Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pot sizes - size does matter for some things

One aspect of Sarracenia growing that is very often overlooked is what size pot to use. A lot of people I know use 12 cm or 14 cm pots almost exclusively - as did I - mainly because this was the advice given by Adrian Slack's first book, Carnivorous Plants. Here's one reason why I changed to bigger pots:

This plant is a Sarracenia flava that fits somewere between var. flava and var. ornata - its veined at any rate. I brought it about 6 months before the photo was taken from a carnivorous plant grower in Sydney that shall remain nameless. Just look at how cramped the poor plant is - the pot it was removed from (shown for scale) was 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter.

The second reason I changed is because of the speed at which the plants grow. Repotting plants every two years or less doesn't seem to let the plant settle and grow to its full potential - they just get over the last repotting and you are repotting them again. I am trying out 20 cm (8 inch) pots - they look just big enough to get in a few years of growth before repotting will be needed. Some other growers I know use even bigger pots, and grow some really stunning plants. Some more experimentation is in order...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And my favourite flava red tube

While I am in a posting mood - here is my favourite Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora:

Another Queensland plant, this is sold by Fly Free Zone (FFZ) as FRT 1. FFZ's manager, David Martin, tells me he brought the plant many years back from Fred Howell. I tried to grow it once before at age 12, but our winters were not cold enough, and it languished for a year before dying. I like it because of its deep maroon colour - and these pictures were taken within a couple of months of the plant being split and repotted, then de-potted again as a dormant rhizome, flown to Canberra in a zip lock bag, left to sit for a few weeks and re-potted again. None of my other flava red tube came up this nicely, and they were treated far more gently. David's large plants of this clone are breathtaking - again, another clone that promises to only get better with age...

A surprise in the collection...

One of the last plants to come up this year gave me a very pleasant surprise. I obtained it last year as a lightly veined Sarracenia flava var. ornata bred by John Creevey of Gotcha! Plants:

Wow - check out the copper lid! That was definitely not there last year! Rather than being a flava var. ornata, it is a magnificent flava var. cuprea! Here is a look at the taller pitchers' lid, which has even deeper colour:

John's stock plant also has the copper top. The parent of this plant was a mediocre flava that he selfed - this plant was grown from seed sold by Allen Lowrie as S. flava var. flava, stocky form and clumping, North Carolina. Obviously, the copper lid colour was hidden somewhere in this plants' genetics. My plant has not flowered yet - I can't wait to see what it does in coming years. It only goes to show that the true potential of some plants is only unlocked after they are allowed to grow out. How many excellent plants have been overlooked because they were written off at a young age? It also shows that the ugly duckling plants can hide something special - so why not self that plain looking plant? Who knows what it may contain!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just a couple of more flava photos...

Been too busy with things - work, gardening, admiring the plants - and neglecting the blog. Went up to Sydney the other weekend and added another two plants to the collection - a nice veined flava var. cuprea and a different clone of flava var. rugelli from Jessica Biddlecombe - thanks Jessica! Both have been repotted and are settling in well. Also added a misting system to the hothouse to try and keep temperatures in check.

I also finally managed to get into town during lunch and got a new hard drive, so photo storage is now much easier. Here are a couple more photos, with a promise of more to come.

This is probably the best S. flava var. flava I have. It has some sentimental value, as I brought it at the ICPS conference in Sydney, 2008. It was grown from seed by Greg Bourke of Captive Exotics fame, and then donated to the Sydney Botanic Gardens for their displays. The gardens then sold cuttings during the conference, of which this piece was the best. The lid venation is really quite unique.

This plant is a nice Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora - often referred to as a flava red tube. What makes this particular plant special is the lid, which reddens as the season progresses. This photo was taken a couple of weekends back, and it has reddened further since. Last year, the entire lid became almost solid red. This is its second season in my collection, and it is about 40 cm tall. It will be redder than this next year - it is half sulking because it was repotted a couple of months back. Still, it got some red to it, which is not always the case with var. rubricorpora that have just been repotted, so I should not complain.

More to come soon - next installment will be some interesting flava var. cuprea from Gotcha! Plants...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Focus on: Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea

Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea is the all red form of Sarracenia flava. The maroon red colour and elegant curves of the pitcher give this plant some serious allure - grace, class and elegance. It has a well-earned reputation for being a finicky plant in cultivation - if it is not happy, it sulks by loosing the red from the pitchers. Growth of the pitchers is not necessarily affected, just the colour. The reason it does this is not known. My theory for the colour loss is that any abrupt change to the growing causes the plant to go into survival mode by loosing its pigments. In plants, red pigments act as a sunscreen that block out excess light and keep photosynthesis at a level suitable for the plant's growth rate. When we move a cultivated plant, the conditions it experiences change very sharply, as would happen if a plant is moved by a flood or dug up by an animal. Such things are major issues for a plant that would threaten its survival, and see the plant want to store as much energy as possible to re-grow. Removing the red pigments would be one way of storing up more energy for the rest of the growing season. Just a theory, but it seems logical...

