Q&A with Domonick Gravine of Redleaf Exotics
28 September 2017
Redleaf Exotics is a Nepenthes nursery based in Brooklyn, New York. Owned and run by Domonick Gravine, the business only opened its doors earlier this year. In that time, Redleaf has already made a name for itself by offering top-quality, seed grown species and hybrids. I first encountered Domonick on Instagram, and was inspired by his sense of humour and passion for the incredible plants he grows. He was kind enough to share his story here on Tom's Carnivores.
First, could you introduce yourself and your nursery?
I'm Domonick Gravine and I loooooove nature! I'm a grower and collector of tropical pitcher plants or Nepenthes, my favorite thing in the world. My nursery is Redleaf Exotics, where I specialize in selling quality, seed-grown Nepenthes and inspiring my customers.
How long have you been growing carnivorous plants, and Nepenthes in particular?
I have been growing CPs, mainly Nepenthes, for 20 years now.
Tell me about the origins of RedLeaf Exotics - what prompted you to quit your day job and start a nursery business?
Prior to opening Redleaf Exotics, I was a fashion photographer for 12 years. Though I love photography and it’s part of who I am, it was difficult moving around with the plants and I was unable to give them the care they deserve. I felt guilty about spending all of my money on them and always worried about the size of my collection, especially living in a small NYC flat!
After 3 years of living in the concrete jungle, I decided I needed a vacation. The opportunity arose to visit the best Nepenthes nursery in the world, Exotica Plants in Australia! This was #2 on my “what to do before I die list”! I contacted them, sorted out details and I ended up taking my dream trip. I had literally dreamt about it so many times prior!
Once I visited their nursery and saw the most giant/colorful/bizarre Nepenthes plants I'd ever seen, my fire was LIT and there was no putting that flame out! I remember the EXACT moment, looking over the unreal paradise, thinking “Wow, this is what I want to do the rest of my life!” It was like a switch was flicked.
I came back to NYC and the inspiration was so powerful, I ended up immediately searching for an apartment with a yard. Brooklyn felt far, but I was willing to do anything to find space for a greenhouse! On Craigslist of all places, I found this diamond in the rough. It was a run-down house with a private backyard and 5 roommates. The room was small and the yard was a mess. There were trees, weeds, and garbage, but I saw a vision of what I could create there! I spoke with the landlord, and within a couple months I was living in Brooklyn, my greenhouse was built, and the plants were in!
After a year of imports and propagating the plants, I opened Redleaf Exotics.
The moral of this story is: “Inspiration is the gasoline to all of our biggest dreams and anything is possible!”
What is your current growing setup?
I grow my Nepenthes in a 14 x 24 ft poly-tunnel.
In the warmer months (May - September), I keep the greenhouse at 75 - 80°F (24 - 27°C) in the day and near 63°F (17°C) at night. To cool, I use a large evaporative cooling wall with two large exhaust fans and cover the structure with 50% aluminet shade cloth. I also have two oscillating fans for air circulation. This gives me bright, indirect light and cool, breezy air flow. The environment always feels very comfortable and fresh!
During the cooler months (October - April), the shade cloth is removed and that leaves me with two layers of 6mil polyethylene covering and a layer of large bubblewrap in between for insulation. I use 4 ‘Dr. Infrared’ space heaters to keep it around 75°F (24°C) in the day, and I let it drop down to 50 - 55°F (10 - 13°C) at night. This gives me highland temperatures for half the year and intermediate for the remainder.
I use a hydrofogger for additional humidity and I only use reverse osmosis for watering. I water the plants almost every morning in the warmer months and much less in the cooler months. I find the plants really like the water flushing over the roots and it gives them their moisture needs for the day.
From May - September, I foliar feed with full-strength orchid fertilizer free of urea. I don't stick to one brand, but Orchid Focus seems to work well. I apply it once a week and make sure to get some in the pitchers. I completely stop fertilizing in the cooler months.
I do grow some seedlings and smaller plants under T5 and LED grow lights to give them a boost, but mostly I grow under natural light.
On top of all this, I manually control everything. While automated systems are great, I feel like sometimes the plants need things at different times and it's best I do it myself… you wouldn't put your child on an automated care system, would you?! I'm always trimming dead pitchers, placing tendrils, re-potting, and constantly showering them with love!
You’re good friends with Geoff and Andrea at Exotica Plants, and RedLeaf is an EP distributor - what’s the story there? How long have you known them for?
I'll try and keep this simple, but details are beautiful!
Geoff and Andrea are my idols! Our relationship is going on almost 20 years. At age 10, I found them online while looking up how to care for my first Nepenthes ventricosa! I remember coming across their site and their Nepenthes were the nicest I ever laid my eyes upon! I would sit online for hours just drooling over their images… pitchers as big as arms! A 2 liter bottle looked like nothing compared to the size of their monstrous pitchers!
They were pure inspiration and I wanted to grow plants just like theirs. I emailed them occasionally to ask any questions I had, and their kindness was always very refreshing.
