Tag Archives: Discovery Days

The Aftermath: Discovery Days at the Museum of Nature & Science

Texas Triffid Ranch table

Last weekend’s Discovery Days show at Dallas’s Museum of Nature & Science went off without a hiccup, even with the slightly melancholy vibe running the entire weekend. As of September 16, when the current Planet Shark exhibition closes, so will the Science Museum building, previously known as The Science Place for the last three decades. Considering the amount of time I’ve spent over the last quarter-century in this building (the original Robot Dinosaurs exhibition opened on my 21st birthday), this was a second-to-last opportunity to say goodbye to an old and dear friend.

The welcome sign at Discovery Days

The idea was simple: come out with a sampling of carnivores for exhibition, and answer questions the attending kids had about the plants and how they lived. As with last year’s Discovery Days show, both kids and adults kept me on my toes with thoughtful, sharp, and detailed questions about carnivorous plant physiology and habits. What was new this year was the number of visitors, both from out-of-state and out-of-country, who had great insights. When I wasn’t talking to a Romanian engineer about Transylvanian dinosaurs (and he was absolutely amazed that such a thing existed) and his world-famous countryman Baron Nopsca, I was helping to identify pitcher plants on Luzon in the Philippines. If I was twitching by the end, it was only because of the sheer amount of information that attendees shared, and I only hope that I was able to return the favor.

A small selection from my carnivorous plant library

As I did last year, I brought out a cross-section of reference books on the subject to show examples of plants I didn’t have in my collection at the moment, but it may be time to get an iPad and go electronic. My back still hurts from hauling them out of the car on Sunday evening.

Sarracenia lid and lip

All of the plants were popular, but the big Sarracenia hybrid was the belle of the ball. In fact, a couple of people made precisely that comment. Not only did she draw interest in the first place, but she was ultimately more accessible to understanding basic passive-trap physiology than any other plant there. (In particular, one attendee had a slight freakout when I was demonstrating with a UV light how the lid interiors and lips of the pitcher fluoresce under ultraviolet light, and she literally squeaked “It’s a sonic screwdriver!”) That said, most of the kids liked her cousin…

The provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador

I was regularly asked if I named individual plants, and I was half-tempted to nickname the two Sarracenia purpurea “Red” and “Harold” for the duration of the show. Considering the number of Canadians, not to mention us Canadian anchor babies, out to see the sharks, that may or may not have been prudent. Bringing “Red” out, though, was especially important for one four-year-old with a look in her eye that I knew well from her age: “Don’t you DARE patronize me.” She wanted everything explained to her exactly the way I would have done with her parents, and she asked as many questions as she could about the hairs on the lip and composition of the debris in the bottom of the pitchers with her admittedly slightly limited vocabulary. I hope to run into her again in a few years and see how far she leaves me in the dust in scientific inquiries.

Nepenthes ampullaria

And the other surprise hit? Explaining the number of mutualistic relationships between carnivores and various animals had some kids engrossed, especially when I told them about the relationships between Nepenthes ampullaria and the frog Microhyla nepenthicola. Frogs that nest and breed in pitcher plants? Oh, that shattered a few fragile young minds. (I’ll say the greatest satisfaction came with a group of teenagers who claimed that they were there to watch out for little brothers, and they must have hung out on Saturday afternoon for an hour, asking every question they could. I don’t know if they were too fascinated to pretend to be nonplussed, or if I treated them like adults, but they asked some of the sharpest questions the whole weekend long. And so much for kids today being lazy and stupid, eh?)

As mentioned before, this was the last actual event at the old Museum, but I’ve been assured that the crew wants a carnivorous plant presence at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which opens next year. In the meantime, I’m planning to organize one last outing to the current Museum on September 16, where those of us who remember the two separate museums in Fair Park can come out and have one last look around. For the Czarina and myself, it’ll be particularly important, as we were married under the Protostega in the Texas Giants Hall at the old Museum of Natural History, and this is as close to renewing our vows in the same place as we’re going to get.

