Who, Where, and Why
Who: The Texas Triffid Ranch is a gallery specializing in carnivorous, prehistoric, and otherwise exotic plants.
Where: As the name implies, the Triffid Ranch is based in the Dallas, Texas area.
Why: And why not?
How: Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
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- RT @BobStewart723: Botanical names for things that hurt. The names are based on the original tissue type they develop from. Spines are mo… 3 hours ago
- RT @WitmerLab: Today a turkey (OUVC 10632) joined Hesperornis, a cormorant (OUVC 10906), & Rhamphorhynchus in my Lazy Dude's #BinderClip Bo… 3 hours ago
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For a friend whose fascination for Kylo Ren escapes me. Not because I would have been accused of Kylo Ren cosplay half my life ago (black hair doesn’t go well with my skintone), but because she could do so much better with Kylo Stimpy, Kylo Beavis, Kylo GIR, Kylo Dale Gribble, Kylo Jay Sherman…
Ever have one of those parties where you’re so tied up in getting everything ready that you don’t notice that it’s time to open the door until you’re in the middle of vacuuming? Where so many people you’re glad to see are waiting at the door, and that they keep piling in for hours? Where the only reason you don’t do this every single week is because the gathering requires a week to prepare and a week to recuperate? Where you look at the calendar for the next event, calculate “I have six weeks to get everything done,” and automatically cut off anything that gets in the way of that deadline, like sleep? Yeah, that pretty much sums up a Triffid Ranch gallery show, at least from this side of the display table. The July 7 Late Canada Day show was our largest one yet, not just in general attendance but in enthusiasm, and it was worth the sleep deprivation.
Just as a friendly reminder, since we don’t have any outside shows scheduled for August, the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening is on August 18, from 6:00 to whenever everyone stops coming through the door. This one is an accumulation of special occasions, all stemming from it being the third anniversary of the very first gallery show at our old Galleries at Midtown location. Among many other things, it’s time to celebrate the birthday of Caroline of Tawanda! Jewelry, the hottie holding court in the front of the gallery space, and it’s also a matter of celebrating two old and dear friends who first formally met and got together at that first show. Watching them after three years makes most people fall to the ground clutching their guts and screaming “Ow! My pancreas!”, so they deserve a party as well. And don’t even get me going about the new enclosures on display for this one.
An ongoing human compulsion is to update and mark existing testaments left behind by others: some call it “vandalism” and others call it “embellishment,” and for as long as hominins have been building permanent edifices and monuments, others step in and leave their own mark. The bare wall, the lone boulder, the thin sod atop a chalk cliff…some rework, others augment. The motivations may be different but the end result identical: when faced with an industrial structure that sets off pareidolia, was it reworked out of a sense of removing a reminder that the current people in an area weren’t the first people? Did it have religious significance, either as the center of a new faith or a way to hide an old forbidden faith in plain sight? Or did the artist simply hate the idea of something remaining completely utilitarian and want to give a reason for others to visit a long-forgotten artifact?
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18 1/2″ x 24 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (46.99 cm x 60.96 cm x 46.99 cm)
Plant:Nepenthes burkei x hamata
Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, tumbled glass, epoxy putty, garnets.
Price: $ 200US
Shirt Price: $ 150US
“20 percent chance of rain,” I said. “Weather radar shows nothing,” I said. “Clouds coming up, but they’ll burn off before they get to me,” I said. “If it starts raining, it’ll be over right away,” I said. “The gutters are overflowing, but the water won’t get above my bicycle’s axles,” I said.
And it keeps coming. Want to get an idea of how intense one of Dallas’s admittedly rare summer rainstorms can be? This isn’t a fire hydrant. This is the downspout for a strip mall rain gutter, about 15 minutes after the rain started, and about an hour before the rain ended.
All in all, considering how badly we needed the rain, every last drop counted. Best of all, the nearly 10 centimeters we got will roil up the Trinity River, stirring up the anoxic muds responsible for the hydrogen sulfide fug that distinguishes downtown Dallas most summers. For a couple of days at least, Dallas is going to smell PURTY.
