Daily Archives: June 19, 2011

The Triffid Ranch in the news – Update

Remember when I promised a link to the recent Lone Star Adventures interview? It’s now online. And why won’t people tell me beforehand that I sound like Fran Drescher on helium?

New experiments, from South Africa to Texas

I use one particular phrase to describe my life these days: “I love living in the future.” I was already a correspondence junkie back then, but I’d have never guessed twenty years ago how many interesting folks I’d know from all over the world. Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, Russia, Armenia, China…if someone offered me the chance to go back to 1991 and had the power to do so, I’d just smile and nod until the schlub turned his back, and then I’d beat him to death with a beanbag chair. (Now, if this opportunity were to stand on a hilltop some 150 million years back to watch the asteroid strike that produced the Tycho crater on the moon, I’d take him up on it. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.)

One of those interesting friends is Nerine Dorman from South Africa. Although best known throughout the world for her fiction, she and her husband are South African flora enthusiasts, and she forgets more about South African Euphorbia species in her sleep than I’d learn in a month of Sundays. One of these days, if money and time allow for significant travel, I want to stop by and say hello, and follow her and her husband for the next few days as they showed off local flora. I probably wouldn’t say a word the entire time, except to ask questions while taking frantic notes.

Many other friends describe my enthusiasm for sharing information with such words as “enabler” and and “pusher” and “damn you for making me empty my bank account.” In Nerine’s case, I can say the same thing about her. She introduced me to Silverhill Seeds in Cape Town, which in turn introduced me to what may become my nemesis or my salvation. That plant is Roridula gorgonias.

Both species in the Roridula genus are native to South Africa, thriving in remarkably similar conditions to those of Texas. Superficially, they resemble sticky-leaved carnivorous plants such as sundews and rainbow plants, but they don’t secrete mucilage such as these or dewy pines. Instead, the tips of their leaf threads produce resin. Mucilage allows the transfer of nutrients and digestive enzymes, but resin can’t, so naturalists thought for a century that any insects caught by Roridula were only incidental captures. Technically, since it also didn’t produce any digestive enzymes, Roridula doesn’t technically qualify as a carnivore, as it can’t digest and absorb any nutrients from captured prey.

The reality revealed itself relatively recently. Both species of Roridula have channels in their leaves, and both have unique species of assassin bug that live among the foliage. In the wild, the assassin bugs converge on captured prey in the Roridula leaves, having the ability to pass through the threads without sticking to the resin. They drain the prey, and then later defecate on the leaves. Those channels mentioned earlier trap the feces and allow the plant to absorb the nitrogen and phosphorus within, thereby making it a carnivore by proxy. That is, depending upon the expert you consult, and the discussion of Roridula‘s carnivory is quite the active subject within carnivorous plant circles.

Well, it’s time for the Triffid Ranch to jump into the fray. A fresh batch of seeds of R. gorgonias went into the greenhouse for germination, and since Roridula apparently loves the two things Texas summers have in abundance, heat and sun, I’m keeping close tabs on if and when they germinate. In three years or so, well, R. gorgonias should make a spectacular addition to lectures on odd plants, when these seedlings are full-sized. And until I can get to Cape Town and thank Nerine personally, I’ll have to settle for photos if this little experiment works out.

Things to do in Dallas when you’re dead

As far as exotic nightlife is concerned, Dallas will never be mistaken for New York or London. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although we’re still best-known, generally speaking, for nightclubs and restaurants making it exceedingly easy for the local fratboys to get violently drunk, we have enough little surprises that the rest of us don’t vacate the area for more esoteric climes. We save those for ourselves, and tell the fratboys and hipsters that Neenah, Wisconsin is the new big thing. If we don’t, they’re overrun in cargo pants and Cory Doctorow birth control glasses before you know it.

Another way to avoid the horseface-and-fedora set is to add a good dollop of science to the mix. Dallas has a surprisingly strong set of museums, considering how much neglect they received through the Eighties and Nineties, and the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park is one of those little surprises. The main exhibition areas in Fair Park will be replaced with a brand new museum in Victory Park in 2013, but the existing facilities will be used and loved until then.

Hence, the new Beer & Bones nights, the most recent of which was last Thursday. Originally done as an experiment, based on the continued success of Late Nights at the Dallas Museum of Art, Beer & Bones opens up the museum to a new crowd that usually has to work during normal museum hours. This last Thursday, the theme involved tie-ins to the Museum’s Chinasaurs exhibition, including demonstrations on the chemistry behind fireworks and Michael Cook’s always-fascinating discussions on silkworm raising and silk production. This includes a cash bar and complimentary snacks (including some of the best peanut butter cookies I’ve had in years), and a very enthusiastic and friendly crew of provosts to assist with questions about the exhibits.

Just to give advance word, the next Beer & Bones night is September 16. Please do not ask if this will include a Triffid Ranch demonstration and rodeo, because that’s up to them. What I will say is that no matter what, I’m grabbing as many friends as I can for the September 16 show. I didn’t realize how badly I needed an event like this until it was over, and I suspect a lot of people within the Metroplex are going to feel the same way. Now cue the Consortium of Genius soundtrack.

The Triffid Ranch in the news

My father-in-law is a man of few frivolous words. He’s a man of quick wit and sly humor, but he doesn’t waste his gifts. That’s why the Czarina and I didn’t know who was more surprised when he called this evening to let me know that KDFW, our local Fox affiliate, was running a segment on the Triffid Ranch for the Lone Star Adventures segment of the evening’s newscast. When it’s online, I’ll give everyone a yell.