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Peat compost

Most CPs require an acidic growing medium low in nutrients (hereinafter referred to as compost), to match their wetland origins. Most CPs will actually die rapidly if you pot them up in standard potting mix as this contains large amounts of nutrients which the plants cannot handle.An important plant in acidic wetlands is a moss called Sphagnum (Sphagnum is the name of the genus). When Sphagnum moss decomposes slightly, it is called Sphagnum peat moss, or more simply, peat moss. Use this for your first attempts at growing CPs. Peat moss is available in various quantities, and in the experience of most growers it is best to buy it in bales (containing approximately 300 litres). It costs roughly $45AUD. This is a lot of moss, but if you become tired of CPs you can always use it in your garden. The reason to buy bales is that smaller volumes are often pre-wetted (so you are paying for water) or, worse yet, treated with chemicals such as wetting agents. These compounds seem to be toxic to some CPs. When you use peat moss, grab a hunk (it is usually compressed), crumble it to powder in your hands, and then add water. It is hard to wet. The best way is to submerge a handful, squeeze out the air, then slowly let it expand. It will draw in water. Do not use peat dry - it will never hydrate. Most CP species grow well in a peat moss compost. In this part of the world a percentage coarse sand is favoured in varying amounts, depending on particular plants. All the Sarracenia species grow well in a 4:1 mixture of peat and coarse sand. Dionaea plants prefer the slightly better drainage of a 2:1 mixture; as do the various Drosera binata plants and many other non-Australian Drosera species. Cephalotus and Brocchinia genera, together with the Australian pygmy Drosera and tuberous Drosera species, and some of the South African Drosera species - D. regia, and D. pauciflora in particular, should be grown in a 1:1 mix of peat and sand. Byblis species prefer a drier compost consisting of 1:2 mixture of peat and coarse sand. The terrestrial Utricularia species are much more water-loving. They prefer a 1:1 peat moss and sand compost, with a high water-table.
Drosera Rupicola
Drosera rupicola growing in a peat and sand mix

Sphagnum potting medium

Some CPs prefer Sphagnum in the non-decomposed state. This is referred to as long-fibre Sphagnum. Some plants even prefer live Sphagnum. Finding long-fibre Sphagnum to buy may be difficult because few nurseries carry it. Do not buy 'green moss' or 'sheet moss'. This stuff is garbage, and is certainly not Sphagnum, despite what your well-meaning nurseryman may think. Nearly all nurseries think they have Sphagnum, but it is usually peat moss. Definitely avoid the material known as sedge-peat, which is sometimes available. Moisten Sphagnum, if dry, as you would peat. Warning: when manipulating dry Sphagnum, use a face-mask and gloves, as you may run the risk of contracting Sporotrichosis (see the 'technical topics' page for more details on this). If you go to a Sphagnum bog, usually to be found in snowfall areas of many mountains, it is not appropriate to harvest big hunks of Sphagnum. If you must, take a few sprigs, but not bag-fulls. Many of the tropical CPs grow well in pure live Sphagnum: these genera are; Nepenthes (both lowland and highland species), Heliamphora, Genlisea, Pinguicula, and the epiphytic Utricularia species. The Nepenthes plants benefit, in most cases, from the inclusion of about 30% orchid bark mixed with the Sphagnum.

Sand in compost

Drosera Auriculata
Drosera auriculara
Many CPs like some additional drainage that is not provided by peat compost. A common additive in compost mixes is sand. Propagating sand or river sand, both fairly coarse-grained, are the best. It is available from many of the nurseries. Larger grain sharp sand is also useful. Do NOT use ocean sand or bricklayers sand because these contain too many salts. Certainly avoid bags of builders mix or other sandy compounds that are probably dry bags of concrete! Before using any sort of sand, it should be cleaned. Do this by filling a bucket halfway with sand, then run water over the sand while agitating the mix. The water is usually tan and opaque. But after a few such washings the water in the bucket clears and the sand is ready to use. The quantities of sand to mixed with other compost ingredients are itemised in those other sections. Warning: When using dry silica sand, use a respirator because you are risking Silicosis (see the technical topics page for more details on this).

Other compost ingredients

Some CPs prefer compost mixes including portions of vermiculite, perlite, live Sphagnum, orchid bark, or other additives. Feel free to experiment and by all means report your findings. Sadly, there are no solid, reliable recipes that seem to work for everyone.


Pure water is essential, as that is what the CPs expect from their wetland backgrounds. The tap-water or well-water in many areas contain too many chemicals, including calcium. Over time, these chemicals will kill your CPs. In Melbourne area the normal tap water is sufficiently pure for CP usage. Otherwise most growers use either rain, distilled, or reverse osmosis water. Good-quality reverse osmosis (RO) units work very nicely. Water softeners are not helpful since they add as many chemicals as they remove. If you are starting, stick with rain water (or tap water, in Melbourne) so if you have trouble, you know the water is not to blame. How wet should the compost be? Remember these are mainly wetland plants. They want water. If you squeeze a handful of the compost, expect water to run out through your fingers and track down your arm. Wet wet wet. A few require a dry season, like tuberous Drosera in the summer months; but most want it wet. Keeping your pots sitting in a tray of water is a good idea for many CPs - but not for Nepenthes, Heliamphora, Byblis, Drosophyllum, and Pinguicula plants, and Cephalotus in winter months.
Drosera Stolonifera
Drosera stolonifera


CPs, other than Pinguicula and Utricularia, require fairly high levels of light - most need full sun. Providing this for them is challenging. If you do not have a greenhouse or suitable growing area, you will need a brightly illuminated terrarium. For illuminating terraria, you should have at least four fluorescent bulbs approximately 30 cm (12 inches) from the plants. Unfortunately, expensive grow-lights seem to do no better than inexpensive cool white fluorescent tubes. Some growers prefer the wide-spectrum or grow-lights (but do their plants?). Do NOT use incandescent light bulbs because they produce too much heat. Low pressure sodium vapour and mercury vapour lights are not useful.


Most CPs require high humidity conditions. A terrarium provides the 50 - 90% humidity most CPs desire. But since most plants desire some air circulation, do not seal the terrarium. Air circulation seems to be particularly important for the USA Pinguicula species, while Nepenthes do well in sealed terraria.

Dormancy requirements

Some CPs grow in regions where the temperatures do not have much seasonal variation. These plants can be grown all year. But most grow in habitats that are inhospitable during some season. To survive these times, plants either produce seed and die, or become dormant. If you attempt to grow a plant that anticipates a resting period, you must respect its dormancy requirements, or else the plant will simultaneously try to grow and rest, and in the resulting confusion your plant will die.
Byblis Gigantea
Drosera tubaestylus
Different plants enter dormancy during different seasons. Many CPs rest during the cold of winter by forming tightly bound hibernacula or turions - some Drosera, Pinguicula, and Utricularia, are notable for this. Others, such as Sarracenia, Darlingtonia, or Dionaea, simply stop growing or die back to a rhizome. Cold is not the only enemy. Excessive heat is another reason plants may hibernate. The tuberous and pygmy Drosera species of Australia are famous for their dormancy techniques. Tuberous Drosera plants regress to an underground corm for several months of the year. Simultaneously, the delicate pygmy sundews stop growing and try to survive the heat and desiccating winds by hiding within the shade of their dead leaves and stipules from the previous season's growth. Some plants may not expect a significant temperature variation, but enter dormancy because of an approaching dry season. It doesn't matter if you intend to provide your plant with luxurious conditions year-round. If your plant wants to enter dormancy you must provide an appropriately cold or hot resting period. Some growers don't like this because they want to enjoy their plants every day of the year. So they try to devise ways of keeping their plants awake past their bedtime! The only truly successful method is to grow some plants that are active during the winter, and some that are active during the summer - and this, of course, is a great way to feed the mania of collecting plants.


