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Florida has more carnivorous plants than any other state. A Tampa author explores them in his book

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Kenny Coogan
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Florida has more carnivorous plants than any other U.S. state. Kenny Coogan explores them in his new book. He also runs a carnivorous plant business in Tampa.

Tampa author Kenny Coogan talks about about his recently released book “Florida's Carnivorous Plants” and business “Critter Companions.”

Florida has more carnivorous plants than any other state. These plants use appealing scents, leaves, and sticky fluids to trap and imprison insects.

WUSF's Daylina Miller spoke with Tampa author Kenny Coogan about his recently released book “Florida's Carnivorous Plants” and business, “Critter Companions.”

He delves into the types of bug-eating plants that grow in the Sunshine State, and how to care for them at home.

Kenny Coogan: “My latest book is called Florida's Carnivorous Plants: Understanding, Identifying and Cultivating the State's Species.” I've been growing carnivorous plants for about 17 or 18 years now. And I wanted to write a book on carnivorous plants.

I reached out to a bunch of different publishers, and lots of them turned me down. But then one publisher came back and said, 'Well, why don't we do a book on just Florida's carnivorous plants, because they like to do like state-identifying books.' And then we soon learned that Florida has the most carnivorous plants out of all of the states by a lot. And I said, I would be happy to write it.”

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Kenny Coogan
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Kenny Coogan, author of "Florida's Carnivorous Plants" and owner of Tampa-based "Critter Companions."

Daylina Miller: Why carnivorous plants? What makes you interested in that particular subset of plants?

Coogan: “I have been a vegetarian for most of my life. And when I was in probably fifth grade, I learned about carnivorous plants and I just was attracted to them. I liked how they flipped the role. There's about 1,000 species of carnivorous plants all over the world.

And in the book, I write about 34 species. Right now we have 32 natives that you can find not only in the state of Florida, but around the world — everywhere except for Antarctica. There's 1,000 plant species, and they're all beautiful. So yes, they eat bugs. I'm just more impressed with how beautiful they are.

The Sundews glisten in the sun; they’re dewy, they're really attractive. The Nepenthes, which are tropical pitcher plants that can get as big as a golf ball or as big as like an adult person's head. They are attractive, they turn into these long vines. The peristome, which is their mouth, can be striped and red and black and purple and colorful.

I found them in Alaska and Iceland. And then of course, they're also near the equator. So you get different looking plants that humans have kind of just clumped together because they all get nutrients from their bugs, but they've evolved at least eight different times different places around the world. And they're not really related to each other, but they all just have that cool adaptation of getting their nutrients through the form of live invertebrates or vertebrates.

Miller: You sell some of these plants through your business. Are they easy to care for?

Coogan: Like I said, there's 1,000 species of carnivorous plants, so it's hard to group them all. But the ones that people are growing in their backyard or on their windowsill or in their kitchen: they all have a couple of things for cultivation that are similar. One is they all need pure water. They need rainwater, or distilled water or a reverse osmosis water. City water and well water kills them.

And then for North American species, the ones that people usually keep, are the Venus Flytrap, some Sundews and then the pitcher plants. All of them want to be sitting in water all the time. So you have to put a little tray underneath them so they can sit in like an eighth of an inch or a quarter inch of water all the time. And then the third thing is most carnivorous plants, especially the ones that are from Florida, and most of North America, they want full sun. So do not put them in your dark bedroom and expect success. They might do well on a sunny window, but a lot of them do even better outside full Florida sun.”

Kenny Coogan has a Master’s Degree in Global Sustainability and is passionate about Florida’s wildlife and plants. His professional experience with carnivorous plants started 15 years ago when he cofounded the Western New York Carnivorous Plant Club.

Since then he has moved to Florida to teach middle school science and agriculture. He was awarded the Best Beginning Science Teacher for the state of Florida. He has published over 400 articles on pets, livestock, and gardening for publications including Countryside, Hobby Farms, Chickens, Backyard Poultry, and Florida Gardening magazines.

Coogan is an active member with the International Carnivorous Plant Society. He now runs a successful carnivorous plant nursery in Tampa.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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