Who, Where, and Why
Who: The Texas Triffid Ranch is a gallery specializing in custom enclosures for carnivorous, prehistoric, and otherwise exotic plants.
Where: As the name implies, the Triffid Ranch is based in the Dallas, Texas area.
Why: Because stunning and unique plants need a appropriately interesting environment in which to show off their best features.
How: Check the Contact page for more details.
- Absolute Surefire Steps to Kill Your Venus Flytrap
- Cat Monday
- Dumb Ideas
- Hard Science
- Have A Great Weekend
- I'm living in my own private Tanelorn
- Personal Interlude
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- Swimming in Strange Waters
- Tales From The Ranch
- Things to Do in Dallas When You're Dead
- Thursday is Resource Day
- Travels Abroad
- @KEBrightbill Attempting to excavate a snowdrift for dinosaur bones, and my kindergarten teacher had issues. It too… twitter.com/i/web/status/1… 39 minutes ago
- RT @ArikHartmann: Saved this beautiful horseshoe crab from a discarded net. LOOK HIS LITTLE LEGS 😍 https://t.co/vv6rqdQJhV 8 hours ago
- RT @takapodigs: #kakapo are a 'lek' breeders. Males gather to dig 'bowls' connected by 'tracks' at high points, and 'boom' (a low-frequency… 8 hours ago
- Science with cats. twitter.com/sarahmackattac… 21 hours ago
- RT @DrAndrewThaler: Every so often I remember that I live by the edge of a 52-mile wide crater that was created when a bolide crashed into… 1 day ago
Today is a very special day at the Triffid Ranch: it’s time to celebrate the 210th birthday of Charles Darwin. Others in the scientific and horticultural communities have their own specific reasons to celebrate Darwin’s birthday, but the overriding reason around here is simple: the publication in 1875 of the book Insectivorous Plants. Darwin’s research into the mechanics and chemistry of carnivorous plants obviously predated such tools as radioisotope tracing and DNA sequencing, but all such research into carnivores today depends to an extent on his careful study 150 years ago. While you’re out and about today, hoist a beverage of your choice in the direction of Westminster Abbey and toast this singular individual, without whose studies the current study of carnivorous plants would have been very different.
Even if the tradition behind Groundhog Day made any sense, North Texas weather throws the tradition under the bus. This year, the groundhog wouldn’t have seen his shadow, because the thick fog that morning would have had him screaming “THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE MIST!” That fog stuck around, too: as odd as it was, at least it beat the deadly cold up in Chicago: I survived the Blizzard of 1979, and that experience is a big reason on why the gallery is titled “the Texas Triffid Ranch” and not “the Illinois Varga Shop.”)
Fog aside, and aside from the local missing stair who was removed in short order and told not to return, the latest open house was a grand success, including one family that drove from Tulsa just to attend. Thanks to everyone who made it, other than the missing stair, because you were all braver than the groundhog this year.
The date for the next open house is in flux, dependent upon getting confirmation on an upcoming event. When it’s nailed down, though, read about it here.
The Groundhog Day open house at the gallery is this weekend, so for those in Dallas on Saturday, we’ll see you there. For everyone else, especially for those in the American Midwest, here’s hoping that Sid here doesn’t see his shadow, because we don’t need six more weeks of this. (40 years ago, I was in Chicago, still digging out from under the Blizzard on 1979. I sympathize more than you know.
Have a good time this weekend. Stay warm. Don’t let the Morlocks bite.
The last weekend before things start getting really interesting for 2019, and we have a soundtrack for everybody:
Coming up on the new gallery’s second anniversary, the main theme around the Triffid Ranch this month is…cleaning. Lots of cleaning, shifting, moving, sorting, cataloguing, and launching into the sun. Pots and containers that almost made sense when they were originally purchased three years ago but simply can’t cut the mustard today. Glues and other adhesives that didn’t age well. Electrical fixtures purchased years before the gallery originally opened that are now desperately obsolete based on today’s technology. Equipment and supplies purchased for big projects that fell through, usually when the client only wanted to pay in exposure. Items that fell literally between the cracks in those frantic days during and after the move from Valley View Center. Combine this with a renovation of the actual toolspace, and the gallery is as close to ergonomic as it’s been since the beginning of 2017. You know, when the space was empty.