The high humidity and bright light requirements of CPs point many growers toward terrarium culture. This is fine, as long as you do not exceed the temperature extremes most CPs tolerate. Beginners may have good results growing tropical CPs. These plants do not enjoy temperatures much higher than 100°F (38°C). The challenge is to give your plants as much light as they want without cooking them. A useful solution is to cover a terrarium nearly completely with a sheet of glass, and then support the fluorescent bulbs a few cm above the glass. If you are handy, a small computer fan can be bought from electronic stores for a few dollars and easily modified to blow across the ballasts of the lights. Terraria illuminated by direct sunlight get very hot very quickly, and if not ventilated, will fry your plants. Tropical CPs are not frost hardy.
Byblis Gigantea
Heliamphora heterodoxa


As a good rule, never fertilise. Most fertilisers will kill CPs. Only a few types, such as Nepenthes, Ibicella and Proboscidea, seem to like particular fertilisers. But if you wish to capture a few insects and ghoulishly feed these live insects to your plants, enjoy! Dead insects are rarely accepted by the plants that use movement as all or part of their trapping mechanism - eg. Dionaea, Drosera. Certainly do not feed your plants pesticide-killed insects. Oh, and as for feeding Venus Fly Traps hamburger meat; that is a fine way to kill them. Venus Fly Traps are expecting insect prey, not small fragments of cows. If you don't think there is much difference, consider the following: would you like to eat a 'hamburger' filled with the bodies of dying insects? Nepenthes plants grow well on a water-soluble fertiliser called Epiphytes Delight - this is available at the VCPS. Also Nitrosol, at half strength, has been found very beneficial for the same plants.
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  • Plant name sub-divisions.

    • The following name parts exist and are in common use where necessary depending on the break-down of plant variations. Family - a closely related group of genera. All family names are easily recognised because they all have the ending 'aceae' (meaning "resemblance"). The botanical code specifies that a family name is formed from the type genus with the 'aceae' appended conveniently.
      Aldrovanda vesiculosa
      Genus - a group of plants having common characteristics distinct from those of other genera, usually containing some or many species and being one of a series constituting a taxonomic family.
      Species (abbrev. sp.) - a class having some common characteristics.
      Sub-species (abbrev. ssp.) - a category below a species, usually a fairly permanent geographically isolated variation of the species.
      Variety (abbrev. var.) - an individual or group, usually fertile and breed true from seed, within the species to which it belongs, but differing from the species type in some qualities - a natural variation.
      Form (abbrev. f.) - a plant displaying an inherited characteristic differing from the typical species or variety. Not sufficiently stable or marked to justify the rank of 'variety'.
      Cultivar (abbrev. cv.) - a man-made plant variety of a species or hybrid, produced by selective breeding. A cultivar name begins with a capital letter and is not italicised or underlined. Each additional word must start with a capital letter (except for words like "of" or "the"). Other methods of displaying cultivar names are permitted, but the method described here will be used in VCPS publications.
      Eg. Sarracenia X moorei cv. 'Marston Clone'.

      Affinis (abbrev. aff.) - having affinity with. When the plant may be an extreme variant or hybrid the abbreviation "aff." is placed before the specific epithet. The plant may be close to the named species but does not agree sufficiently with descriptions to allow a definite identification.

  • Plant Naming Rules.

    • The following rules are as per the book Plant Names 'A guide to Botanical Nomenclature' (Lumley and Spencer, 1995).

      1. All genus names must commence with an upper-case letter, followed by lower-case letters, and must always be printed in italics (or underscored where italics are unavailable). The genus abbreviations must be an upper-case letter and must be printed in italics. Genus abbreviations can be used where the genus name has been used previously in the text, and is not at the beginning of a sentence.

      2. All officially recognised species, sub-species, varieties, and form names must consist of only lower-case letters and must be printed in italics (or underscored). The sub-division names, or their abbreviations, must never be italicised - eg. Drosera binata ssp. multifida f. extrema.

      3. Plants having probable species status, but not yet officially recognised as such, have the interim species name enclosed in single quotes and not italicised, and are preceded by the 'sp.' abbreviation, eg. Pinguicula sp. 'Pico de Orizaba'.

      4. Natural hybrid names are printed in italic characters and Latinised, as for species. The hybrid epithet is preceded by a 'X' (small caps) - eg. Drosera X badgerupii.

      5. Man-made hybrid and cultivar names are enclosed in single quote characters, printed in normal lettering, and each word starts with a capital letter - not preceded by an 'X'.

      Eg. Nepenthes 'Dreamy Koto' or Nepenthes 'Hareliana' cv. 'Boca Rose'.

      6. Cultivars of species retain the botanical name of the original species.

      Eg. Nepenthes thorelii cv. 'Aglow Koto'.

      7. Cultivars derived from the same parents as natural hybrids retain the botanical name of the original hybrid. Cultivars of man-made hybrids retain the horticultural name of the original hybrid.

      Eg. Sarracenia X excellens cv. 'Lochness' (natural hybrid cultivar)

      and Drosera 'Obovata' cv. 'Clavata' (man-made hybrid cultivar).
      Darlingtonia californica
      8. In a hereditary specification for hybrids, any pair of parents for that hybrid are separated by a lower-case 'x' character and spaces. Hybrid parents are specified in parenthesised groups if necessary, where multiple groups were used in the composition of the plant.

      9. In hybrid specifications any pair of parents are shown in alphabetic order or, if the female parent is known, this parent is shown first.

      10. Man-made hybrid and cultivar names should not be Latinised from now on. The ones previously accepted in their Latinised name-form will remain as such to avoid the confusion of changing names, but no new ones from now on.

      11. In hybrid specifications any pair of parents should be shown in alphabetic order or, if the female parent is known, it should be shown first.

      12. Occasionally people wonder how you make the plural form of a genus name. For example, if you wish to discuss several Pinguicula species; do you call them Pinguiculae or Pinguiculas? The answer is that you can do neither! Pinguicula, when used in its italicised botanical code form, is the name of the genus, of which there is only one - it cannot be plural. So instead, say: "I saw many Pinguicula species". However there is way around this problem. The references to genera can be specified as common names - not in italics and not starting with a capital letter. So, the sentences: "The tuberous droseras were flowering beautifully at Anglesea." or "You can see many pinguiculas in Mexico." are acceptable alternatives.

      13. To provide some assistance with pronunciation, it is recommended, where this is phonetically possible, that every vowel is pronounced as being in a separate syllable. The letter 'Y' is classed as a sixth vowel in this instance, where is creates a distinct 'i' or 'I' sound. Latin names like leucophylla, where 'eu' has a single vowel sound, must be pronounced with that in mind. The only sensible rule to apply is that if it sounds reasonable when you hear it, and you can say it without getting your tongue severely knotted, then that will be okay. The total naming system of plants uses two coding systems - with a combination of them where needed. There is the Botanical Code that accommodates all the possible variations of plants that have occurred naturally in the wild. (Forget plant families and higher levels - nobody uses or remembers those names.) All the name levels occurring naturally should be printed in italics. Genus names must start with a capital letter with the rest of the name lower-case. All lower level epithets must consist of only lower-case letters. The natural hybrids are identified by having a letter 'X' (small caps) preceding the epithet. The use of the upper-case 'X' is not recommended because it is too big. In the printing of books where the multiply sign is available (mid-way in size between 'X' and 'x') this should be used. In MS-Word the 'small caps' option of font format provides this character size, and so will be used where possible. Otherwise lower-case 'x' will be used as the natural hybrid indicator.
      Drosophyllum lusitanicum
      All the man-made hybrids and cultivars should use the Horticultural Code. In this code the names are not printed in italics. Each word in the name (no more 3 is recommended) must start with a capital letter. The names are enclosed in single quote characters. Cultivar names should be preceded by 'cv.'. Whilst the single quotes or the 'cv.' can be optional, for the desire to be consistent and not leave the reader in any doubt, it seems beneficial to always include both of them. So, in our carnivorous plant realm we need to and now can unambiguously accommodate the following difficult combinations, using the coding systems specified in the Botanic Gardens book: Species and species cultivars. Eg. Nepenthes thorelii and Nepenthes thorelii cv. 'Aglow Koto'. Species and extreme variants. Eg. Byblis liniflora and Byblis aff. liniflora 'Noonamah, Northern Territory'. Natural hybrids and natural hybrid cultivars. Eg. Sarracenia X exornata and Sarracenia X exornata cv. 'Lynda Butt'. Man-made hybrids and man-made hybrid cultivars. Eg. Nepenthes 'Hareliana' and Nepenthes 'Hareliana' cv. 'Vittata'.

  • These Latinised names. What do they mean?

