Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Planning an expedition in the new era

This May and June, I’m heading to Florida to explore! Can you say exciting???

A couple of rare carnivorous plants are high on my list of things to find, in particular the uber-rare red form of the Floridian sticky sundew, Drosera filiformis. I've only seen this plant in the wild once before, and I want to see it again!

Deep in my research on locations, I’m struck by how much my methods have changed over the years--planning an expedition is a lot different from how it used to be!

A few decades ago, I'd probably start by sending letters—snailmail!—to friends who had been to the same areas I wanted to visit. I might even call them on the phone if time was tight. I kept paper files on every carnivorous plant site I heard about, and used these as further leads for interesting locations.

Then, once I had gathered information about possible locations, I'd head to the nearest map repository—usually at a University library—and find out as much as I could about the places I wanted to visit. I'd photocopy maps and take them into the field with me. And after all this work, I'd have about a 60% chance of finding the site and some cool monstrous carnivores.

Snailmail? Visits to the library? Photocopying maps? How retro!

But now? Things are waaaaay different. Sure, I still have my old file cabinets filled with pamphlets and brochures I've picked up over the years. But that resource is dwarfed by the electronic methods I use.

Now, I email or skype my contacts—who has time for snail mail? And once I get leads for sites, I never leave my house. Instead, I access all the topo maps I need via resources like Combine that with driving information from, and aerial maps from GoogleEarth, I can feed pinpoint accuracy latitude-longitude coordinates into my GPS.

With all this technology, I have nearly a 100% chance of getting to the sites I am looking for—the only thing likely to stop me are "No Trespassing" signs or recent road changes!

Life is sweet!

P.S. Photographers might remember the next step--finding a post office where you could mail your FILM to a film processing lab, and waiting for your film to return. Now? Now I spend a few hours each night, reviewing that day's haul of images from my digital camera!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What would the neighbors say?

My wife and I live in a quiet little suburban neighborhood. Shortly after we moved in, we removed our lawn and all the conventional garden plants. We replaced them with interesting plants of our choosing.

Of course, we needed permission from our city to do this—but we managed to convince them it was for the best. Lawns gobble up water, and we were replacing ours with more water-conservative plants.

We've been gardening the front for a year, and while the plants are still very young, we're happy with how everything is growing so far...

But I wonder if our neighbors suspect anything strange about the garden we put in? And I wonder what the city would say...would any of them complain if they learned that many of the plants we grow…are MONSTER plants?

Yep, hidden among the cute little garden plants, we have carnivorous botanical monsters like tiny Roridula and Stylidium plants. Roridula captures flying insects. Stylidium --are commonly known as trigger plants--capture bugs too, and scientists are still trying to figure out if they are carnivores.

We also have some stinky plants like a few nice Arum species, very nasty-smelling Dracunculus (the Voodoo lily), and my favorite of all—a beast called Amorphophallus rivieri. This is a close relative to the giant titan arum. I named my Amorphophallus "Rebecca," after a person I’d rather not talk about here! But every spring, Rebecca produces a big flower about 1 meter tall (three feet), with a horrible smell. I keep her near the garbage cans, so no one suspects she is responsible for the horrible stench.

Why is it that neighbors wouldn't complain about a stinky garbage can, but they would complain about a stinky plant?

Just having a couple of monster plants in the front yard isn't entirely satisfying to me. In a year or so, I'm thinking about putting a small bog in the back yard...wouldn't that be nice?

Here is a photo of Rebecca, before I moved her from a greenhouse to my front yard!

Would you mind living next to a garden of monsters?

Friday, February 12, 2010

A winter's visit

I live in the central valley of California, and for me winter means a couple of long months filled with rain. But from my front door I can see the Sierra Nevada mountains, and they are filled with fantastic monster plants like carnivorous pitcher plants. This is what they look like in the summer...

Cool, huh? And here is a view of a whole field of them.

Nice, huh? The Latin name for these guys is Darlingtonia california, aka the California cobra lily.

Well, after a couple rainy months, I got a little antsy, and decided to see some monster plants, even though it is the middle of winter. The monster plants were deep in snow, but I needed to see them!

So my wife and I bundled up our winter clothes and drove high into the mountains. We stopped only when the road ended under the snow. So then we strapped on snow shoes and hiked all day.

It was cold, and the snow was several feet deep. But we finally got to the site, and this is what we saw....

Can you see them? The pitchers are just barely poking through the soil. These were the only plants we saw...the rest of the plants were deep under the snow.

OK, it might seem kind of weird to work so hard to see these monster plants poking through the snow, but we didn't know what we were going to find on the trip. You never know! And finding out, well, that is the whole spirit of science. And you can see by the smile on my face, that I had a great time!

Keep searching for those monster plants...rain or shine!

Prof. Rice