In the enchanting realm of botanical wonders, there exists a group of extraordinary organisms that challenge our perception of plants – Carnivorous plants.
We had the privilege of sitting down with the esteemed horticulturist and Carnivorous plant expert Jeff Dallas as he unveiled the secrets of these captivating creatures.
With years of expertise and a boundless passion for these remarkable organisms, he offers insights into their captivating mechanisms, symbiotic relationships, and the delicate balance between survival and predation.
Get ready to unlock the secrets and mysteries of the Carnivorous plant kingdom as Jeff Dallas reveals all!
Shudeshna: Hello, everyone. Today we have a special guest, the co-owner of Grow Carnivorous Plant, Mr. Jeff Dallas. Let’s give him a warm welcome aboard!
Jeff Dallas: Thank you.
S: Could you please introduce yourself and provide some background information to our viewers and readers at Plantscraze?
Mr. Dallas: Sure, I’m Jeff Dallas, the co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest, a nursery specializing in Carnivorous plants. Our website is Grow Carnivorous Plants. I started Sarracenia Northwest back in 1995 when I was just a Carnivorous plant hobbyist during my teenage years and into my early adulthood. Like many plant enthusiasts, as my collection grew with various types of plants, I decided to explore the path of selling some of my excess plants.
In the 90s, I had the desire to start selling my excess collection, and I found a great opportunity to do so at the Portland Saturday Market, an art market located in downtown Portland. Interestingly, there was another vendor at the market in the 1970s who sold a few different types of plants. Given the unique nature of the market and its location in downtown Portland, it seemed like a fun place to initially establish my presence. Indeed, it turned out to be the case. I spent 22 years selling plants at the Portland Saturday Market on weekends. Eventually, my husband Jacob and I expanded the nursery, which continued growing.
S: It’s interesting how you pursued your hobby as a career itself. Did your educational background guide you towards the plant sector or align in any way with your current work, considering your long-standing interest in plants, particularly Carnivorous plants?
Mr. Dallas: My background is actually in elementary education and general science, but as I was going through university, I think there were classes that I chose along the way that was to feed into the hobby as well. But I use Carnivorous plants in education still to this day. I work, I do part-time with the nursery. My husband does the nursery full-time these days, but I also work for an education organization that does outdoor education with sixth graders in the Portland area. And we’ve often incorporated Carnivorous plants because it’s a good example of plant adaptations.
S: Normally, when we talk about planting and gardening, it’s more like getting a regular plant. But how difficult or how accepting is the gardening community of Carnivorous plants?
Mr. Dallas: I would say that the perception of Carnivorous plants has significantly evolved over the past 15 years. When I first started selling them in the 1990s, they were often seen as peculiar, exotic, and almost animal-like. Many people were hesitant to try growing them due to their reputation for being extremely difficult, and only a few were able to achieve success. However, things have changed. The Internet has played a significant role in this transformation. We’d like to think that we, especially in our area, have definitely had a hand in that because of our educational focus on growing Carnivorous plants and making them more accessible.
In reality, once you grasp the fundamentals of growing Carnivorous plants, they are no more challenging than other types of plants. The key is to dispel the long-standing myths and misconceptions surrounding them.
S: That’s correct. At Plants Craze, we have very limited articles on Carnivorous plants because it’s also not that common to us. So for our readers, would you elaborate more about what Carnivorous plants are?
Mr. Dallas: Absolutely. Carnivorous plants are essentially typical green flowering plants. They belong to the dicot group and share many common characteristics with plants that are considered ordinary or typical. However, what sets them apart is their highly specialized adaptations for acquiring nutrients, specifically nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace elements, in a unique manner distinct from conventional plants.
Carnivorous plants thrive in environments that suffer from an extreme deficiency of nitrogen. So what they do instead is they capture animals to be able to get that nitrogen. In the field of botany, there are several theories exploring the origins and development of carnivory in plants. Essentially, Carnivorous plants have evolved an alternative method of obtaining essential nutrients, particularly nitrogen, which differs from that of other plants. And capturing insects becomes the way that happens with most varieties. They occur on almost every continent except for Antarctica, usually in bug environments. However, they can also thrive in areas where soil nutrients are severely lacking. Carnivorous plants exhibit diverse forms and genera worldwide.