I have got good results with the three clones of var. atropurpurea that I grow by trying to minimise as much disturbance to the plant as possible. I repot well before the plants break dormancy and start growing - dormant plants seem to be more tolerant of disturbance than ones that are growing. When repotting, I also use a gentle rose of water to wash soil from the roots, rather than remove this by hand. I also leave the plants be for the entire season once they start growing -so no moving the pots. A large pot will also allow these plants to grow undisturbed for as long as possible. I am thinking of using pine needles to keep the peat acid and make it last longer and increase the time between repottings.

As for the clones I grow, two have been up for a month now, while the other one is only opening its pitchers today. The best plant I have is one from Fly Free Zone in Queensland called "FRT 1-1". It is more vigorous than the other clones I have and makes very ornate, intensely red pitchers with a big mouth. The photo below is of the first pitcher of the season, which has not completely coloured up. The second pitcher of the season is already becoming darker in the pitcher tube, so it should be magnificent. This plant is also interesting in that its flower has a slight tinge of pink to it - this, and the concentrations of red pigment in the lid, suggest one of its ancestors was a S. leucophylla. I class it as a flava because of the flower and pitcher morphology - the issue with interfertile plants is often where to draw the line of defining a species.

 Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea "FRT 1-1" - pitcher and flower

One of its siblings, "FRT 1-5", starts life as a flava var. cuprea lookalike, but soon becomes solidly red. Interestingly, this clone gets the cut throat of flava var. rugellii, something I have not seen in other plants. It has yellow flowers typical of S. flava. Both it and FRT 1-1 came from a batch of Sarracenia flava seed of unknown provinance sold by the late Fred Howell.

 Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea "FRT 1-5"

The third clone I grow came from Phil Reytter at Lithgow. It gets solid maroon pitchers, but is a much more slender plant that is also slow to grow. Others have has issues with this clone keeping its colour, but stabilising it over a couple of seasons will help. Despite repotting, my plant has come up with the best pitchers yet - I'll post photos once the pitchers open and reach their potential.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mixed start to the season

Canberra's weather has done bad things to my plants this year -everything in the hoop house (which is not so insulated as the greenhouse proper) froze with a late frosts a month ago, with anything over 5 cm tall burned right off. This ruined the first pitcher crops of the leucophylla, alata and alabamensis, although the leucos have mostly recovered and sent up nice pitchers. The giant leuco I grow has again excelled itself with another massive pitcher - I'll post a photo of it shortly. The alabamensis and alata, in comparison, both look very poor. The new pitchers coming are now being nailed by snails brought out by the wet weather we have had on and off over the last two weeks - the same weather that has prevented me photographing much of the collection yet. Hopefully, summer will sort everything out - the alabamensis and alata are autumn peaking species, so I'm not too worried.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some background to the collection...

I've been growing carnivorous plants for the best part of 20 years now. During this time, I have cared for two separate collections. The first collection started when I was nine and lived on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. It contained mostly Sarracenia to begin with, but expanded into Nepenthes because they were better suited to the subtropical climate. Although I loved Sarracenia more, the winters were just too warm and the majority of plants being sold were hybrids - not the nice looking Sarracenia flava shown in the books I had.

I really cut my teeth with this collection, mostly because I didn't have lots of money to spend on things. This taught me to be really creative with my growing techniques. Even with the limited resources, the collection thrived. But then came the pressures of university and moves for work to Sydney and then Canberra. This first collection thus dwindled to a few Nepenthes that my parents now grow.

After settling in Canberra, I again looked to start growing carnivorous plants. Canberra has a temperate climate, and after looking into the cost of buying a greenhouse with misting and heating systems, and the cost of heating, I decided not to grow Nepenthes. However, the climate was perfect for Sarracenia - at last, an opportunity to grow them under ideal conditions! I gradually started collecting plants and, after meeting long-time growers Jessica and Peter Biddlecombe, I brought plants of every Sarracenia species. Although most of them do well here, Sarracenia flava are the real stars of the show. Inspired by their elegence, I have a collection of nearly 50 different variations of this species alone! To show what I mean, here is the smiling mouth of a Sarracenia flava var. rugellii x flava var. cuprea:

Sarracenia flava var. rugellii x S. flava var. cuprea.

The collection (see growlist tab) now fills a 6 x 6 foot greenhouse and a makeshift hoop-house. The greenhouse has the Sarracenia flava , S. minor, S. oreophila, Drosera and Dionaea, while the hoophouse has the purpurea, alata, leucophylla, psittacina, rubra, alabamensis and jonesii.