Tag Archives: Drosera capensis

Winter Carnivore Cleanups – Cape Sundews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Flash Sale: April 26, 2020

Okay, so the limitations on non-essential retail businesses opening in Dallas County just expired, on the proviso that those non-essential businesses only conduct sales via curbside pickup. As it turns out, the Triffid Ranch has a whole slew of plants already potted and ready for several March and April shows that have been cancelled, and since the Dallas County orders require that any purchases HAVE to be made via curbside pickup, with no entrance into the premises by the customer, it’s time to skip the usual open house and try something different. It’s time for a flash sale.

Here’s the situation for the foreseeable future. Every Sunday starting at noon, patrons can come out to buy a particular set of plants, with those plants being placed in their cars after selection. Each Sunday, a different set of plants will be offered for sale, and the sale will continue until 6:00 pm Central Time or until everything is sold out, whichever comes first. All of the specials are beginner plants, already potted into appropriate containers, including the basic care guide instructions on the container as expected from Triffid Ranch shows. If this works well, this will continue every weekend until the shelter-in-place order is lifted and regular shows can continue. In the meantime, if you’ve been craving a touch of green and want something different, you live in the general Dallas area, and you enjoy the novelty of curbside service, this is the best option when standard appointments aren’t possible.

(NOTE: the larger enclosures as highlighted in the Enclosures Past & Present section may always be purchased and picked up by appointment. Unfortunately, we cannot allow patrons to enter the premises to view them, and they have to be brought out for inspection and purchase. If you have any questions, please contact us.)

For the first Flash Sale, we offer four species: three types of Asian pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata, Nepenthes ventricosa, and Nepenthes sanguinea), and Cape sundews (Drosera capensis). As shown below, the pitcher plants include a one-gallon glass container, substrate, and decorations for $35.00US plus sales tax. The Cape sundews include an Erlenmeyer flask and substrate, and sell for $25.00US plus sales tax.

Nepenthes ventricosa
Nepenthes x ventrata
Nepenthes sanguinea
Drosera capensis

For pickup, calling or emailing in advance isn’t necessary: just pull up to the building and let the handy but a little dim attendant take your order. (For larger enclosures, please call or email in advance.) Masks and gloves will be mandatory, for your safety and mine. Payment can be made in cash or credit card. For directions, follow the map. If things work well, expect this to be the first of many flash sales, at least until the current situation is over, and I’ll see everyone starting at 12:00 on Sunday.

Thursday is Resource Day

It’s been a little while since the last time we had a good “Thursday is Resource Day” entry, and this one probably won’t be a good one. It, however, should be enough to get everyone through until the next one, as things are starting to pile up around here. Seriously, blame the plants, because our recent run of warm weather woke up everything, and I’m now up to my armpits, almost literally, in “Pink Lemonade” blueberry flowers.

Anyway, to start off, things got very interesting in the Dallas/Fort Worth home and garden show market all of a sudden. Ever since the original company running the Texas Home & Garden Shows shut down and was bought out, both the programming and the general lineup at the shows has been progressively worse and worse. Remember a while back, when I was joking about organizing and starting the “Manchester United Flower Show” for gardeners under the age of 65? Over the last few months, it was seeming more and more reasonable.

And then, completely by luck, I discovered the Great Big Texas Home Show, being held this weekend in Arlington. Any home and garden show that offers a refund for dissatisfied customers already piques my interest, as does the list of exhibitors. Were it any other weekend, I’d brave the horrors of Cowboys Stadium parking to come out for this and check on exhibitor’s space for smaller vendors.

Unfortunately, this is a bad weekend. To attendees of the show, understand that the vague grinding sound you hear in the back of your head is the sound of my molars doing their best impersonation of the New Madrid Fault in sheer jealousy. I’m being a responsible grown-up, though, and continuing to get ready for the second Triffid Ranch show of the year at All-Con in Addison. It’s now late enough in the season that the flytraps are emerging from dormancy, the Sarracenia are starting to bloom, and we’re reasonably assured that we won’t see any more freezing weather until next December in North Texas. Hence, it’s time to party. Come on out and watch me regale the younger attendees with tales of what science fiction fandom was like in the days before the Internet, and maybe check out the plants, too.