Things To Do In Dallas (And Fort Worth) When You’re Dead

To hear natives tell it, absolutely nothing happens in the Dallas area during the summer. “It’s too hot to do anything,” they say. “The real action hits in autumn, when the big yellow hurty thing in the sky stops trying to turn us into ash.” “We don’t even like going out swimming, because the water evaporates before you can dive off the high board.”

Yeah, don’t you believe it. If you fall for that, you’ll fall for the real whoppers, such as how getting a degree in journalism is a guarantee of high and stable income for the rest of your life. (Well, it is if you moonlight as something much less socially reprehensible than a music or film critic.) My problem is that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, especially concerning the journalism degree, and then the rest of the summer is booked solid.

Anyway, to start the festivities, I sympathize with those who have families this time of the year. By the middle of August, the kids are both going insane from a two-month diet of cable television and the impending dread of the new school year, and they want to do something. Their parents are going insane with the realization that if they don’t take vacation time now, they won’t have any opportunity to take a vacation until after Christmas, and that they have a long four-month intervening slog in the linen mines until they’re paroled. Both take a good look outside, stick a finger out from underneath sunscreen and shade cloth, scream as the radiation leaves them able to see the bones in that finger before the flesh catches fire, and decide “Whatever we do, it’s going to be someplace with air conditioning and thick ceilings.” Not that I blame them in the slightest, as this is the time of the year that makes me impersonate the lifestyle of my totem animal and stay underground.

Well, the good news is that the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas’s Fair Park is run by people who think like sane parents, which is why it’s hosting this weekend’s upcoming Discovery Days event, Discover Going Green, before school starts. The Triffid Ranch will be out there to show off a selection of carnivorous plants, carnivorous plant impersonators, and general oddballs on both Saturday and Sunday, so stop by and say hello.

As for the first serious Triffid Ranch show of the fall season, we’re now officially 45 days away from FenCon IX, running in Addison this September 21 through 23. Same hotel as previous years, but with luck, we’ll be seeing the first serious break in the heat about then. You may think you don’t want to deal with gullywasher storms on the weekend, but anything beats the smell of burning flint everywhere you walk. The start of autumn weather not only promises to make things easier on the folks coming out from places where the local hydrogen in the atmosphere doesn’t spontaneously fuse, but it may make for some particularly interesting plant arrangements.

And lest I forget, announcements for the 2013 Texas Frightmare Weekend see release next week, and along with that, first availability of passes. Naturally, the Triffid Ranch plans to crash the party again: at this point, the idea is to be the first in line for vendor’s spaces. Considering the crowds at the 2013 show, get your tickets as soon as they’re available, because the weekend passes could very easily be sold out six months before the show. It’s happened before.

Finally, last year’s drought put paid to previous plans, but it’s time to return to the Funky Finds Holiday Shopping Experience in Fort Worth the weekend of November 10. Any excuse to go to Fort Worth is a good excuse, and I certainly don’t have problems with spending the weekend at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. That is, if there’s room to squeeze in the Triffid Ranch. We’ll see.

Discovery Days: The Final Assessment

Last weekend, the folks at the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park were considerate enough to invite the Triffid Ranch to display plants at its regular Discovery Days event on reptiles and other critters. This year, the “other critters” extended to flora, both by showing off carnivores that live in symbiosis with various reptiles and amphibians (in particular, a big display of Nepenthes ampullaria, based on its relationship with the frog Microhyla nepenthicola), so it was time to show off temperate carnivores before they went into winter hibernation and tropical carnivores before the new greenhouse goes up. Naturally, the Czarina wanted pictures.

"Introducing Carnivorous Plants" banner

The first sign that We Have Arrived: a literal sign stating who, why, and where. It’s probably time to write up a standard lecture rider that explains what we need at shows, probably plagiarizing heavily from Iggy Pop’s standard concert rider.

