Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Video of Mike King's Sarracenia collection (Shropshire Sarracenias)

Mike King's collection/nursery - Shropshire Sarracenia's - is the stuff of legend among Sarracenia fanatics. I was mucking around on YouTube tonight and came across a virtual tour of his nursery that he had posted. Now THIS is a collection! And just look at the colours! Just magnificent...

Monday, December 2, 2013


Like North America, Australia has very spectacular cicada outbreaks. This year has seen massive emergences in the Sydney basin, which I was very lucky to see this past weekend.

Thopha saccata

Australia’s cicadas are rather spectacular, and have been given affectionate and often colourful names by children of generations past that have stuck and even entered common useage. These include names like the greengrocer, yellow monday, masked devil and bottle cicada. Others have names reflecting their musical abilities, such as razor grinder (a species that sounds like an angle grinder being used on sheet metal). The one shown above is similarly called the double drummer (Thopha saccata). This is the songless female.

Thopha saccata_M

Male double drummers have very impressive soun dproducing organs (tymbals), making them one of the loudest insects on Earth. Their tymbals are so large that they even have massive covers over them that look like sidesaddles. You can see them just behind the last pair of legs, under the wings. This male has been around for a while and has milky, torn wings.

Psaltoda moerens_F

Here is a less colourful species, the aptly named red eye (Psaltoda moerens), again a female. What most people don’t realise about cicadas is how beautiful they look like as they emerge as adults.


Here is another female red eye cicada just after she emerged from her nymphal shell. Her colours are spectacular!


Her wings became iridescent blue, almost like a Morpho butterfly, as they fully expanded.




Unfortunately, the colours fade rather quickly once their integument starts to dry out. The body soon becomes very dull, and fades to black as the exoskeleton undergoes a complex chemical reaction.

Thopha saccata_stuck

Unfortunately, some cicadas get stuck or attacked by ants as they emerge. Here is a poor male double drummer who suffered this fate. We tried to rescue him, but his wings had already dried out at a wonky angle.

Danima banksiaeDanima banksiae aposematic

We also ran a light sheet and saw a few nice moths. This is a Notodontid, Danima bankiae.

Endoxyla encalypti

And to finish up, a Cossid or Goath moth, Endoxyla encalypti. This species has some blue iridescence on the thorax. The larvae bore into Eucalyptus trees.

The Sarracenia are doing well, but still recovering from the hail the other week. More photos of this season’s progress are due soon.

Good growing ‘till then!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

And then came the hail.

The title says it all.

Here are some photos taken over the weekend. The wind had been back to normal over the last few weeks. New, non-malformed pitchers were up, replacing the manky looking ones. Everything was looking magnificent.



tray 1_thumb[1]

tray 2_thumb[1]

And then came the storm. Typical Bureau of Meteorology: the public pages said “chance of thunderstorms”. But the pay-to-see aviation service pages had maps showing high risk of severe storms over a large swath of New South Wales, with Canberra right in the middle.

So, around 6 PM, the skies darkened and it quickly grew quite ominous:

Canberra storm 21112013_webStorm 3

The storm dumped pea to small marble hail on us for 5 minutes. Lots and lots of close lightning strikes too. We got 23 mm (nearly 1”) of rain in about 10 minutes. We were lucky; a few kilometres away there was hail slightly larger than golf balls.

Here is the aftermath in the collection. I would hate to see what golf ball hail would do:

Hail 1 Hail 2

Hail 6Hail 5

Hail 3Hail 7

Well, it least the rain brought out some food:

Hail 4

Hail 8

Till next time.


Back in 2011, I noticed a number of Sarracenia seedlings had germinated in pots throughout the collection. As I had done a big Sarracenia flava pollination the previous season (crossing every clone of each flava form I had with each other and pinching out any other species’ flowers!), it was pretty obvious what species the seedlings would be. In order to see what I would get out of them, I transplanted them into a foam produce box full of peat, along with a bunch of sundews I recovered out of pots when I repotted the collection last year. Here is what the box looks like now:

Seedling tray

There are a few very nice looking plants coming up in here. Here are my favourites:

atropurpurea seedling

To longtime readers of this blog, it is pretty obvious that I love Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea. During the mega pollination, I crossed all of my (then) clones together: FRT 1-1, FRT 1-5 and a clone originating from Phil Reytter’s collection. This seedling is presumably the progeny of one of these crosses (I suspect FRT 1-1 x Reytter clone – FRT 1-5 has a cut-throat blotch that I suspect would have been passed on).

rubricorpora seedling

Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora – nice red tube, and the only seedling true to type from these seedlings. In contrast, there are a number of flava var. rugellii, flava var. cuprea and flava var. flava / ornata.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Sarracenia, drugs and Lepidoptera…

flava fly

Saracenia flava with soon-to-be dinner.

