April 16

Pitcher Plant Flowers

You may already be aware of my love of carnivorous plants. Now that the weather is warming, most of them are starting to bloom and their flowers are amazing. The pitcher plants tend to bloom the earliest in my little shop of horrors, and this year I thought it would be interesting to take a photo every day to capture the flower’s life cycle.

I initially created a gif, but the finished product ended up too small to appreciate the beauty of the flower. That, and the file size was a bit too large.

So I ended up tossing together a video. It’s only about a minute long, but it gives you a chance to see just how incredible these plants are.

I also wrote the music, too. In case you were wondering.

Hope you enjoy this short educational moment.

RB

April 5

My Little Shop of Horrors

One of my favorite rites of Spring is watching my carnivorous plants come back to life. Most of the ones on my back patio are indigenous to my area, so they taper off and die back during the cold months, then slowly, stealthily, come back to life when the temperatures begin to rise.

Pitcher plant flower buds.
Poking their little heads up out of the sphagnum moss.

For my sarracenias (trumpet pitchers), the focus is on flowering. Initially, I’ll see these tiny, pea-sized balls breaking the surface of the sphagnum moss, then they quickly spring up on long stems. Over the next week or so they slowly open to reveal an alien-looking flower.

In theory, I should cut the flower stems so the plant can focus more energy on creating pitchers, which is how they get their sustenance. But I love the flowers and like to spread the seeds around for propagation.

This year I have a few new additions to my Little Shop of Horrors (as my partner likes to call it). This includes another type of pitcher that grows lower to the ground. What I’m proud of is the fact that the new pitchers are so much larger than the old ones. I interpret that to mean this guy loves his new environment and is ready to get to work on the local insect population.

Pitcher plant.
Look at those little red capillaries.

Of course, I always feel the need to clarify that having carnivorous plants on your patio doesn’t mean you’ll never need to call for pest control. They aren’t active bug hunters, laying in wait in the tall grass for the unsuspecting beetle to happen by. No, they are passive. Incredibly so. And they don’t always capture what I want them to. For example, I’ve found honeybees decomposing in the bottom of a pitcher trap, along with the occasional lizard that probably wandered down the tube thinking it was getting a free meal.

Fun fact: In Southeast Asia, some pitcher plants get so large that people have discovered small primates in the traps. One wrong turn…

The other issue is mosquitoes. Here in Florida, mosquitoes are a problem nearly year-round, and unfortunately, carnivorous plants like to sit in water and stay moist. In other words, their environments are breeding grounds for the little bloodsuckers. And no, carnivorous plants don’t attract mosquitoes. Every once in a while I may see one stuck to a sundew, but that’s just the result of bad piloting on the part of the mosquito.

Speaking of which, my sundews are doing exceptionally well at the moment. One is indigenous to the area, so that’s not surprising. What did catch me off guard was my Australian sundew. I originally purchased it about ten years ago from a local plant breeder (licensed to breed carnivorous plants). At the time, he told me the plant was sterile. It would flower and possible go to seed, but the seeds would never sprout. No worries, I thought, I can live with that.

And it did flower and go to seed. Repeatedly over the years. Unfortunately, two years ago it died back and never returned. That happens. Plants don’t live forever.

But to my surprise, early this year it rose from the dead and showed up in a completely different pot on my patio. So I guess that life found a way (to quote the book of Goldblum).

Australian sundew
A small forest of Australian sundew with pitcher buds.

My other sundew has become an eating machine. In this photo you can see the paddles covered in little bugs. Sundews are one of my favorites. In fact, I will occasionally bring them into the house and put them on a windowsill when a fly wanders inside. It usually doesn’t take more than a day or two for them to meet and my sundew ends up with a nice meal. Sort of like a watchdog, but with a lower profile and less barking.

Well-fed sundew.
A well-fed sundew.

I’ve also been tracking the pitcher buds as they rise up and prepare to bloom. I’ll post some shots of those soon.

Hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my little shop of horrors. You should visit some time. Audrey would love to have you for dinner.

Venus flytraps
Say ‘hi’ to Audrey.