(Seriously, folks, take it from a professional: DO NOT STOCKPILE GLUES. Buy what you need when you need it, or what you reasonably think you can use within a month. Most of your cyanoacrylate superglues will last longer, but there’s nothing quite like desperately needing silicone sealer for a project, slapping a presumably fresh cartridge into the caulking gun, cranking it up to put down a bead of fresh silicone, and getting instead a bead of what looks and feels like transparent cottage cheese with no adhesive properties whatsoever. Don’t even get me started on wood glues: old wood glue looks like snot, it smells like snot, and it has a third of the holding power of snot. Not only will your projects fall apart, but then everyone visiting will assume that your workspace does double duty as a preschool.)
That’s the situation at the moment: with everyone still recovering from holiday stress, the best thing to do is get everything around for the rest of the year, and that’s very nearly literally complete. I can’t say that previous visitors won’t recognize the new gallery, but it definitely has a lot less of the Doctor Who/The Red Green Show mashup feel than in previous months. Well, I SAY that, but you should see some of the odd Halloween pots picked up when a Pier One distributor shut down their local showcase office two years ago. And this applies until it’s time to restock glassware after selling everything during the spring show season.
As far as events are concerned, we had to make a tough decision earlier this week, and the Triffid Ranch won’t be at All-Con in the middle of March. This wasn’t done lightly, and it mostly involved schedule conflicts with the day job, which is why we really had no choice. The schedule is going to be filled with more one-day events through the rest of the year, but four-day events aren’t going to be an option for the foreseeable future. The Oddities and Curiosities Expo at Dallas’s Fair Park on March 30 is still on, though, as well as other events to be announced very shortly.
Likewise, we’re still on for the Perot Museum of Nature & Science’s Social Science: Wild World 21+ event on January 25: the flytraps and North American pitcher plants are dormant for the winter, but the Mexican butterwort blooms in the gallery make up for it. For those who have already picked up their tickets, the Triffid Ranch exhibit will be on the fourth floor, not far away from the Protostega skeleton. If this works well, negotiations are ongoing about returning for the Social Science: Science Fiction show on April 26: between this and Tim Curry’s guest appearance at Texas Frightmare Weekend the very next weekend, I’m honestly looking forward to fictional carnivorous plant references that don’t involve people yelling “Feed me, Seymour!” over and over and my inevitable response.
Oh, and another benefit of the final gallery cleanup: besides freeing up room for new projects, this also allows the opportunity to restart a program put on hiatus after the Valley View exodus. Some of you may remember Sid, the Nepenthes bicalcarata pet at the long-defunct and much-missed Role2Play gaming store in Coppell, and it’s time to expand the rental program that allowed Sid to make such an impression. Bookstores, dentist offices, classrooms, business lobbies: Triffid Ranch enclosure rentals offer the opportunity to show off unique carnivorous plant displays without having to deal with maintenance and upkeep. Keep checking back, because the details will be available very soon, or feel free to drop a line to become an early implementer.
Contrary to popular opinion, the Triffid Ranch doesn’t focus solely on carnivorous plants. The last ten years have been a boot camp on care and propagation of two species of the Hylocereus climbing cactus known commonly as “dragonfruit.” Getting seeds for the two most common species, white (H. undatus) and red (H. costaricensis), was exceedingly easy as dragonfruit continue their rise in popularity in American markets. (An extra surprise for those wanting to buy carnivorous plant seeds: since dragonfruit seeds are almost identical to Venus flytrap seeds, scammers sell a lot of dragonfruit seeds all over Amazon and eBay.) Every reference I could find about the yellow dragonfruit cactus, H. megalanthus, though, noted that it was very hard to find outside of Central America, and a business trip to Nicaragua turned up other species growing under live oak trees but no fruit. By last New Year’s Eve, I’d given up on finding any, so guess what happened when my wife pointed out a new entry at our local Asian market?
