Tag Archives: Red Green

Have a Great Holiday

Okay, so nobody gets a Doctor Who Christmas special this year. Good thing that Canada’s analogue was prepared for this eventuality, eh?

Impending plans

From Canada’s greatest superhero, handy advice for dealing with holiday cooking next week. Arioch knows that I’ll be threatening to do this myself.

It’s all about the season

On behalf of the Texas Triffid Ranch and everyone here, I hope everyone in the States has a great Thanksgiving weekend. For everyone, here’s one of the only holiday specials you’ll see me endorsing, courtesy of my people’s answer to Doctor Who.

(Well, that’s not really true. The Star Wars Holiday Special takes a lot of justified grief, but the basic concept is sound. This is why I’m waiting for the premiere of The Walking Dead Christmas Special, complete with musical numbers by Bea Arthur and Paul Lynde.)

Introducing Didelphis virginiana, a.k.a. “Harold”

Cat Found

For the last few years, friends have been posting a “Found Cat” flyer that continues to crack me up. I don’t know why, but the “I think he might be scared” comment gets me every time.

Well, I have great news. On my way to the Day Job, I found that kitty again. Yes, I think he might be scared.

Harold the Opossum

For folks outside of North America, this is Didelphis virginiana, the Virginia opossum. Besides being the only indigenous marsupial in the United States and Canada (which is why I nickname the resident opossum “Harold”, after the nephew of Canada’s answer to Doctor Who), opossums also qualify as one of the native mammals that I’m glad to see in the back yard. Between their personalities and their eating habits, raccoons are hipsters with fur. Armadillos are both dumb as posts and likely to jump at the slightest noise, and one nearly knocked out my front teeth the first time I encountered one. Skunks are best viewed from a distance, and that can be doubled for coyotes and bobcats. Comparatively, if I find a possum waddling across the back yard in the middle of the night, he’s comparatively welcome, even if he does look like a half-drowned rat.

Harold closeup

Sadly, all of the possums in the vicinity of the Triffid Ranch are nicknamed “Harold”, and not just because they tend to look alike. The best natural lifespan for D. virginiana is about two years, with owls and early-rising hawks getting the ones that aren’t killed by cars, coyotes, or dogs. This little guy was apparently checking out the tree for edible fruit or flowers, found himself trapped by encroaching humanity, and figured that he’d just hold still until we all went away. After all, if the motto “Quando omni flunkus, moritati” worked for the fictional Harold, why shouldn’t it work for the real one?

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

The biggest difference between the Czarina’s family and my family: Christmas dinner. My maternal grandfather, who loved to cook but didn’t like the time wasted on long trips, would have laughed himself sick over this. My paternal grandfather would have thought about this and said “You know, this could work.” The Czarina and her family, though, look at this and just collectively scream in horror. After ten Christmas dinners with me, you’d think they’d be hoarse by now.

Absolute Surefire Steps to Kill Your Venus Flytrap: Step 5

Curious about the context? Check out the introduction.

Some of the content in this series appeared, in much shorter form, in Gothic Beauty magazine.

Step 5: Set off its traps with your finger.

Home improvement stores are dangerous places to be when you’re married to the Czarina. On any given day, she has one interesting project or another that’s cooking, from making new necklace displays to building mobile bead tray racks, and that means the folks at the local Home Depot and Lowe’s stores know us on a firstname basis. If she’s not buying up PVC pipe and walnut molding, I’m buying up epoxy putty and Gorilla Glue. What’s scary is that I can exclaim, in my best Red Green voice, “Today on Handyman’s Corner, we’re going to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!”, and I hear loud and robust laughter from the checkout clerks. At our local traditional hardware store, I had to explain who Red Green was, and this was a store that was hosting an autographing and photo session.

Anyway, I tend to wander through the garden section at those big stores as well. Most of the time, it’s to rescue some poor neglected Dendrobium orchid or random succulent in the deep discount rack, but every once in a while, it’s to see the latest trends in carnivorous plant packaging. Not in variety, nor in propagation methods, but in packaging.

