Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Pitcher Plantation

Drosera arcturi, Cradle Mountain N.P.
Well, it may not be a white Christmas here in Australia, but here is an alpine plant in honour of the season. These are Drosera arcturi, photographed at a tarn lake high on the alpine plateau in Cradle Mountain National Park, Tasmania. This tarn lake was a few hundred metres from the slopes of Cradle Mountain itself.
Drosera arcturi, Cradle Mountain N.P.2
These plants are growing in Sphagnum peat between the branches and leaves of a cushion plant (the moss-like plant growing right up to the edge of the tarn lake).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sarracenia rhizome rot (and fertiliser burn) – how to recognise and treat it

****June 2013 Edit – Important Information****

The cause of the rot shown here is not fungus. After a long process of elimination, some plant pathologist colleagues determined the cause is most likely fertiliser burn. While fertilisers (I used slow release fertiliser here) are useful for getting seedlings up to size, overdoing the dosage can induce symptoms similar to a plant affected by rhizome rotting fungi – wilting pitchers, dead rhizome tissue and death shortly afterwards. These symptoms are caused by the roots being burned by the fertiliser and reducing water flow through the plant. In plants infected with fungi, the infection kills the tissues transporting water through the plant, producing much the same outcome.

For reference – this case involved a mature Sarracenia flava var. cuprea in a 140 mm pot. I had fertilised it with around 12 pellets of slow release fertiliser the previous spring.

The recommended dose of slow release is 4 pellets or less per 100 mm/4” pot.

Aside from the different cause, the information below is correct for the symptoms, and applies equally to fungal rots and, obviously, fertiliser burn.


****Amended original post****

I had a very nasty surprise last week – several of my best Sarracenia flava clones started wilting, even though they were sitting in trays of water. I have seen this before in Sarracenia that have not been divided often enough. You should dread this type of symptom, because it means you are on the verge of losing your plant and must act immediately.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Spring photos round 1…

After a rather depressing post lat last month, I’m pleased to be able to share some more impressive photos. My Sarracenia flava are putting on a magnificent show right now, with possibly even more flowers still yet to open! Here is just a taste of what is going on:


These are Sarracenia flava var. flava putting on a joint show.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Late frosts and earwigs ruin the first pitchers…

For me at least, the start of any CP season is always mixed. This season is no exception. Canberra has experienced one of its colder winters this year, with two days of near record temperatures (-8*C) and a number of frosts that have come after the Sarracenia had started broken dormancy. The worst hit plants were Sarracenia alata, S. minor and a S. flava.

S_alata_frost damage

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How to tell if your Sarracenia is about to produce a flower…

With spring comes the anticipation of how well your plant will perform in the season ahead. One question often burns at this time of year: will my plant flower or not? Here’s a couple of sure-fire ways to tell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sundews in the cold

The sundews, or Drosera, are magnificent plants and one of the reasons I got into carnivorous plants to begin with. I first came across them in the early 1990s on a family drive, when my father spotted some from the car and stopped to show us. Interestingly, they were Drosera spathulata var. gympiensis, which was then undescribed.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Watering and trays…

Watering can be a huge chore if you have lots of plants. It used to be a double pain for me, because I used the styrofoam boxes made for holding vegetables. While they were cheap and did the job, they never held quite enough water to see me through the hottest months of summer. And they would always dry up just in time for the hottest day. This happened to me just after Christmas 2010. They trays were full one day, the next, I had dying Dionaea. As each tray only held 3 Sarracenia (8 if they were in 120mm pots), it also took me at least 40 minutes to make sure they were all filled. I still use some of these trays for my S. purpurea type plants, along with overflow S. flava from the greenhouse:


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The week ending Sunday 31 August…

As the days start to get longer, the dormant plants in the greenhouse start to show signs of breaking dormancy. One of the first to break dormancy, an all red S. alata I call “Biddlecombe Red”, put on a good start with flower buds and a couple of new pitchers. Sarracenia alata is a problem for me here because they break dormancy way too early and burn badly. This plant was no exception and its new pitchers were burned during the two coldest days this winter (–8*C and –7*C). The flower bud is so far intact and looks to be the fastest growing of the handful of flower buds coming up.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The first signs of spring, 2011

