Conservation at Meadowview & botanic art, by Siru Curzon
15 February 2019 - Guest Post
Today I’m thrilled to be welcoming Siru Curzon to the blog. Once the owner of what was (unofficially!) the largest carnivorous plant collection in Finland, Siru is now a qualified horticulturist and botanical artist living in the US. Long-time readers of the blog may remember I featured Siru in my round-up of Instagram growers back in 2017.
For her first contribution to Tom’s Carnivores, Siru has shared an account of how she got started in the hobby as a teenager, the story behind her appearances in local newspapers, her experiences working in conservation at the Meadowview Biological Research Station in Virgina, and a showcase of her fantastic carnivorous plant artwork.
Enjoy! If you’d like to see more articles like this, please let me know. To receive email notifications when I publish new articles, you can subscribe here.
Jump to a particular section…
- The Biggest Carnivorous Plant Collection in Finland
- Meadowview Biological Research Station
- Carnivorous Plant Art
1. The Biggest Carnivorous Plant Collection in Finland
My first encounter with carnivorous plants came in 2007, when I was 13 years old. Until then I had never even heard of them, but I happened to pick up a few plants from a newly opened plant store in my city. I tried to cultivate them like normal houseplants, but they declined and died within 6 months. My Nepenthes x ventrata lasted the longest, but died during a harsh Finnish winter without artificial lighting.
Nevertheless, I persisted! I started small when I joined a Finnish CP forum (now gone) and wanted to take part in a group plant import from Holland. I soon had 2 plants and was so hyped about owning species that none of my friends grew. Then I started asking my mom if I could use her credit card to buy from czplants. When I turned 18 I got my own PayPal account and started buying plants independently. I ordered a lot; so many, in fact, that I got an unofficial title of owning the biggest carnivorous plant collection in Finland. I had about 600 plants from tiny pygmy sundews to a giant Nepenthes truncata.
One summer I was working in a green space maintenance company, and one of my friends there suggested that I should report myself to the local newspaper in our city and tell them what I had in my room. I was pretty much the only one in Finland who had gone to these extremes trying to grow these things, and I’ve always been very bold when talking about carnivorous plants; I can literally talk for hours about how cool they are, and about their very fine and intricate designs. So I followed by colleague’s advice, but without high expectations.
Soon a reporter came, and I was featured in a front-page article with the title “Horticulturist student feeds rats to her plants”! I wanted people to give up their inaccurate media-given ideas about carnivorous plants, how they really don’t chomp people’s fingers off. The snowball started to roll, and I was asked to host a booth in a plant fair where I displayed my carnivores, sold plants, and I also gave two lectures. I’ve been on TV news and done probably 6-7 magazine/news articles.
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In 2013 I started my studies at the Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK), in Lepaa, Finland, to become a horticulturist. During my second year I did an internship at the same store from which I bought my first carnivorous plants, but didn’t like the way the plants were treated; it was too commercial for me. To give an example, I printed new care instructions for their carnivorous plant display, but was told to take them down because they had “too much text on them”… namely critical information about dormancy and soil requirements!
In my third year at university, students had to complete something called “a special internship”. This placement would also be 3 months, but you had to choose somewhere at which you could see yourself working in the future. Having been in the hobby for 9 years, I wanted to go somewhere where I would be able to grow carnivorous plants!
I had to rule out Finland, obviously. I sent an application to Kew Gardens in London, which had been my dream since I’d visited them in 2012. Then I asked my Instagram followers about where I should go, and I got multiple answers. I ended up emailing Sarracenia Northwest, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and Meadowview Biological Research Station about the internship. Meadowview answered, and gave me a yes. In 2016, I would be flying to America!
It was both exciting and a little sad. I would be leaving my family behind and entering a new world for a brief amount of time. Also, my family’s 21-year-old cat, Ninni, passed away that spring and I felt a relief to think about other things in life. This would also be my first time ever flying alone, not to mention over the Atlantic Ocean to another continent!
2. Meadowview Biological Research Station
Meadowview Biological Research Station is located in Woodford, south of Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 90 minutes away from Washington D.C. Their mission statement is:
I got to meet Phil Sheridan, the President of the organization, and the horticulturist Richard Curzon. This being my first year at Meadowview, I had to get used to the organization’s work patterns and learn the style of repotting and dividing Sarracenia. At that time I had grown Sarracenia for less than 4 years and my plants were nowhere near as big as the ones at Meadowview. Seriously, the biggest plants were 38 inches tall with rhizomes as thick as my (feminine, lol) wrist! Hence the name, “The Georgia Giant”!
