that crack) smacking the whole of Texas and all, but things are supposed to clear up by Friday. So far, this weekend’s Lunar New Year open house is still on: if you’re worried about getting out, that’s why you have the option of the open house on February 12. In the meantime, stay warm and safe, and make plans for Saturday.

Have a Safe Weekend

No open house this weekend due to the ongoing move, but the Lunar New Year open house on February 5 should make up for that. In the meantime, February 4 should have been the 82nd birthday of George A. Romero, and if the gallery has any specific unique holidays, Romero’s Birthday definitely qualifies.

The Texas Triffid Ranch Occasional Newsletter and Feedlot Clearance Sale – #29

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 #29:The Obligatory New Year Campaign, Complete With Chorus Line and Backup Band

(Originally published December 28, 2021)

Oh, 2021. Even after the dubious pleasures of 2020, you managed to be exciting. “Exciting” as in “your Manic Pixie Dream Girl girlfriend from 30 years ago got back in touch, asking for a place for her and her four kids to stay while she switches majors after going ABD in her degree in full-contact chess.” “Exciting” as in “finding a bobcat in your attic that refuses to come down unless carried.” “Exciting” as in “four doctors telling you that the strange pain in your upper left lung is all in your head, and discovering that the anti-inflammatories prescribed to deal with it offer a clarity of purpose you haven’t had in a quarter-century.” (That last one actually happened, by the way: much like the tinnitus I’ve had since I was an infant, it’s amazing how the human brain can block off ignore constant joint pain until that pain is suddenly gone.)

Anyway, for those who missed the news, 2022 is going to be an equally interesting year. What’s going to change with the gallery? The Heisenberg Principle applies for 2022: everything and nothing at all. The question is whether the plans made now keep holding true, or if we get a repeat of the first quarter of 2020. The way COVID-19 keeps spreading and mutating, it may be the greatest year so far for the Triffid Ranch, or I spend this time next year holed up inside it while my neighbor yells “Neville, come out!” all night long until the sun drives him and all of the other vampires to shelter.

Anyway, for those used to smartaleck commentary in this newsletter about impending new years, it’s more of the same. The plans include:

Moving. Because of the news mentioned earlier, I’m currently looking for a new domicile, preferably one with enough growing room for the ever-expanding Sarracenia out back. Moving in January or February means everything will still be in winter dormancy, making relocation much easier. Right now, everything is dependent upon the currently ridiculous Dallas residential real estate market, and if that bubble bursts early, a new growing area separate from the gallery might become an option. EDIT: That, at least, is done. Details will follow.

Open houses and gallery events. If any good news came from the constant stresses in 2021, it’s that most Triffid Ranch open houses did more to pay the rent than outside events, and themed open houses will continue all through 2022. Next year, besides the usual Manchester United Flower Show in April, it’s high time to hold shows with a specific theme, and not just “Hey, come in and check out the plants!” This may, MAY, include an after-dark showcase to demonstrate how many species of carnivore fluoresce under ultraviolet light, so keep checking the event calendar to see what’s next.

Outside events. Back at the beginning of 2020, the plan was to hold the first-ever Triffid Ranch show outside of Texas with the New Orleans Oddities & Curiosities Expo. This year, with Oddities & Curiosities starting up its new season, New Orleans is at the end of January, which simply isn’t an option. (New Orleans is fine: it’s just that having to drive for hours through subfreezing weather, cold enough to kill plants, to get there is a very valid and serious concern.) in 2022, it’s time to try again, in Chicago. Lots of dear friends that either I haven’t seen in decades or that I’ve never met in person, excellent food, a central location, and the opportunity to drive past my old house from 43 years ago…yeah, this will be worth the effort.