    • D. Erythroriza
      Drosera erythrorhiza ssp. squamosa
      Common names for plants, like: grass, oak, fly trap, and pitcher plant; may be fine for the masses, but when you want to study plants with any degree of seriousness you must use more 'specific' names. Every plant and animal known to science has a scientific name. For all the plants resulting from natural evolution or natural hybridisation, these are Latin or Greek roots combined to form Latin words. Each of these individual portions of the scientific name is called an epithet. An example of such a name is Homo sapiens, which is of course is what you are. The first part of the name, 'Homo', is the name of our genus. The word genus is related to the word generic, and indicates the broad category that includes all humans and very closely related creatures. For example, all dogs, wolves, and dingos are in the genus Canis. Most 'gum trees' are in the genus Eucalyptus, and all bears are in the genus Ursus. (The Australian marsupial, the Koala, is NOT a bear - its scientific name is Phascolarctos cinereus.) The second part of our scientific name is the species; in our case 'sapiens'. This 'specific' epithet distinguishes between the different members of a genus, for example the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) from the wolf (Canis lupus), or a human from previous species (Homo sapiens versus Homo erectus, etc). When you write a Latin name, the genus name must start with an upper-case (capital) letter and the following characters must be lower-case, while the species name must start with and consist of lower-case letters only. Finally, to be correct for all the naturally occurring life forms, you should write each epithet in italics; like Eucalyptus melliodora (our Yellow Box honey tree). On-line news-groups will try to indicate the need for italics with underscore characters - for example Felis catus or _Felis catus_ (our domestic pussy cat). In written works, once the author has identified the genus being discussed, it is common to just use an initial; so if we were discussing Marsh Pitcher plants, we might first mention Heliamphora heterodoxa, but then say something about H. nutans or H. minor - using abbreviated epithets. This should not be done where the genus name is the first word in a sentence. A problem arises when there would be a common initial - for instance when discussing a mixture of Drosera and Drosophyllum plants. The genus names should be specified in full for each usage in such cases.
      N. Burbidgea
      Nepenthes burbidgea
      So those are the mechanics of the generic and specific parts of the names. The meanings of the names are often very interesting. The genus Utricularia is characterised by the presence of small bladders, or utricles. The specific name is usually descriptive of the plant - for example U. pentadactyla has flowers with five (penta-) finger-like (-dactyla) lobes. The species U. nova-zelandiae grows in New Zealand. Other epithets, ending with suffixes such as 'i', 'ii', or 'iana', honour some individual (usually a male), eg. Drosera slackii (named after the British horticulturist and author Adrian Slack), Sarracenia rubra ssp. wherryi (named after the American botanist Dr. E. T. Wherry), or Nepenthes rafflesiana (named after Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore). The 'ae' suffix is use when the plant is named after a woman, eg. N. burbidgeae (named after the wife of the British collector F.W. Burbidge). When the species name contains the suffix 'ensis' (and the 'ae' suffix can be used this also) it indicates that the preceding name-portion is the region (description or actual name) where the plant comes from: eg. D. capensis comes from the Cape of Good Hope area of South Africa, and Nepenthes muluensis is found on Mt. Mulu in Sarawak. Small botanical Latin dictionaries are very helpful in puzzling the meaning of plant names. Cultivar names can be applied to a species plant - Sarracenia leucophylla cv. 'Tarnok' or Nepenthes thorelii cv. 'Aglow Koto'. Growers may use various subspecies, varieties or forms within a single species to produce a new man-made variation. Although the resulting plant is man-made, its derivation is from within a single species and the species epithet remains in its italicised form. The cultivar name portion must be non-italicised. It is noteworthy to mention here that, in many cases, within this document and usually in verbal intercourse among CPers, that for the monotypic genera, the species names are not used. This is because the genus name is quite adequate to identify the plant, and the species name is considered an unnecessary redundancy. Such usage is not strictly correct, but it is normal practice. This will be noticeable when referring to Cephalotus, Dionaea and Darlingtonia; being frequently-discussed plants. At one of our monthly VCPS meetings the name follicularis was mentioned - there was some dismay and lapse of time before it was realised that Cephalotus was really the plant being referred to. Incidentally, the plural of genus is 'genera', and both the singular and plural of the word species is 'species'. Just to introduce a bit of confusion; whilst the abbreviation for species is 'sp', the plural of this abbreviation is 'spp' - hopefully, not to be confused with the subspecies abbreviation 'ssp'. What do you mean by complex names like - Drosera binata var. multifida f. extrema? Sometimes a plant does not just fit into the moulds of genus and species. It may be very similar to some species, but different in some subtle yet significant way. If it is not so different as to be a different species, it may be defined as being a different subspecies (like Sarracenia rubra ssp. gulfensis). Other species subcategories exist, such as 'varieties' or 'forms'. For example, some varieties of Drosera binata (binata = fork-leafed) produce leaves with many (multi) branches, hence D. binata var. multifida. A rare form has a great number (more than around 16) leaf tips, and is called D. binata var. multifida f. extrema. All this does not mean you can call plants whatever you like; inventing names along the way. Botanical Latinised names must be published in a scientific journal before they are considered valid.

  • How do you pronounce the Latinised names?

    • There are two approaches to this. The first is to be precise and pronounce everything using the correct Latin. The second approach is more relaxed, and operates on the principle that since Latin is a dead language, its pronunciation doesn't really matter. Say it however you feel comfortable. Consider the species of pitcher plant found in mountainous terrain, Sarracenia oreophila. Some people pronounce this orry-AH-fila, others say orr-ee-oh-FIL-a (preferred), and others say orr-ee-oh-FYE-la. Just as long as you get the point across, it does not matter. To provide some assistance with this, it is recommended, where this is phonetically possible, that every vowel is pronounced as being in a separate syllable. The letter 'Y' is classed as a sixth vowel in this instance, where is creates a distinct 'i' or 'I' sound. Latin names like leucophylla, where 'eu' has a single vowel sound, must be pronounced with that in mind. The only sensible rule to apply is that if it sounds reasonable when you hear it, and you can say it without getting your tongue severely knotted, then that will be okay.
      D. Callistos
      Drosera callistos
      In some books, particularly in the earlier title by Gordon Cheers, there is reference to a fictitious CP species called Sarracenia oreophylla - there is no such plant. It is unfortunate that this erroneous label was associated with the species S. oreophila, in most cases. The error probably came about because of the phonetic similarity between the latter portions of the species names in S. leucophylla and S. oreophila. In the leucophylla name, we have from the Greek: leuco (white-) and phylla (-leaf) - a very appropriate description for those pitchers. The species epithet for Sarracenia oreophila is derived from: Latin oreas or Greek oreias (mountain-) and Greek phila (-loving) - its natural habitat being some isolated mountainous areas in north-eastern Alabama in USA.

  • What about hybrid plants?

    • In most of the CP genera, particularly Nepenthes and Sarracenia, many natural and man-made hybrids exist. The scientific names are used in a slightly different way to accommodate the hybrids and the cultivars. Natural Hybrids. Presuming, of course, that the usual conventions of the naming system are used in any instance, when an 'X' is placed following the italicised genus epithet, then the plant is a natural hybrid. For instance, Nepenthes X kinabaluensis (a natural hybrid, found on Mt. Kinabalu) or, in the abbreviated form N. X kinabaluensis (verbalised as: "nepenthes hybrid kinabaluensis"). Or, in the sundew genus, Drosera X badgerupii is a natural hybrid, usually found in Western Australia. Man-made Hybrids. When the second part of the plant name is shown as normal upright letters (non-italicised), without an 'x' preceding it and enclosed within single quote marks, this indicates that the plant is a man-made hybrid. Although many of the man-made hybrid names are obviously Latinised, this is not necessary, and in recent times not acceptable. More than one word is permitted in such names (up to a recommended maximum of three), with each word starting with a capital letter. Consider Nepenthes 'Rokko' (verbally - "nepenthes hybrid rokko") or Sarracenia 'Marston Mill' (verbally - "sarracenia hybrid Marston Mill"): both of these are man-made hybrids, the latter plant produced by Adrian Slack. Cultivars.
      G. Hispidula
      Genlisea hispidula
      Cultivar names can be applied to species or either of the hybrid types, as in Sarracenia X mitchelliana cv. 'Red Lips' or Nepenthes 'Aigae' cv. 'Akaba'. The original name of the parent plant (species, natural hybrid, or man-made hybrid) is retained in its original form, with the cultivar abbreviation and horticultural name appended. The cultivar names must be constructed and obey the same rules as for man-made hybrid names. Un-named Hybrids. If a lower-case letter 'x' is placed between a pair of names, the plant is an unnamed hybrid. So, Nepenthes rajah x khasiana (if it ever could exist) should be interpreted and spoken as: "nepenthes rajah crossed with khasiana". Pre-existing hybrids can also be used similarly: Sarracenia X excellens x 'Judith Hindle', spoken as "sarracenia hybrid excellens crossed with hybrid 'Judith Hindle'". (Sarracenia X excellens is a natural hybrid and S. 'Judith Hindle' is a man-made hybrid.) Similarly, Sarracenia leucophylla x 'Willisii' ("Sarracenia leucophylla crossed with hybrid willisii"). (Sarracenia 'Willisii' is a man-made hybrid). An interesting case arises when two natural hybrids are used as parents - Sarracenia X popei x X moorei. The point to remember is that the plant definitions, when specified in this manner, are totally unambiguous - nobody can say: "Oh, I thought you meant something else."

