Colorado Springs man passionate about carnivorous plants
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Jeremiah Harris tends to and trims his carnivorous plants in his greenhouse at his home on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. These particular plants produce a long tube called a pitcher. The plant also produces nectar that attracts insects to the lid of the tube. When the insects feed on the nectar, it causes them to lose their footing and fall into the tube. Further down in the tube are hairs that catch the insect and prevent it from escaping. The insect eventually falls further down the tube into digestive enzymes, which processes the insect and uses it as a means to grow. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

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Insects best beware of Jeremiah Harris' greenhouse.

There are no exotic orchids, daffodils or vegetables here. Nay, there's only a bevy of hungry carnivorous plants lying in wait for the careless fly or clueless arachnid to wander by.

Tropical pitcher plants, butterworts, pygmy sundews and everybody's favorite, the Venus flytrap, are lined up in neat rows on crowded tables and dangle from the ceiling. The greenery, with its gaping maws, sticky landing pads and alluring nectar, covers just about every inch of the greenhouse's 1,000-square-foot space.

Harris, 28, built the almost fully automated greenhouse five years ago to house his collection of 700-800 different varieties of insect-loving plants from around the world. Two other smaller greenhouses are also nearby.

"They're unlike any other plant out there," he said.

"They're catching insects and using that to help them grow. They look so unusual - they have these huge pitchers or these teeth, sticky tentacles, all the different trapping mechanisms."

Some kids like to hear fairy tales. Not Harris. As a toddler he loved it best when his family sat him down with a plant book and practiced saying the Latin names of carnivorous plants - pinguicula vulgaris, nepenthes truncata, sarracenia rubra - music to his young ears.

"I've been growing carnivorous plants since I was 5 years old," he said. "It was one of those things I was just fascinated with. I loved insects and reptiles and carnivorous plants."

Leo Chance met Harris when he was about 3 feet tall, he said, at a garden center where Chance worked.

"He was full of questions - quite the little sponge brain," said Chance, a member of the Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society of America and author of "Cacti and Succulents for Cold Climates." "He'd follow me around while I watered at the garden."

To be classified as carnivorous, a plant must attract, capture and digest any form of insect or other living organism. Some are considered quasi-carnivorous if they attract and capture insects but rely on, for example, another insect that lives in the plant to help with the digestion process.

"Those are still interesting to me because they take advantage of an insect in a different way," Harris said.

Some microscopic plants only nibble on insects and microorganisms in the soil. Others are large enough to feast on a tree shrew the size of a rodent.

Does Harris ever feel sorry for those trapped, squirming bugs about to become lunch?

"Oh, not really."

He founded the Colorado Carnivorous Plant Society in 2003 for plant lovers to talk and trade plants. The 100-person group comes from all over Colorado and meets a few times a year.

"I've driven down there just to tour his greenhouses," said Denver resident Marcy Leisten Morgan. She's a new member of the plant society who started to grow carnivorous plants about a year ago. "Anytime I have questions he's just so cordial and so nice in answering all my questions. (He has) such a reputation that's so highly esteemed within our community, both in the country and out of the country. He's so well-known for his growing."

Harris' passion has taken him to every state in the country and around the world on missions to find new species, including to Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. His knowledge is in demand - he's lectured at conferences in New England, Europe and Australia.

Last year he discovered a new species of tropical pitcher plant on a mountain in Papua, Indonesia. And he's headed back out in February to search out more undiscovered hungry plants on three mountains between Borneo and Papua.

He doesn't have a permit to bring anything back - he just hopes to find and photograph them. If he does locate a new species, he said, he'll work with the Indonesian government to collect an herbarium assessment.

Harris bought his first carnivorous plant at Good Earth Botanic Gardens and built a relationship with the owners. They'd give him sickly plants that he took home, brought back to health and then resold back to the nursery. It sparked his interest in the business side.

At 15 he started to do live feedings and sold plants at home and garden and landscaping shows in Colorado Springs and Denver. And today he co-runs a website buying and selling plants all over the world. His customers include moms who want to interest their kids in science and botany, nurseries, universities, private growers and collectors.

"I just drool whenever I see his stuff," Morgan said. "I was lucky enough to buy plants off him."

A&E and features reporter

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