I’d like to introduce you to a genetlman I first bumped into at the International Carnivorous Plant Society gathering last August, Matt Byers. It wasn’t until Matt started ordering carnivorous plant art from the marketplace that we really started to get to know each-other. If I may say so, Matt is a connoisseur of art and plants. He owns Carnivore Culture, a nursery that specializes in Pinguicula. You’ll even see his awesome plants for sale in the Carnivorous Plant Resource Marketplace. I hope you enjoy my interview with Matt as much as I enjoyed interviewing him.
Hey Matt, can you give an introduction to yourself and Carnivore Culture?
Hi, I’m Matt Byers, I have a deep love for everything about plants. I love to eat, touch, smell, view, cultivate and propagate them. I am awestruck by photosynthesis and a plant’s ability to dedifferentiate its’ cells. My carnivorous plant nursery, Carnivore Culture, has grown out of my love of carnivorous plants and plant propagation.
Sounds like you’ve got a serious passion for the plants! How long have you been growing?
I don’t have an exact date but it’s been 13-14 years since I first discovered that the Venus Fly Trap wasn’t the only carnivorous plant. I started with a Cape Sundew and within a month I was growing half a dozen sundew species. Then I started propagating them.
Growing carnivorous plants is addicting. One leads to the next, to the next, to the next… What first drew you to carnivorous plants?
I was immediately drawn to sundews. The way they glisten in the sun is spectacular of course. But also the variety of colors, shapes, and growth habits within the genus makes them intriguing.
Based on what you sell, it looks like you have a soft spot for Pinguicula. What draws you to them over other carnivorous plants?
Well there’s a few things about Pings that I really like but it’s mostly an aesthetic thing. I just like the way they look. Their bilaterally symmetrical flowers are so big and colorful compared to other CP’s. As far as I know, when I started growing CP’s you couldn’t buy Pinguicula gigantea from any nursery in the U.S. There was a certain mystique about this plant for me. I actually didn’t buy my first Butterwort, it was a gift from my Dad and I wasn’t overly excited about it at the time.
Ahh, so your father foisted a Butterwort upon you! Plant gifting seems to be a common way folks get drawn into plant species they didn’t know they had a soft spot for. Seems like it really influenced you in a positive way.
What is your growing ethos?
Plants are not a means to an end for me. They are my life. I strive to propagate and nurture healthy plants for others to enjoy.
Amen to that. How did you determine that you wanted to go from “hobby” to “business?”
I wanted to pursue a career that involved my passion for plants and plant propagation. I collected carnivorous plants, and saw that some CP’s weren’t widely available.
Filling an underserved niche with uncommon plants is a great way to get started. What was that journey of scaling/growing your collection to handle retail sales like?
It wasn’t very hard. I taught myself the science/art of tissue culture and was later employed as a tissue culture tech where I learned even more. I was capable of producing many plants, space was the only restriction. So when I decided to start selling I just got more space and increased the frequency of propagation. I also had a very large collection to propagate from, so that helped.
Cool! I may have to interview you again, but focus on your tissue culture techniques. When new growers reach out to you, what are your recommended beginner plants?
I recommend Pinguicula gigantea because it gets very large and has sticky glands on the tops and bottoms of its’ leaves which is uncommon among Butterworts. I also recommend one of the cultivars such as ‘Pirouette’ because of its’ attractive red leaves and tendency to flower profusely in all seasons.
I don’t own many Pinguicula, but I have both of those sitting on my office desk in a bright window, and absolutely love them! What advice do you give to more advanced growers who reach out to you?
Butterworts should be cultivated under dryer and cooler conditions than most people think.
What is your top tip/trick for growing carnivorous plants that other growers may not know?
In my experience, 99% of CP’s respond well to very basic cultivation methods. You must have bright light, clean water, and a nutrient poor medium. After that it’s a matter of researching the climate where the plant grows naturally. This will dictate whether you need to alter your growing climate to get the best results. Growing CP’s that come from a similar climate to the one where you live is the best bet, but simply moving plants inside and/or misting occasionally can be enough to overcome some climactic difference.
That makes perfect sense. I’m in Southern California and Mexican butterworts do great with minimal special care, here. Are there any plants that you’re especially proud to have in your collection? Rarities, self-developed cultivars/hybrids, etc.
My first Ping, P. ‘Vera Cruz’, is an all time favorite of mine. I discovered it is one of the first Pinguicula cultivars and it was first mentioned by Adrian Slack back in 1986. My first Nepenthes, N. platychila, has always grown really well for me and I’m happy to have traded many pieces of it to other CP growers. I have made a Ping hybrid and they are now mature size after 3 years. I’m hoping they will flower any time now and I’m really excited to see what they look like. Clones of these individuals may be available soon.
Oh! Can’t wait to see those hybrid Pings. What are your 3 all-time favorite carnivorous plants and why?
That’s really hard! I’ll try to narrow that down by limiting it to CP’s I’ve cultivated.
1. Byblis liniflora, the photos of the Rainbow Plant in the first edition of THE SAVAGE GARDEN were so inspiring to me. I HAD to grow some myself.
2. Drosophyllum lusitanica, the Dewey Pine is an amazing, beautiful, very unique carnivorous plant!! They get large and live a long time, becoming woody with multiple growth points.
3. Pinguicula gypsicola, I received my first one in a raffle at my local CP club, rooted in a peat cube. That one gypsicola has given rise to nearly 1000 plants and won ribbons at plant shows. I still have that plant.
Wow, that raffle was a solid investment. Working on any exciting new plans for the nursery, or plant offerings?
Always. I recently started moving plants into a new greenhouse, so I can grow even more CP’s. Of course, more Pinguicula species and cultivars will be coming soon, but I will be shifting toward making more sundew species available. I have a refrigerator full of CP seeds!!!
Sounds exciting! I can’t wait to see what you have to offer. How can folks get in touch with you if they want to learn more about Carnivore Culture?
Thanks so much for your time and insights, Matt!