Way back in 1976, a group of researchers extracted coniine, a narcotic drug, from the nectar of Sarracenia flava. Using the fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) as test subjects, they demonstrated that the amount of coniine in the nectar was sufficient to paralyse the ants. While I can’t access the original study online, I have often wondered what effect the coniine has on prey capture? (NB – the amount of coniine secreted by Sarracenia is not anywhere near enough to affect humans!).

BDQyIJ8CEAEoaAu.jpg large

Over the past couple of seasons, I have made some interesting observations with butterflies and moths coming to my Sarracenia. Last season, I watched a number of adults of the dayflying grapevine moth (Phalaenoides glycinae, Noctuidae sensu stricta: Agaristinae) drink the nectar of Saracenia leucophylla x psittacina pitchers (see photo above).

I was bemused that these moths would be attracted to Sarracenia, but became more intrigued when I found them alive but very intoxicated on the surface of the Sarracenia pots. When I picked them up, they barely but up a struggle, strange for such a strong flying (and often hard to catch) moth. However, they were never trapped by the Sarracenia hybrid they drank from, as the opening is too constricted for the moth to get inside. It was always this hybrid they were feeding at too – I never saw them at any other Sarracenia.

Now, fast forward to this season.

Heteronympha merope_M_R_sml

Over the past few days, we have had Common Brown butterflies (Heteronympha merope merope, Nymphalidae: Satyrinae) make their first appearance in Canberra. The above photo shows a male specimen, which are more conspicuous than females at this time of year.

Here is where I found one today (plant is an S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’):

merope in pitcher_sml

What is impressive here is the relative sizes of the common brown butterfly…

Heteronympha merope 50c_b

and the pitcher that caught it…

tarnok 50c

As you can see, males of the common brown have a wingspan nearly twice the size of the mouth of this S. leucophylla pitcher. In fact, the specimen I photographed (from Tenterfield, NSW), is a little smaller (and paler) than the ones I often see here in Canberra.

merope in pitcher_2

And yet, this leucophylla managed to snag one. Sure, with its wings folded above its back, the butterfly could fall in, but the feeding behaviour of these butterflies is such that they usually settle head up, on top of the flower they are feeding on, and rhythmically open and close their wings while they feed. Once inside the pitcher, I think the butterfly’s struggling would suck it further down the pitcher, but I really wonder whether it would fall in on its own.

Perhaps the leucophylla had a little help from some coniine?

I will keep watching what goes on with insets around my Sarracenia over the summer and see if I can photograph some interesting encounters.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pitchers are up!


Back home at last! While I was away, the Sarracenia went mad putting up their pitchers. They look stunning now, a veritable riot of colour. The only crappy thing this season – Canberra had in incredibly windy October, with 21 days of the last month having maximum wind gusts over 40 km/h. In fact, 14 of these days had wind gusting over 50 km/h. The result – lots of aborted and deformed pitchers. Interestingly, the plants in the biggest pots were much less affected than plants in smaller pots. I wonder if the larger root surface area allowed the plants in bigger pots to be more tolerant of the wind?

FRT 1-1

Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea “FRT 1-1”. This is the tallest plant this year, standing head and shoulders above all rest. This clone has some introgression from S. leucophylla, but is nonetheless magnificent. I really do love this plant…

Son of FRT 1-1

Sarracenia flava var. atropurpurea “Son of FRT 1-1”. Gotcha! Plants bred out this lovely flava var. atropurpurea from a cross with an unspecified flava var. rubricorpora some years ago, and it never fails to look beautiful. This pitcher opened a few days ago, with the second opening yesterday. Sadly, the wind this year has trashed a lot of the opening pitchers, although in this case the plant has responded by reducing the size of the pitchers – they were easily 200 mm (8”) taller last year.


Speaking of seedlings, here are the results of my first set of crossings. They are all products of Sarracenia flava intra-varietal crosses, so there should be some nice plants result here. I pretty much crossed all clones I had of each variety with every other clone. The all-red seedling is likely a cross between FRT 1-1 and FRT 1-5, two excellent red clones. There is also a sole seedling of flava var. rubricorpora and a couple of flava var. cuprea.

flava rugellii

Sarracenia flava var. rugellii – I brought this clone at a Triffid park open day some years ago. It is one of the finest rugellii clones I’ve come across, with a massive throat patch and a very tight throat.


Sarracenia flava var. rubricorpora “FRT 1”. This is one of the very best var. rubricorpora I have come across, or even read about. It is not a particularly massive clone, but it never fails to produce red pitcher tubes, even if it has been freshly repotted.

tarnok pitcher

Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Tarnok’. This is now the only leucophylla I grow in my collection. I have only just got it back into the collection, as a lot of people who were after this clone managed to extract all my divisions off me in exchange for flava clones I was after. Here is this plant’s flower:


tarnok full beestarnok full

I used to grow most of my Sarracenia in a greenhouse, but this year they were all outside. While the spring winds – which were particularly bad this year – can ruin pitchers, there is a benefit to keeping them under the elements: the pitchers open with the first burst of insects. This year, hoverflies (Syrphidae) were super abundant, and most of the open pitchers are well on their way to being filled. Above are some Tarnok pitchers brim full…

flava cuprea flyflava cuprea

And here is a heavy veined flava var. cuprea from Gotcha! Plants about to nail a Muscoid fly.


