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