Tag Archives: drosera adelae

Enclosures: "Blink Clunk" (2020)

Blink clunk. Every daybreak started the same way. Blink clunk. As soon as the first direct rays of the sun hit its upper receptors, the little proximity sensor took in its surroundings in visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, sonar, and gamma rays. Blink clunk. In a femtosecond, it compared the current pile of data from the same point in the previous day, and from the day before, and as far back as its memory allowed. Blink clunk. That memory went back 25 years, or at least the comparable orbit of its world around its sun, with regular downloads to its central control. Or at least it had to assume that those downloads had been made: it hadn’t received anything new from the central control in a very long time. Blink clunk.

The “blink clunk” came from its main visual field processor: even with exquisitely designed gel-lenses that could go from microscopic to wide-sky panorama, eventually things start wearing out. The little proximity sensor used to be perfectly silent, a guard on the front that never needed sleep or relief or entertainment. As it continued its duty, though, eventually metal fatigue, plastic degradation, and lubricant failure became factors that it had to take into account. Had the little proximity sensor been human, it would have made jokes about the interesting creaks and pops that came with getting up in the morning as it got older. Since it wasn’t, it just catalogued predicted system failures, the number of those failures that could be tolerated before it could no longer achieve its intended purpose, and sent those out on the daily report. It had to assume that the daily report was received and acted upon: it had no real choice, and while the little proximity sensor had been built with “the power of negative thinking” in mind, it was fatalistic without being pessimistic.

The little proximity sensor’s intended purpose was to watch. The sensor’s Three Laws were the soldier’s General Orders, starting with “I will guard everything within the limits of my post, and leave my post only when properly relieved.” That post was on the side of a plateau overlooking a vast flood plain. The world didn’t matter, other than that its atmosphere and gravity were such that humans could walk around without pressure suits or high-G exoskeletons, and its indigenous life was similar enough that those pressure suits weren’t used to fend off immediate anaphylactic shock upon contact with it. The little proximity sensor, as with others just like it, had been set into the rock around the sides of the plateau, each fitted with multiple electronic inputs, access to a power source, and an output to report anything that those inputs detected. All of the proximity sensors had been given a list of special orders: watch for anything on any wavelength that meets these criteria and send an immediate report of type, number, direction, and approach. Every time it scanned the flood plain, it went through its coded itinerary, made comparisons to its previous scan, and waited for any input that required a subsequent scan.

Blink clunk.

The little proximity sensor didn’t mind its assignment. Unlike a human soldier at a post, it had no dawning awareness that it had not heard from its control in a very long time. Since it had no way to free itself from the rock in which it was set, it couldn’t walk around the ridge to see its cohorts or check to see if the massive command center it was supposed to be guarding was still in place. It had no way to confirm or deny that the command center had been destroyed or overrun, and no weapons to do anything about it. All it had to keep up its synthetic spirits was the Third General Order: “I will report any violations of my special orders, emergencies, and everything not covered in my special orders to the commander of the relief.” The little proximity sensor reported everything, hadn’t received a response asking for clarification, and kept going.

Blink clunk.

Every few months (based on its own internal calendar, not anything based on the movement of planetary, lunar, asteroidal, or cometary bodies in its visual field), the little proximity sensor would send a synopsis of its post condition to control. Rain. Unusual heat or cold. The sprouting of plants in its vicinity. (Plants growing to obstruct its visual field would have interfered with its First General Order and been reported as per the Third.) The small animals moving among the rocks were worthy of cataloguing, but not worthy of contacting control unless they actually interacted with the sensor, and they generally showed no interest. One morning, the little proximity sensor awoke to one of those animals perched atop its ultraviolet node, but the sensor’s first “blink clunk” of the day spooked it off, and it never returned. With all of these, it sent out a report that was a model of efficiency and brevity, never once received a response, and never expected to get one. Blink clunk.

If the little proximity sensor had been constructed with anything approximating imagination added to its general orders, it might have checked back more often to see if control had received any of its reports. It might have checked to see if control was in any condition to receive those reports. It might have wondered if control was sitting on those reports because it had no way to transmit them, or the humans for whom the reports were intended were dead or removed from the field, or the war had been over for centuries and the cost of dismantling the sensor was more than some official thought it was worth. If the little proximity sensor had anything approximating a sense of humor, it would have made jokes about its reports being the basis of some art major’s Masters thesis, or about the one office clerk who had responsibility over reports from innumerable abandoned proximity sensors across three galaxies, or how that one perching animal became a punchline to a joke it would never understand. If it had a sense of mortality, it might have wondered how much time it had left before power failed and it went dark, no longer able to scan its floodplain, and wondered if anyone would notice its lack of regular reports. It had none of these, and since it hadn’t been relieved of duty, it still had a job to do, and no way to question whether that job still needed doing.