For those coming out for this weekend’s Late Canada Day gallery show, we’ll see you there. If not:
It’s dry. Not standard “Dallas in July” dry: that still implies a touch of atmospheric humidity. We’re talking “the grass along the highway is a grassfire waiting to happen” dry. It’s “sweat bees want to be your bestest friend” dry. It’s “are you washing your clothes or debrining them?” dry. These sorts of dry summers happen very rarely out here, even in the worst brutal heat: even when the temperatures hit “cook your brain like an egg,” there’s usually enough moisture in the air that sweat is visible for at least a few seconds. Not this week. This is the week where getting out during the day leads to salt crusts on clothes and at the corners of your eyes, and where an evening shower isn’t an extravagance but a necessary removal of the day’s mineral carapace. Combine that with an equally dry south wind running day and night, and you can almost hear trees and bushes shrivel. I know this firsthand, as do my poor Sarracenia, because just one day led from “happy and hydrated” to “almost too dehydrated to save”. And so it goes.
Not that this is going to last: with the exception of 2011, where we went from April to Christmas Day with no rain except one fifteen-minute cloudburst in September, we can get sudden thunderstorms without warning. The National Weather Service is making promises of severe thunderstorms through the week, and we don’t blame the weatherfolk for rain predictions that don’t pass. You can bring up weather radar showing a gigantic bank of brutal storms around Fort Worth, and watch them shrivel and evaporate in real time the closer they get to Dallas. After a while, it gets to be a game, where everyone has to take a shot if the storms are deflected north or south. In some years, you’d swear that your neighborhood had a giant glass dome over it, where you can drive through rain coming down so hard that visibility is next to zero to a destination that didn’t get a drop.
Well, that’s Texas for you, where you can either sit and suffer until October, or you can find a good reason to get out, preferably after dark, to keep from growing roots into the couch. Let’s help out with that.
Since the urge to stay inside works for the gallery as well, the next couple of months will involve new enclosures and new commissions, and that’s why we’re having gallery showings. The first is the Late Canada Day show on July 7, with an emphasis on the legacy of Michel Sarrazin. If that’s not enough advance notice, the Triffid Ranch’s third anniversary gallery show is scheduled for Saturday, August 18, from 6:00 until whenever everyone goes home. At this point, the Triffid Ranch has been in its new location exactly as long as it was in its old space, so we have more reasons to celebrate than usual.
In other developments, the carnivorous plant workshop at Curious Garden was enough of a hit that it led to an interview in Richardson Living magazine, now on stands everywhere in the city. With luck, this might tie in to other events in the Richardson/Garland area: keep an eye open for particulars as they happen.
And other news? The trip to the International Carnivorous Plant Society show in August had to be cancelled due to finances (I could do it or pay the booth fees for next year’s Texas Frightmare Weekend show but not both, and next year’s Frightmare is the Triffid Ranch’s tenth anniversary out there), but a slew of carnivorous plant growers and enthusiasts are talking right now about a Texas meetup to share notes and cuttings. As soon as I have more details, I’ll pass them along, because a Texas carnivore conference would be the greatest thing to happen to me since the invention of the casual dresscode workplace. Again, check back for details, because this will be GLORIOUS.
Because you can’t remind people enough that the Sounds of the Nineties would have been immeasurably better had this crew been used as inspiration:
A lot of people already have their eulogies and anti-eulogies in print and online right now, so I’ll just add a small sheaf of commentary to Harlan Ellison‘s funeral pyre. During my writing days, he was a friend and inspiration, but his greatest influence came after I’d quit pro writing. Ellison had a reputation for taking one piece of artwork and writing whole stories based upon that piece, sometimes in bookstore windows where people could watch him work. My whole purpose with the gallery, and pretty much everything I did with the plants before that, was to create something with enough mystery and enough wonder that he’d take a look and want to fill in the rest of the tale. That’s why, when people want to know the stories behind the enclosures at the gallery, I ask “What story do you want there to be?” And so it goes.
(Incidentally, the photo above comes to us from 1999, when Harlan and I were both guests at Readercon, a literary science fiction convention in Massachusetts. He turned 65 that year, and people much closer to him than I knew how he credited reading Golden Age Green Lantern comics for part of his fascination with the fantastic. Hence, with the help of several people, Harlan had his very own Alan Scott ring. It won’t make any sense to anyone not familiar with DC comics, but after posing with this ring, he looked at the GL ring my ex-wife had commissioned a few years before, grabbed my hand, and pulled the ring to his wife Susan, yelling “Look! He’s got a Hal Jordan ring!” When I explained “Well, more Guy Gardner,” he sat back and scoffed “Oh, of COURSE.” I miss precious little of my writing days, but I don’t regret the circumstances of that conversation, ever.)
