Spotlight on Texas Triffid Ranch—Part 2: “Killer Attack Rose of Evil Doom”
This week, guest blogger Emily Goldsher continues her conversation with Paul Riddell of the Texas Triffid Ranch. If you missed last week’s introduction to Paul Riddell and the Texas Triffid Ranch, read it here.
You are something of a horticultural mad scientist―would you care to explain the “Kareds” concept?
The “Kareds” idea started when a friend asked me to help her move a particularly tough and pernicious rose. This had such a reputation for blood-letting that she called it “Kared,” short for “Killer Attack Rose of Evil Doom.” Kared was such a tough rose that cuttings practically rooted the moment they touched the ground, and I got a good two dozen healthy but thirsty plants off that one move. The roses were so popular that I realized that I could find a lot of homes for other similar oddball orphans, so I keep an eye open for plants that may make Martha Stewart scream in horror, but would make Morticia Addams squeak with joy.
Right now, my most successful Kared adoption program involves the barrel cactus Echinocactus texensis. My father-in-law owns a ranch where these grow wild, and many of their best growing places are ones that humans and animals also prefer. E. texensis is very squat, with extremely broad sharp spines that can punch through an Army boot (I speak from experience, because I almost lost a toe to one), and their ability to blend in with the surrounding soil and hide in scrub and grass gives them the common name “horsecrippler.” The traditional attitude toward horsecripplers in West Texas is to destroy them when they’re a threat to humans and animals, and my father-in-law normally hires someone to remove them before someone gets hurt. Considering that I’d just read about Arizona’s state law that requires relocation of cactus from land before it can be developed, I saw that there was a market both for extremely tough plants that could survive a Dallas summer and for native cactus, and volunteered to clear them out for him. I now have a growing space full of them, left outside so they’re already acclimated to local climate, and use both their roughness and their beautiful blooms and fruit (the blooms are pink and the fruit are bright neon red, with the fruit being edible as well) as selling points. My father-in-law gets the horsecripplers moved away from cattle and other livestock; the purchasers get a plant with a story, and the cactus get a second chance. Considering that they’re extremely slow-growing, nobody who isn’t willing to wait 40 years for a crop is going to raise them commercially, and I return the favor by collecting seeds from captive-raised cactus and spreading the seeds in new areas on the ranch to perpetuate the species. (My father-in-law keeps telling me “I don’t want you to take all of the horsecripplers. I just want you to keep them away from the kids.”)
Unlike a lot of growers, The Texas Triffid Ranch offers branded merchandise and regularly utilizes social media to get the word out. Do you think that not coming from a horticultural background drives you to expand past just growing and growing-related projects (i.e., building custom plant enclosures)?
I’m pretty certain that not coming from a horticultural background has a lot to do with this and I don’t blame other growers for not having the time. It’s incredibly easy to get drawn into “good ideas” that end up wasting a lot of time because they don’t make economic sense. A grower dealing with bedding plants, for instance, doesn’t need social media to sell their products, other than to reach retailers who need to know about new cultivars. Since most beginning carnivore enthusiasts are people who otherwise had no interests in plants at all (I can’t tell you the number of younger customers who admitted that they got back into gardening because of carnivores, because their sole experiences with gardening when kids was having to do the drone work in a family garden with no return for them whatsoever), though, a good Twitter feed and Facebook page can attract people who otherwise had no idea that any carnivorous plants existed other than Venus flytraps.
How has social media been helpful?
One of the greatest aspects in which it has been helpful is making contact with other carnivorous plant enthusiasts and comparing notes. In my early days, I had several of them smack me in the head when I made mistakes and explain WHY they smacked me in the head. In return, I passed on what I’d learned and that sort of interchange is what makes carnivorous plant growing and research so interesting. The field hasn’t seen this sort of research going on since the Victorian Era and it’s only getting more exciting.
Where do you source most of your materials and supplies from?
At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, I’m a FarmTek (Growers Supply is a division of FarmTek) partisan. I’ve had great results with the new line of pots and hanging baskets and I swear by TekFoil for keeping greenhouses insulated during the winter. I get the new catalog and my wife starts humming what’s become my theme song for raising carnivores. That, by the way, is Ministry’s “Just One Fix.”
Do you have any tips for people looking to grow their own carnivorous or exotic plants?
If you’re just starting out, stay away from Venus flytraps for a little bit. Flytraps require a LOT of light, they’re particular about their soil mix and about drainage and they absolutely require a winter dormancy period for proper health. The one comment I hear over and over from new customers is “I had a Venus flytrap when I was a kid, but it died,” and they have no idea as to why. When someone tells me that they’ve never worked with carnivores before, I recommend that they start with a spoonleaf sundew (Drosera spatulata) or Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) or maybe a Philippine pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata). After about six months or so, and they’ve made these plants happy, then I’ll recommend a flytrap. By then, though, most are so happy with their plants that they realize that flytraps can be a one-trick pony and they move into triggerplants or terrestrial bladderworts instead.
The one absolute: make sure you have a good source of water. You may not need to repot for a few years, but rainwater or distilled water is an essential aspect of keeping carnivores alive, and you don’t want to run short when your plant is dying and the only option is a last-minute run to the grocery store for distilled water.
Nature is as awe inspiring and incredible as the stories the most talented writers come up with—you just need to know where to look and Texas Triffid Ranch is a great place to start. To learn more about the cool stuff that Paul is doing, visit his blog, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.
Has Paul Riddell inspired you to try your hand at growing carnivorous or exotic plants?