This week I had the chance to meet with someone through the Internet, who has a very interesting hobby. As you might know, I love to visit and see nurseries and plant shops. When I can I meet with the owners, I am always eager to sit down with them and have a chat. This time, much to my regret, I could not organise it like that. Mr. Greyes lives in the United States of America and I live in Europe – this makes quite a significant distance. Also to organise a Skype interview would have been a bit hard. The only solution we could agree on was to have a very detailed written interview. I sent him some questions which I thought you might also be interested to ask him about, but in case your questions are not answered, then do not hesitate to contact him, because as I have experienced he is a very open, friendly and helpful person. I would like to thank Mr. Natch Greyes for the time and dedication he invested in this interview. He was kind enough to share with me some pictures about his carnivorous plants so enjoy and let me know which one is your favorite!
Without further delay, here you can read the interview:
1. Please tell us a bit about your background?
My real job is as an attorney, but I enjoy coming home and spending some time relaxing with my garden. I first became fascinated with carnivorous plants at around the age of 13, when I received a Venus Flytrap as a gift. Like many young collectors, I promptly killed it, but not before I was bitten with the desire to continue to collect carnivores.
When I returned to New England after law school, I became engaged with the New England Carnivorous Plant Society and began helping them connect with the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College to further those universities‘ educational missions and help them maintain their collections. I also started a blog about carnivorous plants. In time, that inspired me to write a short book about Darlingtonia californica, the California Cobra Lily, and a much longer book about growing carnivorous plants called Cultivating Carnivorous Plants. More recently, I became a Board Member of the North American Sarracenia Conservancy.
2. Can you briefly describe the development of carnivorous plant culture in the United States of America?
Our native Venus Flytraps have always inspired people in the United States to begin collecting carnivores. For a long time, many collectors believed that wild collecting plants was an acceptable practice. You can even find some books from the 1980s written by Americans mentioning this practice.
Once the environmental movement took off, and especially in the 1990s, conservation came to the forefront. Many organizations from the Federal Government to the Nature Conservancy acquired or purchased land for conservation areas. Yet, there was not a whole lot of focus on carnivorous plants specifically. Instead, their protection was largely incidental.
In the 2000s, various carnivorous plant collections joined together to start projects to promote carnivorous plant conservation specifically. Meadowview Biological Research Station, the North American Sarracenia Conservancy, and numerous plant societies, including the New England Carnivorous Plant Society were created during this period. Their work to educate the public and promote conservation has raised awareness of the diminishing natural habitats and has probably spurred some public leaders to think about providing legal protections to carnivorous plants specifically.
More recently, North Carolina, the home of the Venus Flytrap, passed a law making it a crime to take Venus Flytraps from the wild. I suspect as the public becomes more aware of carnivorous plants and how few environments they live in, there will be greater support for the passage of similar laws protecting some of the other rare species.
3. Why carnivorous plants? What made you interested in these types of plants?
I always credit that first Venus Flytrap with inspiring me, but what really hooked me on carnivorous plants was Tony Camillari’s fabulous book on them. I actually went on vacation not long after acquiring that first, ill-fated Venus Flytrap. While on vacation, I went into a bookstore where I decided to see if they had any books on my new plant. I found Tony’s. Flipping through that wonderful book on the very long ride home, I found myself fascinated by the number and variety of carnivores. A big bonus was that I later learned that there were a number of carnivorous plants growing in the wild only about a football field away from my house.
4. Can you tell me a bit about your greenhouse? How big is it? How many species can be found there?
I actually don’t have a greenhouse. When I first started out I was pretty young and lived in Florida. I couldn’t afford any expensive equipment, so I created a large and complex bog garden out of rubbermaid totes in my garden and grew mostly native plants.
Since restarting the hobby after finishing school, I’ve mostly been growing tropical plants in terrariums or on shelves inside and temperate plants outside in pots during the summer. I recently acquired a grow tent which I’m now using for my highland/intermediate tropical plants instead of a terrarium. It’s a vast improvement over repurposed aquariums.
In total, my collection numbers in the thousands of plants. I have about a hundred Sarracenia and Dionaea in a mini-fridge wanting for winter to end. There are probably a few dozen lowland Nepenthes in terrariums. There are definitely a few hundred intermediate or highland Nepenthes, Cephalotus, Heliamphora, and epiphytic Utricularia in the grow tent. I have a few dozen terrestrial Utricularia scattered around as well as a dozen or so species of Drosera.
