Arts & Culture News

The Carnivorous Plant Gallery in Richardson Is Going Sci-Fi

The carnivorous plant haven Texas Triffid Ranch has a new sci-fi theme going on.
The carnivorous plant haven Texas Triffid Ranch has a new sci-fi theme going on. Paul Riddell
A love of carnivorous plants helped Texas Triffid Ranch’s Paul Riddell sprout some artistic inspiration.

Nominated (somewhat surprisingly) for local awards such as "Best Garden Center," the Texas Triffid Ranch may make a brisk trade in carnivorous plants, but Riddell, the owner, considers his space to be more art than commerce.

And, considering Riddell builds each hand-made plant enclosure complete with a back story, the Ranch has more in common with an art enclave than a plant store. Each display has an accompanying museum-style QR code so visitors can take a deep dive into the owner's curation and inspiration.

A technical writer by trade, Riddell started his journalistic career in 1989, contributing to publications such as the defunct Science Fiction Eye and Dallas weekly The Met. In the early 2000s, a job in Tallahassee, Florida, led him to contact his old friend, author Jeff VanderMeer, who was the only person he knew in the state.

Famed for his "new weird" novels, including Annihilation and Borne, VanderMeer encouraged his friend's move to the Sunshine State, a place that became an essential source of inspiration for the budding botanist/gallerist.

"I've known him since the early '90s," Riddell says of the author. "We'd worked for many of the same magazines and used to cause trouble left, right, and sideways. Jeff encouraged me to take the job in Florida, but the job itself fell through because the company was coming out of bankruptcy. My good news was I'd already become very familiar with the area's carnivorous plants."

Upon returning to North Texas, Riddell pursued his new passion, sourcing books such as Denise Hamilton and Peter D'Amato's The Savage Garden. Absorbed with the subject, he started lecturing and soon found himself with a side hustle.

"Kids would come up to me and say, 'I have a Venus Flytrap, but it died,' and they don't know why that happened," Riddell says. "The first [carnivorous plant] I ever owned was a flytrap … and when I moved to Flower Mound, it died. It took me 23 years to find out what killed it. The water in Texas is very salty and alkaline, and they're used to stagnant bogs."
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The Texas Triffid Ranch is exhibiting its carnivorous plants like art because they are.
Paul Riddell

Through trial and error, Riddell discovered rainwater and lots of light would help his flytraps (and other carnivorous plants) thrive. In 2008, Texas Triffid Ranch was born in a brick-and-mortar space in Valley View Mall. Named after the 1951 post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids, the Ranch offers around 100 species, give or take, sourced from around the globe. But instead of being displayed in ordinary glass terrariums, they're in enclosures that Riddell creates by using everything from plastic toys to artist-created sculptures.

Building between one and four each month, he begins each environment with far-flung sources such as Xenomorphs, kaiju or plots from stories by VanderMeer or Harlan Ellison. When you purchase a Nepenthes maxima or Drosera adelae, you also bring home an enclosure evoking vampire bats, black holes or abandoned planets.

"One of my inspirations was for me to make enclosures with a good enough back story that [Ellison] would actually write them," Riddell says. "I also spent a lot of time studying paleontology and natural history. I've always had a lot of interests, and they end up coming together in enclosures without me even realizing it. Now I'm going back and writing backstories for all the enclosures and creating them pretty much as they come out of my head."

Having relocated to Richardson in 2017, Riddell is currently revamping the walls and halls of his gallery with the help of artist Susan Duval to evoke a vibe right out of a "nature strikes back" sci-fi flick. Through a series of open houses on the weekends, Riddell invites the curious to learn more about the plants and the stories that inspired the enclosures he handcrafts for them.

Engaging with carnivorous plant fans of all ages, Riddell's biggest reward is meeting a new group of enthusiasts who can match, or even surpass, his knowledge of the subject.

"What's funny is I end up hearing on a regular basis from kids who say, 'By the way, I just got my degree in botany thanks to this,'" Riddell says. "There's so much wonderful research going on, and younger carnivorous enthusiasts who forget more in their sleep than I'm ever going to learn. You're seeing this whole new generation, and their enthusiasm just staggers me."

The Texas Triffid Ranch, 405 Business Parkway, Richardson, will be open Sundays, Sept. 17 and 24, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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