Tag Archives: Triffid Ranch lectures

Things To Do In Dallas When You’re Dead: Spring 2013

Deep Ellum mural

The days get longer, the polar vortex slows in its attempts to freeze Galveston, and the Czarina can read weather reports from Michigan and Wisconsin and not try to set her bath water afire in order to get a little warmer. We’re not quite to spring yet, but we’re getting there, so it’s time to get back outside and do something. Do what, you ask? Well, time for some ideas.

Firstly, we’re now three weeks away from All-Con 2014, one of the biggest costuming and general weirdness conventions in the Southwest. This year, in addition to the now-expected Triffid Ranch display in the vendor’s room, come out for two different discussions on carnivorous plants, including one demonstrating the fluorescence of certain species under ultraviolet light. This is in addition to all of the other great panels and demonstrations, so buy your tickets before the Addison fire marshall steps in and yells “Okay, no more.”

Along that line, as mentioned a couple of months back, after two shows this season, the Triffid Ranch goes on hiatus until May 2015 in order to rebuild stock and cultivate new species of carnivore previously unavailable at events. That means that if you can’t make All-Con, come out to Texas Frightmare Weekend at DFW Airport for the blowout final show of 2014. Among many other events, TFW is hosting a 60th anniversary celebration of the premiere of Creature From The Black Lagoon, which has special significance to me. Many of the underwater scenes in that film were shot in Wakulla Springs in the Florida Panhandle, and my strange and sordid trip through the world of carnivorous plants started with one weekend in September 2002 spent exploring the springs. Between this and a screening of the movie at the springs held as a fundraiser, coinciding with the Czarina visiting me in Tallahassee just before we married, I have lots of fond memories involving that movie, and it’s only fair to return the favor to Loyd Cryer and the rest of the crew at TFW and give them a plant presentation that will never be forgot.

Black orchid

In between that, though, is an event unrelated to the Triffid Ranch, other than the fact that I finally get to attend. For years, Gunter’s Greenhouse, one of the best orchid nurseries in the country, held an open house to show off its collections to the general public. For years, it always coincided with All-Con, and All-Con management frowned on my leaving my booth to drool on orchids. As of late last year, Gunter’s was purchased by the Dallas orchid dealer Dr. Delphinium, and one of the new changes involves moving the open house to the weekend of March 28 this year. Sadly, the great display of Tahitian vanilla orchids won’t be available, due to a pest infesting and killing off the vines, but speaking from experience, the trip will be worth that very minor disappointment.

Earth Day at the Perot: The Aftermath

Malawisaurus

A full decade after heading out on this odd path, I can finally say that I’ve hit the big time: a Triffid Ranch presentation at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science last weekend. The Czarina was in Galveston on her own business, so it was just me, the plants, and about 50,000 utterly fascinated kids and adults asking questions. I don’t think I’m exaggerating as to the number, either. I now understand how adults felt when I was a kid, asking questions that they had to scramble to answer, because I think I met most of the Ph.D candidates of the high school class of 2020. Their parents weren’t slacking off, either: when one gentleman came through and related how he’d seen Sarracenia pitcher plants for years while stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, but didn’t know what they were until then, a crowd gathered just to listen to him. Heck, people turned away from the Malawisaurus skeleton in the main lobby to listen to him.

Triffid Ranch display at the Perot

Since this was a lecture event, and not a sale, variety was much more important than volume. This meant displays of (from the left) sticky traps (sundews, butterworts, triggerplants), active traps (Venus flytraps, bladderworts), and passive pitfall traps (Sarracenia and Nepenthes pitcher plants, and a lone Brocchinia bromeliad), while explaining how each and every one worked. Next time, I’m including guides on how these operate, but this worked well enough that even the volunteers there on both days came over to find out more.

Assorted Sarracenia

Assorted Sarracenia

Maybe it’s the new greenhouse, or maybe it’s just the fluctuating weather (we’ve had temperatures dropping well below 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) at least one night per week for the last month, which almost never happens in April in Texas), but the Sarracenia pitcher plants just exploded this year. Huge pitchers, equally gigantic blooms, and lots of color. Either way, I’m not complaining.