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  • How do I propagate my plants?

    • Nepenthes
      Nepenthes rafflesiana
      There are many methods of propagating these plants. Methods used by CPers include leaf cuttings, root cuttings, stem cuttings, air layering, dividing clumps, separating growth crowns, seeds, gemmae, daughter tubers, adventitious plantlets, and tissue culture methods. But all methods will not work for all plants. For example, the only effective way to propagate Byblis liniflora is by seed, while Drosera capillaris can be propagated by seed, leaf cutting, or occasionally false vivipary. All pygmy Drosera species, like D. roseana or D. pulchella produce small modified leaves (called gemmae) which detach and should be planted, without delay, in a manner similar to seeds. Exactly which method will work depends upon the plant you are growing. Below some of the more common techniques of propagation are described.

      Division of clumps

      In most cases divison of clumps is the easiest and quickest way to get new mature plants.Over time most CPs will naturally divide or produce offshotts and these will eventually form root systems of their own.This technique is suitable for many Drosera,Cephalotus,Sarracenia,Heliamphora,Darlingtonia,Dionaea,Utricularia,Nepenthes and more.The method is very simple,unpot your plants and split them up ,then potting up each individual plant in fresh CP compost.In fact if you don't do this then eventually the plants will start suffocating each other and the clump will go backwards.The best time to divide is usually in spring.
      pot of CP
      A clump of Drosera binata (sundews) ready for division
      A clump of Cephalotus follicularis (Albany pitcher plant) ready for division

      Leaf cuttings

      These work for many Drosera ,Pinguicula,Cephalotus,Dionaea and Utricularia.
      Normally leaf cuttings are done mainly with CPs that are slow to clump or do not clump.Examples are Pinguicula (which in many cases does not readily clump), Cephalotus (This plant is slow to clump) and some tuberous Drosera. Otherwise you can try leaf cuttings for interests sake. It is usually best to take leaf cuttings in spring and summer.Simply cut a young,healthy mature leaf of your plant right at its base,but be careful not to harm the main plant. Place the leaf on a bed of sphagnum moss and cover the base with a small amount of the moss.Keep in a bright,shady, warm position and keep moist.You can keep moist by sitting the pot in 1/2cm of soft water.High humidity helps in the case of Drosera and Dionaea so it is best to place a transparent plastic cover with a hole in it over the pot.An open old plastic half soft drink bottle is ideal. In several weeks plantlets develop which can be detached and potted up.
      A Dionaea (Venus Fly trap) leaf cutting
      A Dionaea (Venus Fly trap) leaf cutting potted up

      Root cuttings

      These work for some Drosera and Cephalotus.
      Root cuttings are normally done for plants that have thick roots but do not clump or are slow to clump,such as Drosera slackii,Drosera aliciae,Drosera regia and Cephalotus.Sometimes they are also done for plants that do clump as you can get a good number of plants being produced relatively quickly with this technique.The disadvantage is that the main plant which will be missing a main root will go backwards for some time and in some cases even die. Root cuttings are best done in spring in many cases.Simply unpot a mature plant and remove a good sized,healthy,young root.The root may be cut into sections 1-2cm long.For this to work the root should be quite thick,at least 5mm or so. Bury the sections of root in compost as for the mature plant 1-2cm below the surface.Keep moist and warm.You can keep moist by carefully watering from the top once a day or letting the pot sit in 1cm of soft water for 1 hour.If all goes well in several weeks you will get plantlets breaking the surface and it is best to leave them alone to develop further. Once they have developed a root system of their own they can be repotted again.


      If you are after very large numbers then seed is the way to go but it does take longer to get mature plants than the other techniques.Seed is also good to transport long distances or by mail.Another advantage with seeds is that you get slightly different plants to the parents so you can use this to select various traits you require.Some people have used this technique to breed Dionaea (Venus fly traps) with very large traps (4cm or so) and make money by selling the clones. Almost all carnivorous plant species can be propagated with seed.There are two different categories to consider here.Plants that self pollinate to produce seed and plants that need to be pollinated to produce seed. With the self pollinating CPs,if the plant flowers then in most cases you get seed without doing much at all.Examples of self pollinating CPs are some Drosera like Drosera capensis and Drosera peltata.With CPs that need pollinating ,someone or something will need to do the pollinating.In nature pollination is usually done by insects,which is very curious because these same insects may become prey of the CP at a later stage.These CPs would probably not exist if insects were more intelligent.So if your plants are outside there is a good chance they will be pollinated by insects.However the catch there is you may not know what they have been crossed with because pollination may involve two different plants,one of which could be unkown.Then again insects may miss the flowers altogether so the safest thing to do is to pollinate the CPs flowers yourself.This usually involves collecting ripe pollen from one flower and transferring it to another, however often you will need two different plants as already mentioned.Most CPs fall into the needing to be pollinated category as this is actually the best way for them to evolve.
      Once you have the seed you can sow it although sometimes it needs to be stimulated to germinate.(See info below) Most CP seed will germinate in 6 weeks or so after the appropriate treatment.In many cases seed should be scatterred on the surface of the relevant compost and kept moist and warm until germination.For temperate and cooler climate CPs their seed should be sown in Autumn and left at an outdoor temperature.

  • How do I stimulate seeds to germinate?

    • Most CP seeds germinate in normal CP growing conditions. Prepare a pot as you would a pot for a mature plant, then sprinkle the seed upon the surface. Do not bury the seed. Keep the pot moist, as you would for a growing CPs, and wait. Germination takes longer than garden vegetables - if some CPs germinate within a few weeks, most veteran growers are pleasantly surprised. Some CPs take months to germinate. When you sow seeds, do not give up on the pot until two years pass. Patience is the key word. Plant the seeds, then try to forget about the pot - a watched pot never germinates. Some CPs require special treatment to germinate, like chemicals, cold treatments (stratification), extreme heat (from fires), or slicing the side of the seed. You'll learn about these techniques elsewhere in these pages, and in other books, and on the internet - see our linkspage for more details. The stratification of seeds is necessary in the case of Sarracenia and some other genera. The preferably fresh seed should be dried for five or six days to minimise any fungus difficulties. Put the seed, together with a plug of moist Sphagnum moss into a medicine phial, or sealable plastic bag, together with a label containing the plant details, seal the container, and place it in the non-freezing section of your fridge. Leave it there for about six weeks during the winter. After that time sow the seed into its normal potting media. This process simulates the conditions of the seed's natural environment, where the parent plant drops its seed during autumn, and it remains dormant during the winter, to germinate when temperatures and daylight hours increase in the spring. VCPS operates a good seedbank, with fresh seed obtained from various world-wide sources.

