For centuries, carnivorous plants have carried an air of fascination and mystique unparalleled in the plant world. Growing Carnivorous Plants is a comprehensive guide to identifying and cultivating these remarkable plants. From the well-known Venus flytrap to obscure African sundews, from the giant pitcher plant vines of Borneo the microscopic bladderworts of Florida, more than 200 species, hybrids and cultivars from all genera of carnivorous plants are described. Included are explanations of the fascinating and diverse mechanisms the plants use to trap their victims. Imitating a plant’s natural environment is the key to success in growing carnivorous plants, and this book will help readers select the best plants to grow on a windowsill, in a terrarium or greenhouse. Information on how to feed carnivorous plants will enable even the most squeamish grower to ensure that plants receive the nutrients they require. The book’s 400 photographs include both spectacular images from the wild and lovely plants in cultivation.
About the Author(s)
Barry A. Rice is an expert horticulturist who has been growing these bizarre plants since 1985 and has produced many noteworthy carnivorous plant cultivars. He is the editor of Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, the publication of the International Carnivorous Plant Society, and is also that organization’s Director of Conservation Programs. Fascinated most by observing carnivorous plants in the wild, he has traveled throughout the USA to see and photograph them in their native habitat. He currently works for The Nature Conservancy.
A Masterpiece, September 20, 2006
This book is special. I’m familiar with most of the books on carnivorous plants (see my Listmania list; there are PLENTY of great ones), but this new one blew my mind. This is the rare book that can captivate (perhaps the wrong word in this context) readers of all ages and all levels of expertise. Imagine that your favorite National Geographic article has been expanded into a first-rate book, complete with phenomenal pictures, engaging science writing, environmental awareness, humor, and a sense of adventure. Rice’s book explores the habitat, science, history, popular culture and mass murder that make Carnivorous plants so fascinating.
Some things to note:
1) AUTHOR WEBSITE. There’s a fair amount of information about this book at the author’s remarkable Sarracenia website. All I can say is that I was familiar with the site, but the book still astonished me. The website includes brief descriptions of the 22 chapters. Moreover, the website itself has beautiful photographs, and discusses a wide variety of topics that Rice did not include in the book. It will address any errors or omissions, apparently. So the website is a must-see. Don’t miss the Galleria Carnivora, even if you have to fake your credentials to get to the good stuff.
2) AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHS. The photos are to die for! (…perhaps the wrong phrase in this context). These aren’t JUST pictures of amazing plants. These are works of art and fantasy; nature photography at its dramatic, vicarious best. The peristomes of various pitcher plants feel as sinister as shark jaws; the Darlingtonia californica (cobra lilly) really looks like an alien invader in one picture; the "fangs" of one Nepenthes pitcher indeed look ominous; a close-up of a hair on a Dionaea muscipula (Venus flytrap) really looks like a trigger to a trap door. (You can get some sense of the author’s remarkable photographic abilities at his website). I should add that the publishers got the color right. I’m thanking my lucky stars that I have normal red-green color vision because the book is full of vivid reds and greens.
3) AUTHOR CREDENTIALS / HUMOR. The author is obsessed with carnivorous plants AND he’s is very funny. In the past (not in this book) he fed parts of his diseased foot to a plant and documented it. His discussion of actually doing this was not as glamorous as it sounds, but it was funny. Although the humor in the book is usually subtle, there are clever puns, figure captions, and amusing stories. I should add that Rice edits the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, which is the newsletter of the International Carnivorous Plant Society. I haven’t seen a copy of the newsletter in awhile, but it was amusing in places when I used to subscribe. It had great pictures and lots of information.
4) SCIENCE; EVOLUTION, MOLECULAR GENETICS. The book has sections that discuss evolution. That’s good news. Apparently the author felt the need to negotiate for enough freedom to cover evolution and Darwin in a sensible way. In this era of genetic tests, there is new evidence to allow us to discuss common ancestors, etc. There was some coverage of plant genetics and I wish there was more. The author acknowledges that the fossil record is limited, but provides some discussion of ancestral links, including a photo of a possible ancestor of Sarracenia. There are some other academic sources that go deeper into evolutionary ideas about CPs, and about shared molecular genetics. The book might serve as a gateway to academic journal articles on CP evolution and genetics if one consults the citation index for the book (available online only).
5) ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. The book discusses conservation throughout, and it seems clear that the habitats for many plants are shrinking. The last chapter is devoted to the topic. It provides facts, but is also a passionate plea to save CPs (and life as we know it). It is a very readable chapter, and it helps CP enthusiasts see the bigger picture. Rice is the ICPS’s Director of Conservation Programs (which I’m sure pays millions), and he works for The Nature Conservancy. He knows his stuff.
6) OTHER GREAT BOOKS ON CPs. The author has not attempted to write a "complete" or "comprehensive" book on CPs. Rather, he has focused on topics that are of most interest to him. Fortunately, he has plenty to offer. However, there is plenty of additional information for the layperson and expert alike. if you are interested finding other books on carnivorous plants, take a look at the list of sources I have posted under Listmania. There are excellent books to consider that have been authored by Gordon Cheers, Peter D’Amato, Charles Darwin (!), Rica Erickson, Barry Juniper et al., Patricia Kite, Francis Lloyd (1940’s), Allen Lowrie, Charles Nelson, Nick Romanowski, Donald Schnell, Adrian Slack, Dorothy Souza, and others. Much depends on your interests and level of knowledge. Another good source for book information is D’Amato’s California Carnivores website.
7) GROWING CPs. If you are interested in GROWING carnivorous plants, then consider D’Amato’s "The Savage Garden." D’Amato has the world’s largest collection of carnivorous plants, and he’s written a GREAT book on cultivation and propagation. If you are a beginner at CPs, and you want your new plants to LIVE, then D’Amato may be your best bet. (Yeah, these two books are better together!) And yet Rice provides plenty of great ideas about cultivation for beginners, too. Some great introductory stuff: 1) Rice’s three "Golden Rules" of growing carnivorous plants (which are golden rules for protecting our global environment, too), 2) bottle terrariums ("difficulty level: 1") and quickie terrariums ("difficulty level: 5"). Don’t rely on your natural green thumb to solve all your CP problems because you are likely to make fatal mistakes. These sections are golden. (My first CP terrarium thrived for a couple years and then died unexpectedly when I was 11. Mea Culpa.)
(This updates my Sept 20, 2006 review.)