RB

April 2

A Photo Moment – Azeleas

I think the prettiest time of year is spring, and here in North Florida, spring means the azaleas start blooming. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few of these shrubs in my yard and it’s always nice to look out a window and see these bright, colorful flowers everywhere. In fact, azalea flowers can last for weeks. This means that a bush can remain fully colored in pink, red, or white for a month or more.

Pink azalea blooms.
Blooming in the shade of some live oaks.

Azaleas are perfect for the average gardener, and even more so for the lazy ones. They are incredibly hardy with temperature extremes, can be propagated by planting cuttings, and need very little attention other than an occasional trim (if you want them to have a specific shape or keep it from becoming tree-like).

And here’s a fun fact for you: Every part of the azalea is toxic, even the nectar in the flowers. This has, in turn, inspired people in parts of the world to purposely feed azalea nectar to honeybees because it then develops into a ‘mind-altering’ – and potentially lethal – honey. In other words, don’t try this at home.

I’ll pass on the honey. Just seeing the blooms in my yard is enough to lift my mood and bring a smile to my face.

At the moment, I have pink ones blooming in my backyard and on one side of my house, along with a hedge in my front yard that’s displaying white flowers. If you look closely, you can see that they aren’t solid colors. The outer petals are pink or white, but closer in you can see they have this speckle pattern.

Pink azalea flowers.
Pink azalea flowers.
White azalea blooms.
Soft white azalea blooms.

Luckily, the weather is warming up and the pollen is finally being washed away with the spring rains, so I’ll be able to travel further afield soon. I’m looking forward to hiking in the local parks and forests, taking photos of the beauty I find, and getting some fresh air. I think my dogs are ready for it, too.

RB

 

 

 

March 15

A Photo Moment – Clover Flowers

There’s a saying with gardeners that, “a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong spot.” In fact, there are quite a few quotes that reflect on this premise.

I’ve always liked that idea. Dandelions, clover, thistle, among others, are always getting a bad reputation from people who believe that gardens should be perfectly manicured. I’m not a member of that group. I mean, I can appreciate the hard work and creativity that goes into what I call ‘display gardens’. However, I’m more of a natural garden aficionado. Or as a friend calls it, ‘lazy-person gardening.’

My backyard is one of those semi-natural places. I like to keep it so because it attracts birds, and I love birds. In fact, I’ve had generations of cardinals, brown-thrashers, and house wrens that have called my backyard home for the past twenty years. I must be doing something right.

It also allows me to have a wide variety of wildflowers – oftentimes called weeds – growing amidst the St. Augustine grass that once dominated my yard. The most prolific is the clover. It’s great ground cover, feels cool under my bare feet on a hot day, and attracts honeybees. There’s actually a guy who lives down the road from me who has hives in his yard, so I assume these are his bees that I see buzzing around the blooms.

Clover blooming.
One of the many small patches of clover in my yard.

What I love most about the clover are the flowers – soft pink in color, a sharp contrast against the green leaves, the way they flutter in a gentle breeze. I sometimes get distracted looking at them when I’m watering my potted plants. I find it meditative. Maybe it’s the Irish in me.

Now that spring has arrived, and yellow pollen is covering every outdoor surface, the clover is again blooming..and I’m a happy man.

RB

November 6

Carnivorous Plant Update

Here in North Florida, the weather if beginning to cool, and with that means my carnivorous plants will be going dormant. It’s sad to see my pitcher plants begin to wither, dry up, turn brown and brittle. My sundews and flytraps will also wither a bit, but they’ll maintain most of their color and simply stop eating and producing new growth. Luckily, most of my carnivorous plants (except for the flytraps) are indigenous to my area, so they’re used to the weather.

But it’s also a good time for some cleanup. Once the plants have dried up, I’ll cut them back some so, come springtime, the new growth will have room to flex. Also, I’ll take some cuttings and get them potted. One of the main things I have to do is replant two of my flytraps. A stupid squirrel got into the pot earlier this summer and decided to dig around like a maniac. I was able to salvage the plants, but the big one needs to be reset and the smaller one needs his (or her) own pot.

Venus flytraps

Here’s another flytrap that’s beginning to get ready for winter. You can see the browning traps. A trap will die off after a meal or two, then new ones will come up. In this case, traps are dying, but no new growth to speak of…just one little trap that’s trying his best (see the very center of the plant).