  • Smoke for germinating Australian native seeds

    • By K. W. Dixon & S. Roche, Kings Park Botanic Garden, Perth Western Australia Fire has played a significant role in the evolution of Australian flora at least since the arrival of arid conditions in the mid-Tertiary (Kemp, 1981). For many taxa, response to fire has moulded plant growth and been responsible for the derivation of analogous structures and life forms often in disparate taxonomic groups. In the fire-prone floras particularly those of Mediterranean zones, fire has been shown to be crucial for the recruitment from seed of a wide variety of taxa. For seeder or fire sensitive species and fire ephemerals, habit burning is the single most important cue for triggering germination of the dormant soil seed bank (Bell et al., 1993; Meney et al., 1994). For many fire responsive taxa, germination of viable seed under controlled conditions has been difficult or impossible using conventional treatments other than excised embyro culture (Meney et al., 1994) or special treatments including hormonal applications (Bell et al., 1993). The Role of Smoke in Germination
      Byblis Gigantea
      Byblis gigantea
      Following the discovery that smoke stimulated germination of the rare South African plant Audounia capitata (De Lange and Boucher 1990) the exploration of benefits of smoke-mediated germination has expanded to different continents with applications in nursery, land management, and rare flora conservation. As crude smoke or aqueous extracts applied to seed directly, or to the surface of the seed trays, or as smoke to the soil surface in habitat sites, germination has been stimulated for a wide variety of species (Brown et al., 1955). The study of Dixon et al. (1995) found that smoke applied in a variety of ways was able to stimulate germination in Australian species both in situ (in bushland) and ex situ (nursery and laboratory). This study established, for a wide variety of species, the importance of smoke as a cue for germination with resultant and sometimes spectacular improvements in germination. Smoke Stimulated Germination of Australian Species Research by Dixon et al. (1995) has shown that smoke is a key principle in breaking seed dormancy in a wide variety of native Australian species. Though this study has concentrated on Western Australian plants, general principles have emerged regarding the benefits of smoke for germination: Smoke can promote earlier and more uniform germination under controlled greenhouse and laboratory conditions. Smoke enables germination in species previously thought difficult or impossible to germinate by conventional methods. Smoke substantially promotes germination in species with low levels of germination. The promotive effect of smoke is independent of seed size and shape; plant life form ie. whether annual, perennial, herbaceous, seeder (fire sensitive), or resprouter (fire tolerant). Aerosol smoke, smoke dissolved in water or direct smoked solids (active clays, sand particles), or direct smoked seeds are effective methods for delivery of smoke for germination. High doses of smoked water can inhibit germination of many species. Paper daisies (Rhodanthe, Schoenia) are suppressed by smoking. Germination over time in response to smoke can change with taxa ie. a) control and smoked seed attain final germination at the same rate eg. Conostylis species. b) first seedling emergence occurred earlier in smoked seeds. c) control germination was limited to the first week or so whereas smoked seeds continued to germinate over a longer period. d) difference between control and smoke treatment became apparent only after several weeks.

  • Smoked Water

    • Smoked water can be useful for direct priming or pre-germination of seeds prior to sowing. Smoked water treated seeds have the advantage of not requiring the use of a smoke tent and the convenience of priming seeds at will. Smoke water-primed seeds may germinate better than smoked seedling trays with the process applicable to handling potentially large quantities of seed such as for land restoration or automated seed sowing devices. Smoked water is produced by drawing smoke produced from the combustion drum operating as for aerosol smoke, through a container of water. Smoke bubbling is done for approximately 60 minutes and the resultant solution is frozen till required. Seed to be treated with smoked water is soaked for 12 to 36 hours in a 10% solution of the neat smoked solution and the seed is then sown, or dried then sown as required. seeds treated with smoked water can be watered normally after smoke-water treatment. Although this method has been shown to be useful for a number of native species, caution is recommended as seed of some species can degenerate if soaked in water for prolonged periods. Also, pre-germination as a horticultural practice for seed of Australian native plants requires some experimentation to ensure the process is applicable. In some cases pre-germination can lead to decline in seed quality and viability and it is recommended that species to be treated in this way should be tested for tolerance to imbibing and drying treatments. The Smoke Chemical - What Makes it Work?
      Drosera Pulchella
      Drosera pulchella
      Research is continuing in various laboratories and Botanic Gardens to better understand the sites and mode of interaction of smoke in breaking the dormancy of native species. A major aspect to be considered is that plants differ considerably in their fruits and in the structure of the actual seeds. Seeds that are wind-distributed are often produced in large quantities and germinate readily, although their period of viability can be short. Seeds of many of the fleshy fruits have a firm skin or outer shell. This allows them to withstand the digestive juices of the creatures which eat the fruits and distribute the seeds. In some species actual seed germination is assisted by this process. A large number of tree and shrub seeds produced in pods have very hard individual coats, which can give them a viability period of many years. Germination of these species can be hastened by exposure to digestive juices or fire in their natural habitat, or by immersing the seed in hot water, rubbing the outer coating with sand paper, or a range of other treatments that break down the outer coating and allow water to penetrate. Heat and fire also assist seed germination by stimulating fruits such as woody capsules to open and release their seed. Usually the seeds contained in hard woody fruits do not have a firm outer coating and therefore require no additional treatment for germination. Some carnivorous plants occur naturally in areas where winter temperatures drop below freezing point. Germination of these species is often aided by stratification through placing the seed in a refrigerator for a period of days or weeks during winter, before sowing the seed. It is by understanding the natural habitats of different plants that we can guess at some of the conditions that might exist in nature where the seeds germinate, then use similar techniques to assist us in our propagation of plants.
      Pinguicula sierra ssp. obscura
      It has for many years been thought that fire has been essential to the germination of many species. Although it is certainly of assistance in some areas, as mentioned above, research now indicates that it is the actual properties of the smoke that stimulates germination of a wide range of low heathland-type plants, many of which have been regarded as difficult to propagate in the past. Tests with trees and upper canopy plants have to date been less successful. Many of the carnivorous plants we seek to grow will germinate readily from seed - some to the point where we may even have an excess of plants. Others frustrate us with their reluctance to germinate, and provide a challenge which many growers regard as one of the fascinating aspects of plant cultivation. It may not be worth the time and effort to try any special germination techniques on plants that propagate readily, but for seeds that are difficult the use of smoke is certainly one of the methods well worth trying. There is still much to be learnt regarding this technique and species that occur in areas not usually exposed to fire may also benefit from the properties of smoke. Acknowledgments This research was funded by the Minerals and Energy Research Institute of Western Australia, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, with support from Alcoa Australia, RGC Mineral Sands, and wildflower growers and enthusiasts from around Australia.

What about pests?

Even though CPs eat insects, they are still victimised by pests. CPs can become infested with scale insects, mealy bugs, aphids, thrips, slugs, caterpillars, and mites. When possible, remove the pests manually (pluck them off), because CPs can be very sensitive to chemicals. Biological controls, such as lady-bugs, are of limited use because they are rapidly consumed by the plants! One thing you can try with white fly or aphid infestations is to wipe a large dewy drosera leaf (D.binata for example) over the relevant plants.This will get rid of most of the pests but not all.If you move to a chemical approach, the best results seem to have come from isopropyl alcohol, pyrethrum, Rogor, or Malathion. The use of chemicals needs a disclaimer: what works for one person may not work for everyone. Insecticidal soaps, unfortunately, seem to be deadly to CPs although some growers seem to use them safely. Pyrethrum, a compound extracted from Chrysanthemums, is often considered more plant friendly - some growers like using it on their CPs (but it can damage pitchers and flowers of Sarracenia). Some people like Malathion - it has the advantage of being available in wettable powder form, as it seems that while Malathion itself is not too bad for CPs, the solvents used to transform it to liquid form are CP-toxic. Rogor, a systemic insecticide, is very effective for killing scale and mealy bug insects, as well as many other insects (beware - Rogor may cause problems with Nepenthes), because it poisons the sap of the plant and so poisons all the sap-suckers and leaf-eaters - even if you can't see them.
White Fly
White Fly on drosera
Red Spider Mite, also known as Two-spotted Mite, is a particularly troublesome pest on Sarracenia plants, and to a slightly lesser extent on Nepenthes and Heliamphora. Its presence can be recognised by the presence by a rusty colouration (flecking) on one side of the pitcher and a fine silvery-white webbing on the other side. With either keen eyesight or with the aid of a magnifying glass, final confirmation can be made by seeing these pin-head size little red offenders. Once known or suspected of being there, treatment should begin immediately. The systemic insecticide Rogor, together with a small amount of spreader (wetting agent) is probably best and safest for you plants. (Some growers have had problems with using Rogor on Nepenthes.) To apply this preparation use a fine misting gun or wand. When treating a red spider infestation it is necessary to spray not only the infected, possibly infected, and might become infected plants, but also every square centimetre of your planthouse. This includes the walls, roof, tops and undersides of all benches. These terrible creatures are incredibly tenacious, so it is essential that every possible nook and cranny must be covered. Spray at fortnightly intervals until you can be quite sure that the problem is cured - not just contained. When you apply insecticides, do so in the shade and on cool days because this may be easier on the plants. Also, wear appropriate face-masks and gloves when using toxic compounds. Some growers have problems with larger pests, such as cats, dogs, deer, birds, and opossums. Unfortunately, once these animals have decided to bother your plants you are in trouble. The only effective thing to do is cage your plants. Birds dig in the compost in large pots looking for potential goodies; and can seriously dislodge the plant therein. If you can train your beloved Felis catus or Canis familiaris to stand guard and keep the birds away - very good luck. It is possible to perform a bit of role-reversal on the snail pests - to the benefit of one of the very popular CP species. (A suggestion originated by Richard Sullivan, in Bathurst.)
Mealy Bug
Mealy bug on drosera
The plant to be involved is Sarracenia purpurea. Each of the sub-species, varieties and forms of S. purpurea have an erect hood - one that fairly obviously is meant to catch rain-water, and so drown the prey that ventures into the pitchers. When you find those bandits, the snails (the small to medium-sized ones) in your garden, crush their shell with you foot slightly; just enough to be sure that the snail will die. If the shell is dislodged and lost - so much the better. Next, drop these crippled gastropods into the water-filled pitchers of Sarracenia purpurea. If you had not squashed the snails a bit, they would be able to cling onto the inside of the pitchers and escape - to continue their marauding activities on your beloved plants. (The snails too big for your Sarracenia purpurea pitchers should receive a much more generous application of foot-power.) So, the snails will soon drown and/or die in the water-filled Sarracenia purpurea pitchers. The acids and enzymes produced by the plant will slowly break down their body parts and the resulting nutrients will be absorbed in the usual way. Then, you can watch the amazed and disbelieving expressions on the faces of your friends when you inform them: "The plants are eating my snails."
Aphids on drosera
Pest Plant Control
Ants Sarracenia and others Ants, together with sooty mould usually indicate the presence of scale - check carefuly for scale insects on such plants.
Aphids Most CP's Folimat, Rogor, or Malathion spray.Rogor may cause problems for Nepenthes.
Botrytis fungus Most CP's Fongarid spray, and increase air flow around plants.Do not use any copper-based fungacides.
Caterpillars Most CP's Careful inspection and removal of caterpillars, or Frequent sprays with Malathion or Dipel. Do not use carbaryl spray on CPs.
Mealy Bugs Most CP's Folimat, Rogor, or Malathion spray.Rogor may cause problems for Nepenthes.
Scale insects Most CP's Folimat, Rogor, or Malathion spray. Rogor may cause problems for Nepenthes. White oil is not recommended for CPs.
Sooty mould Sarracenia and others Ants, together with sooty mould usually indicate the presence of scale - check carefuly for scale insects on such plants. Folimat, Rogor, or Malathion spray. Rogor may cause problems for Nepenthes. White oil is not recommended for CPs.
Red Spider Mite Two-spotted Mite Most CP's Thorough and frequent sprays with both Rogor and Malathion.