The VFTs are also coming back up for another year of snapping insects – this one (and the plant behind) is a clone produced by Peter and Jessica Biddlecombe that they affectionately called red crescent. It was one of the earlier red clones available in Australia, but it seems to almost have disappeared from cultivation following clones like ’Royal Red’, ‘Akai Ryu’ and the Triffid park red clones. I might follow the advice of Carl Mazur over at Zone 6b and produce VFT seeds this year, just to see what I get coming up.

Darlingtonia stolons

And to close off – here are some Darlingtonia coming back from their stolons. I lost all of my large plants last year – they simply rotted out. Fortunately, I had collected some stolon cuttings that had small plants already formed (which are now producing adult leaves), and cut off all the undeveloped stolons far short of where the rot symptoms were present. This photo shows one of these stolons producing new growth. Hopefully, I’ll soon have decent size plants back again soon.

Until next time, good growing.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Finally–the first post of Spring!

Collection in bloom

Spring is here! At last! The collection is in bloom! Just look at all the yellow of the Sarracenia flava!

Collection 2

Spring admittedly sprung a few weeks back, but things have been so busy at my end that it was only this morning I found some time to get out the camera and take some photos. Complicating things has been the weather here – spring is quite windy in Canberra, and the average wind gust every hour since 12 noon has been 50km/h (31 mph).


One sucky thing I discovered the hard way is that I am allergic to Sarracenia pollen! Crap! I deliberately let the plants flower this year to get seeds, but I had to give up pollinating them because I couldn’t stop sneezing. Fortunately for me, I have had some helpers – bees. Curiously, they have never bothered with Sarracenia flowers before this year. But there are at least one or two bees at any one time pollinating my S. flava for me. I am personally not bothered by the prospect of open pollination. Who knows what the lottery will produce? Fortunately, the hybrids have not opened yet, and I have not seen any bee go near the only open flowers of S. rosea.


One cross I did make was between each of my clones of S. flava var. maxima. This form is an uncommon plant here, so the more clones the merrier. They may be devoid of any red on the pitchers, but they glow brilliantly in the sun. Note that they have caught prey already, despite the oldest pitcher opening Wednesday. This is the first time these clones have flowered for me. I just hope the honeybees don’t muck my crosses up…


Speaking of prey, insects are not yet at their zenith yet. Right now, the commonest insects are hover flies (Syrphidae), which are hanging around our place in the thousands. The main attractor is not the Sarracenia but the Photinia hedges ubiquitous here.


But back to the plants already. Here is the most spectacular pitcher open so far – a S. flava var. cuprea, from Gotcha! Plants. This plant gets magnificently coppered hoods and heavy veins down the pitcher. This plant has developed many divisions now, and should put on a magnificent show later this spring.


And another view…

Billbergia nutans_flowerBillbergia nutans_plant

Also in flower is one of the few bromeliads that can take sub zero temperatures, Billbergia nutans. I have always loved this plant, ever since I first laid eyes on it in a Nambour nursery that was being shut down in 1997, and grew it alongside my bog garden of Sarracenia in Queensland for many years. I was amazed when Phil Reytter at Lithgow showed me it in his garden and assured me of its frost hardiness. This plant is set to form a magnificent display in our new garden, probably in large planter boxes.


We also like Kangaroo Paws (Anigozanthos), so when we came across this black kangaroo paw (Macropidia fuliginosa, right photo) at our local nursery, I snapped it up right away. These flowers are not yet open; here is what they look like when opened. We aim to have some large displays of both Anigozanthos and Macropidia plants later this year, so expect more photos of our trials and tribulations in learning to grow them. I have seen wild kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos) growing with Drosera gigantea, D. erythrorhyza and D. glanduligera near Perth, so maybe I can include some nice tuberous Drosera in our collection of these lovely plants.


And to close, here are two plants promising to give a good season. At left is one of my few divisions of S. leucophylla “Tarnok”. Gotcha! Plants imported this clone ex tissue culture from China (!) and seem to be the only supplier in Australia. At right is a unique form of S. oreophila, a clone originating from a former colleague. It produces magnificent red veined pitchers that correspond to var. ornata of S. oreophila. The chopped off pitcher was the result of a stray stone being flung by the lawn mower yesterday (mutter mutter grumble grumble). I would like to re-obtain the Triffid Park S. oreophila, which is more a var. cuprea. If we can make the Triffid Park open day…

I’m off with work for a fortnight from next weekend to attend some conferences on invasive species, so I will bid goodbye for now. Expect a new post in early November.

All the best in the meantime.