Sunday, October 14, 2018

The first flower of the 2018-2019 season

First Sarracenia flower 2018-2019 season: Sarracenia flava var. rugellii ‘Triffid Park tight throat’ First Sarracenia flower open for 2018-2019: flava var. rugellii ‘Triffid Park tight throat’

This year, the first flower belongs to a clone of Sarracenia flava var. rugellii that I picked up at Triffid Park some years ago. Its not the plant Triffid Park sell as ‘cut throat’ (that clone has never grown for me – it looks good in their nursery, but on the two times I’ve tried it, the plant doesn’t pitcher the following season), but one that I’ve not seen before or since in other collections. Apparently, Triffid Park regularly buys plants off growers in the VCPS, so it seems this clone is from one of those acquisitions. It differs by having an incredibly tight column on the pitcher, so I’ve always labelled it as ‘Triffid Park tight throat’. Here’s some photos of it in previous seasons:

Sarracenia flava var. rugellii "Triffid Park tight throat" Sarracenia flava var. rugelli 'Triffid park tight throat'

I’m not sure if the veining at the base of the lid disqualifies it from being a rugellii though… but at any rate, its a beautiful plant and a strong grower.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Rise of the Sarracenia flowers, a second try at Drosera schizandra and the Nepenthes ampullaria terrarium

Sarracenia flower buds rising, 2018-2019 season

The Sarracenia are preparing for another beautiful show of flowers. I did a quick head count this morning – 263 buds emerged and rising – which makes for a bumper year. The first flower looks to be about two weeks out still. I’m thinking of getting the pollination brushes out and doing some crosses. To make it easy, the plan is to self everything. Fortunately, the leucophylla almost always open up after the flava are done, so the chance of interspecies hybridisation is low.

Drosera schizandra terraria Drosera schizandra in coffee jar terrarium Drosera schizandra in a coffee jar terrarium

Last night was the October AUSCPS Canberra ground meeting, which had an emphasis on Pinguicula. I had an unexpected score – Dave Colburn from Sydney brought down some Drosera schizandra, a long-time favourite of mine and a plant I’ve only had the chance to try once. I currently have two coffee jar terrariums on my desk, getting indirect light through a north-facing window (southern hemisphere, so sun is to the north) and each growing a decent sized plant. Another AUSCPS member here grows D. schizandra to very large size, so I will have to take a look at his growing conditions.

On a sad note, the friend who accompanied me to try and find D. schizandra in the wild – Bob Miller – passed away a couple of months back. He was a very good friend who will be sorely missed.

Terraria for two of the Three Sisters - Drosera adelae & Drosera schizandra

Next to the D. schizandra is a large bowl holding a pot of D. adelae. The D. adeale are not especially happy (the spot they thrived last summer is not available at the moment) but that they are alive is still cause for celebration – I have lost D. adelae to the cold most years I’ve been in Canberra. Lack of light seems to be the problem (but I’m hoping this means there will be enough light to make D. schizandra happy). If it can hang in there a bit longer, it will get its old spot back and hopefully thrive again.

Terrarium grown Nepenthes ampullaria

There is another terrarium in my office, and it contains one plant each of Nepenthes ampullaria ‘green’, N. ampullaria ‘red’ (not that it gets very red!) and N. x hookeriana. The plants are doing very well, but the light has consistently been burning their leaves (and has bleached out the Sphagnum!). That said, both the N. ampullaria have been producing ground rosette pitchers, some aerial rosettes and decent sized lower pitchers. The light I’ve been using is a 20W LED floodlight producing 2000 lumens, mounted 20 cm above the plants. I’m now thinking of trying either a 15W floodlight (but the local Bunnings are out of stock), a 24W compact fluoro (which has worked for me before) or two of the Ikea grow lamps. All of these options get me to about 1400-1600 lumens, which should help reduce leaf burn. The plants grow above a heated water bath, which produces if anything too much humidity (the pots are too wet and I don’t water them – I just top up the water bath). I might need to put down a coir basket liner under the pots to trap more of the humidity in the water bath while I’m messing with the lights.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Sarracenia in the wild at last - Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa at Suitland Bog Natural Area, Marylands.