What books are good?

There are a variety of books available. Some are good, many are bad. All of them are good for what they set out to achieve. A preferred short list (given by author) are: Adrian Slack or Gordon Cheers (cultivation); Peter D'Amato, Don Schnell, Allen Lowrie, Lloyd, or Peter Taylor (the last book, by Taylor, is a very technical reference on the Utricularia genus). A recently-published book (1996) called 'Sarracenia', by John and Jean Ainsworth, deals exclusively with the Sarracenia genus. The books by Adrian Slack, although out of print and somewhat difficult to obtain, are excellent works for the understanding and cultivation of CPs in general. The two titles by this author: 'Carnivorous Plants' and 'Insect-Eating Plants and How to grow them', are highly recommended.
Bdrosera dichrosepala
Drosera dichrosepala
Dr. Jan Schlauer has produced a complete listing of all known CPs, alive or extinct. This scholarly work can be perused using Rick Walker's page on the Internet (see the linkspage). Similarly, VCPS has produced a loose-leaf book listing all the known carnivorous plants. The species within each genus are listed alphabetically. All the known subspecies, varieties, forms, named hybrids, cultivars and synonyms are included. Also, there is a listing of the reference sources for the information, and a list of existing carnivorous plant societies, world-wide. A listing of the various CP related books is included on the bibliography page.

CP societies? How can I join?

In Australia, the CP society to join is: Victorian Carnivorous Plant Society Inc. P.O. Box 201, South Yarra, Victoria 3141 Australian See our "How to Join" page for more information. There are many other CP societies throughout Australia, and the world. See the Societies page for more details.

What CP web and Internet resources are available?

Please see the links page.There are many interesting and useful websites and forums to look through.

E-Mail List Servers

Sarracenia at meal time!
International CP List Server Subscribe to the CP List Server. Subscribe by e-mailing Leave the subject line blank In the first line of of the body of the e-mail type: subscribe cp "your name" Transmit the e-mail You will be advised that you are on the list Messages or queries are then sent through

Australian CP List Server

A List Server operates that is wholly devoted to Australian Carnivorous Plants, their habitat and cultivation. To join, send a blank e-mail to A confirmation of your subscription will be e-mailed to you. Messages for the list are then sent to

To prevent potting mix from washing out of the drainage holes of your pots, block them on the inside with Sphagnum moss where this will be useful for monitoring the compost moisture for those plants not requiring wet conditions. For plants that like wet conditions and would be sitting in a water tray all the time, use rock wool to block the drainage holes before filling with compost. Both Sphagnum and rock wool permit free flow of water in and out of the drainage holes, but prevent the escape of the solid material from within the pot. Follow the basic instructions, and if in doubt, consult a good book, or come to a VCPS meeting and ask for information. Never use fly spray near CPs, and never have them in the same room with a pest strip when indoors. Do not use fertiliser on CPs - it may kill the plant. Later experience and knowledge will indicate that this is okay for a small range of plants; but be sure before you are sorry. Always provide ventilation, and at the first sign of any mould or fungus, use Fongarid to get rid of it, or it will spread from plant to plant. Do not use Benlate spray (if you have any of this discontinued line) on any plants potted in Sphagnum moss: such as Nepenthes, Darlingtonia, Pinguicula, and Heliamphora. This spray kills the Sphagnum. Use Fongarid fungicide on such plants. To keep the pot moist only, stand it in water for about half an hour, and then leave it on the bench, watching the colour of the Sphagnum moss in the drainage holes. You will be able to see when the plant needs re-watering when the moss becomes light in colour.
Pygmy Drosera Dichrosepala
Store unused CP seed in the normal (non-freezing) section of your refrigerator in an airtight container. To moisten peat moss that has become dry, and where this is a brand that doesn't wet easily, pour boiling water over it and stir with a stick. For brands that 'wet' more easily, use only the required amount of cold water for usage of the compost, and manipulate with the hands until it is absorbed. When preparing a compost that is a mixture of peat and coarse sand, be careful not to add too much water; otherwise the sand content will continually settle out of the mixture. A bit of practice will soon enable you to judge the best amount of water. Always use a moist or wet compost mix when potting plants or sowing seed. Do not water any plant from above unless the potting medium is Sphagnum moss. Try to not get water on the leaves of Pinguicula plants when watering these from above - this can be a trigger for fungus problems. Maintain a high humidity in summer, but a lower humidity in winter. Keep water trays full in summer, but it is usually best to keep plants a little drier in winter with a lower level of water in the tray.
Drosera modesta
An easy way to top water trays is to leave an empty pot in the tray and pour water into this. This prevents splashing. If filling the tray with a hose, don't direct the stream at the bottom of pots - this may dislodge the material used to block the drainage holes, and would actively cause loss of the compost. When defrosting the fridge, save the water for your plants, as it is pure water with no contamination. Distilled water is also good, but is expensive if used on a large scale. When it rains, use a plastic bucket to catch the rainwater for your plants. Tap water (low mineral) should be allowed to stand for two or three days. (Melbourne tap water is okay, Adelaide tap water is virtually unusable for CPs.) For tropical plants, like Nepenthes, etc., the water should be lukewarm - about 27ºC (80ºF). For mountain plants (Darlingtonia, etc.), the water should be cool - not more than 10ºC (50ºF). Adding ice cubes to the water is a convenient way of achieving this. When watering plants other than the types referred to in the above 2 tips, the water should be at ambient temperature. To increase humidity on hot days, damp down the paths and floor etc. of your plant house. This also helps to lower the temperature. A very fine spray into the air is very beneficial also. When a plant has to be repotted, always provide 100% humidity for a few days. Reduce humidity gradually to that part of the planthouse. This helps to ensure that the plant will not dehydrate and die. When planting seeds or leaf cuttings (any form of propagation material), plant only one species in a pot and label the pot clearly. If a plant is an annual, ensure the survival of the species by collecting seed, and store it in a cool dry place until the next suitable time for usage. Unless the seed is required, it is better to cut the flowers stems off many CPs as they form. If let go, seeds will fall and you may have a host of seedlings that you cannot identify. In the case of Dionaea and most of the South African Drosera species, the resource usage for flower and seed growth will seriously reduce the vigour of the plant, and sometimes to such an extent that the plant dies. (However, do not remove the flower stems from any Sarracenia plants until after petal fall.) Always label plants clearly after potting. Use a writing media such as permanent non-soluble (in water) ink, or the old-fashioned HB pencil. This avoids later confusion.

