Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cultivation Guides: Plant Trading

 This is part of a series of posts describing various aspects of cultivation, which will hopefully be useful to new growers trying to solve the challenges of growing carnivores, and experienced growers who are always looking to improve their collection. The full series can be read here, or by topic on the Series page.

Trading is an essential part of the carnivorous plant hobby. There are only a handful (maybe a dozen) sundew species/cultivars that are consistently available to buy anywhere (online or at nurseries). Nepenthes and Sarracenia are a bit easier to find, if significantly more expensive. Pinguicula are difficult and Utricularia extremely difficult to find for sale, outside of one of two beginner varieties.

So basically once you start trying to expand your collection you're going to have to start trading. At first it can be intimidating – beginners don't have much trading stock, shipping plants bare root seems risky, and the plants you receive in the mail usually look all ratty. Luckily, it's much easier than it seems.

I just completed a trade with a poster on Terra Forums who was initially looking for some Utricularia graminifolia (I've had a pot for a while, though I haven't posted much about it). In order to make everything worthwhile, we wound up with me sending some U. graminifolia, Drosera prolifera, Drosera filiformis Florida Red, and Drosera capensis 'Albino' and receiving Drosera affinis, Pinguicula 1717, Drosera capensis Bainskloof leaf cuttings, and seeds of Drosera sessilifolia and Drosera burmannii Giant Red (Hann River, Kimberley, WA, Australia). This was a very exciting trade for me, since I've been looking for D. capensis Bainskloof and D. sessilifolia for some time.

First up, sending plants. Sundews should be shipped bare root, with as much media rinsed off the roots as possible (this helps prevent accidentally spreading weeds or pests). These should then be wrapped in a portion of wet long-fiber sphagnum, and wrapped again in a damp paper towel. This can be placed in a plastic baggie. See below

Drosera prolifera ready to be shipped
D. prolifera plantlet, off to a new home.
Drosera capensis 'Albino' ready to be shipped
D. capensis 'Albino' is the largest plant I shipped today.
Drosera filiformis Flordia Red, ready to be shipped
Once again, D. filiformis Florida Red proves to be popular trading material.
For terrestrial Utricularia it's a little different. In their case, just dig out a plug of plants and media from your pot, and wrap it in a damp paper towel to hold it together. Then, into the baggie.

Utricularia gramnifolia plug
This is about the size of the plug of U. graminifolia that I started with.
Utricularia gramnifolia ready to ship
All wrapped up safe.
Make sure to label all your plants clearly with as much information as possible. Species, cultivar, location data, etc. are all important pieces of information for the future owner. Once you've done that, it's time to pack up and ship.

I use the USPS small flat-rate Priority mail boxes.

Small flat rate box
Non-flat rate boxes can be affordable, but they're less predictable.
The boxes themselves are free, and shipping is only $5.80 for guaranteed 3-day delivery. That's about the sweet spot for shipping plants – anything quicker is exorbitantly expensive, and going cheaper puts the plants at risk with long shipping times. I find I can usually fit 3-4 smaller-sized plants in one box. If I were shipping mature specimens of larger species I'd have to use a different container.

Flat rate box all packed.
I like to cushion my boxes with dry paper towels if I don't have other packing materials.
It's always best to ship at the beginning of the week, so that plants don't sit around in a post office over the weekend. Also keep the temperatures in mind – plants can be lost to freezing or baking hot weather on the receiving party's end.

When you receive plants in the mail, it's important to pot them up right away. They're probably stressed out from shipping, and getting them settled in quickly will make a big difference in how quickly they bounce back. It's good to have some media prepared in advance.

Drosera affinis
Looking forward to seeing this D. affinis get bigger.
Pinguicula 1717
This media has a lot of perlite in it for these pings.
One thing that I've come to find really helps my plants recover from any stressful situation, be it shipping or repotting or whatever, is much higher humidity. Therefore I now put a plastic baggie over the pots of my new acquisitions. This is also useful as insurance in case the plants you receive were accustomed to much higher humidity than your setup provides – the humidity tent allows them to be hardened off slowly, rather than potentially shocked to death.

Drosera affinis and Pinguicula 1717 in humidity tents.
I really like using humidity tents.
Since I received 2 leaf cuttings of D. capensis Bainskloof I decided to start one in water, and one on the media. This provides a bit of insurance in case one technique fails utterly.

Drosera capensis Bainskloof leaf cutting in water
I've not had much success with the water-float method and D. capensis previously, but maybe this time will be different.
Drosera capensis Bainskloof leaf cutting on media
My fingers are seriously crossed for this leaf cutting.
Finally, shipping seeds. Sundew seeds are tiny, sometimes hilariously tiny, which means shipping them safely can be a challenge. My personal favorite method is to make seed packets out of parchment paper, and envelopes out of printer paper. That way there is no tape or glue to catch the seeds, and the tension of multiple folds keeps the seeds well-contained. The fellow I traded with used pieces of rolled and then folded paper and tape that actually worked pretty well, but I still think the above method is the best I've seen.

Drosera sessilifolia seed starts
Super pumped to be growing D. sessilifolia. Ever since I learned about its relationship with D. burmannii I've wanted some.
Drosera burmannii Giant Red (Hann River) seed starts
This is a different locality than my D. burmannii Humpty Doo, but I suspect it will look fairly similar.
Finally, remember to label your plants! Eventually you're going to reach a point where you no longer remember what's in each pot. Labeling will help you stay organized and make it much easier to trade in the future (nobody wants an unidentifiable mystery plant).

Happy trading.


  1. Very Interesting, this is a little off topic but I am just wondering where you obtain the sand that you use, I can never seem to find any where I live.

    1. No problem being off topic! I use #16 sand from a local gravel yard. It's listed as beach sand, but I wash it very thoroughly before use and salt/other minerals haven't been an issue so far. I've heard that the silica sand used for pool filters is ideal, but I can't speak from personal experience. I bought a 100 pound bag of the beach sand, but when I've used it all up I'll probably try to find some pure silica sand.

  2. Please keep us updated on the Blainskloof. I have been acquiring different varieties of capensis for a taxonomical evaluation. May I also ask where you obtained the leaf cuttings?