Finally, a chance to write my blog again! July has disappeared with work commitments, so I'm grateful to finally settle back into a more gentle rhythmn. Its deepest wintere here, and here is the view from our backyard to the Brindabella Ranges, 30 kilometers to the southwest. It stayed on the ground for a good week after I took this photo, with the last of it melting on 20 July. There is still snow on Mount Bimberi, the highest peak in the Australian Capital Territory, as I write this.

The Brindabella Ranges with freshly fallen snow. Left to right are Mount Gingera, Mt. Ginini and Mt. Franklin. The Drosera peltata site I visit is in the hills below Mount Ginini at Smoker's Gap (not visible).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tree shrews, rats and Nepenthes rajah in pitcher perfect mutualism WITH VIDEO!

One of my science scanners picked up this absolutely wonderful article co-authored by Charles Clarke on mutualism between the magnificent Nepenthes rajah and two species of mammals. In summary, a species of tree shrew (Tupaia montana) and rat (Rattus baluensis) both defecate into Nepenthes rajah pitchers while feeding on sugary secretions produced on the underside of the pitcher's lid. This type of behaviour has previously been demonstrated for N. lowii (link one and link two to the original research papers for N. lowii).

The full article (and a .pdf of the research paper) is freely available from this link:

Also be sure to see the high-resolution image of Rattus baluensis feeding on a N. rajah pitcher here (a very high resolution, 9 MB .tiff file is also downloadable from this link).

As if the research article and photograph were not enough, Charles was also good enough to upload three videos of Tupaia montana in action on pitchers of N. rajah and N. macrophylla onto youtube. They are embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

Nepenthes rajah video one:

Nepenthes rajah video two:

Nepenthes macrophylla:


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Winter rhizome maintenance and pruning

Sarracenia produce all their new growth from a modified stem called a rhizome. Although rhizomes may not immediately look like a stem, they have all the characteristics of one - a growing tip or bud and secondary growth points or nodes that develop all the way along the stem. Depending on where the nodes are, and what the plant needs, they may produce either roots or new growing points. Because all growth comes from the rhizome, they need to be carefully maintained for full growth. The best time to do this is winter, when your plant is dormant and new growth can not be damaged.

Here is a photo essay of maintenance I perform on all my plants during winter.
Sarracenica flava var rugellii before being cleaned up for next spring.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sarracenia flava var. flava - ex Triffid Park

Data at a glance...
Latin name                           Sarracenia flava var. flava
Clone name                          Triffid Park var. flava
Acquired                               2009, ex Triffid Park open day
Pitcher flush pattern            Many: many: P (Sp: Su: Au) 
Growth strength                   Strong
Division types                      Flower and rhizome division noted

This rather magnificent plant is considered by some to be a S. flava var. rugellii, but because the red throat blotch extends onto the hood as veins, it is properly a S. flava var. flava. Even so, the intensity and coverage of the throat blotch is simply remarkable. Emphasising these features is the truly narrow throat that makes this plant just so beautiful. It is also a very good grower that, once settled in, splits reliably and puts on a good show of pitchers through all of spring and summer. The photos above are of the plant in spring 2010, but its rhizome swelled from all the insects caught during summer and is now twice the size shown above. It should look magnificent this spring!

Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora - Gotcha! Giant

Data at a glance...
Latin name                           Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora
Clone name                          Gotcha! Giant
Acquired                               2009, ex Gotcha! Plants at the Queensland Garden Expo, Nambour
Pitcher flush pattern            1-2: 1: P (Sp: Su: Au) 
Growth strength                   Strong, but weak pitcher production
Division types                      Flower and rhizome division noted, but not regular

Gotcha! Giant is the biggest S. flava var rubricorpora I have seen in cultivation within Australia. Mature plants produce truly massive pitchers, which regularly reach well over 90 cm (3 feet), if not higher. My plant was obtained as a cutting, so it still has a while to go yet. Another curious thing about this plant is its hood, which leans forwards over the mouth of the pitcher because the throat is actually angled forwards. Even with this obstruction, it is an adept insect catcher. Unfortunately, it is a little on the slow side to grow, with only a few pitchers produced per year. It is also slow to divide, so it is not a plant for the impatient. Despite this, it ranks high on my list of favourites for its impressive size.

Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora - Helmut's red tube

Data at a glance...
Latin name                           Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora
My clone name                    Helmut's red tube (ex J.J. Betz collection)
Acquired                               December 2009, ex Helmut Kibelis
Pitcher flush pattern            n: n: P (Sp: Su: Au) 
Growth strength                   Strong
Division types                      New growth point at flowering and ?1+ rhizome node yearly.

Pitcher description
Lid with filament under-developed, yellow with maroon venation on both surfaces, lid margin undulating. Throat pigmented purple-red with veins extending onto lid and pitcher tube; tube interior yellow with maroon veins, exterior deep maroon with green speckles on throat exterior. Flower yellow, strong flava scent, petals narrow, non undulating.

Helemt's red tube is a plant that always gets everyone's attention, mainly because of its magnificently veined lid. It is a strong grower (by flava var. rubricorpora standards anyway) that grew to around the summer equinox in 2010-2011. It also divides quite readily, both at flowering and later in the season from secondary growths. The photos do not show how red this clone becomes, as it was repotted in 2010. The 2011-2012 season promises to be quite a good one, so it should look stunning this spring.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A handy hint for growing Albany pitcher plants

The Albany pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis) is an amazing and curious little plant endemic to south-western Western Australia. The appeal of this plant lies (of course) in its cute pitchers which are perfectly adapted to capturing ants and other small, crawing insects. Interestingly, it also produces flat phyllodes during winter that are not carnivorous.
Amazing as this plant is, it has a bad reputation for being tough to grow, beeing liable to die with little or no warning. The reason why these plants do this is now becoming known - they hate wet, stagnant roots. This more or less rules out using the tray method for watering the plant, but makes it difficult to provide consistent moisture to the roots. There is, however, an unbelievably easy way to grow this species.

Yep, that's it - self watering pots! The pots I use are the 27 cm square troughs sold by Bunnings. These pots work by capillary watering - they have a reservoir of water in the base and a false pot bottom that allows ample water to be drawn up through the soil to the roots as it is needed. It does not allow the roots to stay so wet that they rot. This system also allows plenty of air to penetrate the soil, while the size of the pot moderates soil temperature. All you need to do is keep some water in the reservoir to keep the soil consistently moist.

These pots have allowed me to grow Cephalotus successfully here in Canberra, including temperature extremes between -6*C in winter and 40*C in summer. I don't let frost form on them, though, and my plants are put in an unheated but frost-free greenhouse for the winter. Except for the self watering pots, my plants are grown under identical conditions to my Sarracenia - full sun and a soil mix of equal parts peat, sand and coarse perlite. The sand in the photos above is simply top dressing to stop the peat splashing over the plants and to keep the top of the pots as free from as much competition as possible. The only plants I let grow with them are pygmy Drosera, most of which are now gemmae waiting to sprout. I propogate all my plants from leaf pullings. As Cephalotus hate root disturbance, I strike all cuttings in cardboard or peat pots that break down in the soil and can be planted straight into a new pot without annoying the roots.

I grow two clones of Cephalotus at the moment, with another clone striking from leaf pullings. They can be slow to establish even in the self-watering pots, but once they are, they grow quite quickly. As evidence, the above plant has not put on much growth since I put it in the self watering pot last year. It is a Cephalotus that produces burgundy to almost black pitchers, so this might have something to do with its poor growth to date. The other, more green, clone has grown much more quickly.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Drosera peltata ex Grampians

Although this blog is supposed to be about Sarracenia, I have found myself posting about Drosera peltata more and more over the past few weeks! Although I find it often enough in the wild, the truth is I only grow one clone of this marvelous plant, and it is one from the Grampians in Victoria.