And now for a bit of fun. I’m constantly asked “Why raise carnivorous plants?”, and the long story involves growing up in Michigan with its extensive mosquito and horsefly herds. You’ve heard the old tale of how Arctic mosquitoes can drain a person of as much as a pint of blood per hour? Spend some time around Alpena or Manistee, and you’ll realize that this isn’t idle speculation. My paternal grandmother lived up in the woods of Northern Michigan, and I remember her buying Deep Woods Off by the case. Hence, when I was first exposed to Monty Python at the age of 11, I had particular appreciation for the saga of the mighty mosquito hunter:

Well, thanks to our unusually warm and mild winter, our early spring, and several bountiful and extensive rainstorms, the mosquitoes are out about three weeks earlier than usual. I’d even be worried about their being more fruitful than usual, if every last one in the vicinity wasn’t heading straight for my sundews and butterworts. I still note that carnivorous plants will never replace standard pest controls for dealing with insects, but carnivores have one morale advantage over sprays, mosquito dunks, and flyswatters. Namely, you can look over a hale and hearty Cape sundew, leaves covered with trapped mosquitoes and fungus gnats, and make “AAAAAAAAAH! HELP ME! IT’S GOT MY LEGS!” screaming noises as the leaves embrace the bugs for the first and last time. And oh how the situation from my childhood is reversed.

The first Triffid Ranch show of 2012: ConDFW

In previous years, I’ve avoided attempting plant shows before April with good reason. In 2010 and 2011, for instance, we had such foul weather through February and March that I wasn’t worried about the plants freezing on their way to the event. Instead, I was more worried about my frozen corpse, still seat-belted into the van, being found in a drainage ditch halfway there. Last year, we had a solid week of sub-freezing weather in February, which may not sound like much to the denizens of higher latitudes. Out here, though, that’s begging for arriving at a show with a batch of sundews indistinguishable from a batch of frozen spinach.

However, my friend Amie Spengler nuhdzed and nudged at previous shows about ConDFW, a big literary science fiction convention that runs in Dallas in the middle of February, so the Czarina and I decided to take a chance this year. I still had sundews and bladderworts potted up in containers and ready to go from last November’s disastrous Friends of Fair Park show, and we figured “What could it hurt?” The weather coincided with our plans: lots of rain on Saturday, but otherwise exceptional weather both setting up and breaking down on Friday and Sunday. And who knew that carnivorous plants would be so popular among the Texas A&M student volunteers helping out here while preparing for Aggiecon?

Brad at ConDFW

Some folks came by just out of curiosity, or because they’d seen the Triffid Ranch booth at previous shows. Brad, though, came out specifically because he wanted carnivores. He left with a spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) and a Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) to go with the big grin on his face.

Beth at ConDFW

Beth is a very old friend, with my having first met her back during my science fiction writing days. She had a craving for green in February, too, as can be told.


Another happy sundew adopter.

Tiffany at ConDFW

And then there’s Tiffany from local gaming company Roll2Play. Tiffany’s main hobby at these shows is to gang up with the Czarina and leave me crying in shame and humiliation as they demonstrate that it is possible to kill at 30 paces with a sharp twist of the tongue. Thankfully for my fragile self-esteem, she took a small break from wielding her wit cannon, took pity on my runny nose and puffy eyes (it was from the flu, honest) and snatched up a medusa head (Euphorbia flanaganii) before anybody else got to see it.

Medusa Head at ConDFW

A closer look at that medusa head. It wasn’t just that Tiffany loved the pot. She particularly loved the detritus within it, and threatened to kneecap anyone who messed with it. Time for me to hunt down a few more pots like this, I think.

And now it’s time to get ready for the next show of the season: All-Con 2012 in March. I’m even thinking of joining the costuming festivities after the main dealer’s room hours, with the obvious head explodey that goes with it. I can’t tell if 2012 is going to be a good year for shows, but if it isn’t, it won’t be from a lack of trying.