Getting one home, several things presented themselves as I went to work with a knife. Firstly, these fruit were imported from Ecuador, suggesting either that Ecuadorean farmers are competing with the big red and white dragonfruit farms in Vietnam, or that there’s something about megalanthus propagation that makes growing them in the Americas much easier. Secondly, as compared to the firm and crunch flesh of other species, megalanthus fruit is just pulpy enough that they’re shipped in the same padded netting used for Asian pears to keep them from bruising during transport. Thirdly, while most Americans are disappointed by the very delicate flavor of red and white dragonfruit (that delicacy, incidentally, is why I love them and could eat them all day), megalanthus fruit has a very distinctive sweet flavor, much like the syrup in canned fruit cocktail. Get the word out to chefs and bartenders in the States and Europe, and Ecuador will have to quintuple dragonfruit production just to keep up with demand.
Oh, and the most interesting part besides the color of the peel? Yellow dragonfruit seeds are HUGE compared to those of other Hylocereus species. They’re still perfectly edible, and they add a very satisfying crunch when inhaling the fourth yellow dragonfruit of the night, but this suggests further research on which animals are used as vectors for those seeds: I’m putting down early money on lizards and tortoises as well as birds. On any case, most of the remaining fruit went into propagation, using techniques that are very productive for the other commercially grown Hylocereus species: tall pots under a propagation dome, with the fruit scraped out of the rind, spread out atop potting mix in thin strips, and more potting mix put on top to facilitate decay of the pulp. In about a month, we’ll learn if this worked: wish me luck.
And only 75 days until the first day of spring!
When I was in high school, I read a comment in a magazine from a neurologist stating that “pain is the body’s way of keeping you from dying of tetanus from stepping on rusty nails all day.” One of the many regrets of my feckless youth was that I didn’t write down the magazine’s name nor the doctor’s name, because this statement should be the Triffid Ranch’s mission statement. When you think of all of the important advice given by the wise to the young, most of it may sound as if it’s intended to avoid death. Go back to all of the important advice given by parents, family, teachers, co-workers: it’s not intended to avoid death, but to avoid pain. Don’t run with scissors. Don’t pick up the cat by the tail. Don’t stick your fingers in a light socket. Don’t hold firecrackers in your hand and then light them with a sparkler. Unplug the lawn mower spark plug before reaching underneath. Always cook dried beans for a while before eating them. None of these may kill you outright or even quickly, but it’s amazing how mind-searing pain will make you choose differently with subsequent decisions. I’d tell you how I know this, but let’s just say that I had no fingerprints on my right hand between 1984 and 1987. (I won’t even talk about why I avoid New Year’s Eve festivities, considering that one New Year’s Eve 25 years ago led to a slew of bad decisions that cascaded and replicated into the 21st Century. An assemblage of the alternate individuals I’d be today if I’d just stayed home at the end of 1993 could populate a reboot of Orphan Black.)
In lieu of the usual look back on the previous year with hope of learning lessons from it, let’s look at 2019 with the idea that we all learned something from 2018. It doesn’t have to be much, but the desired goal is to note what causes us blinding agony, and, you know, maybe avoiding said agony for the duration of one’s lifespan. If it’s a particularly pertinent lesson, maybe it’ll become impressed into myth and legend: “You see how that person stops everything and silently cries every day at noon for an hour? DON’T DO WHAT THEY DID.” Likewise, if the action or lack thereof led to a significant cessation of pain or even an overload of joy, this deserves at least as much attention.
Numero Uno: It’s time to drop nostalgia. The new book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey came out a couple of weeks ago, and the chapter on the future realism of 2001: A Space Odyssey contained a gem about the videophone shown near the beginning of the film. Bell Telephone had originally premiered the videophone in 1964, with the intention of introducing videophones across the world based on the exceptional response it received at the 1964 World’s Fair. The problem was that the perceived demand didn’t actually exist except among a few executives looking for an excuse to launch it: the alleged ecstatic survey results came from people who attended the World’s Fair, who made their way to the Bell demo, who tried the videophone, and then stated that they’d be willing to pay for video calls if videophones were available. Nobody ran research of how many people would be willing to pay for videophone service who didn’t see the demo at the World’s Fair, or even if they’d run in the other direction and start communicating with carrier pigeons if videophones were the only other option. Bell finally gave up after spending millions of dollars on pushing a videophone solution that just didn’t appeal to any but a very few, and a solution that was a lot more expensive than existing phone options at the time with no obvious must-have bonus. (It’s very telling that Skype and other video apps only took off when the price of a video call dropped to nothing, and when the technology necessary to make said calls was easily folded into other technology that was easy to access and transport.)