Backstory: a few years ago, the big Triffid Ranch project, before the gallery, was attempting s culinary project involving Echinocactus texensis, the barrel cactus commonly known in West Texas as “devil’s pincushions” or “horsecripplers.” After confirming that their other name, “candy cactus,” was due to the bright color and shape of their fruit, and not because the fruit was used to make candy as commonly claimed, the grand experiment involved using horsecrippler fruit as a base for homemade ice cream. The experiment was inconclusive, but intriguing enough that the intention was to try again. The setup and opening of the gallery intruded on future plans to try again, and the project remained fallow. We now go to the next part of the tale, already in progress.
By the beginning of 2018, all the signs of a potential bumper crop of horsecrippler cactus fruit were all there. The previous summer had been hot but not brutal, and winter temperatures were cold enough to encourage dormancy but not so cold as to stunt or kill the cactus. All of that went out the window in mid-March, when a series of cold fronts brought temperatures down to about freezing, throwing off schedules for blooming and fruit set. A trip to the area around the town of Mineral Wells confirmed the absolute worst: normally, one of the only times when horsecripplers were easy to spot in situ was around the end of May, when the fruit ripened and those little neon red bombs made the rest of the plant visible. An extensive search through the area turned up nothing: when horsecripplers don’t want birds to find their fruit, they don’t want to be found at all. The only ones found were right next to residences where they were a potential threat to people and animals, and the fruit were tiny and green. The same situation was true of the horsecripplers in cultivation by the greenhouse, and it looked as if that late cold killed the crop for the season. Plans for horsecrippler ice cream were dashed for 2018.
Well, that was the idea. Horsecrippler season was just delayed this year, by about two weeks. Suddenly, every last cultivated horsecrippler that flowered earlier in spring looked up, checked the clock, and screamed “We’re late!” A week before, a couple of green fruit the size of raisins were all that could be found. Now, big, fat, juicy ripe fruit, easily removed from the cactus. The first stage of the Ice Cream Project could begin.
Horsecrippler cactus fruit
Cutting board and sharp knife
Smoothie maker or blender
The two things to remember about gathering cactus fruit are that the purpose of that fruit is to transport seeds, and that the bright colors of most cactus fruit aren’t necessarily there to entice humans. The descriptive name “candy cactus” probably referred to the look of the fruit, not the taste, as fruit on the plant looks like a cluster of wrapped candies. The wrapper, officially known as the corolla, is the remnant of the bloom, and it has a definitive purpose here. Horsecrippler seeds are best spread by birds as they eat the fruit and spread the seeds in their dung, so the idea is to attract birds with bright coloration while dissuading everything else. The corolla does a masterful job of dissuading, as it has all of the softness and mouth feel of a dried thistle bloom. The fruit doesn’t have actual thorns or hairs the way prickly pear fruit does, but that corolla is still too sharp and spiky to grab with bare hands. That’s where kitchen tongs come in handy: a slight twist and ripe fruit just pulls free.
Now the real fun begins. While the corolla makes a handy pull-tab when removing the fruit, you definitely don’t want chunks of it in the next stage. To the cutting board all of it goes, to cut off corollas and any squishy or bruised parts and wash what’s left. A handy tip: when disposing of the corollas, don’t add them to your garden unless you really like pain. They tend to survive months in the garden, just as spiky as they were when dumped there, so try to bury them either deep enough or enough out of the way that they won’t turn up with a random raking. Your feet, knees, and hands will thank you later.
With access to a cutting board and sharp objects, now is a perfect time for a bit of botanical anatomy. Horsecrippler fruit really don’t have enough pulp to make it worth the effort to skin the fruit the way you would with prickly pear, and the peel actually adds what subtle flavor it has. In addition, the pulp is full of small but very tough seeds, the better to pass through a bird’s gizzard, and helping yourself to the pulp now is very much like chewing a spoonful of very sticky aquarium gravel. To continue requires removing those seeds, and that requires…
(*in Red Green voice*)…the cactus preparator’s secret weapon: a smoothie machine! In actuality, any blender will work well, but aside from sentimental reasons (I picked this up in Tallahassee the same exact weekend I encountered my first carnivorous plant in the wild), having a stirring stick that can push down and stir fruit without opening the top is awfully handy. After the fruit is washed and dried, just drop everything in here and blend away. A little warning though…
THIS is why you don’t want to use the spout on a smoothie maker. Prickly pear seeds are large enough that they’re filtered out by the spout opening, allowing the resultant juice to drain out through the spigot. Prickly pear fruit also produces a lot more juice: horsecrippler fruit have proportionately more peel and pulp, so capillary action keeps the juice bound up with the rest of the pureed pulp. A little juice will escape, with enough seeds going along with it that closing the spout is nearly impossible.