Bob the Builder

Being right next door to the “Bob the Builder” traveling exhibition meant that this guy right here was my nemesis and my salvation. “Nemesis” as in how every child under a certain age (I suspect below retirement age) wanted to drag Mom and Dad inside to see Bob, and “salvation” in that the kids and parents all went nuts over plants after they’d received their Bob fixes. The little disc at Bob’s feet was a motion sensor that normally set off one of three different affirmative comments. Apparently, so many little feet had tromped on it that the sound card went off randomly, and then it stopped working entirely by Saturday evening. I didn’t want to ruin the fun for the kids coming out to see Bob and Pilchard, so I filled in for that wayward sound card with the expected Canadian twist. Every kid should learn “Remember, if the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy,” right?

The Texas Triffid Ranch at the MNS Discovery Days

A basic cross-section of carnivores and containers for display, along with a particularly ugly brute brought in to haul the big hexagon tank and scare wasps away from the pitcher plants. That beast could make a sundial run backwards, couldn’t he?

Paul

“Just because I only have nine fingers doesn’t mean my name is ‘Frodo’.”

Carnivorous plant books

Accompanying the main display was an additional table, giving plenty of room to show off a cross-section of the best books on carnivorous plants on the market today.

Magazines

The two magazines in the Riddell household that get read first, without question.

Paul

We were located right around the corner from a display demonstrating the fluorescence of scorpions. “Twenty bucks says I can hit the back wall with the next sneeze. Thirty if I replace the scorpion with a cockroach.”

And before anyone asks, yes, I’ll gleefully return for next year’s Discovery Days, or any other event held by the Museum that requests my presence. This was just too much fun.

Discovery Days: Day Two

I’ll have pictures from this weekend’s Discovery Days: Discovering Reptiles & Other Critters event at the Museum of Nature & Science after we’re done, but now it’s time to go back. Saturday’s crowd was extremely impressive, with a lot of kids stopping by on their way to see the mineral or light exhibits, and a lot of parents coming back after taking their very young kids to see the Bob the Builder Project: Build It! exhibit. (The only issue so far, and it’s really minor, is that the Triffid Ranch booth is right next to a big Bob the Builder display, with a motion sensor that makes Bob utter three inspiring messages when people walk by. The motion sensor was apparently damaged a while back by well-meaning kids walking on the display, so Bob goes off randomly, all day long. In other words, he’s just like me. Interestingly, a few buzzes with my scorpion detector, brought specifically to light up plant structures with UV, and Bob quiets down for a while.) Either way, everybody’s having a blast.

Although this has been like a typical show, where I’ve rarely left the booth, this encourages me to do more reptile shows. In particular, the turtle exhibit on the ground floor is full of the expected wonders, including softshell turtles and a huge Sulcata tortoise that begs for romaine lettuce. I won’t be ready for a big show right away, such as next February’s North American Reptile Breeders Conference show in Arlington, but I’m definitely getting lined up for the 2013 show. In the meantime, if the folks at the Museum want me to come back next year, or to participate in any of the Beer & Bones evening shows for adults, I’d have to be an idiot to say “no”.

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.

Things To Do In Dallas When You’re Dead

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of the Museum of Nature & Science since it was the Dallas Museum of Natural History, and it’s also no secret that I’m a firm believer in getting adults out to the museum as often as possible. Likewise, passing on word about the Museum’s Beer & Bones Mad Scientist Mixer on September 15 should be no surprise, either. My only regret is that I couldn’t put enough birds in ears to have the Museum hire the Consortium of Genius for a show, seeing as how they kinda wrote the theme song for Thursday night.

And on the subject of the Museum, the Triffid Ranch has a more active role at the Discovery Days: Discover Reptiles and Other Critters weekend on November 5 and 6. Any excuse to go to the Museum, or into Fair Park in general, is a good one, and this one involves carnivorous plants that encourage frogs and other herps. I probably won’t have any tree frogs in Sarracenia pitchers to show off, but I’m working on it. More details to follow.

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.