Honestly, it’s probably easier for me to list the genera and species that I don’t really collect. I don’t currently have any of the rare genera – Roridula, Drosophyllum, etc. – and I’ve recently given up a large part of my Mexican Pinguicula collection. Temperate Pinguicula are harder to buy in the U.S. than Europe and they don’t ship well overseas, so I’ve never had many of them. Lastly, I have never really tried to collect many Drosera. My main focus is definitely Nepenthes.
5. Do you have any upcoming projects related to carnivorous plants?
There’s always a project or two. I’ve had a couple people email me recently asking whether I will be writing a book on Nepenthes or native (US) carnivores. I hadn’t thought about it too much, yet. I recently obtained Bruce Salmon’s phenomenal book on New Zealand Carnivores and thought it was a great model for a field guide, so who knows?
This winter, I’m really concentrating on automating my highland grow tent as much as possible and I’d like to start planning out upgrading my lowland plants to a grow tent as well. Other than that, I’d like to spend some time puttering among my plants.
6. Many people are interested, but not successful with cultivating carnivorous plants. Can you give us some general/golden rule tips for beginners?
If I was to give you one golden rule for growing plants, it would be to look at the plant’s native environment to determine what it needs. My examples for that are Nepenthes campanulata and Nepenthes pervelli. Both of those lowland Nepenthes are rumored to be very difficult, and I’ve obtained plants from very experienced growers who have said they had terrible luck. Well, when I looked at the native environments, I learned that they appear to require different media than most lowland Nepenthes. Nepenthes campanulata, for instance, is native to limestone cliffs. I changed the media mixture to include large chunks of limestone and I haven’t had a problem with that species.
As far as becoming successful with cultivating carnivorous plants, my advice is to do your research and try again if you’ve been unsuccessful. For the longest time I was killing every Cephalotus I added to my collection. To this day, I have no idea what I was doing wrong. Yet, one day, after having done a lot of research on the plant and making a few minor changes, I was gifted a few leaf pullings. Those that took have been growing at a phenomenal pace since I obtained them. That’s all thanks to doing a bit more research and trying again.
All that being said, if you are new, please do practice on easier plants. Something like the newly discovered Nepenthes Red Hairy Hamata might look cool, but it’s not the easiest plant to grow. Stick with something easier, more common, and cheaper and see if you’re successful for a year. If you are successful, then start to seek out rarer plants. Part of cultivating carnivorous plants is being cognizant of the fact that many newly discovered plants – especially seed grown plants – are extremely rare in the wild and just starting to become established in cultivation. If you kill something rare, that can have a big impact on the survival of that species in cultivation. So it’s better to take growing these plants one step at a time. Once you’ve been doing it for a while and doing it successfully, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to grow rare and highly sought after plants.
7. In 2015 you published a book called: „Cultivating Carnivorous Plants“. Can you tell us a bit about the book? What inspired you to start writing a book and to whom do you recommend it? In case someone is interested where can it be acquired?
Absolutely! I was really inspired to write Cultivating Carnivorous Plants because I had read a number of books about carnivorous plants and I was always a bit disappointed with was available. Many books would tell you about one plant but not another. Or their frame of reference would be the author’s local environment. And many books would be described as a guide to growing carnivorous plants, but have many, many pages dedicated to history or technical or scientific aspects that really don’t mean much to the average grower. I wanted a book that would tell me about the species of carnivorous plants – all the known species – and do so in a way that provided me insight into how to grow them. After a while, I realized that to find that book, I’d have to write it.
I quickly came to realize that writing a book about carnivorous plants is difficult. There are thousands of species grown in hundreds of ways across the world and the information available about them is changing all the time. Ultimately, I decided the best approach would be to write a few chapters about growing environments, pests, etc. and dedicate the majority of the chapters in the book to the different genera of plants. For each genus, I discuss their native habitat and the type of environment that they would thrive in as well as some representative species. In genera where the plants can grow in very different environments, such as Nepenthes, I had to subdivide the chapter further. Each chapter is then followed by a table listing species and the important attributes for growing and distinguishing them. Some, like Nepenthes, could be grouped into broad categories while others, such as Utricularia, were more specialized and required writing about their native environments. Some, like Pinguicula, are easy to group into broad growing categories, but the species within the genus are so poorly recorded or settled that it was necessary to write descriptions of the plants as they are currently known so that readers could match up the plants they own to try to get proper identifications on them. At the end of the day, my hope was that Cultivating Carnivorous Plants is both helpful for beginners and more advanced growers.
Cultivating Carnivorous Plants is available around the world on Amazon as well as in a number of independant bookstores and some carnivorous plant nurseries. I’m also happy to autograph copies and mail them anywhere in the world. You can find them for sale on my website: http://ngcarnivorousplants.com