This post fleshes out a talk I gave to the Canberra meeting of the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society (AUSCPS) in August.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

In June, I had my first ever visit to the east coast of the US (Washington, DC). Of course, I was determined to see Sarracenia. I was prepared to go to a lot of effort to find a site, but in five minutes of web sleuthing, I had my spot identified and travel plans made – the Suitland Bog Natural Area at Suitland, MD, just outside of DC. So, on the somewhat overcast Memorial Day of 2018, I headed out to see if I could find some Sarracenia.

Central Market metro station, Washington, DC.

This link gives you the lay of the land and public transport directions. Suitland is just over the border from DC and is serviced by the Washington Metro via Suitland Station. Although I read that the Washington Metro has a bit of a bad reputation, I found it very efficient and impressive, especially the architecture of the underground stations. Its then about a 45-minute walk on the sidewalk (or a five minute Uber!) to the bog itself.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. 

Here’s the entrance to the preserve as seen from Suitland Road. The gate is a superb piece of metal art. Although it is locked to prevent car access (and presumably vandalism) further in, there is ample parking.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

At the entrance was a big clump of Asclepias syriaca, or butterfly weed, the host of the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). We take Monarchs (locally called the “Wanderer”) for granted here in Australia, but they are in serious trouble in North America. I saw no sign of them on my last visit to North America in 2012 (British Columbia and Colorado), but this time I saw some, as well as the similarly patterned Viceroy, and the Easter Tiger and Black Swallowtails.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

The bog itself is a short walk in from the carpark and enclosed by a chain-wire fence with a gate. A boardwalk takes you out over the bog proper.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

I was quietly anxious that I might not find many plants, but this worry evaporated the second I entered the bog – the flowers announced the presence of the Sarracenia immediately.

I found myself in paradise, with Sarracenia everywhere.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

The plants are growing along and in a slow moving creek in the midst of woodlands. Most were growing with their rhizomes either sitting in or just above the water. Their distribution within the bog was deceptive at first glance – most of the biggest clumps were growing under dense shrubs and small trees, with relatively few plants growing fully exposed to the sun amongst grasses.

It turns out there was a good reason why so many were growing under suboptimal conditions – read on to find out why!

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD. Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

The density and vigour of the plants, especially those under the more optimal conditions, proved that this population was healthy. That said, even the plants growing under less optimal conditions were forming large clumps.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

I was told there was a late spring in the US this year, and the weather before and during my stay was relatively overcast and wet. The plants did not have much colour when I visited for this reason. But if you looked beneath the new growth, the colour of last year’s growth was still visible.

Here is some of the variation I saw:

 Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD. Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD. Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD.Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD.Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD. Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa; Suitland Bog Natural Area, MD. 

Given most of the “venosa” I’ve acquired and grown in Australia turned out to be S. rosea, it was great to see the genuine article.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

A small part of the bog has Sphagnum growing in it. I was later told by a member of the preserve management committee that the Sphagnum was translocated from another bog.

Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa habitat, Suitland Bog Natural Area, Suitland, MD.

The above picture links to a video capturing the ambience of the bog. Its soundtrack is the crickets and birds, occasionally marred by a speeding car or a C-17 on departure from nearby Andrews AFB (I was hoping for one of the UH-1N Twin Hueys of the USAF 1st Helicopter Squadron, but oh well).

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

Its worth noting that, from an ecological management perspective, that the Sarracenia are not the focus of conservation at the bog. In fact, the Sarraenia purpurea growing at the site are not the original population, which was extirpated many decades ago. Instead, they were translocated from New Jersey (I would presume from the Pine Barrens). The main conservation aim at Suitland is to preserve the last local example of a Magnolia bog, and management focuses on preservation of the swamp magnolia and several rare grasses, not the Sarracenia. This blog notes that Sarracenia removal is actually part of the management action suite there - hence why so many of the older plants were growing under suboptimal conditions! Another post from the same blog notes (as did a 1970s hydrology paper for the site) that Drosera filiformis once occurred here, as did Drosera intermedia as recently as 2007. I either missed the D. intermedia, or they have indeed disappeared.