Gallery expansion. One of the joys of divorce when you and your spouse run separate businesses is trying to untangle the tax, rights, real estate, mailing address, insurance, and other paperwork so you can go your separate ways. The plan right now is for Caroline’s jewelry exhibition to remain in the front of the gallery until May, but eventually she’s moving out to do her own thing as she’s ready. This should be resolved about the time the lease is up on the current space, so now the question is “Another three years where it is, or is it time to move?” March marks 5 years that the gallery has been in its current locale, and continuity is important (you have no idea how many people call because they drove by the old Valley View address, saw the majority of the mall stripped to the bedrock, and got upset because “I was JUST there!”), but if a new space opens up, moving is a possibility, especially if the front door is ADA-compliant. (It’s not just for visitors, either. Moving a large enclosure to a waiting truck last night, one too big to put in several SUVs, makes me very glad that I work out, but that won’t and can’t be the case forever.)

Lectures and workshops. If omicron ever settles down and enough people get vaccinated that the current flareups burn themselves out, it’ll be time to rev up events with local museums and arboretums again, and a lot of that work has already been done. It’s just a matter of waiting until spring to bring carnivorous plants to the Heard Museum, and it’s high time to go back to the Perot Museum for its Thursdays on Tap late-night events, too. 

So that’s the plan for 2022. Let’s watch as the universe uses those plans as toilet paper.
 
Other News

There’s nothing quite like the joy of an interview that comes out at just the right time, and Danny Gallagher’s Triffid Ranch article in the Dallas Observer debuted right at the beginning of the holiday season. Go give Danny the business: he’s one of the good ones, and every article he contributes puts us further past the old Observer stigma of interview subjects referring to themselves as “getting wilonskyed.”
Shameless Plugs

It’s with a very heavy heart that I pass on the word that John Dilley, the founder of Defcon Sauces in New Jersey, died last September. His wife, though, is continuing the company and the tradition, and while the various Defcon habanero horseradish dips are unavailable until spring, the Malum Allium garlic powder is available in mass quantities. Or at least it is until I put in my next order.
Recommended Reading
 
Books from Redfern Natural History tend to be a bit massive: between their inherent thickness and the exemplary color photography, I always worry about putting them on upper bookshelves where they might fall off and kill children and small animals. The 3-volume set Nepenthes: the Tropical Pitcher Plants, still available for preorder, is a case in point: it’s a good thing I’m moving, because my To Be Read pile would probably take out several small towns if these were added to the top of the old pile.
Music

More deep dives into music I should have heard years or decades ago but had no opportunity due to gatekeeping Dallas radio stations and music shops: I only came across the Scottish New Wave band Altered Images nearly 40 years late. Perfect timing, too, as the band reunited and has a new album coming out in 2022. Let’s just say I’m particularly sympathetic about revivals of this sort, because we in the States missed out on so much with the amount of payola on US radio keeping Phil Collins in perpetual airplay.

Enclosures: “Accelerated Aggression” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant: Nepenthes specularis x tenuis BE-3884

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

Price: $400US

Shirt Price: $350US

State of the Gallery: January 2022

Well. As if December wasn’t exciting enough, January kept up the tradition and beat out all of 2021. At the rate things are going, either the Triffid Ranch is going to start franchises or it’ll be the last refuge of human civilization in the impending Dalek invasion by the end of the year. If the last two years are any indication of what to expect, we’ll get both.

To explain the relative quiet in January, it’s for two reasons. Firstly, about half of the carnivores available in summer are currently in winter dormancy, and we’re about halfway through. The first signs of spring activity should start up in mid-March and getting going at full speed in April. Hence, right now, everything with the temperate carnivores such as Venus flytraps and North American pitcher plants is dependent upon the weather: if we have a “typical” Dallas winter, they should both be ready and available by mid-April. If we get a not-uncommon late cold wave at the end of March or into April, everything waking up might only finish up in May. Keep fingers and other appendages crossed: this time last year, everyone in Dallas thought we’d have a mild winter, and we know how THAT turned out.