Likewise, don’t bother putting the pulp into a colander or strainer. Even if adding additional water or other fruit juice, the pulp will just suck it up and refuse to drain. The best option is to pour the pulp into cheesecloth, and squeeze out the juice into a freezer container. The temptation will be strong to taste that juice, and that’s when you discover why prickly pear and dragonfruit are the only cactus fruit commercially raised for food. “Subtle” is a nice way of describing the flavor, with a touch of starchiness. The main attraction is the neon color, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this. Just pour that juice into freezer containers if you aren’t going to use it right away and freeze it: from previous experience, it freezes well and keeps for months. As for the remaining pulp, you can attempt to grow new horsecrippler cactus from the seeds (a longterm venture, as horsecrippler cactus are VERY slow-growing), or you can set out the pulp and seeds to delight the local songbirds. Set up a platform near your cat’s favorite window, and get double satisfaction from watching happy birds and listening to anxious and nearly incontinent cats. Win/win.
As for what to do next, well, that’s a reason to check back for Episode Two. It’s going to be a busy weekend.
Waking up on a summer Saturday morning in North Texas is hard. It’s bad enough that this time of the year, the big yellow hurty thing in the sky races to emerge before you can finish your coffee (or, in my case, Dr. Pepper) and blast your reason for living to ash. It’s not just that the local air quality moves from “sultry” to “too thick to breathe, too thin to plow,” or that the filth in the air conditioner’s air filter makes you wonder if the cats took multiple dumps in it. By the first weekend in June, the only willing people up with the sun on a Saturday are farmer’s market vendors, air conditioner mechanics, and masochists whose gimp suits are at the cleaners. The rest of us are smart and get everything done under soothing moonlight, draw the blinds, and sleep until the worst of the heat passes. Yes, it’s that much harder to readjust come Monday morning when the day job calls, but the people fussing about this aren’t the ones who have to live with it.
That’s why it was such a pleasant surprise to see the crowd already lined up for the first carnivorous plant workshop at the newly relaunched Curious Garden on June 9. After the success of its recent taxidermy workshop, Curious Garden was a perfect locale for discussing the vagaries of carnivores and helping the participants go home with a carnivore of their very own.
As to new workshops, that depends upon upcoming schedules, but they’re very likely. Keep an eye open for updates, and register quickly when they appear: this one was large enough that we almost needed a larger space to hold everyone.
For those visiting the Fort Worth Water Gardens this weekend:
A month after Texas Frightmare Weekend, and things in the gallery are finally under control. New and reworked enclosures are going strong, the propagation area is full of new and exciting species, and the deep freeze in the back is full of frozen blueberries. (Take this from a longtime resident: about the only thing that makes summer in Texas livable is the explosion of East Texas blueberries in farmers’ markets and grocery stores, and the only thing that makes July and August tolerable is knowing that June was spent filling every refrigerated space in the vicinity with June’s and April’s and Melissa’s blueberries. By the time the blueberries run out, the local craft stores are full of Halloween stuff, which is usually enough to get through the last few weeks of baking heat before things start cooling off. This routine works until the day it’s possible to live like an African lungfish and aestivate in mucus and mud cocoons until the rains return.) This is the time of the year where everyone knows firsthand what a grasshopper on a griddle feels like (there’s a very good reason why sheepskin car seat covers were popular in Dallas in the days of vinyl car seats, especially for those fond of shorts), so the idea is to offer events and activities either indoors or after dark, and preferably both.
One of the advantages of emulating a Gila monster in the summer heat (living underground, emerging only to suck eggs and swallow baby bunnies whole, and dealing with interlopers with a venomous bite) is having plenty of time to organize for the days when the sun’s default setting drops below “supernova”. 2018 has been interesting in that regard: this year’s Deep Ellum Arts Fest was an anomalous combination of torrential rains and near-freezing temperatures, so registering for the 2019 Fest wasn’t even a question. This is also the year to see about admission to the famed Cottonwood Art Festival down the road from the gallery in October, as well as a lot of smaller shows and events through the area. The first showing at the Deep Ellum Art Company was a hit, and that may be a regular showing venue as well.