Sarracenia purpurea

Sarracenia purpurea, or purple pitcher plant: the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador. I admit that I find it hard not to sing “O Canada” every time I look over one of these, and this one was just the right size for visitors to look inside the pitchers at the insect part debris already caught inside.

Brocchinia reductans

And then there was the real surprise for new attendees: an example of the carnivorous bromeliad Brocchinia reductans of Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana, courtesy of Jacob and Jeff at Sarracenia Northwest. This was an especial surprise for one young woman attending on Sunday: she was a fashion designer from Venezuela here in Dallas visiting family, and she was amazed that such a plant existed, much less existed as close to her home. One of these days, I need to plan a botanical trip to South America, right after I finish trips to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Antarctica, Newfoundland…

As for the Perot, this simultaneously left me exhausted and hoping for more, so we’ll see if I’m invited back in the future. I’ve already volunteered to lecture at one of the Social Science events for adults, but any excuse to come out there is a good one. After all, the Czarina and I have history there, even if it’s only been open for six months.

A swiftly expanding lecture schedule

Putting up the new greenhouse. Moving the Sarracenia and other humidity-loving plants in the collection into the greenhouse in preparation for summer. Propagating a whole new batch of bladderworts and triggerplants for upcoming shows. Potting up Roridula dentata seeds. Delivering another bladderwort on behalf of an All-Con attendee for her little sister’s birthday. Clearing out pop-weed clover from the triggerplant pots and the horsecrippler cactus. This is on top of stripping out sprouting trumpet vine attempting to grow up the side of the house again. I’m glad that I have a day job, because that’s the only way I can switch gears and not call realtors about the price of available farmland in the area.

Well, that was last weekend, and now it’s time to go into the height of spring show and lecture season. I’ve already given the Czarina orders along the lines of “Anyone other than my grandmother calls and wants to do something this week, ask to beg off until the middle of May. If my grandmother calls, take a message, but make sure that it’s coming from the land line.” And so it goes.

Anyway, the existing schedule changes somewhat, thanks to a last-minute lecture coming up this Saturday. Last autumn, when conducting a lecture for the Dallas/Fort Worth Herpetological Society, a very polite young woman asked if I had the time or wherewithall to talk to the members of the Koi and Water Garden Club of North Texas. Considering my love of koi, and upcoming plans for a whole new set of experiments involving water gardens and Sarracenia psittacina, it’s time both to discuss the merits of carnivorous plants in bog and water gardens and to discuss future projects with experts. If you’re able to make it, feel free to ask for directions.

Other than this, the existing schedule doesn’t change: expect a Triffid Ranch table at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science on the weekend of April 20 and 21, and then one quiet weekend before the serious high weirdness of Texas Frightmare Weekend. After that? You tell me.

Upcoming Lectures: Dallas – Fort Worth Herpetological Society

The flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants are all going into dormancy, and the focus for the rest of the year is on getting ready for next year’s shows. HowEVER, if you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this weekend, I’ll be the guest speaker for the Dallas – Fort Worth Herpetological Society meeting at the University of Texas at Arlington Life Sciences building on November 17. The subject at hand is a near and dear one: “Absolute Surefire Steps To Kill Your New Venus Flytrap”.

And on a sidenote, I’d also like to make a shoutout for friends on the West Coast of the US, because Sarracenia Northwest just started a series of winter open houses in December. Any excuse to go out there is a good one, and these winter open houses are really good excuses, so go out and have fun.

Nemesis sighted off the port bow

We all have a nemesis in life. All of us. If we’re lucky, we’ll only meet that nemesis in our final days, when it’s far too late for it to cause any damage. If we’re very lucky, we find a nemesis that can be used against our enemies, or against our friends for comic effect.

I say this because I’ve discovered mine. Her name is Miss Sweetie Poo, and she’s an essential component of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the annual award for scientific endeavours that should not and must not be replicated under any circumstances. The Ig Nobels are to the real Nobels what the Golden Raspberry Awards are to the Oscars, only with more duct tape, more paper airplanes, and less butthurt whining from the organizers of the Saturn Awards about the similarities between their winners. This year’s Ig Nobel ceremony is next week, and as usual, its selections will lead to the absolute best head explodey.

