August 24, 2021
As a young child, I spent my summers in the garden with my great-grandma Mary, who nurtured my botanical interests.
As I got older my love for plants only grew. When I reached middle school, I started hanging around some of Cornell University’s laboratories, trying to pick up whatever plant knowledge I could. I was lucky enough to start receiving mentorship from Mary Alyce Kobler, Head of Research at Cornell University’s Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, and Peter Podaras, a then-graduate student at Cornell’s Kenneth Post Laboratories. Under their guidance, I spent summers learning about tissue culture and the wonderful world of carnivorous plants. As my enthusiasm grew, I would buy Nepenthes seeds from the ICPS and try to germinate them both in vivo and in vitro. This was when I discovered growers like Wistuba and Borneo Exotics and it wasn’t long until my CP collection expanded exponentially!
My fascination with carnivorous plants and tissue culture carried into my twenties. During my time at SUNY ESF, I discovered an interesting method to grow highland Nepenthes. Using a styrofoam cooler box, 4-5 freezer packs, plastic terrarium cubes (also known as “death cubes”), mesh pots, and sphagnum moss, I constructed a miniature greenhouse to achieve a cool nighttime highland temperature. I tucked my plants into their cooler at night and brought them out each morning to rest on my grow racks. I repeated this tedious cycle for over a year. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered Jeff Schaffer’s innovative chest freezer method.
Like a true enthusiast, I traveled all across New York State and even into Canada looking for over 60 native orchid species. I connected with a group of local academics, botanists, and even birders around this common goal. We all enjoyed the challenge of finding new plants. Not only did we have to know where the plants were, but also when they were blooming. I would go to herbariums and look through historical documents to find hints of each species’ location. Oftentimes, I’d have to get permission from landowners to search their properties. This exploration also helped me locate most of the carnivorous plant bogs around New York State.
In my late twenties, I traveled to Borneo to see mature Nepenthes in the wild. I spent almost two months hiking through Mount Kinabalu, Marai Parai, and Gunung Alab. I got to see mature Nepenthes edwardsiana, rajah, villosa, lowii, stenophylla, bicalcarata, and ampullaria growing spectacularly in their native habitat. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life! This fantastic trip inspired me to dedicate the rest of my career to the conservation and cultivation of carnivorous plants, thus Native Exotics was born.
With the help of my friends and fellow carnivorous plant enthusiasts, Mike Smith and Frances Bauzon, we built my first website, grew the collection, and launched Native Exotic’s first auction. For a short time, I actually built and sold laminar flow hoods, which is what helped me build my first tissue culture lab. It was constructed inside of an old horse barn!
At that time I was also working part-time with Dr. Nina Bassuk. We were propagating oaks via micropropagation in Kenneth Post Laboratories, the place where I first learned tissue culture. With the expertise of my friend and now colleague, Andrew Smith, the three of us put our minds together to build a business that could grow into something new and exciting, Florae Collaborative! We remain focused on Nepenthes and other carnivorous plants but are branching out into orchids, aroids, and eventually woody temperate plants.
I want to thank all the people that have helped me along the way! In particular, I thank my parents for their unending support and trust, Nina Bassuk for her mentorship and vision, Andrew Smith for his friendship and dedication to the operation of the business, and of course my wife, Sophie. I couldn’t have done any of this without her. It’s been 10 years in the making and I can’t wait to see where the next 10 will lead me.
Thank you all for being a part of my journey!
Nepenthes khasiana or alata
Spend quality time with my wife, go for runs, cuddle with our dog Lila, and watch movies!