As mentioned a while back, my father was, before he retired, a packaging engineer of some reknown. Every time you see one of those aluminized Mylar packages of Doritos or Fritos in an office cafeteria vending machine, you’re looking at my dad’s work. As also mentioned a while back, the family was hoping that I’d be another Larry Ellison instead of a Harlan Ellison; not much rubbed off from the family’s fascination with engineering. However, just enough rubbed off that I can appreciate the commercial horticulture trade’s attempts to protect its Venus flytraps.

One night, I saw a beautiful example of this in action. I was in a Home Depot picking up some extra garden hose gaskets, and peeked in the garden section. That section was hosted by a girl who was maybe 19 if a day, and she was standing in front of a big rack full of Venus flytraps. These were in those sad plastic containers that were popular at the time, with one clear dome atop a flimsy clear cup, and she was popping them open one at a time. I stepped closer, and I realized she was setting off every trap on each plant with her finger. Once every trap was closed or closing, she recapped the cup and moved on to the next one, and when she saw me, she waved me over. “Watch this,” she said, as she set off another trap.

At that point, I winced. “You really shouldn’t do that. That’s not good for the plant.”

“Oh, it doesn’t hurt it,” she said, going back to molesting the flytraps. Seeing from her badge that she was the garden center manager, I decided that arguing with her was a waste of time, and I simply left.

Right there, with that manager, the entire fascination with flytraps stands revealed. Here is a plant that closes up mouth-like traps, not under any touch such as with Mimosa pudica, but under the specific stimulus of setting off trigger hairs within the trap. The Venus flytrap can count and keep track of time, as the trap won’t close unless two of those trigger hairs are set off at the same time or one is stimulated twice within ten seconds. Even better, if the trap was triggered by something inedible, such as a raindrop or a twig, or by something too big for it to catch and hold, the trap gradually re-opens over the space of hours or sometimes days.

Well, that’s the popular legend, and it’s all true. It also leaves out a lot of particulars that can kill the plant if ignored.

Firstly, when looking at a Venus flytrap, it’s easy to see the trap as something growing off the end of a leaf. In actuality, the trap is the leaf, and the “leaf” is actually what’s called a petiole. Although the leaf’s secondary adaptation is to catch and digest small prey, it’s still a photosynthetic surface, no different from a maple leaf in that regard. The reason why flytraps just sit there and wait for prey is because, like all other plants, they’re relatively low-energy organisms compared to animals. They can afford to wait because their main source of energy comes from the classic conversion of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into sugars and connective tissue.

What this means is that if a trap gets set off with prey inside, the plant benefits from the nitrogen and phosphorus in the bug being digested (possibly along with trace elements, but I haven’t found any research to ascertain what else they may absorb), but the actual photosynthetic surface of the leaf is out of commission until the digestive process is complete and the trap re-opens. If the trap closes without capturing prey, yes, the trap will re-open. The problem is that the return on captured nitrogen just barely makes up for the energy expended in re-opening it, and an empty trap doesn’t even get that. Close enough traps at the same time, and wondering why the plant dies is like holding you down, clamping your nose and mouth shut, and wondering why you’re turning purple.

Incidentally, this also ties into a regular complaint I hear about how “my flytrap won’t eat.” The closing process is a very ingenious use of topography, but opening is a simple growth process. Picture it as opening a mostly-closed door by shoving wedges into the crack between hinges until it pops back open. Add enough wedges, and the door can’t shut at all. After a flytrap’s trap has been set off about four or five times, the trap curls slightly and now acts as nothing but a photosynthetic surface. In that regard, it’s perfectly suited for its job, but no force on earth or heaven will get that trap to close ever again.

This doesn’t explain why flytraps kept in colder conditions, such as those going into winter dormancy, are so loath to close, but it doesn’t have to. Between lower temperatures and lower light levels during winter, any trapped prey in a dormancy-bound flytrap will rot before it ever gets a chance to be digested, so don’t worry about feeding your flytrap over the winter. Giving it plenty of light before snow or ice kill off the current year’s traps is good enough.

Next: Step 5 – Feed it hamburger.

“I’m a Time Lord, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.”

