Caught in a trap
PUBLISHED: 13:43 18 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
Mike King was bitten by the Sarracenia bug as a child. Now the collection of carnivorous plants at his Telford Home has National Collection status
Mike King was bitten by the Sarracenia bug as a child. Now the collection of carnivorous plants at his Telford Home has National Collection status.
At first, Mike King was disappointed when he could not find any insect-eating plants. However, he was only four years old. A decade later, a school friend bought a Venus flytrap and Mike was captivated. He persuaded his grandfather to take him to Kew Gardens where he found more carnivorous plants but, disappointingly, none for sale. Fortunately, on the way home they found a flower shop at Waterloo station selling Venus flytraps and Mike bought the last two.
Membership of the Carnivorous Plant Society followed and Mike's knowledge and expertise grew alongside his collection. By 1987, he had about 100 plants - housed in a self-built greenhouse in Whitchurch, Hampshire.
Following a move to Telford, Mike was restricted to growing just a few plants on the window sill of his flat - until he found somewhere locally to grow more. Further relocations followed until Mike moved to his present home and began increasing the collection in line with building more greenhouses (he now has five).
His fascination with the plants was sown from an early age. He says: "My grandparents first gave me the idea about carnivorous plants when I was about five-years-old. They were keen gardeners and tried to get me interested in general gardening, but it never interested me until my grandmother said: 'Did you know there are plants that eat insects?'
"A few years later, I was watching some of the old Tarzan films and was fascinated by the 'man-eating plants. Then one of my school friends bought one and as I was responsible for growing all the school plants in the science lab asked me to look after it. It grew well for me and I persuaded my grandfather to take me to Kew Gardens where there were flytraps, butterworts, sundews and a whole host of Sarracenia pitcher plants. I was totally absorbed."
After buying that first Venus flytrap at Waterloo railway station young Michael joined the newly-formed Carnivorous Plant Society.
"I was immediately given five or six free plants and I was well and truly on my way."
In 2002, Mike exhibited his Sarracenia at the Shrewsbury Flower Show (gaining a silver gilt medal) and launched his internet-based nursery for these plants. A year later, his Sarracenia and Dionaea collection was awarded National Plant Collection status.
A few words of explanation would go nicely here. True carnivorous plants have clear adaptations to capture prey, a way of digesting the prey and absorbing the nutrients. You also get semi-carnivorous, para-carnivorous and sub-carnivorous plants but we won't make things complicated! In botanical classification terms, there are many kinds of carnivorous plants.
Sarracenia is a genus of passive pitcher plant. Mostly, they have erect, tubular stems which, thanks to sugar-exuding glands, attract crawling and flying insects. The unlucky ones fall into the pitcher, from which it is almost impossible to escape, and are subsequently consumed.
Dionaea muscipula is better known as the Venus flytrap. Unlike the Sarracenia - the Venus flytrap is proactive as its leaves close on the prey, preventing it from escaping.
Mike's collection includes 58 Dionaea plant types and 960 Sarracenia hybrids and species - the latter one of the largest in the UK. He also grows cobra lilies (Darlingtonia californica), sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula). Each has a different method of trapping its prey.
The National Plant Collection scheme in Britain and Ireland is co-ordinated by Plant Heritage (formerly the National Council for the Conservation of Plants & Gardens - NCCPG). Individuals and organisations undertake to document, develop and conserve comprehensive collections of Britain and Ireland's garden plants for the benefit of everyone. There are more than 650 such specialist collections.
You can contact Mike to arrange to visit his collection or go to the first of his two open days this year on Saturday, June 6 from noon - to see those Sarracenia which peak in the summer. There will be light refreshments available and plants for sale plus you can take your own to sell or trade.
National Plant Collection® of Sarracenia and Dionaea, ?5 Field Close, ?Malinslee, Telford ?TF4 2EH, tel: 01952 501598 www.carnivorousplants.uk.com
Plant Heritage membership
Plant Heritage helps protect and conserve cultivated plants. In Shropshire, there are 17 National Plant Collections®. Each year, a member of the Plant Heritage receives a copy of the National Plant Collections Directory, two issues of Plant Heritage journal and regular newsletters, plus they can attend plant sales and lectures and visit gardens across the UK.
Annual membership of Plant Heritage costs £25. Go to www.nccpg.com or telephone 01483 447540.
The Carnivorous Plant Society membership
A registered charity founded in 1978 to bring together all those interested in carnivorous plants, the Carnivorous Plant Society (CPS) offers many benefits for members. There's the CPS seed bank (one of the largest in the world), regular newsletters and an annual journal, access to private collections and an extensive library. Membership is from £11 per year.