Eventually, I found groups on the online CP forums who did EP imports. I remember getting my first EP plants and couldn't believe the size and quality! I was hooked! Anyone who's ever received a box from them knows it's like Christmas morning x billion! My passion for Nepenthes grew stronger and I started personally requesting plants on future EP imports. Andrea always did her best to satisfy my Nepenthes requests and it seemed like she always knew what I was looking for. I grew an online relationship with Geoff and Andrea and they have always been the kindest and most generous people! They are like my Beyoncé, my Cher, MY EVERYTHING! I think it's clear the happiness they have brought into my life!
After doing years of group imports, I decided to get my own permits and import myself. I loved getting the box straight in from them, with all the jaw-dropping plants and extras they sent as “thank yous”. The complete experience was always such a rush!
I finally went out to Australia to visit them. I remember having a lump in my throat because I was so excited and nervous. I felt like I was about to meet a celebrity or something!
Shortly after that visit, the Redleaf Exotics seed sprouted!
What makes EP special in your mind? And which 3 species or hybrids are you personally most excited about in this catalog update?
Special they are! Right off the bat, EP only sells seed grown plants. The time, passion, and integrity they put in truly shows! While many nurseries use tissue culture as a means of rapidly multiplying their stock, EP's quality, prices, and variety are unmatched. Their talent for identifying plants without reading a label and years’ worth of breeding experience make them the BEST.
They have created so many phenomenal Nepenthes for the community, and I'm not sure what we would have Nepenthes-wise without them. They can breed plants much faster than in the wild, and this has given them their years’ worth of knowledge that would take a botanist or taxonomist a lifetime to study in the wild. They have a special way with the plants.
And for fun, I love the thought that all three of us are Pisces!
Choosing 3 is so hard, but if I must…
N. truncata-striped x veitchii Bario-squat striped should be one of their best t x v crosses ever! The potential is clear from the parents!
N. [(lowii x veitchii) - yellow x boschiana] x [(lowii x veitchii) - red x boschiana] I can't even imagine, as both parents are already crazy beautiful! All that lowii and veitchii influence is asking for crazy looking plants with great peristomes!
N. truncata x vogelii. I really love truncata hybrids since they get MASSIVE traps! I do enjoy primary crosses, and I'm hoping this one's like a giant vogelii!
How do you propagate your stock? Is it mainly EP imports, or do you also use other Nepenthes wholesalers? Do you also create your own hybrids from seed, take cuttings of your plants, etc?
Most of my stock comes from Exotica Plants. It's a mixture of fresh imports and plants I've had for years. I do take cuttings, separate basals, and I'm in the process of creating my first epic hybrids that I can’t wait to share!
Recently, I’ve been importing from Christian Klein in Germany. He's a very talented grower and most of his stock is seed grown. My goal is to stick with reliable, friendly sources and only import seed grown plants, as they offer variation and a chance to own something unique for the Nepenthes grower.
What are you plans for the future of Redleaf Exotics? What excites you most?
I have some grand plans for the future! I want to carry on the business ethic, love, and quality Exotica Plants has brought to the community and mix it with my own un-containable passion for the plants! I don't want to just grow and sell Nepenthes, but offer an entire inspiring experience that makes growing these plants much more satisfying and good-feeling than ever before. It's not just about Nepenthes, but bringing excitement into the lives of all who grow these beautiful plants. If I can bring good feelings to others through what I love to do, that’s pure bliss for me. I love to inspire and be inspired!
Expansion is inevitable and there are some plans in the process, but I don’t want to give too much away! The next greenhouse will be much larger and when visitors walk in they will feel like they arrived on another planet! I will create one of the most epic Nepenthes greenhouses the world has ever seen, and more!
As for now, I will continue doing what I love to do and allow the process to unfold naturally. After all, the flower does not ask to bloom, it just does :) I want to be surrounded by as many Nepenthes as I can and share my passion with the world! I'm super excited for the journey ahead, and Redleaf Exotics will continue to strive toward being the most exciting and pleasurable Nepenthes experience that I am able to bring to the community!
Any tips for younger growers?
I say enjoy your plants and the journey to growing them the best you can. When I first started, I wanted to grow giant pitchers just like I saw in the photos. It takes time, trial and error, speaking to other growers and visiting their set-ups to gain the best knowledge of growing these fascinating plants.
Don’t be overwhelmed by all the information, and just do your best to provide bright, indirect light and high humidity above all (see growing guide). If you lose a plant here and there along the way that’s normal and even I still lose plants from time to time, it happens. Just try your best and make it fun, not stressful! There are so many things going on in our world today and how amazing is it that we get to enjoy these weird creations of nature?!
Anything else you'd like to add?
(You don’t have to put this hahaha)
Don’t be afraid to be nude around your plants… we are animals after all :)
Huge thanks to Domonick for answering my questions and sharing his story. Be sure to visit Redleaf Exotics to check out his latest plants. If you run a carnivorous plant nursery, society, or are involved in conservation efforts to protect these magnificent plants, and would like to share your story on Tom's Carnivores, please contact me via email.
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