Examples would be things like Pitcher plants, where a plant forms some sort of a vessel that insects fall into, and many different types of those. The sundews and the butterworts are examples of those with sticky leaves that can mire down and digest insects. Additionally, there are unique and fascinating Carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap, which is native to the United States and employs a snap trap mechanism. Another common but often less-known group of Carnivorous plants is the bladderworts, which are either aquatic or semi-aquatic plants equipped with bladder-like traps that actively capture and digest small organisms.
S: You mentioned the fascinating aspect of Carnivorous plants using bugs and insects for nutrients. Considering this unique behavior, I’m curious if growing Carnivorous plants has also served as a means of pest control, helping you manage bugs, insects, or other pests in any way.
Mr. Dallas: I hate to be the bearer of bad news on that one, but I would say with Carnivorous plants, most people grow them because they’re unusual plants. They’re very beautiful in many cases. They have very limited places where they can be effective for bug control. But it’s one of the things we often have to share with people that if they want to get Carnivorous plants strictly for some kind of pest control or something like that, we usually try to discourage people from that being the only reason that they want to grow them because they just usually don’t do that.
They have to capture so many to be effective to do that. In our nursery, we have thousands of Sarracenia Pitcher plants. And I’d like to think that we definitely make a big dent in the neighborhood wasp population, but that’s what it takes is having lots and lots of carnivore plants to see that. There are some little things, like if people have some of the sundews on a windowsill, it can help with little fungus gnats and fruit flies. But, I usually say that for most people, the main reason to have Carnivorous plants is that you just really enjoy growing plants and you enjoy unusual plants.
S: Well, thank you for clearing the misconception, usually when it comes to Carnivorous plants. Many gardeners misconceived the meaning of it being a pest controller or something like that. So moving on, you’ve also mentioned how technologies and the Internet helped reach out to more people about what Carnivorous plants are. Considering this, how do you envision technology and e-commerce sites changing the way we approach gardening, particularly when it comes to Carnivorous plants?
Mr. Dallas: I was just having a discussion about that recently, and there are a couple of different areas where this really kind of comes into play. I know one of the things that the Internet allowed for when the website was developed in the early 2000s was it provide a mechanism for education. Through platforms like YouTube, we have been able to share educational videos, offer ebooks, and utilize electronic means of communication. This has allowed us to disseminate information quickly and efficiently to consumers. In the pre-internet era, obtaining information required more effort, such as visiting libraries, purchasing books, or relying on magazine articles. And I remember those days quite well.
Another aspect worth considering is the impact of e-commerce on the purchasing process. Whether it’s good or bad, there has been a shift in focus towards plants that are suitable for shipping, unlike the old days when you could simply visit a garden center and make a purchase. This shift applies not only to our nursery but also to other types of plant nurseries. When selling larger plants, for example, the challenge lies in shipping them due to the potentially high costs involved. Therefore, there is a significant emphasis on determining which plants can be effectively packaged and shipped to consumers.
S: Do you sell Carnivorous plants all over the US, or are there any limitations or considerations when it comes to their sale, shipping time, environmental conditions, or care requirements?
Mr. Dallas: When someone says Carnivorous plant, it encompasses a wide range of plants that may have little in common with each other except for their ability to capture insects. There are some that are quite tropical, temperate, and even a few that are boreal that occur north of the Arctic Circle. And so it’s those climate tolerances that we often have to take into account when we’re shipping plants out.
For instance, if like we’re shipping during the winter, we know that our North American natives can handle winter shipping just fine with a basic amount of protection. But with tropical plants, if we’re going to ship those out during periods of cold weather, we either have to provide them with heat packs or additional insulation. Or if there’s really a severe storm going to a particular part of the country, especially a bigger population center where we normally do ship a lot of plants, we will just hold off until the weather improves. So we watch the weather conditions at the destinations.
