Pitcher per­fect

Rain­for­est plants to grow at home. Plus, Epiphany on Plot 29

The Observer Magazine - - News - James Wong @Botanygeek

When I was a kid grow­ing up in south­east Asia, I was fas­ci­nated by the bizarre na­tive ne­penthes pitcher plants I’d see on rain­for­est walks, not to men­tion the dra­matic time-lapse se­quences of David At­ten­bor­ough doc­u­men­taries. Yet even in those ideal, year-round trop­i­cal con­di­tions, I could never get the damn things to grow. A frus­tra­tion that was made even worse by a visit to Kew Gar­dens on hol­i­day, where

I saw the most mag­nif­i­cent spec­i­mens tum­bling out of hanging bas­kets and trained over trel­lises. As they say, de­sire plus frus­tra­tion equals ob­ses­sion, so

– 30 years later – I think I have fi­nally cracked it. To share the love, here are my se­crets (many of which are the op­po­site of what the text­books say) to grow­ing these spec­tac­u­lar plants in­doors .

Al­most any­one who has bought a ne­penthes, laden with pitch­ers, and brought it home will know the story. It looks great for a cou­ple of weeks, but soon af­ter, the tips of the pitch­ers start to turn crisp and brown, even­tu­ally it works its way down to where the trap joins the rest of the leaf. This was my ex­pe­ri­ence for years, cre­at­ing plants that, de­spite be­ing sort-of alive, didn’t have any traps or make any new ones.

Trap for­ma­tion and re­ten­tion on pitcher plants is di­rectly re­lated to hu­mid­ity. As UK homes lack these sky­high mois­ture lev­els, this can be dif­fi­cult to recre­ate out­side of a ter­rar­ium. Yet, even in the swel­ter­ing con­di­tions of south­east Asia, the same thing can be a prob­lem. So what can you do?

The se­cret is sim­ple: wa­ter. A lot of wa­ter. I keep my plants in pots with­out drainage, in grow­ing media that is per­ma­nently sat­u­rated. Once a week,

I fill the pot right to the top, so the wa­ter reaches the brim, about 1cm above the level of the com­post – and never let it stop be­ing as wet as a bog. Thanks to this I now have four ne­penthes grow­ing away hap­pily, all of them out­side the sealed con­fines of a ter­rar­ium. De­spite liv­ing in an area with very hard tap wa­ter, I ig­nore the ad­vice of only us­ing bot­tled wa­ter and have had zero prob­lems.

When I started ig­nor­ing the ad­vice about never feed­ing them, as do­ing so re­sulted in them ex­hibit­ing yel­low­ing leaves (a tell-tale sign of nu­tri­ent de­fi­ciency), their growth rate al­most dou­bled. I don’t feed them heav­ily, just a half-strength liq­uid house­plant feed once a month, but the ef­fect is dra­matic and to me es­sen­tial to suc­cess. And no, I don’t run around trap­ping in­sects to feed them. They don’t need it.

Fi­nally, these plants are light hun­gry, so only grow them on a spot within 1m of a win­dow, ideally a south-fac­ing one as these are ex­posed to more sun­light. Don’t have a spot like that? No prob­lem, just set up a grow w light. There are now en­er­gyen­ergy ef­fi­cient LED bulbs, which are very af­ford­able le and and­will will fit into any ny desk lamp. But ut you do have to have one or the he other to give them hem the light they y need. Af­ter decades of trial and nd er­ror, I have found if you do these three things, the plants ts are easy to keep and sur­pris­ingly pris­ingly fast grow­ing. . If only I’d known this back k in 1989! ■

Pitcher per­fect: er­fect: the key to grow­ing ng healthy ne­penthes es is lots of wa­ter, food od – and light

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