Skip to main content

Gardenzia carnivorus.

I recently got back into horticulture after a bad moment of burnout, and wouldn't ya know it, I'm back at it with carnivorous plants! Despite tweeting about it endlessly, I haven't actually explained how or why this started.

Back in middle school, I helped my science teacher set up a carnivorous plant display. Nothing elaborate, mind you; a terrarium with a bunch of sphagnum moss and some pitcher plants, a sundew or two, maybe a Venus flytrap? Didn't leave much of an impression, except maybe that they died and that sucked. shrug.

A couple years later, I was in a bog near my grandmother's lake house, when things changed forever. I was in the back end of the canoe, and as my dad pulled the front end out of the water, I glanced to my right and spied, on a stump with some moss, sundews (Drosera rotundifolia, to be precise).

Drosera rotundifolia, the round-leaved sundew, among sphagnum moss
Drosera rotundifolia.
Of course I recognized therm instantly—they're hard to mistake, with those the sparkling tentacles and all. I gathered 3 or so of them (I know now that's a no-no, but I was young and ignorant!), and took them home. They failed to thrive or, for that matter, live... For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why.

So like any good nerd, I went to the library and book store. I ended up with a few books, including Peter D'Amato's Savage Garden (also available on Amazon, I guess...). I still have that same copy of it—still with my copious scrawl and sticky notes and exclamation points. Within weeks, I knew all the genus names, all the rules for cultivation; I could tell you where they were from and how the caught their prey and what made each one cool.

I read that book forward and backward and round robin and over and over. It's amazing. It's well written. It's populated with phenomenal photos and endless information that all tantalized my young, curious, eager mind. I even met the author, visited his nursery, bought some plants. I've kept it on my shelf through all these many moves up and down the East Coast for a reason, even if I can't recall the last time I actually cracked it open.

All this enthusiasm lead to a somewhat broader (if never quite completely actualized) interest in horticulture. I'd spied my future high school's greenhouse during a tour in 8th grade, so I knew where to house these things. I joined the horticulture club; for a while, I was the horticulture club before recruiting many of my friends. I learned a good bit about noncarnivorous plants and their tending, too. I even wrote a column in my school newspaper (nerd).

But I didn't have it together then; I didn't keep my carnivores living. For example, I could never sort out the water situation for the plants I had: Carnivorous plants, as with most bog plants, are famously susceptible to dissolved minerals and alkaline water, so only distilled or rain water can be used. However, I didn't have either a car or the memory to get the gallons of water from the store to my house then to the school, and when we tried rain water, leaves and other junk kept falling in it... I'm sure there were other mistakes, but regardless, they died. And that sucked.

At some point, I moved on. Various housing situations, such as going off to college, and other stuff got in the way, sure, but honestly? My interest had waned as failure and time attenuated this enthusiasm of youth. Sometimes, it's just tough sustaining that kinda thing when you're young, or it turned out that way for me at least. It did lurk somewhere, though; I did think about those wild plants from time to time...

About 2 months ago, I got hit with burnout. Too much work, too little me time, and not enough spoons left. That night, I gave life the finger by posting a pic on social media of me in a Venus flytrap shirt that read "BITE ME." An online friend hit me up, saying he grew VFTs and other carnivores for fun and had extras and asking—did I want some?

Fuck yeah I did.

I got bit by the bug for bug-eating plants pretty hard this time around, and it hasn't hurt the craving that I now have the means to collect and sustain them. I've already collected over 15 plants—variously sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula) and American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) and Venus flytraps (Dionaea)...

But it's funny: I was looking at my elaborate and fabulously organized spreadsheet (because of course there's a spreadsheet...), and I didn't feel like anything on it leapt out as "needed." There are, of course, things I'd gladly take on if offered; there are things that still excite me as well, no doubt. But I've reached a sort of happy "limit"; I've begun shifting from "acquisition" to "cultivation." I want to tend to and curate and play with what I have rather than feel some need to take on more.

Like, I've been devising a mini bog garden; picking plants, carnivorous and otherwise, to create something interesting and fun. I've got about 3 or 4 experiments, including nurturing some stowaway seedlings I rescued from another pot and a possible major propagation attempt on a cultivar I've "discovered" (and hopefully won't kill...).

And it's nice, really. It's fun. Will it fix my burnout, prevent the exhaustion and collapse brought on two jobs and no life? I can't say for sure yet, but I certainly hope so because I'm enjoying this.


Other things that might interest you...

This moment: A tattoo.

So I read Mrs. Dalloway in high school, and it was perhaps the most beautiful thing I'd ever read. One passage in particular, very early in the book, hit me hard with my first experience of the sublime, and stayed with me—and led at last to my first tattoo.
In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.  (Emphasis added; full paragraph included below. From the full text of the novel as made available by the University of Adelaide.)

The paragraph this is from, the 4th paragraph of the novel, is the 1st passage with the stream of consciousness the book is famous for; although self-limited here, the flow is no less gorgeous. In the passage, Clarissa is walking on a street to get those famous flowers herse…

Losing Doolittle.

I recently got to spend a few days at the lake house my family used to visit through most of my childhood; we no longer own it, and it turns out I missed it more deeply than I realized.

Anthony and I both got the week before NYC Pride off this year, so I contrived to get us a little time there. The cousins who own Greenshore gave Anthony and me permission to relax there for several days rather than just the 1 or 2 I had expected. Good god, I'm grateful for that.

I missed this place. Standing on the balcony, the porch, or the dock and looking out over the lake, I was reminded of the beauty and tranquility this lake represents for me. The meaning and memories, too.

This was always a place of solace and stability for me. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, but we always came back to this place. It had been in our family for generations before I was even born—if we'd been able to keep it, it would have been a solid 4 generations including mine. This was where I figured out I w…

Sarracenia 'Palmerpink.'

So I posted the other day about my rekindled carnivorous plant obsession—I mean, hobby. I mentioned, in passing, that I had "discovered" a possible cultivar, so here's the lowdown on what that means and what I meant.

The term "cultivar" is short for "cultivated variety," and signifies that a particular plant is so desirable and interesting that people want exact copies of it rather than simply seed from it. Some famous American pitcher plant (Sarracenia) cultivars include the legendary Adrian Slack, the massive Leah Wilkerson, and the classic Judith Hindle.

Part of how these come about is that, unlike horses x donkeys = mules and certain other hybrids, Sarracenia hybrids aren't sterile and can be crossed and recrossed without limit. Further, random chance can create crazy combinations of genes such that even hybrids between the same species—heck, even the same parents—can demonstrate quite the variety. More on that elsewhere.

Depending on how easy…