In the United States, we use mostly priority mail shipping, which usually arrives in three to four days. And so that’s kind of our gauge of when we ship, knowing how long it’s going to take something to get there. And then, communicate with the purchaser to make sure that their box is not going to get left out on a snowy port somewhere.
The opposite can be true as well during the summertime during excessive heat because there are definitely some plant species that don’t like it particularly hot. We actually have one Pitcher plant that grows wild here in the Pacific Northwest, Darlantonia, California, which is quite sensitive to heat. During summertime shipments, we take special care to ensure that the plants are not subjected to high temperatures. However, in spring and fall, temperature concerns are less critical, making shipping during these seasons considerably easier.
S: During my background research, I discovered that your favorite plant is Sarracenia. Does your specialization solely focus on Sarracenia, or do you offer a variety of other Carnivorous plant species as well? Additionally, could you let us know which plant contributes the most to your business?
Mr. Dallas: That varies a bit at certain times, but I mean, Sarracenia is kind of our bread and butter, especially the American Pitcher plants. Because they’re so colorful and extremely good bug catchers, they can also grow in a good chunk of this country and Western Europe. In outdoor locations, making them fairly simple plants to grow, but we grow a wide selection of plants in a nursery. The North American natives are the biggest portion of what we grow and sell, including some of the North American sundews things like Drosera repeliformis rotundifolia, the Venus fly trap, which is a US native. The Venus fly trap, without question, is our single best-selling plant because it’s the most dramatic, and they are the ones younger growers prefer when they’re first getting into Carnivorous plants.
As people progress in their planting journey and gain more knowledge about Carnivorous plants, their interests often expand toward acquiring different species. This includes exotic varieties such as Southeast Asian Pitcher plants, like Nepenthes. While we don’t have as extensive a collection of these plants due to their specific requirements for heated tropical greenhouses, they remain in high demand, and we sell a considerable number of them. Additionally, we offer a wide selection of smaller plants, which are popular among collectors. During the summer months, customers can visit our nursery directly and purchase larger specimens. While the Venus flytrap continues to be a favorite, Sarracenia Pitcher plants, with their vibrant colors, captivating aesthetics, and impressive bug-catching abilities, are also highly sought after by enthusiasts. These factors are taken into account by customers when making their plant selections.
S: How do you educate customers about the care requirements of Carnivorous plants? How do you inform them about the watering, light, and nutritional needs of the plants and explain their specific requirements for healthy growth?
Mr. Dallas: There are a few different ways that we do that. The first place we started, as always, is with our website because all of our growing information is there in immense detail. There’s a listing of individual care sheets for all the different types of plants. We have a series of three instructional videos called the “Growing Carnivorous Plants” series, which is divided into North American natives, tropical Sundews and butterworts, and tropical Pitcher plants. When folks, especially if they write us an email or something, say, “Hey, I’m just getting into this, and I want to learn more about it,” that’s often when we direct them there. We recommend reading some of these resources.
We also have an ebook available, and there are traditional written books that we can suggest as well. Currently, we haven’t published anything ourselves in hardbound format. Those are the kind of resources we provide, and if it’s something more specialized, we may suggest resources from the International Carnivorous Plant Society and similar organizations.
S: As someone who provides readable content about plants, including succulents and house plants, we are now interested in exploring Carnivorous plants. For a beginner who wants to start growing Carnivorous plants, what suggestions do you have? Which plant would you recommend, and what advice would you offer to help them get started?
Mr. Dallas: That’s an excellent question. Usually, when someone expresses interest in growing Carnivorous plants, we begin by asking them where they would like to have one and then gather information about their existing plant setups. We inquire about their outdoor space for other plant types and whether they want an indoor plant. We also ask about the light their window receives and if they would consider using artificial light indoors. This line of questioning helps us understand their specific needs.