That, in a nutshell, summed up a lot of attempts in 2018 to revive events and venues that died in the 1990s. Either it’s easy to forget that the people who keep nagging about reviving a dead venue have no obligation to put down money on it, the people organizing it are so attached to fond memories from decades past that they assume that everyone else must be as into it as they are, or the intended audience has simply grown past or expects more. If more than ten years have gone by between the last time the venue was open and its revival, the odds are pretty good that its original audience is too distracted to notice its return, and training a new audience as to why This Is A Big Deal may take too long. More than 20 years, and the bright young kids that made the event or venue what it was are probably grandparents by now. What appeals to them probably won’t to their grandkids, and any attempt to revive a venue has to take those grandkids into account.
This may be a roundabout way to explain why you shouldn’t expect to see a Triffid Ranch tent at the Woodstock 50th anniversary event next year (mostly because “lectures by noted futurists” bring on horrible flashbacks of being trapped in a broom closet with Bruce Sterling in 1999), but it’s also a warning not to expect to see the tent at other revivals. There’s just not enough of a return, and new events and venues are a lot more fun.
Numero Two-o: Forget Facebook. 2018 was an experiment in getting more word out about Triffid Ranch events and open houses via social media, and the final tally is a resounding “meh.” Sadly, Facebook is the one that’s getting cut out more and more in 2019: the pressure to boost articles on Facebook Pages in order for readers to see them is getting ridiculous, more people are either leaving or cutting back on Facebook because of its much-publicized security and privacy issues, and then there’s the whole problem with trying to gauge commitment based on a medium that has no expectations tied to it. The money spent in 2018 on trying to reach new attendees via Facebook is better spent on signing up for more local shows, and if I want to go with ads again, I’ll go with a more effective medium, like AM radio.
Numero Three-o: Focus on home. The very good news about the gallery is that the move to the current location means that a lot of the perceived stigma of being at Valley View Center is gone. (At least now I no longer get people bellowing “But the mall is going to be torn down!” when I pass on the new address.) Now the trick is to get the word out to people already well-trained to ignore ads. Thankfully, the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has a simply incredible number of one- and two-day markets and shows scheduled through 2019, so the plan is to set up at as many as weather allows. This includes forays into Austin and Houston as well, because I miss friends, customers, and cohorts south of Dallas.
Number Four-o: Don’t forget the little people. When friends finally get a major return on years of hard work with a new book, a movie deal, or a museum show, I always tell them “Now, don’t forget us little people when you’re accepting your Nobel.” I’m only half-joking: not only do I have faith that they WILL get that Nobel Prize, but it’s a reminder to me. I haven’t spent enough time thanking all of the people and organizations that helped get the Triffid Ranch off the ground and where it is, and 2019 is the year where that goes into overdrive. To everyone who came out to a gallery show, stopped by a booth at one of 2018’s shows, or who simply keeps reading site updates while waiting for a new episode of Starcher Trek, thank you, and I’m going to do my utmost to repay the kindness. Now let’s put 2018 in its grave before it can bite one last time.
16 years of marriage as of today, and it just keeps getting better. Considering that most of the dead pool bets were around “six months,” I sometimes wonder if we should have taken a dive at the end of 2003, divorced, collected the money, and continued to live in sin.
Well, the 2018 holiday season is nearly over, and the Triffid Ranch open houses are definitely done until 2019. On behalf of Caroline and myself, we’d like to thank everyone who came out for this year’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas open houses, because all of you made them work. For those who couldn’t, January is dedicated to inventory and reorganization before the spring show season, as well as to the construction of new enclosures, so make room on your calendars for the Groundhog Day open house on February 2. We’re going to have a lot to show off by then.
Okay, so nobody gets a Doctor Who Christmas special this year. Good thing that Canada’s analogue was prepared for this eventuality, eh?