Anyway. As I was saying, Miss Sweetie Poo is my one serious weakness, in the form of a cute 8-year-old girl. That weakness is the fear of conducting a lecture or presentation, or merely showing off plants at a show, and hearing these words, over and over:

See, this is why the Czarina and I don’t have children. It’s also the reason why I won’t let her rent children, either. We have a niece who’s a few years too old for the position, but I’m sure that she’ll be open for suitable compensation to fill in. I’ll make some particularly devastating point during after-dinner conversation, lunge for the kill…and get knocked out of the air like Green Lantern being smacked with a big yellow pillow. (Please note that the Czarina can’t get away with this. Not only does she not have >the right voice to pull it off, but I know where she’s ticklish. Besides, her reputation precedes her, with lots of other people seeing her angry and crying “Not the elbows! Not the elbows!”, and she’s certainly not afraid to use them on me if I get out of line.)

The Doom That Came To Dublin

I have to admit that, in my advancing years, I get increasingly tired of the foofarol concerning defunct cultural institutions when said institutions died for rational reasons. Namely, the crying and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over restaurants, stores, and other venues that died because potential patrons were being sentimental about them instead of, say, actually buying something. Much of this hatred comes from my science fiction writing days, where every magazine that shut down was greeted with the hysterics expected from the deaths of rock stars or celebrity chefs. Never mind that if the magazine’s fans actually bought a copy, or read anything other than the submissions guidelines page before defecating into the slushpile mailbox with their latest Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape fanfiction, said magazine might actually still be around.

In a few cases, not only do I understand the urge, but I join in the mourning. Today is the day Dublin Dr. Pepper stopped production.

It’s hard to explain to non-Texans why a carbonated soft drink should be such a big deal, except for the fact that it was everywhere. For a very long time, the company was a major employer in the Dallas area, with its main bottling plant on Mockingbird Lane. Dr. Pepper was hyped as a hot as well as cold beverage in the Fifties, and you could still find little electric cup heaters with the logo (for dunking into a coffee cup) in garage sales when I moved here. Just about every venue that featured a soda dispenser had Dr. Pepper as a selection, and until about 1982 or so, asking for a “Coke” really meant you were getting a Dr. Pepper unless you said otherwise. It was even an official sponsor of the Dallas Cowboys, long before current Cowboys owner Jerry Jones turned that credit into a joke.

And yes, I bought into it as well. When Coca-Cola went into its ill-fated fling with New Coke in 1985, I became a Dr. Pepper junkie. One of the many reasons I moved back to Texas in 1986 was because of Dr. Pepper: I was so miserable in Wisconsin that I spent many an hour in a horrible Burger King in downtown Appleton solely because that Burger King had Dr. Pepper on tap. Friends wanting to make bar crawls or concert runs just had to deal with the fact that I wasn’t drinking anything stronger than DP, and I think I managed to evade getting stomped at one of the last shows at the famed Theater Gallery in Deep Ellum outside of downtown Dallas because the skinheads saw that I was more straightedge than they were.

Times change, and they didn’t necessarily get better. The Dr. Pepper plant on Mockingbird was shut down shortly after the company was bought by what is now Dr. Pepper/Snapple/Cadbury, with lots of promises to renovate the historic landmark as a shopping mall or other general attraction. Those promises were lies, and the building was demolished in 1997. (I’d make all sorts of snide and perfectly accurate comments about the apartment building that went up in its place, but that always leads to at least one SMU brat crying about how mocking rich cokeheads, particularly with words of more than one syllable, is “class warfare”.) Long before then, the recipe changed from using actual cane sugar to the omnipresent high-fructose corn syrup, with a corresponding loss of flavor.

Six years ago, the Czarina’s family and I made a summer vacation trip to Banff, Alberta, and everyone was shocked at how good Dr. Pepper tasted in Canada. I explained that it was because it was bottled in Canada, a country that neither subsidized its corn industry nor tried to embargo Cuba. The vast majority of the supply of this ambrosia in the US uses the loathed HFCS, but the tiny town of Dublin, Texas was allowed to sell Dr. Pepper with real Imperial cane sugar. It shouldn’t be any surprise that locals and visitors, given a taste test, were willing to pay premium prices for Dublin Dr. Pepper, and it should be even less of one that we addicts were willing to travel to get our hits. For one niece of mine, she forswore most birthday presents so long as we showed up with a six-pack of Dublin Dr. Pepper, in glass bottles, so she could ration it out while back in college.