Wyeomyia smithii (Suitland Bog, MD, 9 April 1986 ex pitcher plant); Smithsonian National Mosquito Collection, Suitland, MD. Wyeomyia smithii detail; Smithsonian National Mosquito Collection

I had hoped to see the pitcher plant mosquito, Wyeomyia smithii, at the bog. On Memorial Day, I saw – and was bitten by – a few mosquitoes, but they turned out to be Aedes vexans and Psorophora ferox (the latter has cute white socks!). As I was in the US working on mosquitoes, I was fortunate to visit and key out specimens in the mosquito collection at Smithsonian/Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit (also at Suitland), and made a point of examining and photographing some Wy. smithii specimens (which had also been collected at Suitland Bog). Some iphone-down-the-microscope-lens style shots are above.

Speaking with the Smithsonian curators, I was told that I must have been a couple of days too early, and that if we visited again, Wyeomyia should be flying. We called in on our way home to try our luck again and found them in abundance, flitting delicately from pitcher to pitcher.

Pitcher plant mosquitoes (Wyeomyia smithii) and the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa); Suitland Bog, MD.

Wyeomyia smithii resting on the hood of a Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa pitcher; Suitland Bog, MD.

They were more interested in feeding on the red veins of the traps than biting us (most populations of Wy. smithii are amphibian feeders, with just a few records of human feeding). The overcast conditions unfortunately made it very hard to photograph them. The below picture links to an iphone video of them in action:

Wyeomyia smithii mosquitoes feeding on nectar produced by its host, Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa

In addition to the Sarracenia, a few other plants at the bog are worth mentioning. Rose Pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides) were blooming right by the entrance:

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

Unfortunately, I was about a month too late to see blooms of the Lady Slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) also reported to grow there. Further in along the boardwalk were two species of Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD. Suitland Bog natural area; Suitland, MD.

The downside of getting to visit the US is that I had no chance to plant the potted Sarracenia back into bog gardens this winter. Even worse, a broken glass door the afternoon before a –8C night cooked the few non-terrarium Nepenthes I had here (my N. ampullaria and N. x hookeriana are doing well though). As the plants are breaking dormancy now, the opportunity to re-establish the bogs has passed for this year. On the plus side - the collection is shooting up what looks to be a bumper year for flowers, so stay tuned for photos soon.

PS – and while I missed out on a flypast at Suitland, I did get to see a USAF 1st Squadron Twin Huey (in fact, I was even allowed to strap in and run through the startup checks by the pilots :D ).

Bell UH-1N, 1st Helicopter Squadron, United States Air Force

A great end to a fantastic trip.

Friday, May 18, 2018


Yes, I’ve neglected the blog again, and the season has finished up with a handful of early blog posts to speak of. So here is the low-down on what happened this Summer, and what will be happening this Winter.

Sarracenia collection, 5 November 2017

Sarracenia collection, 25 November 2017

The plants did ok, but just ok.

Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea garden, 25 November 2017

The best were the Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea, but they were nowhere near as good as they were in the bog gardens – compare them with the below shot of the same plants in a bog garden:

Red pitcher plants, Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea FRT 1-1

Virtually every plant was a shadow of their former bog garden glory. As this was their second season post repotting, it looks like the trend has been set – Sarracenia just don’t do as well in pots under my current conditions.

Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora, 25 November 2017

Here’s a comparison of the plants that had the biggest loss of colour – S. flava var. rubricorpora – between how they looked in pots this year (above) and in the bog garden two years back (below).

Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora, Reytter's clone  Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora 'FRT 1'

The colours in the bog gardens were amazing, whereas they could have been mistaken for S. flava var. flava in the pots. Other than the change to pots, their growing conditions were identical. Clearly, the plants are not happy being in pots. Given how depressing the plants looked, I didn’t post anything.

Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea collection, late summer 2017-2018 season.

Summer this year was hot, and arrived a little early. This resulted in the S. flava being over and done before Christmas, with the plants really looking good for a week or two – a real let down. But at least everything caught a lot of insects when the going was good, so the rhizomes are in good condition despite the lack of colour on the pitchers. The temperatures really bleached out the pitchers, again much more so than when they were in bog gardens. Pots just don’t have the same thermal mass, I suspect.