As far as the traditional Triffid Ranch shows are concerned, things are lively. Texas Frightmare Weekend’s open call for vendors starts soon, with notice on acceptance usually arriving in August. That’s also about the time for applications for the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin in November, and two weeks after Horror for the Holidays is the two-day revived Dallas Fantasy Fair at the Irving Convention Center. That last one is going to be the most interesting, especially since I was a regular guest during my writing days through the first half of the 1990s until the original convention imploded in 1996. On one side, even the kids who were at the last few Fantasy Fairs are in their thirties and forties now, and nostalgia from the older fans might not be enough. On the other, Dallas still has precious little to do on Thanksgiving weekend that doesn’t involve movies or malls, and the Thanksgiving Fantasy Fair weekends in the Eighties and Nineties made that weekend a lot more tolerable for those of us without family plans (or those with families they had to escape for a while). Either way, let’s see what happens.
(As an aside, while it’s great to get invitations to attend other shows as a vendor, please understand that being able to attend is a combination of logistics and scheduling, and those can collide with interstate regulations, weather patterns, or the laughable concept of “personal life.” Please also understand two things, the first being that my having to reject a vendor request almost always isn’t personal, but that every show requires about a week before the show to prepare and a week after to recuperate and reorganize. Therefore, every two-day or three-day show effectively cuts out three weeks per month that could be used to create new enclosures or perform essential maintenance at the gallery, which is why we schedule the regular gallery shows for the months where we aren’t running an outside event. The second thing is that whining, guilt trips, or pushiness, especially of the “don’t you owe it to yourself to come to our show?” type, WILL guarantee a blacklist on even the remotest possibility of coming out to future events. This is a roundabout way to recommend not following the lead of Fear Con in Salt Lake City and taking a lot of care with vendor contact information. Unsolicited entry into a mailing list is bad enough, but texting when the mailing list wasn’t getting an immediate response? Oh, that’s a blocking.)
And for the regular gallery showings? Scheduling conflicts kicked in for the end of June, so the next Triffid Ranch gallery opening has been moved to Saturday, July 7. It’s a touch late for Canada Day, but as a chance to see Michel Sarrazin‘s namesakes in the pulp, it’ll still be worth the trip. Expect details in the very near future, as well as a few surprises, and some might even include blueberries.
Description: Very little is known about prehistoric Antarctica: with 98 percent of the continent covered with kilometers-thick ice, the few fossil beds accessible at the surface illuminate life there approximately 150 million years ago (including the discovery of the early theropod dinosaur Cryolophosaurus), approximately 65 million years ago, and the period surrounding the continent’s freeze 5 million years ago. Coal deposits and pollen samples from coring rigs are the main views of Antarctic plant life, as well as the inference from DNA analysis of the relationship between sundews from West Australia and Tierra del Fuego. It’s very possible that Antarctica had a wide and diverse population of carnivorous plants through its pre-freeze history, including relations to the Australian pitcher plant Cephalotus, but between the inaccessibility of most of its fossil-bearing strata and the poor fossilization record of carnivorous plants elsewhere, any discussion of Antarctic palaeofauna, especially of the period immediately after the extinction of the dinosaurs, is understandably speculative.
Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 18″ x 18″ (62.23 cm x 62.23 cm x 62.23 cm)
Plant: Cephalotus follicularis (2)
Construction: Glass enclosure, polystyrene foam, resin, tumbled glass, fiber-optic glass cabochons, polystyrene parts, found items, aquarium spot lights.
Shirt Price: $400
It’s late in the month, and the classic Texas heat settled in a few weeks early, so the lack of updates is more to do with taking the habits of one Heloderma suspectum and working predominately under cover and in the wee hours. (Taking all habits might be a bad idea: the neighbors might take issue with sucking eggs and swallowing baby bunnies whole.) That means, though, that between shows and events, new enclosures are getting ready for premiere at summer Triffid Ranch gallery events. Here’s a taste, as part of a dry-fitting before making final adjustments and planting the final enclosure:
More to follow…
A little over a quarter-century ago, I was neighbors with Cricket Taylor, a singular voice from a city with a lot of musical talent and musical tradition. We were both living in arts spaces in Exposition Park, right across from Fair Park south of downtown, complete with communal kitchen and restroom spaces, and the best thing about getting up early for my day job was listening to her practice new songs in the women’s restroom while I was eating breakfast. I don’t miss a lot of the early Nineties, but hearing her again, I really miss those breakfasts.