Sunday, February 26, 2012

Autumn splendour: Sarracenia alabamensis ssp. alabamensis


While spring is great for Sarracenia flava, they are more or less finished serious pitcher production by mid January. By the time February comes around, they are getting quite floppy and starting to produce phyllodia. It is this time of year I enjoy members of the Sarracenia rubra complex, which do the inverse of Sarracenia flava  - produce floppy, phyllodiform pitchers in spring and summer, followed by nice pitchers in late summer. Growing a mix of spring- and summer-peaking species is great – it gives you a spectacular show year around!


Of the S. rubra complex, S. alabamensis ssp. alabamensis is by far my favourite – it has a real glow to the hoods of the late summer pitchers, almost golden. Another clone I have (regenerating from cuttings right now) gets a copper hood that is really spectacular. These pictures do not do S. alabamensis justice at all!


This photo shows the unique tri-phasic leaf production of S. alabamensis ssp. alabamensis: phyllodiform spring-early summer pitchers, semi-upright pitchers and fully formed, upright pitchers.


Here is a close-up of the spring and mid-summer pitchers. Note both are floppy (they may start upright but soon droop sideways) and that the spring pitcher has an oversized pitcher wing (or ala). This is perfectly normal and happens in the wild. In fact, this growth strategy allows the plants to target the peak insect season without wasting resources. It would be folly for the plant to invest lots of hard-earned resources in perfect pitchers when there are no insects. A lot of people think the flopping and huge ala is cause for concern; I often hear people say that they are doing something wrong, or that they have been sold a poor quality plant. This unfortunately sees a lot of people kill their plants by moving them to really poor growing conditions, or throw their plants out. Patience is needed with these plants – you will be rewarded in the long run.


Some S. alabamensis ssp. alabamensis plants also have windows (aerolation) in the upper pitcher. By windows, I don’t mean big, white ones like S. leucophylla or S. minor. They are not so obvious unless the pitcher is backlit.

Australia has some nice clones of S. alabamensis ssp. alabamensis floating around. I grow (or have grown) three – the one figured above, another aerolated one that may or may not be the same, a copper-hooded one with less aerolation in the upper pitcher and a red-tubed one. The clone shown here is my favourite so far. It came from fellow Canberran Sarracenia growers Cheryl Grgrunovic and Jack Simpson. They brought it at a one-off visit to the Canberra Bus Depot markets from a south-coast NSW grower whose plants have not been seen in Canberra again since. I have not looked at what Triffid Park have, but at this year’s open day, I’ll make a point of it.