Paul Riddell bought his first Venus' flytrap as a kid in Chicago. He kept his first carnivorous plant alive and healthy for years during the plant’s characteristic cycle of bloom and dormancy. But then he moved to Flower Mound. Within an hour of watering his Venus' flytrap in his new home, the plant died.
Riddell picked through the remains of his former fly-munching friend and saw a brief glimpse into his future horticultural career. It would take him the next 23 years to find out why his first plant died.
“The water here in Dallas is just this side of crunchy,” Riddell says, in the middle of the new location of his Texas Triffid Ranch during its soft opening June 30. He's referring to the rookie mistake most people make with carnivorous plants, giving them tap water instead of distilled water or rainwater.
The opening, which was largely attended by friends of both Riddell and his wife, Caroline, who runs a jewelry shop in the atrium of the Ranch’s new location, was more akin to a gallery reception. Guests discussed everything from the ridiculousness of the flat-Earth theory to Michael Garibaldi’s hairstyle changes in Babylon 5. It was every bit as lively as art walk gatherings the couple used to host in Valley View Center.
The Dallas Observer spoke with Riddell about the move earlier this year, after he was told he’d have to leave Valley View. Riddell says he has more room to grow in his new spot, though the overall size of his location off of U.S. 75 and Spring Valley Road is 400 square feet smaller than in Valley View.
“There were so many people who were spooked off by Valley View, only because they vaguely heard, ‘Oh the mall is coming down,’" Riddell says. “This is a lot easier for a lot of different reasons, and already I have a line of people waiting to come on in here. They’ve been wanting to buy larger enclosures, and that’s actually what started this all off.”
The move to a new location puts Riddell in an easier place for customers to find, as it’s across the street from Dart’s Spring Valley Station, and it makes getting to the space to work with his plants far more
feasible for Riddell. He’d have to bike nearly an hour sometimes to get to Valley View, only to find that the appointment he’d set for that day was a no-show.
“I was originally just going to shows and science-fiction conventions doing mall bottles, doing small arrangements, but I’ve been wanting to do the larger enclosures for a very long time,” Riddell says. “But they’re just not practical or sane to keep dragging back and forth between shows. “
But the demand for these plants is on the rise, he says. New discoveries in the field of carnivorous plants have come in an ever-increasing stream in the past 15 years Riddell has spent studying them.
One such discovery occurred in 2015: One species of carnivorous plant native to Borneo, Nepenthes hemsleyana, works in relationship with tiny bats known as Hardwicke's woolly bats. These bats use the plant’s pitchers as nests and in turn feed the plant nitrogen through their droppings.
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“These are all the sorts of weird relationships that are coming across with carnivores here [where] the studies have only been happening since I first started working with them,” Riddell says. “You’re seeing a renaissance with carnivorous plants that’s only pretty much exceeded by the renaissance of orchids.”
He has worked to further that renaissance by collaborating with the Dallas Arboretum to create a carnivorous plant bog, which showcases a variety of these plants that are native to Texas. And thanks to technological advances and the wealth of knowledge and note sharing online, carnivorous plants are easier to grow than almost ever before.
“It’s perfect for amateurs — that’s the big thing here. There are so many of these that are very easy for amateurs to raise if they can get past the rainwater and light issues,” Riddell says. “Up until about 20 years ago, you would’ve been dependent purely on sunlight, hoping that you wouldn’t get too much or too little. Now you can actually set up pop-up fluorescents or LEDs and get all the light you need.”
The Texas Triffid Ranch is open by appointment only. Its first event and official opening will take place Oct. 13. Visit txtriffidranch.wordpress.com for more information.