Blink clunk.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 8 1/2” x 13” x 8 1/2” (21.59 cm x 33.02 cm x 21.59 cm)

Plants:  Drosera adelae

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

Price: $75US

Shirt Price: $50US

Observations: “The Perfect Starter Carnivore”

One of the biggest hesitations by beginners on raising carnivorous plants, as with orchids, is that they’re presumably hard to keep and easy to kill. In some ways, they’re correct, but it has to do with the varieties being sold. Just as the reptiles sold by pet shops as “beginner pets” are invariably some of the hardest to care for (nobody needs a red-eared slider or a green iguana as their first herp, and any pet dealer who gives a beginner a box turtle or a baby boa constrictor or Burmese python should be shot in the face), most of the carnivores offered for sale really aren’t suitable for beginners. Venus flytraps are intended as impulse purchases, but they tend to be rather fussy about their growing conditions, and one good soak with municipal water that’s overly mineral-laden will send them to the compost heap before you realize what’s happened. (Here in Dallas, where our municipal water is best described as “crunchy”, watering with rainwater or distilled water is the only way to keep them alive.) All of your North American pitcher plants get too big, need too much light, and require enough growing space that keeping them in small containers isn’t a good idea for a beginner. Bladderworts are beautiful, especially the various terrestrial varieties, but you aren’t going to see them capture prey without a microscope. Asian pitcher plants need lots of room. Butterworts have possibilities, but they also tend to be susceptible to nematode attacks, and they have real problems with low humidity. And while I’m proud to show off the Darlingtonia cobra lilies I grew from seed five years ago, I’m also smart enough to know that I’m incredibly lucky: any mature cobra lily I’ve purchased, no matter the source, has died on me in a matter of days or weeks.

Even if you follow the books, and I have as extensive a library of books on carnivores as anybody else in the field, you’ll note that beginners need a reasonably easy plant to start with. Since precious few people live in a place where they can just put a carnivore into the ground and expect it to grow, it’s up to the grower to provide the proper conditions of light, heat, humidity, and soil. That’s why I recommend sundews, and one sundew in particular, for beginners to get a feel for working with a carnivore.

The genus Drosera, which includes all of the true sundews, is the most cosmopolitan of all of the carnivores, being found on every continent but Antarctica. Drosera was studied by Charles Darwin from native populations in England, and the tribe has plenty of specializations necessary for growing in less-than-optimal climes. For instance, the tuberous sundews of Australia live in areas extremely susceptible to fire in the summer, so they produce large tubers (which sometimes look like tomatoes) and go dormant during the summer, only returning to activity once the autumn rains return. You have giant sundews in Florida big enough to capture grasshoppers, and tiny sundews that produce sprouts (called gemmae) that are actually spring-flung from the mother plant when they reach a certain size. However, all of them have a series of characteristics that distinguish them from other plants: they all have distinctive hairs that secrete mucilage from their tips that snag prey, and those hairs (known officially as “tentacles”) have the capacity to move in order to further ensnare prey and press the prey against the leaf. From there, specialized glands on the leaf surface produce enzymes to digest the prey: some even have enough mobility to twist or wrap their leaves around larger prey, mostly to increase the amount of leaf surface area available for digestion. Other carnivores, such as Byblis and Drosophyllum, may also ensnare prey, but they don’t have that touch of mobility.

(As an aside, the famed Venus flytrap is a member of the same family, as all it really is is a highly specialized sundew that no longer produces mucilage. With some varieties of sundew, you can see similar leaves that give important clues as to how Dionea‘s traps originally evolved. Just to let you know.)

Anyway, while sundews are a good start for an incipient carnivore gardener, many are still not quite perfect. Most sundews from areas with distinctive seasons need a dormancy period in either winter or summer,and preventing the sundew from going dormant, as with most carnivores, will lead to its death. This means that anyone wanting to set up a small terrarium for work or home has no choice but to leave the terrarium outside during the winter or take out the plant and put it in the refrigerator for three months, and what good is a terrarium you can use only nine months out of the year? Others, such as the Cape sundews of South Africa, are incredibly fecund in their abilities to self-pollinate, to the point where they fill a terrarium full of seeds and seedlings, and they require a bit of headroom to grow to their greatest potential. That’s why I recommend one sundew, Drosera adelae of Australia, as a first plant for the beginning carnivore enthusiast.

As I write this, I have a carnivore terrarium on my desk: it’s a little two-liter glass cookie jar with an adjacent 23-watt compact fluorescent light. That light won’t produce enough light for a lot of carnivores (Venus flytraps, for instance, usually request more light), but little D. adelae thrives on it. You know it’s happy when its tentacles turn red and each one has a nice fat glob of mucilage on the end: that mucilage requires a lot of energy to produce, so it’s a great indicator of light levels in the terrarium. In fact, adelae doesn’t much like direct sun, and it tends to die back if it gets too much light. It’s ridiculously easy to get established, as each stem will throw off long grey moldy-looking roots (the “mold” is actually the root hairs, and the hairs can be impressively long and bushy) at any opportunity, and new plants emerge from the roots on a constant basis. Best of all, as opposed to the Cape sundews, having to trim flower stems is not necessary, as adelae only produces flowers when conditions are just right. A few wingless fruit flies or ants every month sprinkles onto its leaves, and it and its sprouts will grow for years.

Now, if you’re asking about outdoor or at least open-air carnivores, that’s a different story, and one for a different time. However, if you’re looking for a gift for a child who might have problems with a flytrap, or if you feel that you don’t have enough confidence to keep a carnivore alive, take a look at an adelae.