This clone is excellent because (i.) it is a huge plant, growing to 30-40 cm, (ii.) its golden colour is magnificent, (iii.) it will not rot if you leave it sitting in a Sarracenia water tray while dormant, (iv.) it is self-fertile, sowing itself through Sarracenia pots on its own and (v). even seedlings will take -6*C without  burning. This clone is apparantly widely grown by members of the VCPS, one of whom gave me an established pot last year. It is now coming up all through my Sarracenia collection unassisted. I am hopeful that it will become the weed Drosera of my collection - I am in the final throws of eradicating Drosera capensis. Why? Look below...

Drosera capensis unfortunately catch and kill these guys. This rather ornate little bug (as in true bug or Hemiptera) is an undescribed species of Setocoris, the sundew bug genus. Setocoris are rather enigmatic, in that there are three named species, another 150 species with unpublished manuscript names and an additional 75 species that are not yet well enough known to be named. My colony live on Drosera binata and orginated from a collector living very near wild D. binata in the Blue Mountains. A lot of people call Setocoris Assassin bugs, which is entomological heresy! Assassin bugs (family Reduviidae), although similar in appearance, are distant relatives of Setocoris, which belong to the Mirid bug family (Miridae). Sundew bugs as a name is far more descriptive. In term of ecology, they very probably act as a surrogate stomach to their parent plants, much in the same was as Pameridia bugs do for Roridula in South Africa. However, Setocoris also suck sap from their parent plants. As evidence, the D. binata my Setocoris live on was covered in small 'sting' marks consistent with Hemiptera feeding damage I have seen on a variety of fruits. Setocoris living on D. binata var. multifida 'extrema' in the wild on Stradbroke Island have also been observed to drink sap by a Queensland Museum entomologist, but this record was unfortunately published in a relatively obscure text on Australian insect ecology that no-one else seems to have referred to.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Drosera peltata at Simmo's Beach, Ingleburn, NSW

Simmo's Beach is a small reserve squeezed between the western Sydney suburb of Ingleburn and the George's River. It is quite popular for many people because it is a nice, peaceful patch of forest with two BBQ areas, some walking paths and a sandy 'beach' on a very tranquil, almost non-moving section of George's River. I like the area because it has two species each of Drosera and Stylidium, all of which can be relatively easily accessed. There are also large populations of D. peltata in adjacent reserves, where there are also significant populations of the endangered Sydney plains greenhood, Pterostylis saxicola. Populations of the latter are fortunately not easy to access. I've been visiting this reserve for a number of years now, and continue to visit there regularly, so I will aim to provide regular updates of these plants' progress over the course of their growing season.

Drosera peltata are widely distributed in the Eucalpyt forests here, but I like a small site on the side of the road because the plants here are surrounded by small herbs, making for interesting photos. Elsewhere, they tend to be more obscured with dead Eucalypt leaves, making photography a bit of a challenge. Unfortunately, someone seems to have lit a small fire that burned out much of the adjacent bush, which is busily regenerating. Fire is an important part of many Australian ecosystems, and the plants in particular are generally well adapted to this distiurbance. As a case in point, note the new growth of a Eucalyptus coming up from its rootstock.

As it is still Autumn, I found only a very few D. peltata breaking dormancy. All were in the rosetted stage and had not made any progress towards making a climbing stolon yet. This form of D. peltata is very different to the truly alpine form here in Canberra (f. gracilis) and the one in south-eastern Queensland (f. nipponica).

Just as a teaser, here is a landscape shot of D. peltata in full cry elsewhere in the George's River reserve. Now I have a dedicated macro lens, expect better shots than this in a few months (this was taken with a point-and-shoot on a very clumsy 'manual' focus mode)!

