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“Cool Companies” is a monthly feature where we recount the odd beginnings, interesting permutations, or otherwise unique and noteworthy circumstances of a toy or hobby manufacturer. If you think you know of a Cool Company that you’d like to see featured here, please contact timothyd@toydirectory.com.

Cook’s Carnivorous Plants
By Timothy Dickey

Venus Fly Trap

When you walk into Dean Cook’s greenhouses, the first thing you hear is the urgent buzz of a hundred tiny fly wings.  Located on the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon, Cook’s operation is next door to a cattle farm, so a plague of winged pests is to be expected.  You prepare to duck and cover.

But with grim satisfaction you realize there’s no need for shelter; the buzzing comes from within pitcher plants on the greenhouse shelves.  Inside those beautiful, vat-like flowers, flies are making a futile effort to free themselves from thick digestive juices that were until recently terribly attractive.

Too bad bugs can’t read.  They might have seen the delivery van outside, on which is clearly painted “Cook’s Carnivorous Plants.”  

Venus Rising

If there were a literal colony of cottage industries, Dean Cook’s operation might be considered the creepy house up on the hill.  In reality, his self-made business grew from a childhood fascination with flesh-eating flora, and a more recent desire to educate people about a fascinating genre of plants.  

Also, to be quite honest, he was a bit bored with diesel engines.

“My education lies in Auto/Diesel mechanics,” Cook explains, and he actually worked for a few years in the auto parts trade.  But toward the end of his stint as a parts manager, he revived his interest in Venus flytraps.  It was the only carnivorous plant he stumbled on from time to time. 

“Then I ran across a catalog where I could purchase other varieties…(it) was the only place listed in the magazines.”  He placed an order, only to be disappointed when what arrived was barely alive.  Cook, who’d grown up helping his parents sell plants at flea markets, had an idea. 

“I told myself then that they needed some competition…”

Sarracenia Leucophylla

One of the hurdles Cook has to overcome is people’s expectation that the average Venus flytrap will either show up dead upon mail-order delivery, or die shortly thereafter due to unsuitable conditions in mainland America. 

Many people are surprised to learn the Venus flytrap is actually native to North and South Carolina.  Cook explains that the flytrap and many other species he carries grow quite well in the range of U.S. climates.  

The problem he had experienced as a customer was due to weak plants and poor growing instructions.  At one time retail flytraps were cultivated for quick sale, but not to stay alive perennially.  Sometimes they withered within the week.  “As a child, that can be very disheartening,” Cook admits. 


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