Identification of Carnivorous Plants

Many beginners purchase a carnivorous plant and do not know much about it or even what it is,so below is a guide which can help you to look up more information.There are two main types of carnivorous plants,the sticky leaved plants and the pitcher plants.There are many variations on these two basic types. The most common sticky leaved CPs are listed below with pictures.These plants capture their prey by acting like flypapers.
  • Drosera (the sundews)
    • Sundew
  • Drosophyllum Lusitanicum (Dewy pine)
    • Dewy pine
  • Byblis (Rainbow plant)
    • Byblis
  • Pinguicula (the butterworts)
    • Butterwort

The most common pitcher plants are listed below with pictures .These plants capture their prey by the pitfall method and commonly digest them in a bath of acid.

  • Cephalotus follicularis (Albany pitcher plant)
    • Cephalotus
  • Darlingtonia californica (Cobra lily)
    • Darlingtonia
  • Heliamphora (Sun pitcher plants or South American pitcher plants)
    • Heliamphora
  • Nepenthes (tropical pitcher plants)
    • Nepenthes
  • Sarracenia (North American pitcher plants)
    • Sarracenia

There are some carnivorous plants that do not fall into these categories,the most famous of which is Dionaeae muscipula or the Venus Fly Trap and also an aquatic version ,the waterwheel plant or Aldrovanda vesiculosa.Another well know group of plants is the bladderworts or Utricularia.This last group of plants have sophisticated active traps with rapidly moving parts.

Venus fly traps
Dionaeae muscipula (Venus Fly Trap)
Aldrovanda vesiculosa (waterwheel plant)
Utricularia (the bladderworts)

Now that you know the common names for most types of carnivorous plants you can look them up on the Species and genera descriptions page and find out more.

Introduction to Carnivorous plants

This publication contains information on the ecology, cultivation, taxonomy, and other aspects of carnivorous plants (hereinafter CP or CPs).

Expand All    Collapse All

  • What is a carnivorous plant?

    • The usual definition of a CP is a plant that attracts, captures, kills, and digests animal life forms.This is an approximate,meaningful and sensible definition.You can not have an exact definition of a CP without it being arbitrary to a certain extent because it relates to biological things not mathematical things. The question can also be asked: 'Why are the carnivorous plants carnivorous?'
      Somewhere along the evolutionary chain and as land forms and drainage patterns changed, some plants were in peat bog situations, where the soil nutrition was very poor, and the general level of water table was fairly high. The poor nutrition availability came about because the acidic nature of their growing environment drastically reduced the rate of decomposition of dead plant material - the nutrients (particularly useable nitrogen compounds) were locked up in the non-decaying plant material, and thus unavailable to the living plants. But, in nature given the time and the need, most life forms are very resourceful and will adapt to new situations. The wet environment where these plants lived also had an abundance of various insects living there - the insects could breed well in this environment. So the plants gradually developed methods whereby they could lure or trap these insect creatures, together with the chemistry necessary to convert this resource to something they could directly use. And now we still have some of the remaining plants that performed the various types of adaptation - the ones that haven't yet become extinct because of our intervention. The carnivorous plants use acids and enzymes in a process remarkably similar to our animal digestion, to get the life-sustaining materials they need.

  • Peat bogs versus rain-forests

    • nepenthes
      Nepenthes Hamata
      As explained in the previous section, most of the nutrients in the peat bog ecosystem are locked up in the non-decaying dead plant material. It is interesting to note that this is a direct opposite of the conditions existing in the rain-forest. In the rain-forest environment almost all of the total nutrition is in use by the living plants at any time. When some whole or portion of a plant dies there is a rapid decay of the dead material and the results are quickly absorbed by the roots of the nearby living plants.Carnivorous plants can be found in both environments.Peat bogs usually contain higher numbers per unit area of CPs due to the nutrient poor nature of the habitat.Rain forests can provide opportunities for CPs as well particularly if the forests grow on poor soils.For example many Nepenthes species grow as epiphytes in the warmer rain forests.Nepenthes can also grow from ground level in such places with their stems climbing into areas of better light.

  • How many carnivorous plants exist?

    • cp group
      Hundreds of Drosera hookeri.
      In terms of numbers there are many millions although they are constantly decreasing as valuable habitat is lost. In terms of numbers of different types , nearly 600 speciesand subspecies of CPs have been described (although some are now extinct). The largest and most widespread genus is Utricularia, but many other genera exist. A taxonomical breakdown of all the different carnivorous generahas been prepared, sorted by botanical order and family, images of species from most genera are available on Rick Walker's pagesin the Internet.For a less scientific overview of the different types of CPs try our Species and genera description page.This also includes cultivation details.

  • What is the biggest, most amazing carnivorous plant?

    • nepenthes
      Nepenthes Rajah
      It depends upon your definition. In terms of sheer bulk, the largest CPs are in the genus Nepenthes - Tropical pitcher plants,large vines up to tens of metres long.The most massive CP is a Nepenthes Bicalcarata,the one with the largest traps is a Nepenthes Rajah (an example is pictured at left). This genus also catches some of the largest prey, including creatures as large as frogs. Very rarely, captures of birds or rodents are reported, but these cases probably involved sick animals and certainly do not represent the norm. In terms of gruesome factor, the most well-known and amazing CP is probably the familiar Venus Fly Trap (VFT), which has leaf lobes that quickly capture prey dramatically. Meanwhile, the most complex and rapidly acting trap belongs to the underwater plants in the genera Aldrovanda and Utricularia. Aldrovanda vesiculosa, a relative of the VFT, may have up to a hundred traps that close on prey when touched in about two hundredths of a second. And the fascinating Utricularia species which suck prey into bladders in times as short as 1/30 of a second.

  • How long do carnivorous plants live?

    • annual drosera
      Drosera glanduligera lives for only a few months
      tuberous drosera
      Drosera rosulata can probably survive for thousands of years.
      Some such as the annual plants live for a few months.Other types can live for much longer,for example many tuberous drosera and pygmy drosera may live for decades and can probably live for thousands of years or more given the right conditions.They do not seem to deteriorate with increasing age.However in their natural habitat their life may end in a number of ways such as fire,floods,drought,animal attack,being outcompeted by other vegetation,disease and many more.

  • What do carnivorous plants eat?

    • captured insect
      Captured insect on Drosera capensis
      fly on Sarracenia
      Fly close to being captured on a Sarracenia alata
      ant on Nepenthes
      Ants in danger on Nepenthes spatulata X alata
      Many CPs live in aquatic conditions. These plants capture very small freshwater creatures - prey like the minute rotifers and daphnia. Others may eat larger aquatic prey such as mosquito larvae. Presumably very young fish fry may also be in danger. On land, Pinguicula and Drosera plants tend to catch flying insects like mosquitos, gnats, flies, and moths. Pitcher plants capture insects which forage for food, especially flies and ants. Venus Fly Traps capture any crawling or flying creature of suitable size - they feast particularly on spiders, but plants in the wild may have a different diet. The 'Daddy-long-legs' spiders seem to have a fascination for these plants (there is no arachnid phobia of VFTs), and on many occasions the long spindly legs can be seen protruding from a closed trap. As mentioned earlier, very occasionally vertebrates are supposedly captured, such as rats, birds, or frogs. These events are usually ascribed to Nepenthes species, the tropical pitcher plants. But these are rare surprises and do not represent normal prey.

  • Should we be afraid of them?

    • As long as you are not the size of an insect or do not attempt to eat them, CPs are completely safe. As with many other plants parents with young children need to ensure that their CPs are not eaten.The digestive acids and enzymes are extremely weak so there is no danger of being digested or harmed in that way. Despite the fascinating notion of a plant which eats animals, instead of the usual other way around, what CPs do is not without precedent in the botanical world. We may know about plants like Mimosa (sensitive plants) that move when you touch them, but there are many other non-carnivorous plants that do surprising things. Some plants fire their seeds through the air. Some have moving flower parts. Some plants have venom glands attached to sharp spines. Aspen trees communicate with each other via ethylene gas. Compared to the fact that the sperm of mosses are free-swimming organisms that look and behave like animal sperm, CPs are pretty mundane.