And almost all of that information leads to the same question: How much light do you have? This is because almost all Carnivorous plants are full-sun plants that require very bright conditions. Not providing adequate lighting is hands down the number one way people inadvertently kill them. For many years, there has been a misconception that they are shade-loving jungle plants. While there are a few species that can tolerate shade and are found in large bog habitats without trees, most Carnivorous plants are adapted to and thrive in very sunny conditions. So that’s where we typically begin.
If someone in the Pacific Northwest of the United States expresses a desire to grow Carnivorous plants, we inquire whether they have a patio or any outdoor space where they grow other plants like tomatoes or vegetables. If such a spot is available, we can recommend a variety of options. Similarly, if someone mentions having a south-facing window unobstructed by trees and they need to close the curtains when the sun is out because it’s so bright, we can suggest numerous suitable plants for that ideal window setup.
S: Considering the challenges of managing light requirements, especially for busy individuals, how do you envision the gardening scenario in relation to Carnivorous plants? Do you believe there will be continued interest from gardeners and plant enthusiasts in this sector? How do you see the future of Carnivorous plant gardening?
Mr. Dallas: It is increasing a lot. It has actually taken us by surprise a few times. In fact, let me share a quick story. In 2020, when the pandemic started, Jacob and I were debating whether we would be able to keep the nursery running during the lockdown in the US. Many businesses were shutting down, so we were concerned that we might have to borrow money. However, the opposite happened. Sales became explosive during that period. I know other areas of horticulture experienced the same phenomenon. Garden centers had no plants left because everyone was engaged in home gardening.
Even after the pandemic started to calm down and people resumed their normal activities, we continued to see an increase in business. Now, there is enough general knowledge about Carnivorous plants and horticulture among the public that they are no longer afraid of them. I have been to various plant shows and garden centers where I’ve seen people recognize Pitcher plants and know what they are. Twenty years ago, I would hear comments like, ‘What is that weird thing?’ or ‘Look, it’s one of those hanging tropical Pitcher plant things over there.’ Now, there is more awareness about them, and they are becoming more mainstream.
S: 20 years back when it was not this easy when people were not this aware. Was it difficult for you back then? Did you ever have the thought of giving it up and starting something over with something else?
Mr. Dallas: Well, at that point in time, it was just a side thing for me. My other profession was seasonal, so I was able to do the nursery part-time. It was fun to be able to do that, but it was sometimes frustrating to talk to people. What I kept finding was that the mythology about Carnivorous plants was so deeply ingrained that it was hard to get people to shift their thinking to the actual things they needed to be successful with the plants.
A really good example of this is our climate here in the Pacific Northwest. We have a maritime climate that is moderate. It’s cool in the winter and not as hot as the eastern United States in the summer. Many plant species thrive in our climate, so I would advise people who wanted a Venus flytrap that they could simply take it outside in a nice sunny location, ensuring there’s a tray of water for it to sit in. That would cover about 90% of its care. However, person after person would dismiss this advice, saying it wouldn’t work. I would tell them that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with the plant they were looking at, and it was growing well. Even when given the correct directions, people were hesitant to believe it. Thankfully, that has changed now.
S: Considering the challenges of managing light requirements, especially for busy individuals, how do you envision the gardening scenario in relation to Carnivorous plants? Do you believe there will be more interest from gardeners and plant enthusiasts in this sector? How do you see the future of Carnivorous plant gardening?
Mr. Dallas: That is always tough, especially because the turnaround period for many of our specimens is two to three years. For example, Sarracenia Pitcher plants take about three to five years to reach the flowering stage from seed, although we do a significant amount of asexual propagation with them. To determine which plants are in high demand, we review sales records to see which types are moving quickly.
We also keep an eye on forums and encourage our employees to do the same, to stay informed about popular plants and what people are looking for. We prioritize the propagation of those varieties. Additionally, we are always searching for new and unique plants, focusing on ones that are not too challenging for the average person to grow. Like any plant variety, there are those that are straightforward and simple, as well as some that are more challenging. We don’t carry as many of the latter type, as collectors tend to seek those kinds of plants.