The other reason involves the ongoing divorce and the gradual separation of assets and plans in the gallery. The plan is that the jewelry will be moving out by the beginning of May, in which case the front of the gallery becomes a showcase for the BIG enclosures. Likewise, the last week has been spent moving to a new domicile, still very close to the gallery, with a decidedly improved amount of room for working on new projects. If you haven’t been out to the gallery, do so soon, because by July, you won’t recognize it.

Speaking on that subject, the move affected the ability to throw open houses in January, but that ends in February. Specifically, we’re now looking at two events at the beginning of February: an open house on February 5 to celebrate Lunar New Year, and back in a week for Valentine’s Day plotting and scheming. As always, admission is free and masks are mandatory, and those who haven’t been to the gallery since 2021 may be surprised at the new enclosures finished since then.

In other developments, once the move is finished and everything unpacked, other projects start in earnest. This is in addition to the expected shows for 2022: the Oddities & Curiosities Expo (Dallas in March, Austin in June) and Texas Frightmare Weekend shows were just joined by Aquashella Dallas, meaning that the beginning of August is going to be just as busy as the rest of the year. Let’s hope the Daleks hold off until December, okay?

Have a Safe Weekend

Another week, another weekend. The gallery will be closed this weekend because of an impending move, but keep an eye out for the open house on February 5. Until then, music.

Enclosures: “Watcher and Waiter” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

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

Except one.

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

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

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

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

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

Plant: Drosera adelae

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

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Vestibule” (2022)

A preamble on the enclosure backstories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant: Nepenthes maxima

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

Price: $250US

Shirt Price: $200US

Boosting the Signal: Lunar New Year Open House

It may be a bit premature, but it’s been two years since the gallery has seen a Lunar New Year open house, predating the current nightmare by a month, and it’s time to bring it back. The next Triffid Ranch open house is scheduled for Saturday, February 5 from noon to 5:00 pm, and Arioch willing, I’ll be finished moving by then.

The Aftermath: The First Triffid Ranch Open House of 2022 – 2

I’m not much for selfies, but the first Triffid Ranch open house of 2022 was a perfect time to debut the new look: as one friend joked, “New regeneration, new rules.” The harshness of the red dye back on New Year’s Eve has mellowed, as first dye jobs always do, into a much more mellow ginger, and it’s been sorely missed. (The first time was for a very short time in 1987, probably one of the greatest years of transition in my life, and rapidly replaced with albino white for the next two years. The second time started in 1995 and ended in 1999, when shaving it off famously freaked out Harlan Ellison. At this point, it may be permanent, as it suits me a lot more than my natural blond did.)

A lot about this open house was the beginning of one of Ellison’s Hour That Stretches. Among many other things, this show debuted a record six enclosures at once (photos and backstories coming along soon enough), with a crowd to match. This, however, is just the beginning. Over the next few months, expect a lot of changes to the gallery, including a major move to give a lot more room for everybody. You’ll love it.

For those stuck due to the foul weather, or those who want another chance to visit, the next open house is a special event tied to Lunar New Year: as always, admission is free and masks are mandatory. See you then.

The Aftermath: The First Triffid Ranch Open House of 2022 – 1

January 15 started the way it usually does in Dallas: with massive gusting winds blasting out of the north, promptly dropping temperatures to within freezing. Inside the gallery, though, those who braved the winds found warmth, light, and, most importantly, green. The official start of spring may still be two months away, but the Triffid Ranch opened to general approval and a lot of good post-holiday vibes.

As has been the case for the last year, since indoor events started up again, we had a wide range of visitors from all over the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and a few who came from much further out. In fact, the crowds kept rushing in until just before closing. The next issue isn’t with getting people to come out: the next issue is with having enough room for everybody who wants to get in.

To be continued…

Have a Safe Weekend

After a short but much-needed hiatus, the Texas Triffid Ranch open houses are starting back up again, with the first of 2022 running this Saturday from noon until 5:00 pm. Keep checking back, too, because the plan is to have a lot more events in 2022 than in 2021.

