Local magician amazes fellow horticulturists

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Dan Birch will be appearing at the Magic Castle on New Year’s Eve. Photo provided by Dan Birch

Canyon Lake’s resident magician Dan Birch, will be appearing at the exclusive Magic Castle in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve and the entire New Year’s week. However, what the elite Hollywood crowd will not witness that week is Dan’s creative magic of changing the climate so that his beloved carnivorous plants can thrive.

Dan is currently creating magic with the plants that he is growing in his living room in his Canyon Lake home. As a magician, Dan is very creative with his presentations and goes beyond the anticipated. As a horticulturist, one who grows ornamental plants, Dan also goes beyond the expected.

At the age of 12, Dan picked up a magazine that spurred him to look for more information and led him to becoming an expert on carnivorous (insect and flesh-eating) plants. The magazine, “Boy’s Life,” had a picture of a Venus flytrap with a human finger just above it. Dan was instantly intrigued and began to study and grow these elusive plants.

In 2002, Dan’s love of waterskiing brought him to Canyon Lake and he soon relocated his blind and shutter business to the area along with his desire to grow various carnivorous plants successfully. Canyon Lake’s climate would soon present a challenge to his family of plants and Dan was determined to solve any issues that may appear.

Dan, pictured holding a pitcher plant, worked with an engineer for two months to create a system that placed the roots of pitcher plants in a favorable environment. Photo provided by Pat Van Dyke

At first, his plants seemed to grow fairly well; but as the heat of the summer months approached, the plants began to struggle. It was apparent that no matter what he did, the Canyon Lake climate was not conducive to the growth of carnivorous plants. Dan began to seek answers to his dilemma.

Through his research, Dan discovered that the only place in the world that Venus flytraps grow naturally was in a 100-mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. This fact intrigued him.

In 2007, Dan had an opportunity to fulfill his life-long dream of witnessing these plants in their natural habitat. When asked by his sister, Cheryl, to travel with her to Virginia Beach, North Carolina, Dan immediately planned a side trip to Wilmington and soon found himself surrounded by the plants that fascinated him.

That year and the following year, Dan visited the bogs in which the Venus flytraps and pitcher plants grew in abundance, each time asking, “Why do they only live here and nowhere else?”  That question proved to be the catalyst that spurred Dan to dig deeper.

Dan noted that the plants lived in nutrient-poor soil where they attracted, trapped and digested insects for their nutrients. Basically, the plants were top feeders as their root system could not utilize any nutrients from the soil or water.

Dan observed that in their natural habitat, the soil was not soggy but was rather soggy moist. Dan also noted that the soil in the bogs was insulated above with weeds. This natural insulation along with the aquifers that were present in the soil beneath the plants allowed the plants to remain moist and cool at approximately 67 degrees Fahrenheit.

The accepted method of growing Venus flytraps was to place the plants in pots containing the Venus flytraps into a pan filled with one to two inches of water. One was then advised to place the plants out into the sun. Each time Dan would attempt this method it resulted in less than favorable results.

Dan surmised that the accepted method created an environment that was very different from the natural habitat in two areas. First of all, the soil became waterlogged and secondly by being placed in the sun, the water and soil would be heated to extremely high temperatures.

In July of 2019, engineer Nick Rozow came beside Dan to help develop a system in which carnivorous plants could thrive. The two men were determined to duplicate the conditions of the bogs that Dan had seen in North Carolina.

It was determined that regulating the temperature of the soil in which the plant grew might be the missing link for their project. Working full-time for 2 months, the men created a system which placed the roots of Venus flytraps and pitcher plants in a favorable environment.

By chilling water and flowing it through a tube-coiled pot which kept the plant’s root zone at 75 degrees during the day and 59 degrees during the evening without adding unnecessary water to the roots, Dan and Nick witnessed the plants growing at an alarming rate and flourishing.

Next, a probe was connected to a WiFi-connected temperature controller and inserted into the soil so that Dan could use his cell phone to control the soil temperatures no matter where he was. The process was now totally automated and the plants continued to thrive.

Through his efforts, Dan determined that the temperature of the soil, with both day and night temperature swings, made a huge difference in the growth of the plants. Developing a system to make variable soil temperatures is only one step that Dan was determined to conquer.

Dan’s latest hypothesis is that the plants need these proper temperature swings to make it possible for the plants to metabolize their sugars which is critical for their health. To fully understand the metabolic process, he is consulting with a botanist who is helping him to fully understand the process so that any needed climate changes can be made, and even more amazing plants can be grown.

When asked why he has such a passion for carnivorous plants, Dan replied, “I’m hoping to introduce kids to some great things in this amazing ‘analog’ world in which we live.”

This month, Dan will be sharing his plants and exchanging ideas with the Los Angeles Carnivorous Plant Society, a club that meets in Alhambra and is a prominent and avid group of carnivorous plant experts.

The headlines can now read that Magician Dan Birch is currently appearing in his Canyon Lake home performing astounding examples of scientific wonderment by developing new techniques of plant growth which will thrill botanists, enchant biologists and amaze young and old alike.

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Pat Van Dyke