There are a lot of other nice plants in the bush here - growing right above the now rosetted D. peltata was a Banksia, which had a beautiful flower only recently opened.

Another feature of the bush here are Pultenaea, the so-called bacon-and-egg flower. They are of course a member of the pea family (Fabaceae). Their lovely yellow and red flowers are borne on racemes and make a dazzling display. The plant itself is a small scrambler.

And of course there are Pterostylis saxicola. I won't let on where these photos were taken, but they are currently in rosette form. I really like the crystalline-looking 'rivers' that run through the plants' leaves; I assume they allow the plant to make better use of dappled sunlight in the same way some Begonia do in the tropics. I have never quite managed to hit these plants in flower, but will hopefully have better luck this year. Other orchids in this area include at least one more Pterostylis species and the mosquito orchids (Acianthus spp.).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First snow of the year at the Drosera peltata habitat, Brindabella Ranges

The first snow of this year has fallen in the Brindabella Ranges! I managed to spend an hour up at the Drosera peltata site at Smokers Gap (1240 meters) and took the following photos. The snowfall was admittedly very light - it is still a bit too early for anything substantial. Even so, the ACT parks service close any road as soon as snow starts to settle, so it was light snow or nothing! Being originally from a part of Australia where snow is an impossibility, any sort of snow is a novelty and not to be missed.

When I arrived, it was alternating between light snow and sleet, but some snow was lying on the ground - most of it on the hummocks of Sphagnum cristatum. The ground is still too warm to form drifts, except in very sheltered spots and of course on the Sphagnum hummocks.

I was very surprised to see that a small number of Drosera peltata were still in active growth, despite it being close to freezing. Most of them were very small seedlings; the larger ones for the most part had died back to their tubers. The plants that were still around were all thoroughly wetted from the snowfall, but not burned from the cold. There had also been frost earlier in the week, including where we live at Tuggeranong (800 meters), so these plants are apparantly quite cold tolerant.

These were the largest plants I saw. They were growing in a rivulet sheltered by a fallen log from the 2003 bushfires, an awful position light-wise for photography. That I had the wrong lens on (105mm macro) did not help either. Again, these plants had been thoroughly wetted by the snow but were not burned by the cold. I will pay this site a few more visits this winter to see if there are plants growing throughout the winter. Remember, this form of D. peltata was also growing prolifically during the height of summer.

One obvious difference from the site during summer was how wet the soil was. Compare this photo with the same bank during summer.

Just as I headed back to the car, it resumed snowing. Again, it was only relatively light (and therefore not so easy to catch with a macro lens!), but nice to see nonetheless. Being a more tropical creature, snow of any kind never looses its novelty.

I swapped out the 105mm macro for an 18-55mm zoom, and set off down the road to where I had seen Stylidium graminifolium. At this site, the falling snow soon gave way to rather large, almost hail-like, sleet. But it was here where I found the best snow drifts, which were up to a few centimeters deep.

The only sign of the Stylidium were a few leaves poking out of Poa labilliardei tussocks. See if you can find the two Stylidium plants in the top photo. Snow and lichen covered dead branches of a Leptospermum immediately above where I found the Stylidium

Finally, I capped of the visit by driving to the end of the Corin Forest road to Corin dam. The dam itself is only at 970 meters, while the Drosera and Stylidium grow higher up at about 1240 meters. It was sleeting here, but it had snowed earlier; I saw small drifts of snow in grass alongside the road at this altitude. It was snowing higher up as well. This was the view up to the foothills below where the Ginini Flats Sphagnum heath is. I could glipmse a lot of snow on Mount Ginini further back up the road, but the only places with a clear view were on sharp corners or where there was no safe parking, so I could not photograph it.

As I was writing this, it was still snowing up in the Brindabellas. I don't doubt these sites will get a much better coverage of snow overnight. Unfortunately, the reserve is closed when snow drifts start to form on the roads, so I probably won't get a chance to photograph the Drosera habitat under a full compliment of snow.