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EDGE Holiday Gift Guide :: When Plants Attack

by Mike Diamond
Sunday Dec 2, 2007

December is the time when one often hears 'tis better to give than receive.' Silly, selfish me, I had always assumed that meant giving things like opinions, additude and drama, but gifts are the subject at hand.

There's no shortage of gift giving opportunities in this, the climactic month of the year. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Mary Tyler Moore's birthday (December 29th!). Even though December hosts the shortest day of the year and gardens are frozen, my thoughts automatically turn to plants- the indoor variety. This year, why not forgo the usual paperwhite bulbs or boring Poinsettia, and go for something appealingly exotic- carnivorous plants!

Carnivorous plants (CPs) are among the most fascinating of Mother Nature's creations, and they have their own distinct beauty; abstract, sensual, and when you truly acknowledge their appetites, somewhat sinister. They do require a bit more care than a 'typical' houseplant, but if their intended owner follows some basic guidelines, growing these meat eating lovelies is a snap. And luckily for us, most of the CPs available come in holiday shades of red and green.

California Carnivores

California Carnivores, out of Sebastopol, CA (an hour north of San Francisco), is the premier source for insect eating specimens. The CC retail nursery and online catalog are an invaluable resource for plants with an appetite, and with good reason; California Carnivores is operated by Peter D’Amato, author of ’The Savage Garden,’ the indispensable bible of carnivorous plant growers. The plant selection is unrivaled; choose from a large variety of sundews (Drosera) - pygmy, forked leaf, blood red, all with a deadly fringe of sticky hairs... and check out the ’rainbow plants’ (Byblis), glistening, beautiful, delicate looking plants that are in fact voracious insect assassins. The popular and insatiable pitcher plants (Sarracenia) are also available, including the dark, ruffled variety ’Judith Hindle’ and the ’Australian Pitcher Plant’ (Cephalotus) a compact, colorful and hard to find bug killer.

There are other fun gift items available from California Carnivores, including a fabulous, hand air brushed Venus Flytrap Tote Bag, as well as a ’Fierce Red Dragon T-Shirt’ - and the dude modeling it on the website is pretty cute too! Kids will enjoy the ’Killer Plants Sundew Jigsaw Puzzle,’ and for the reader on your list there’s ’Growing Carnivorous Plants’ by Barry A. Rice Ph.D., and of course D’Amato’s ’The Savage Garden,’ a truly fascinating book.

Logee’s Greenhouse

Logee’s Greenhouse has long been my favorite source for tropical plants (I consider their beautiful catalogs to be botanical porn), and they happen to offer some fun carnivorous plants as well. Send your loved one a Nepenthes sanguinea aka "Tropical Pitcher Plant," (pictured) a gorgeous hanging plant from Malaysia that has an appetite for insects. Another exotic CP is the "Butterwort" (Pinguicula primuflora). Dainty lavender blooms adorn this sticky leaved little beauty. Give it a bright, cool window, and behold the sight of minute little creatures such as fungus gnats getting trapped in the leaves gluey secretions. Yes, even the cutest, most harmless looking thing can be ferocious- just look at Katie Couric!

Another beautiful oddity offered by Logee’s is Drosera spathulata aka the "Spoon Leaf Sundew". Perfect for terrariums, this bog dweller from Asia sports attractively ruffled leaves, in a lovely shade of apple green. If the kids on your holiday shopping list are savage little beasts with murder in their hearts- and really, aren’t they all? - they will be fascinated by the bug slaying behavior of the Spoon Leaf.

Bug Biting Plants

Then there’s ’Bug Biting Plants’-the name of this Brooklyn based specialty nursery says it all! Visit their website to check out the Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia californica, pictured). This twisted sister is a fascinating bug biter that hails from the moist, temperate northwest. It seems to mock its intended prey with its ’tongue’ which botanists speculate that may be a type of lure for the insects. Their Mini-Egg Venus Flytrap Terrarium would also make a perfect stocking stuffer!

Carnivorous Plant Nursery is run by a former science teacher with their mission to provide ’environmental stewardship.’ They offer a ’"Royal Red" Venus Flytrap, (Dionea), a ruby colored variety of the most well known carnivorous plant on the scene. The more intense the light, the darker and more vivid the coloration will be. CPN also offers fun educational products, such as the ’Bugs in the Bog’ board game and a carnivorous plant coloring book.

Carnivorous Creations Windowsill Greenhouse Kit

The Carnivorous Creations Windowsill Greenhouse Kit from Dunecraft comes complete with everything one needs to cultivate a meat eating garden of one’s own. The clear plastic Growing Dome admits light and retains moisture, keeping the humidity level high enough to keep these bug munching, bog dwelling plants happy. The kit also comes with a peat based planting mixture, decorative swamp rocks, and a carnivorous seed pack containing Hooded Pitcher Plant, Yellow Trumpet, Venus Flytrap and more. A fun and educational gift for bloodthirsty kids of all ages.

There are a few things to keep in mind about carnivorous plants. Generally, they come from nutrient poor, bog environments. This means that they will do best in a potting mixture that is a consistently moist mix of peat moss and sand; they require little if any fertilizer; they need to be watered with either distilled or rain water (tap water is a big no-no). Some CPs require a dormant period, and the amount of light needed varies; refer to ’The Savage Garden’ or any of the retailer’s websites for specific information.

While not everyone can appreciate the strange, visceral appeal of carnivorous plants, there is undoubtedly someone on your holiday shopping list (plant lover, serial killer) who would love to receive such an exotic and unusual gift. Forget the green thumb, this year go for red- as in the blood of a billion digested insects. Happy Holidays!


California Carnivores

Logee’s Greenhouse

Bug Biting Plants

Carnivorous Plant Nursery


Mike Diamond likes puppies!


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