  • Why grow carnivorous plants?

    • pot of CP
      Drosera binata - a decorative plant that captures mosquitos
      There are many different reasons to grow carnivorous plants.Many CPs are very beautiful and exotic looking, often with wonderful foliage and flowers.The pitchers and flowers of Sarracenia for example can be used as ornaments on a table at a restaurant and also serve to capture any flies that may be buzzing about.Which brings us to another reason ;CPs can be a practical,chemical free and decorative way to keep insect numbers down in your house or in a semi sheltered place.For example Drosera binata is great at catching mosquitos and many Sarracenia are efficient fly and wasp catchers.Nepenthes are good at catching ants and can be great in hanging baskets outdoors.Although it should be mentioned that if you are going to make a significant dent in insect numbers around the house you will need several large,healthy specimens.Aquatic utricularia which can be grown in fish tanks or in many places where there is permanent water capture mosquito larvea and control numbers that way.Other reasons to grow CPs are to include them in a collection or just because they are fascinating to look at.Many people initially get CPs to watch insects being captured but later on become more interested in the plants inherent beauty.

  • What are good indoor carnivorous plants?

    • pot of CP
      Pinguicula laueana - one of the best indoor CPs
      When cultivating carnivorous plants you should be aiming to give the plants similar conditions to what they experience in nature.Indoors you probably don't want to change your conditions to suit CPs so you need to find CPs that grow in a similar environment to the one you experience indoors.That is, a uniformly warm,shady environment.There are a number of CPs that fall into this category,the best being the Mexican Pinguicula,tropical Drosera and Nepenthes.The trouble with Nepenthes is that they are large so you probably don't want to grow those unless you have got a lot of room or perhaps are into bonsai.Tropical Drosera such as Drosera adelae are ideal indoor plants although they require a high humidity so need terrariums.Mexican Pinguicula are probably the best CPs to grow indoors, they don't require much light or high humidity.They can tolerate dryness and will reward you with spectacular flowers every year if you give them their basic requirements.Pot the Mexican Pinguicula in pure sphagnum moss,keep moist by watering the top of the pot every day or so and place near a window that does not get full sun.Do not let the Pinguicula sit in water.If you can provide other conditions to those stated above of course you will be able to grow more types of CPs indoors.For example many people grow CPs under flourescent lights indoors.

  • How do I grow carnivorous plants?

    • pot of CP
      A pot of Drosera capensis
      The first step in growing CPs is to read these pages, get a CP book from the library (VCPS has an extensive libraryof all the CP books), or subscribe to the CP mailing list and read that for a while (see the 'other sources of information' page for how to do this). Also the VCPS descriptions pageshave some information regarding growing of specific types CPs.Otherwise it is very likely your plants will die. You will need the proper potting medium, water, light, humidity, temperatures, and plants. As a disclaimer, it is important to note that what will work for one person may not work for another. In southern Australia the many temperate climate CPs grow very well in an outdoor situation - as long as they are protected from strong winds, potted in appropriate composts, the pots are sitting in non-contaminated water, and a good level of humidity can be generally maintained. People also grow CPs in greenhouses or terraria. It is very likely you would have only disappointing failure if you tried to grow them in the normal soil of your garden. An outdoor bog can be a very suitable environment also - refer section on building an outdoor peat bog on the 'technical topics' page. Greenhouses are expensive, and if you know anything about construction you can save huge amounts of money by building your own - if you wish to head down this path. The most simple baptism to growing carnivores in an outdoor wind-protected situation, having long hours of unshaded sunlight. For the person starting out into the interesting hobby of CP culture, it would be wise to concentrate initially on plants that originate from a climate similar to where you live. For instance, in Melbourne, all the Sarracenia species, Venus Fly Trap, the temperate climate Drosera species, Cephalotus, Darlingtonia, and many of the Utricularia species would be quite suitable. Later on, when you have gained more knowledge, the beauty of the Pinguicula genus can be explored. When you can provide suitable artificial environments, you then advance into the world of the Nepenthes, and other tropical wonders. Specific cultivation techniques are given in the section that describes each genus. Consider the information merely as a set of suggestions - if the hints fail for you then try something similar but different. Experiment!

  • My Venus Fly Trap is dying!

    • dormant vft
      Dormant Venus Fly Trap
      It is essential to know that your plant may not be dying - the above-ground portions may just be dying off as part of its transition into a state of winter dormancy. When this happens it is actually a good thing for the plant and it will grow a lot better in spring and summer as a result.In fact winter dormancy is necessary for the long term health of a VFT so if you want your plant to live for several years or more then make sure you give it cold temperatures in winter(0-14C).Venus Fly Trap plants are easy and simple to grow when the grower provides for the basic needs of his/her plants. Provided the compost, lighting, water level at the base of the pot, humidity, and air circulation needs are met, the old reliable VFT will continue to amaze you with its colours and trapping activities. Most CPs have a normal time of dormancy. Depending on the genus it might be in the winter or it might be in the summer - part of the learning process is knowing what each plant is trying to do at various times of the year. Other than the onset of dormancy - who knows. Is it in an incorrect compost or just plain soil? Is it too wet in the cool months, or just too dry at any time? Does the water you use for the plant have harmful chemical impurities - like the Adelaide water supply, for instance. Is the plant getting too hot when exposed to direct sunlight in the summer? Is the plant not getting enough light? Is the plant being attacked by insect or fungus pests? The fungus Botrytis cinerea can be a difficult problem when there is insufficient air circulation around the plants, probably combined with the environment being too cool for the plant - a likely situation in winter. If this is the case increase the air circulation and probably give the plant a fungicidal spray such as Fongarid. Insect pests, such as scale, mealy bugs, caterpillars, aphids, spider mite, can be removed by hand, by a small rapid water jet wash, or by using an insecticidal spray (Rogor, Malathion, or Folimat are okay for most genera - however Rogor on Nepenthes may be detrimental). A table of CP pests and recommended treatments is included on the Pests page

  • My plant is flowering

    • nepenthes
      Utricularia Subulata flowers
      Firstly, take satisfaction in the fact you successfully grew your plant to flowering size.However sometimes you need to do more than that.A trick that works often is to repot a plant of flowering size or near flowering size and that will often stimulate it to flower.This technique works particularly well with Drosera binata,hamiltonii,slackii and many others. Now you can attempt to pollinate the flowers. Many CPs can be easily fertilised. Many types of Drosera, Byblis, Drosophyllum, and Dionaea can be self-pollinated. This means taking pollen from the anthers and gently dabbing it on the stigma. Consult a beginning botany textbook to identify these organs. The floral structures of Pinguicula, Utricularia, Genlisea, Sarracenia, and a few other plants are peculiar - refer to a CP text like Schnell or Slack for instructions. Venus Fly Traps (VFTs) can be self-pollinated although they do not always produce seed. Furthermore, seed production often tires the plant noticeably: this is particularly noticeable with VFTs and many of the South African Drosera species - to such an extent that it may cause the death of the plant. Some plants will not produce seed if you self-pollinate them - some Drosera and Byblis are this way. Nepenthes plants are either male or female, and so cannot be self-pollinated. In these cases, you must obtain pollen from someone else if you desire seed, or be lucky enough to own the male and the female of the plants to be used for hybrid seed production. Pollen may be available by trading with contacts on the internet. See the forum and linkspage for more details

  • People trade them - how do I get in on the action?

    • cp display
      As a member of VCPS; trading, selling, giving, swapping of plants with other members is a very interesting and rewarding activity to improve the contents of your CP collection. This is just one of the definite and distinct advantages of membership of a CP society. Once people obtain the basic plants available commercially, the next stage is to obtain plants by trading. This is a very nice aspect of the CPer\'s hobby. You slowly develop a network of other growers within a CP society (around the globe, too, for the Internet adventurous ones) with whom you trade seeds, plants, and other propagables. Meet people through the Internet CP mailing list, or by advertising in the CP trade journals. Even old hands in the hobby, with whom you have little or no trading leverage, may be willing to sell you some things for a few dollars and postage. CPers tend to be very nice and sociable. If you read an article in a CP journal, and the person includes an address, by all means write him or her. That person will be happy to hear from you and you may develop a trading relationship. Some trading options are now available on-line. See the linkspage.

  • Where can I buy carnivorous plants?

    • See the supplierspage for a listing of many Australian suppliers There are a few nurseries that sell CPs in Australia. But remember, it is incumbent upon you to deal with firms that are reputable and do not sell illegally-obtained plants.