Venus Flytrap

The colors are still popping on a couple of my pitcher plants. This little guy is still vibrant, and his partner, the sundew, is still producing dewy drops on its leaves.

Pitcher and Sundew

This guy is looking good, too. In the second photo you can see his latest meal. I think it was some sort of wasp. You can also see the fine little hairs that line the mouth of the pitcher. Helps to keep the little critters from crawling back out.

Pitcher Plant  Pitcher Plant with Snack

Like all gardens, they have to cycle with the seasons. I’ll be sure to keep them comfortable, cover them if there’s frost, and make sure they stay wet until spring. I’ll post updates over the next few months as I make cuttings, transplant, and prep them for next year.

Oh, and let me know if you have any questions. As you can probably tell, I adore these little buggers. And yes, gardening is just another way to be creative.

RB

 

October 2

Carnivorous Cultivars

If you follow me on social media you may have seen a few posts about my carnivorous plants. I’ve been fascinated with them since I was a wee lad and my father bought me a Venus fly trap from an ad I saw in the back of a comic book. The poor thing didn’t last long. It didn’t come with instructions so I was giving it tap water and trying to feed it bits of raw ground beef. Both are big mistakes when it comes to these types of plants.

About fifteen years ago my interest in them was renewed when I attended a lecture at a local plant nursery. I then picked up a couple of books on the topic and discovered that there are carnivorous plants growing in my area. Of course, carnivorous plants are protected, so digging them up in the wild is a big no-no and can result in fines and jail time. Luckily, there are licensed nurseries all over the U.S. that cultivate and sell them.

I’ve picked up most of my plants from California Carnivores. They offer an amazing variety that caters to both amateurs and professionals. I’ve also picked up a couple of plants locally. There’s a guy here who cultivates them in his backyard bog garden, then sells them through a locally-owned nursery.

Right now my pitcher plants are doing well. I have them planted in five gallon pots in a mixture of sphagnum moss, perlite, and pine bark. Odd, right? The thing about carnivorous plants is that they don’t get much, if any, nutrition from the ground they grow in. Regular potting soil will kill them. Even tap water can be deadly, so I have a free-standing rain barrel that I use to water them. Despite their meat-eating habits, they’re actually quite delicate. To try to and keep them as comfortable as possible, I mostly leave them alone and let them do their thing, only pruning in the winter and leaving some of the dying pitchers until they completely dry out.

I don’t want to bore you with all the cool biology and tongue-twisting scientific names, but I think you might enjoy seeing a few of my pets.

This is a white pitcher plant that’s indigenous to my area here in North Florida. They grow wild in the national forest just south of town. The pitchers, at least in the pots on my patio, grow to a height of three to four foot. The lip of the pitcher excretes a sweet substance that attracts bugs. Then they slip and fall into the pitcher where they drown, and are digested, by enzymes in the water that gets trapped in there. The plants also have fine hairs pointing downwards that line the interior of the pitchers. In this photo, one pitcher is open for business while the other one is just about ready to open. If you click and zoom in, you can seem some of those fine hairs on the lid of the open one.

White Pitcher Plants

And here are some of my red, hooded pitchers. They tend to stay low to the ground. The interesting thing about this type of pitcher is the hood. When bugs fall in they obviously try to get back out. The white spots on the hood allow light in, which tricks the bugs into thinking that’s the way out. What they do is bounce off the inside of the hood over and over until they’re exhausted, then down into the enzyme soup they go!

This photo is of some regular hooded pitchers. The same thing applies here with the white ‘bubbles’ on the hood helping to render the victims immobile. If you look close, you can also see an Australian sundew that’s moved into the neighborhood.

Fun fact: When I bought the Australian sundew I was told it was sterile and wouldn’t propagate. Over the course of three or four years it would flower like crazy and seed up, but that’s it. Then, earlier this year, I found that some seeds fell into this pitcher pot and sprouted. I must be doing something right.

Green Pitchers and Australian Sundew

I’ll share more of my deadly little garden in the future. I also have Venus fly-traps, sundews, and a variety of other pitchers.

Hope you enjoyed this foray into my weird world.

Me and my pitchers

RB