S: If I want to start a Carnivorous plant in my garden or if I want to add it to my garden, will I be able to start it from scratch?
Mr. Dallas: We usually discourage first-time growers from trying to grow Carnivorous plants from seed due to the lengthy process involved. It’s comparable to the time it takes for many common woodland wildflowers to grow. It’s much easier to start with a more mature plant and then proceed from there. We also need to educate beginners on the basics because most Carnivorous plants are adapted to bog environments and require different soil conditions compared to typical plants. You can’t simply plant them in your garden alongside other plants; they need to be grown in containers. There are various settings where they can be highly attractive. It’s quite common for people to have them along the edges of ponds since many of these plants are bog or semi-aquatic. However, they do require a slightly different soil medium than other plants.
S: Now that we are almost at the end of the interview, I would like to ask you a question that we usually ask whenever we take an interview with business owners, especially about gardens and planting. Where do you see a Sarracenia Northwest five years from now? Do you have any plans to take it to the next level or further? Or how do you make it the ultimate stop for Carnivorous plant lovers?
Mr. Dallas: That’s a challenging question to answer. When it comes to any new business, there’s always a back-and-forth discussion about how large we want to grow. As the nursery expands, it becomes a more complex operation to manage, requiring additional property and space considerations.
However, our vision for the future involves continuous innovation in terms of plant varieties. We dedicate a significant amount of effort to Sarracenia breeding, selectively breeding for different colors and forms. We also explore various projects involving videos, education, and even entertainment. Some of our videos have been focused on the nursery, adding an element of fun and engagement.
Furthermore, we aim to expand our presence through open houses held during the summertime. These events have become quite popular, and we have had to limit the number of attendees due to their high demand. The open houses also provide valuable insights into customer preferences. As visitors explore the nursery and express interest in specific plants, it gives us a clear indication of what attracts them. This valuable feedback helps us focus our efforts on producing more of those desired plant varieties.
S: As we conclude this interview, I have gained valuable insights and information about Carnivorous plants that I didn’t have before. It has dispelled the misconception that they are merely exotic and difficult to care for. Thank you, Mr. Jeff, for enlightening us. In closing, what final message would you like to convey to the viewers at Plants Craze who can benefit from exploring your website, Sarracenia Northwest?
Mr. Dallas: If they visit our website at GrowcarnivorousPlants.com, there’s a dedicated section designed specifically for newcomers to growing Carnivorous plants. It’s called “Start Here,” and it features a search engine-like tool that asks a series of questions to guide you toward suitable plants for beginners. Additionally, our website offers an educational section where you can watch videos and read detailed information. I’m always delighted when someone emails me with questions after exploring the website. It allows me to provide them with additional knowledge and ensure they have the necessary understanding to care for their plants effectively rather than purchasing a plant they might struggle to care for.
S: Well, that’s the end of our talking. It was amazing having you on board with this interview and talking about the exotic Carnivorous plant. I hope you guys learned as much as I did, or maybe more. So thank you for your time and for accepting our interview, Mr. Dallas. We’re honored to have you share your in-depth conversation about Carnivorous plants.
Mr. Dallas: You bet. Mm.
In conclusion, we extend our heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Jeff Dallas, co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest, for gracing us with his expertise and insights during this interview. His dedication to Carnivorous plants and his efforts in dispelling misconceptions have been truly inspiring.
We are grateful for the knowledge he has shared and for shedding light on the intriguing world of these captivating botanical treasures. Through his passion and expertise, Mr. Dallas has not only enriched our understanding of Carnivorous plants but has also ignited a newfound curiosity and interest in this remarkable plant kingdom.
We extend our gratitude for his time, knowledge, and enthusiasm in revealing the secrets of Carnivorous plants. Let us embark on our own Carnivorous plant journeys, armed with the wisdom and guidance imparted by Mr. Dallas, and embrace the extraordinary beauty and fascination they offer.