Science Experimentation at Grad School Prices: Nepenthes rajah

It’s not the greatest photo (if anything, it reveals the limitations of an iPhone camera in low-light conditions), but those familiar with the Nepenthes rajah pitcher plant in the gallery enclosure Gyre might be intrigued to discover that its pitchers fluoresce under ultraviolet light like most other Nepenthes species. Surprisingly, unlike most species that get most of their nitrogen from dung, N. rajah is an enthusiastic fluorescer, at least while the pitchers are relatively small. Considering that rajah is a notoriously slow-growing plant, it may take a while before it starts producing its famously large pitchers and those can be checked for fluorescence.

And along that line, it’s far too early to talk about confirmations, but this spring and summer may offer another massive renovation at the gallery. Everything is dependent upon the next couple of weeks, but if things work out, you won’t recognize the place by the end of summer, and that’s a very good thing. Among other things, this may allow the chance to do a darkroom gallery exhibition showing various carnivore species fluorescing in real time. Let’s see what happens.

Boosting the Signal: the First Triffid Ranch Open House of 2022

A break from combined househunting and enclosure construction: the first Texas Triffid Ranch open house of 2022 goes live at noon on Saturday, January 15 and runs until 5:00. Expect lots of weirdness, as well as king cake and an opportunity to get out of the cold. And so it goes.

Science Experimentation at Grad Student Prices: Nepenthes bicalcarata

One of the nice things about having absolutely no natural light in the back area of the gallery, and having all of the lights on timers to encourage winter growth patterns and spring blooming, is that it gets DARK back there when the lights go out. While this is horrific if you get turned around and can’t find the front hallway, it’s excellent when conducting experiments with ultraviolet light. A little messing about with the handy violet kaleidoscope laser pointer in the gallery led to some interesting observations.

To begin, the squat little pitcher up top belongs to the famous Asian pitcher plant Nepenthes bicalcarata. N. bicalcarata is one of the only Nepenthes species to have a commonly used nickname in carnivorous plant circles, “bicalc” singular or “bicalcs” plural, and it’s also one of the only Nepenthes species to have a common name in English. That name, “fanged pitcher plant,” refers to the two distinctive sharp “fangs: that run down from where the pitcher meets its lid. Those “fangs” are officially called nectaries, in that they secrete and channel nectar, which leads to the slightly disturbing view of a happy and healthy bicalc being one that’s drooling nectar off these structures like a snake’s fangs dripping venom. These nectaries are both strong and sharp, leading to all sorts of suppositions on how the “fangs” prevent monkeys and birds from removing trapped prey from the pitcher. The reality, however, is that nobody really knows what these structures are for, as well as the comparably eye-catching and risky structures on the equally famous N. inermis, N. edwardsiana, and N. hamata.

As a handy hat-tip to any grad student wanting an interesting subject for their first paper, N. bicalcarata shares with its insectivorous kin an actively ultraviolet-fluorescing band of tissue along the lip of pitchers called the peristome. This is fascinating but not necessarily news: this fluorescence has been known among many completely unrelated genera of carnivorous plant for the last decade, and Nepenthes species such as N. hemsleyana and N. ampullaria that no longer produce digestive enzymes in their pitcher fluid also no longer have UV-fluorescent peristomes. What might be news is that nobody seems to have noted that the nectaries on N. bicalcarata fluoresce as hard and as brightly as the peristome itself.

The real surprise? This is an absolutely horrible photo that will require retaking with an actual photographer, but this is the fluorescence of a juvenile N. bicalcarata pitcher. Interestingly, the pitcher itself fluoresces a bright red along the peristome, but the nectaries, only a little over a millimeter long, fluoresce the same yellow-green as the nectaries on full-sized pitchers.