I also participated in plant shows in Richmond, VA and Washington D.C in the spring with the other workers. I helped prepare orders, putting the plants in ziplock bags and into boxes, and pollinated Sarracenia flowers, sowed seeds, and built plant beds.
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Meadowview’s collection itself is extensive, with many interesting and cool crosses that Phil has produced over the past few decades. Many long benches full of Sarracenia flava, leucophylla, catesbaeis, and many complex hybrids with awesome color and shape variations. The collection is broadly split in two: first there’s the older plants, including rare specimens and Sarracenia with location data, and second the horticultural hybrids and plants destined for sales or plant shows.
At that time they also had a greenhouse filled with lowland Nepenthes, including a huge Nepenthes rafflesiana and Nepenthes truncata. The other side of the greenhouse was dedicated for seedling Sarracenia. On the far end of the property lay a big shed which was used to grow highland plants. Most of these plants were Richard’s, which he had brought to the house with him as he was working there full-time.
Meadowview also works to restore the longleaf pines which grow together with Sarracenia as part of the indigenous ecosystem. They have a 232 acre nature preserve called the Joseph Pines Preserve, in Sussex county, Virginia, where they have reintroduced S. flava and S. purpurea with Virginian origin as well as longleaf pines. The Meadowview headquarters in Woodford also has its own nature preserve of several acres - the Central Virginia Preserve - which borders the northernmost native pitcher plant bog in the state of Virginia. Here we cleared the bogs and cut scrubs to increase the light levels in the preserve.
My first internship at Meadowview lasted 3 months. Time flew so fast and I treated every day as a great blessing, just to think myself as a small girl from Finland, interning and living in the USA.
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I returned to Meadowview in 2017 after graduating from university and claiming my horticulturist title, and this time I stayed for 6 months. The longer stay made it a more versatile year, and I had time in the fall to attend more plant shows on top of dividing plants and sowing seeds. During this second visit, Richard and I also started to repot the old collection.
In 2018 I faced another challenge as Richard left Meadowview to work elsewhere. I sort of grabbed his torch and worked with another great guy, Cody Cook, for the whole summer alongside two other interns. We liquidized Meadowview’s collection of Nepenthes and tropical plants to focus more on growing Sarracenia and Dionaea.
In summary, Meadowview is probably the greatest manmade ‘Sarracenia garden’ I’ve ever seen in my life so far.. I’m grateful for each of the 3 summers I got to spend there, contemplating life and just enjoying the beauty of nature. I would certainly like to help them out in the future.
3. Carnivorous Plant Art
I’m currently living United States and got married to Richard last fall (😊). While waiting for the paperwork associated with moving to the United States to go through, I’ve rediscovered my love of botanical art.
I used to draw seriously before carnivorous plants captured my imagination. I spent a lot of time on the website ‘deviantArt’ drawing animals between 2008 and 2012. Sad to say, I used to draw many things because those subjects were popular. I got commissions and made collaborations and trades, but as my love of plants grew deeper I switched my subject to draw what I loved, and it cost me my main audience. I guess they didn’t think plants were cool (but fuzzy and furry animals were). I didn’t give up, but had a long break from art until late 2018.
Before I decided to pursue horticulturist career I had thought about being an artist, so in a way I’m combining two of my favorite things!
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I love old botanical carnivorous plant illustrations and their defined anatomy and colors. I like realism but also enjoy using colorful highlights/shadows which determine my style now, I think. I do watercolor and colored pencil works. So far, I’d say I probably enjoy illustrating Nepenthes the most but that’s probably because I haven’t drawn other plants that much.
I’m open for all commissions. Just have your reference photo ready and I can work on it!
A big thank you to Siru for taking the time to write this post and share her story and experiences on Tom’s Carnivores. Be sure to take a look at Siru’s Instagram and Etsy store if you’re interested in buying some of her fantastic artwork.
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If you run a carnivorous plant nursery or society, are involved in the conservation efforts to protect these magnificent plants, or if you’re interested in contributing a guest post to the Tom’s Carnivores blog, please send me an email.
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