By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
One hot afternoon in Alhambra, the Los Angeles Carnivorous Plant Society’s monthly meeting comes to order and insects across the city tremble with fear. It’s dark in the room at the Chamber of Commerce, with a slight musky odor. Is it the people or the plants? Or perhaps the couple of dogs snoring through the slideshow? Lord knows the venus flytraps would eat those Chihuahuas — and kittens, too — if given half the chance. The guy at the projector scrolls through photos of quaking bogs, bladderworts, sundews, a man paddling through a lake on an inflatable raft, struggling to snap a shot of a carnivorous plant growing on a floating log. People “oooooh” and “aaah” and shout out things like, “Tell us about the Pinguiculas if you would.”
A few have even brought in their plants for show-and-tell, like the guy sitting two seats down from me, who’s lugged in a massive, testicular-looking pitcher plant swathed in red fur.
Anyone can join the Society. A willingness to talk, share, learn, live and breathe carnivorous plants is all that’s required. People become known for the type of plant they’re drawn to after a while. One fellow, Art, likes to grow plants as big as he can get ’em. Ivan Snyder, or Dr. Frankensnyder to his friends, likes to make mutations and cross breeds. He’s the mad scientist. One of the founding members of LACPS, he is known for creating the plant cultivar called “Ivan’s Paddle,” a green sundew with leaves shaped like canoe paddles. It’s small enough to fit inside a shot glass. Cultivars are trendy right now in the carnivorous plant world.
“It’s a cute little plant,” says Dr. Frankensnyder, admiring his handiwork. “Here you can see where the leaf is turned over.”
A woman sighs, “I love when they do that.”
Discussion turns to flies, a perennial favorite among Society members. “Do you feed one leaf at a time?” someone asks. “Meaning, on one plant, would you only put one fly on one leaf?”
“Do you feed the flies dry?” asks someone else.
“I don’t feed the flies at all,” Dr. Frankensnyder quips.
“You wet it, then feed it,” another member advises.
“But don’t get the flies wet or you’ll get all kinds of mold growing in there,” someone cautions. “You can get sick from sniffing it.”
“Don’t be sniffing your dried flies, guys!” still another knowledgeable member of the society chimes in.
Clearly this is a world that deserves further digging. I decide to talk to two of the society’s prominent members to learn more.
The Mad Scientist
Dr. Frankensnyder lives in a small one-bedroom apartment in Inglewood, a sparsely furnished bachelor pad that he rents from the family of one of the other Carnivorous Plant Society bigwigs, Ed Read, who manages the greenhouse at Cal State Fullerton. Dr. Frankensnyder lives a simple, unmaterialistic life; he’s 48 years old but already retired, having burnt out on being a vet (“my specialty was euthanasia,” he says) and a lab worker. Today he’s wearing khaki shorts, flip-flops and a gray T-shirt. In the bedroom, among the many other plant specimens and mementos of the places he’s traveled, there is a framed photograph of him as a strapping adolescent with a 25-pound lobster big as a house cat (he caught it himself) pressed to his bare chest. He still looks mostly the same as in that photo — tall, tanned, gangly, with short brown hair and intense blue eyes. Somewhere down the hall of the apartment building, the neighbors are blasting rap music.
Otherwise, it’s just him and his plants. The tiny collection of tiny, tiny plants lives on a metal shelf hooded by fluorescent tube lights. Each plant sits in its own plastic condiment cup. Beneath are all of Dr. Frankensnyder’s accouterments: microdissection forceps, tweezers, magnifying glasses, a jug of distilled water, a plastic tube crawling with sterile wingless fruit flies. Snyder raises the flies to feed his plants.
“I humanely kill a fruit fly and cut its butt off.” He grabs a fly by the head with tweezers and squeezes it against his thumbnail. Half the fly continues to move. “See? It’s dead, but it doesn’t know it yet.” The butt tips are, Snyder says, “the most nutritious part of the insect.” He knows this because he’s run experiments on the topic; it’s a concept I don’t fully grasp but am willing to take on faith. “That’s my real passion,” he says, “science.”
Each day, he comes home, sits down and studies his rows of plants. It’s surprising that a guy who’s such a big a deal in the carnivorous plant world prefers the cheapest ones. “It’s hard to explain why,” he says. “The very valuable ones are rare and protected in nature.” He examines one plant under a magnifying loupe, delicately removing a desiccated fly clinging to its leaf.