As to why these nectaries fluoresce, that’s a really good question. Since I don’t have any in the gallery at the moment, I don’t know if N. edwardsiana and N. hamata peristomes fluoresce in the same way, or if they go for different patterns under UV the way Nepenthes species with particularly wide peristomes (such as N. rafflesiana) do. I also don’t know at the moment whether the fluorescence in the nectaries matches that of the peristomes as the pitcher ages and dies, because that requires repeated observations over the months the pitcher may live. However, for an enterprising botany grad student wishing to publish for the first time with a paper that might get to the top of standard newsfeeds, run with this.

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Nepenthes hemsleyana

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Safe Weekend

New year, new plans. Unfortunately, this means no open houses or other events this weekend, but make plans for January 15. It’ll be worth it.

“Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon.”

Because 2021 was a major year of transition, and because it’s high time for a major change, get ready for a new look for 2022 events and open houses. I already feel 20 years younger.

Triffid Ranch Preparations For 2022

After the last two years, the traditional resolutions and promises for the new year come off more as daredevil threats: “My plans for 2022…” is right up there with “There isn’t a pepper too hot for me to eat…” The mere fact that a carnivorous plant gallery can survive the last two years, in Dallas of all places, is amazing enough. Making grandiose plans for expansion or renovation is ignoring the voice in the back room, sounding amazingly like the late Bill Paxton, yelling “I’m telling ya, there’s something moving in here and it ain’t us!”

With Bill placated, though, we can talk about potential plans. As I like to tell people, though, I had plans at the beginning of 2020, and they were all going perfectly when I rolled into Austin for the first show of the year, stopped to get something to eat, and saw the announcement on the television at the back of the bar that SXSW was being cancelled. After that, any plans became moot. “Man plans, God laughs” pretty much sums up the last two years, and we can all hope that it’s just laughter and not laughing and pointing.

Firstly, the big emphasis on 2022 is going to be staying home. That is, now that the gallery and its location are established and city leaders are noting its presence, it’s a matter of utilizing the space more and not using it merely as a headquarters for shows outside the area. This doesn’t mean that outside shows will stop: anything but. It just means that given a choice between announcing an open house and hauling everything out for a five-hour show, the open house now makes so much more sense. 2022 will also see an expansion on the outdoor Porch Sales once the weather stabilizes in spring: those are always a lot of fun, and this understandably eases the minds of those a bit leery about indoor events.

Secondly, shows outside the gallery are going to have to be a bit, erm, larger. Just as the separation of the Triffid Ranch and Caroline Crawford Originals is happening at the gallery one bit at a time, the same is happening with our joint presence at shows and events. That was already happening anyway, what with changes with existing shows and audiences, but 2022 will probably be the last year we’ll be sharing space at Texas Frightmare Weekend. After that, the plan is to move to 10×10 spaces, because the plants are outgrowing (pun intended) the standard two tables at Frightmare, to the point where well-meaning friends admitted that they didn’t stop by because “you were just so crowded.” This applies elsewhere, too: both the Oddities & Curiosities shows and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays shows have already moved over to 10×10 spaces, and that’s about the only way to have enough plants on hand to make attendees happy. Sadly, that means that the little science fiction and fantasy conventions with which the Triffid Ranch started are no longer an option, but the way those have been changing, it’s for the best for everybody.

Thirdly, 2022 will be a year for telepresence. We just finished a major gallery renovation last year, and now it’s time for another. This time, the renovation is to make video streaming much easier, with the idea of regular events being run exclusively through Twitch and YouTube. The logistics on these are finally getting worked out, and the plan is to start toward the end of January. “I wish I could make an open house, but I live in Antarctica” is no longer an excuse.

Well, enough of that: with a promised thunderstorm followed by severe (for Dallas) cold this weekend, it’s time to batten down the hatches in preparation for the possibility of a white Dallas New Year. Go have fun, tell everyone about the next open house on January 15, and the plants and I will see you then. Go in peace.