And how does this involve a horticultural blog? Well, aside from the Texas history, it came down to a personal issue. Considering extensive and deep budget cuts to Texas schools and libraries, I understand all too well that lecturer speaker fees take money from already nearly nonexistent budgets, and I’d rather have that speaking money go into books, supplies, and teacher goodwill. Hence, when it comes to public schools and libraries in the North Texas area, my speaking fee for Triffid Ranch lectures was always the same: one bottle of Dublin Dr. Pepper, preferably cold. It’s not quite on a par with Iggy Pop and the Stooges’s concert rider, but I like to think that I’m paying back just a little bit for the terror I inflicted when I was a student.

That was then. With the announcement that the Dublin bottler is shut down, with the corresponding loss of jobs to the Dublin area, I’m not just cutting out Dr. Pepper consumption in general. I have to find a new currency for school lectures. I’d go back to an old friend but the Eighties, but Jolt Cola is now made with HFCS instead of cane sugar, so what’s the point?

Events past and present

Now that the Halloween insanity is over, you’d think that gardening season joins it. It may for those in northeast North America (my friend Joey Shea just sent me a picture of a little girl with a jack-o’-lantern atop a snowman, thereby setting the stage for The Nightmare Before Christmas 2: Oogie Boogie Strikes Back), but we’re still good for another four to eight weeks. Heck, now’s the time to get prepared for next spring, and I’ve already had my next-door neighbor give me some really odd looks upon watching me throw purloined bags of grass cuttings over my back fence. I tell him “it’s for the Czarina’s tomatoes next year,” but I don’t think he believes me.

Now’s also when lecture season really kicks in, before all of the temperate carnivores go into winter dormancy and the tropical ones need to move indoors. I’ve done a lot of talks and lectures in the last few years, but I have to say that last Thursday’s talk at the Episcopal School of Dallas had to have been one of the best of the lot. The only thing better than showing off carnivores to a gaggle of extremely curious and exceptionally intelligent kids is discovering that most had already been taking Latin, so they understood exactly why I started lapsing into Linnean binomial nomenclature. When discussing the four different and very distantly related groups of plants commonly referred to as “pitcher plants”, that’s vital.

(Sadly, I had no pictures of the lecture, even though the Czarina brought out the camera. She got a bit involved with passing around plants, and I don’t blame her. She also got great enjoyment off watching the girls in the front of the lecture room wince and make “eww” noises when talking about sundew feeding habits, because they were listening to every last word. I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear from a few of them in a few years, making serious contributions to natural history after being inspired by those sundews.)

The only problem with the ESD lecture was that it was far too short, which can be a problem when discussing the sheer variety of carnivorous plant habits, environments, and capture and digestion strategies. This weekend’s Discovery Days: Discovering Reptiles & Other Critters event at the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas’s Fair Park should take care of that. Look for the Triffid Ranch table within the lofty environs therein on Saturday and Sunday until 5 in the afternoon, feel free to let your kids bring grown-ups, and don’t be afraid to let the grown-ups ask lots of questions. I’ll probably be mute by Sunday evening, but it should be a blast in the interim.

And speaking of the Nightmare Before Christmas motif, we’re now 25 days away from the MetroPCS Fair Park Holiday show, hosted by Friends of Fair Park. If things go quiet between now and then, it’s because I’ll be at work on Capsicum pepper bonsai and iTerrariums. Look at it as a live rendition of the Day of the Triffids Holiday Special, and come on out.

Upcoming Triffid Ranch lectures

It’s amazing what you find in the E-mail box these days. Today, it was an invitation from the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas, asking about availability to man a booth at its upcoming “Discover Reptiles and Other Critters” Discovery Days event this coming November 5 and 6. Considering the various connections between carnivorous plants and amphibians (particularly the Nepenthes ampullaria that threaten to take over life and sanity), I was honored, and I also volunteered to do a similar display for the Beer & Bones adults-only event in September. As we get closer to the Discovery Days date, I’ll keep everyone abreast with further information.