Re: Nepenthes media and water quality

Date: Thu Apr 29 1999 - 20:29:15 PDT

Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 23:29:15 EDT
Message-Id: <aabcdefg1490$foo@default>
Subject: Re: Nepenthes media and water quality

Dear Nepenthophiles,

     It is my desire to try and do a few mini-articles on Nepenthes
cultivation in the hope is can help other avoid some of the mistakes I made
early on. Trial and error is often one part trial three parts error! Here
goes one on media and water.

     I like all CP, but given where I live (coastal Central Florida) I have
found that Sarracenia are somewhat difficult to keep for more than a few
years because we are too far south for most of the species and they get
little dormancy. Drosera also seem to do much better in a more California
type climate from what I have seen, relatively few interesting species doing
well here (but I do love D. tracyi!). Nothing however has done as well as
the Nepenthes, since it is relatively easy to keep a more or less constant
set of conditions in a greenhouse.

     I had been fortunate in having made contact with people early in my
interest that helped shape my understanding of Nepenthes. The first
living plant I ever saw was a form of N. sanguinea identical to the one
in the May 1964 National Geographic article growing at Selby Botanic
Garden in Sarasota, Florida. After several trips there with my mom (my
mid-teen years) I had begged a cutting from Dr. Kiat Tan which rooted
and grew despite my best efforts to kill it and a complete lack of
infomation about the thing. (Actually the staff talked to Dr. Tan who
I only met later, he is now, I believe director of Singapore Botanic
Gardens and has a nice collection of local lowland species at the
Gardens. He was also very kind to take time from his busy schedual to
talk plants.)

     What does any of this have to do with media? Well little was know about
the plants and I could find scant information about them. Sadly I did not
know about CPN or any of the west coast growers who had a leg up on their
culture. Selby had some success with N. sanguinea (which in hindsight is
amazing since it is a moderately high-elevation species and Sarasota in
summer is like a frying pan) and N. x coccinea and they were using what was
known as Selby Mix. Selby is primarily a garden dedicated to epiphytic
plants so they used a basic epiphytic mix of tree fern / charcoal / fir bark
/ and I think perlite and maybe a bit of sphagnum. Larger more open media
for orchids and Anthuriums, smaller grained that held more water for
Columneas, ferns, etc.

     It was this media I copied (more or less) and ended up with equal parts
fine fir bark / tree fern / charcoal / and sphagnum. Perlite was supposed to
contain flourite componds (?) so I did not use it. This proved to be a good,
if high maintenance, media for our area. It required daily watering in hot
weather, and unfortunately the sphagnum turned to muck in about a year.
Since this was the limiting factor in the media in future it was left out.
Newly transplanted plants in this media sans sphagnum often nearly died since
new media would not hold water well. A friend and fellow grower Bruce Sutton
suggested pre-soaking the media a few days in barrels of water and this did
the trick. Still, the plants did not show much vigor after being in the
media a few years. Bruce who had more of a background in chemistry said he
believed salt build-up was to blame and a Reverse Osmosis (RO) water
filtration unit was purchased to water the plants. The results were amazing
as plant growth doubled and even tripled in some cases! This was the death
of one of the biggest fallacies of Nepenthes culture: Nepenthes do fine in
hard water. Don't believe it. I can say for a fact that Nepenthes like high
quality water and do best in it. However certain plant species were still
proving difficult. Bruce had the 'bad' habit of looking at an obviously
unhappy plant and pulling it out of the soil to examine the roots. While
this was a horrifying sight to behold as your only N. whateverensis (species
nova) was ripped from its pot, we did learn that healthy Nepenthes had
whitish or yellowish live root tips to there root system, unhealthy plants
invariably had few or no live root tips. Something about the media was
killing them.

     A search for a universal Nepenthes media led us to the conclusion that
there isn't one. Though 80% of the species grown did o.k., the plants occur
over too wide a range of habitats and soils and they were not all happy in
the highly organic mix I was using.

     Then we went exotic. Every soil component we could think of was tried.
Certain ones like sphagnum peat, redwood fiber and cork proved deadly to
Nepenthes, at least under Florida conditions. Redwood was especially nasty.
Rockwool (the water absorbant kind) was tried and in fact has been very
sucessful with N. tomorriana, bellii, and some forms of N. albo-marginata and
I use it on them today. Although ugly, rockwool quickly grows a covering of
club moss in a greenhouse. Hydrated silica gel (the granular kind like
gravel) mixed with a small amount of organics works well for N. burbidgea and
the plant thrives in it. It also is fair with N. rajah but I an far from
happy with it in this case. Pure live sphagnum has proven to be best with N.
madagascariensis and Steve Stewart has bloomed his plant twice with this

     I would like to stress that no exact formula for media is going to work
well for everyone in every situation. What works in Florida may not be
appropriate in England or California or Canada. This is a starting point and
I think experimentation is important and that eveyone who can should be doing
some and relaying the results on the digest or in CPN. Frankly I have seen
people grow certain Nepenthes far better than I ever have and just hope I can
figure out how they are doing it.

     If time permits I hope to further discuss temperature, air circulation,
propagation and breeding (no silly, of the plants!).

Good Growing,
Comments welcomed,


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Jan 02 2001 - 17:31:57 PST