Drosera burmannii with prey

The new year brought a very nice surprise – an announcement that the Australasian Carnivorous Plant Society (which I used to frequent when we would go to Sydney more regularly) was opening meetings in Canberra. The first meeting was at fellow Sarracenia grower Ross R’s place for a BBQ and much discussion of carnivorous plants and how the season had been in the Canberra area. I’ve been to every meeting since, and even gave a presentation on  mosquitoes and how to control them in CP setups. In short – growing numbers of Sarracenia in trays will breed large numbers of Aedes and Culex mosquitoes, especially the Common Backyard Mosquito, Aedes notoscriptus. Here are some photos of that species biting me:

Aedes (Rampamyia) notoscriptus (Skuse, 1889) Aedes (Rampamyia) notoscriptus (Skuse, 1889)

Despite them being bloodsuckers, they are rather beautiful insects when seen under magnification. As far as control goes, either grow plants requiring a water tray in a bog garden following the mosquito-proofing suggestions I made elsewhere on the blog, or use chemicals. I use either NoMoz pellets (an insect growth regulator) or Aquatain (a surface treatment that suffocates mature mosquito larvae and pupae). FOLLOW THE LABEL DIRECTIONS when using any chemical! Neither product has caused harm to my plants, and both can be brought at Bunnings, albeit with Aquatain sold under the name Mosquito Drops. One thing that does not work – and is actually counterproductive – is letting water trays dry out (smaller trays can be emptied out, but you need to be on top of it for reasons that about to become clear). The reason it is counterproductive is because Aedes mosquito eggs are drought resistant, and actually need to dry out before they will hatch. They are perfectly adapted to water trays, and even if you dump out the water, more larvae will hatch as soon as you refill them. I even busted the myth that CPs are super mosquito catchers – a Byblis brought into the AUSCPS meeting I spoke at (ostensibly as proof that CPs catch loads of mosquitoes!) proved to have two mosquitoes and several hundred fungus gnats (Sciaridae) snared on the leaves! I must have done a good job, as I got a number of people come back to me saying how interested they now were in mosquitoes – and not because they were wanting to kill them off! Last meeting, I was asked by Ross R to dissect some of his Sarraenia pitchers to ID what insects were in them – lots of fun!

Drosera adelae terrarium; AUSCPS meeting Heliamphora tatei; AUSCPS Canberra meeting

Some lovely plants have made their appearance at the AUSCPS meetings here, with loads of plants being offered for sale. Above are some of my favourites – a bowl of Drosera adelae grown by Barry, and a Heliamphora. Owen O’Neil (Strange World Carnivores) also brought in loads of Sarracenia leucophylla and their hybrids, plus some S. alabamensis. For those in Canberra, the meetings are great to come along to!

Venus flytrap collection Coseup of Venus' flytrap 'Big Tomato'

A sad loss this season was virtually all of my flytraps due to my mishandling them, which was as depressing as the poor pitcher colouration. I had planned to put them into a minibog, but underestimated how long the sealant would take to dry. That meant the plants had to sit in a bucket of water for a few days. When I planted them out, they rotted. Thanks to Owen and members of the AUSCPS here (and a couple of judicious purchases), I have the flytrap collection mostly back, with a few extra forms. I was however very relieved to find a plant of Jessica & Peter Biddlecombe’s “Red Crescent” flytrap, which must be the only piece of it left in cultivation! Fortunately it got some size on quickly before winter, so I am confident it will not be lost to history. The only plant I am still in need of is John Creevey’s excellent selfing of Pink Venus.

Sarracenia leucphylla 'Pink English' Sarracenia leucophylla

Autumn brought out the Sarracenia leucophylla in their white-topped glory. This is their second year with me and they are looking great (thanks again Owen!!!).

Meadow argus butterfly (Junonia villida calybe) feeding on a white-topped pitcher plant (Sarracenia leucophylla) Sarracenia leucophylla "Big Mouth" autumn traps, 2017-2018 season

But I can’t help think how much better they would probably look if grown in a bog garden.

As of last Friday came the first frosts – a relief after a record breaking Summer. We are indeed due for ongoing frosts nearly daily now. Fortunately, the S. leucophylla still look very good until well into winter here.

Outcomes from this season – I am going back to bog gardens. IME, if you want to grow the best Sarracenia possible, nothing beats a well prepared and well-sited bog garden. Sure its some hassle and a lot more effort to set up, but putting in the hard work up front means rewards of beautiful plants for years afterwards with little to no effort. I’ll make sure lots of photos are taken, so watch this space.

Till then,