Expect quite a few photos in the next few days, as the camera was loaded with wonders and it’s time to share. In the meantime, here’s a little interlude from last March, where Canada’s greatest superhero came to Dallas to autograph duct tape and make Canadian expats and descendants strangely homesick.

"If the Sontarans don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."

"If the Sontarans don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."

The guy on the left is Martin Meier, a very old and very dear friend who manages to keep me out of trouble just by suggesting it. He didn’t have to tell me not to ask about sonic screwdrivers: the look on his face said everything I needed to know.

You know, something just occurred to me. If Bill Bailey can get his very own Nepenthes cultivar, then what’s to stop someone from developing the “Red Green” cultivar of the provincial flower of Newfoundland and Labrador?

“If the Sontarans don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.”

For the last several years, I’ve joked that my gardening style resembles a television show. Namely, an unspeakable Lovecraftian fusion of Doctor Who and The Red Green Show. This being Texas, this requires me to explain the metaphor in terms that don’t leave the listener, in the immortal words of fellow Lone Star transplant Bill Hicks, “looking like a dog being shown a card trick.” Stating “Lots of very alien-looking plants amid old planters” doesn’t come close to describing the aesthetic, and asking the listener to picture “Flying saucers on cinder blocks in the back yard” just gets them to call the police. The problem isn’t just that these two shows are sufficiently obscure to most Americans that explaining the connections would take all weekend. It’s that programs are, in reality, the same exact show.

For the card-trick folks, Doctor Who is a classic British science fiction show that, with the exception of a big gap between 1989 and 2005, ran pretty much continuously since the day after the Kennedy Assassination. The Red Green Show, on the other, is a similarly classic Canadian comedy series running between 1990 and 2006. The former chronicles the adventures of the Doctor, an enigmatic extraterrestrial who travels through time and space in a temporal vessel. The latter chronicles the adventures of Red Green, the head of the mythical Possum Lodge located somewhere within the wilds of eastern Canada. Other than that, they’re the same exact show.

For those familiar with both shows, the background. By the end of 1989, Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner had successfully driven the show into the ground, and the BBC decided that it was time to cut its losses and give the program a much-needed rest. Nathan-Turner, though, wouldn’t give it up, as witnessed with his constant attempts at a revival, and he tried to pitch a new show to American and Australian outlets without success. The Canadian Broadcasting Company, though, nibbled a bit, but with one big proviso. Since the funds for keeping Doctor Who alive came from the comedy budget, the show had to be retooled as a comedy. Since the available money was even smaller, no universe-spanning adventures. Since it was a CBC show, the talent had to be Canadian. Other than that, nothing changed at all.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the similarities. Both shows have a very distinct opening instrumental theme, recognizable by millions, but unlike just about anything else in the history of television.

Both shows are named after an older gentleman of bizarre dress and manners, who constantly interferes with the Powers That Be.

Both shows feature a gangly and rather dorky younger relative, who happens to be the only relation you ever see. Otherwise, you have hints and suggestions of a past history, but they’re all supposition.

Both title characters travel in a bizarre vehicle that holds considerably more crap on the inside than would appear to be possible from the outside.

Both characters have a tendency to attract a slew of very bizarre cohorts and companions.

Both characters have a propensity for tinkering, and are known for singular tools for getting the job done. (C’mon. You’d do anything to hear Peter Davison mutter “And now for the Time Lord’s secret weapon: duct tape.”)

Both shows have a thing about robots.

(go straight to 5:52)

And let’s not forget male sex symbols.

EDIT: And then there’s the slight change to the classic Possum Lodge motto. Apparently the original was “Quando omni flunkus, reingero”: “When all else fails, regenerate.”

The only major digression involves the villains. CBC budgets meant no Daleks, no Cybermen, no Movellans, none of that. This meant that the only one of the Doctor’s nemeses that made the transition was a famed megalomaniac obsessed with universal domination.

Again, between the budget and the comedy background, this meant the Master wasn’t quite up to his old tricks. It just meant that his new tricks were a bit more, er, subtle

Now that there’s context to my original metaphor, be afraid. If this doesn’t discourage random passersby from insisting they come by “to see the plants,” I don’t know what will.