Sunday, November 30, 2014

An emissary

We got a little visit from the Kingdom of Fungi over in my Pinguicula moranensis pot.

Pinguicula moranensis with mushroom.
So small I almost didn't notice.
I've had to periodically deal with mold and mildew, but this is the first of the so-called higher fungi that has graced my collection (to my knowledge). I don't really know what this means. I suspect it will be mostly harmless.

It sure is cute though.

Mushroom among the carnivores.
Hi there you handsome fella.
More updates as events warrant, but I suspect this little fruitbody will die back and then I'll forget there was is a mushroom in this pot. If my P. moranensis suddenly dies for no reason though I'll have a handy scapegoat.

Mushrooms were a very early interest of mine, and I've often thought about getting back into their cultivation and study. It's cool to see a little one pop up among my carnivores.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Drosera prolifera seems to be doing better

I received a Drosera prolifera back in April from the NASC Auction. It struggled for a while in my care, and by August or so it was looking pretty shot.

Drosera prolifera looking terrible.
This poor plant looks fried.
I suspect its original conditions had had somewhat lower light and decidedly higher humidity. This photo was actually taken shortly after I moved it from its original position directly under the lights to a new one at the edge of the tray, where the light is somewhat reduced. I guess my instinct with this plant was correct, because it's looking pretty good lately.

Drosera prolifera.
It's really neat seeing them reach up out of the moss.
Also looking good is that Sphagnum. It's growing like crazy, and it's all the D. prolifera can do to reach up above it with its extra long petioles. There are also several babies poking up around the pot.

Drosera prolifera plantlet.
D. prolifera plantlets have to work to not get swallowed by moss.
Drosera prolifera plantlet.
Living Sphagnum is a pretty cool potting medium, but it makes the plants work for it.
One thing I've noticed about plants I receive from other growers is that sometimes they'll severely shrink back in my conditions and then regrow nicely. One thing it's good to know when trading or buying plants is what their typical growing conditions are. It can help you acclimate them to their new homes more easily.

My Drosera adelae (another of the Three Sisters of Queensland, and a close relative of D. prolifera) is going bonkers.

Drosera adelae bush.
Look at this ridiculous D. adelae bush. I wonder if this is how they look in habitat.
It's also sending roots out the bottom of the pot and tossing up plantlets in the tray water.

Drosera adelae plantlets in the tray water.
I should take care that the roots don't invade other pots.
I sorta feel silly deciding to do some leaf cuttings of D. adelae as part of the Summer Batch. The cutting that struck is looking cute though!

Drosera adelae plantlets.
It's so pretty and gem-like when small like this.
Wish I could get that nice red color on my mature plants.

Finally, in non-carnivorous news, there's a flower bud forming on my Aloe x spinosissima.

Aloe x spinosissima flower bud.
Aloes bloom in winter, and there are lots planted around the Bay. It's a real treat.
This is the first year it will bloom, and I'm excited. Aloe flowers are really pretty.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Drosera venusta back in action

My Drosera venusta was looking a little so-so for a while, but recently it has been doing a lot better. It's even got a new flower stalk.

Drosera venusta with flower stalk.
Looking less fried than it did during summer. Maybe it was the heat.
The last couple stalks it made aborted for some reason, but this one is growing all the way up into the lights.

Drosera venusta stalk growing into the lights.
I moved it just in time.
That means it's time for a move! I decided to have it take the place of my Pinguicula laureana x emarginata, which isn't going to need very much vertical room. I also decided to pull out those Utricularia bisquamata flowers, because as much as I find it to be a charming weed, I'd prefer it not set seed all over my collection.

Speaking of weeds, while I was shuffling around the plants to make room from the D. venusta I bumped my Drosera capensis red form flower stalk.

Pinguicula laureana x emarginata with Drosera capensis red form seeds.
Hope I don't get too many D. capensis red form seedlings everywhere.
Dang! I took a pause from shuffling plants to harvest some D. capensis red form seed (and also, while I was at it, some D. capensis 'Albino'). Those seeds will be available for sale soon.

In any case, I got it all set up, and now I'm ready for it to bloom and set seed. Exciting!

Drosera venusta.
Beauty shot!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pinguicula roundup, November 2014

Besides sundews I have a reasonable collection of Sarracenia and Utricularia. I also have a small collection of Pinguicula – one which I'm hoping to expand in the future. Pings are easily the most adorable of carnivorous plants, with a gooey charm all their own.

Pinguicula gigantea was my first ping, and it has been offsetting quite nicely.

Pinguicula gigantea with offset.
The little plantlet has to really stretch to get light.
That little guy off to the left is the newest growth point. I really need to divide and re-pot this plant. This is one of the few Mexican butterworts that doesn't have a non-carnivorous winter dormancy. It's also one of the only ones with mucilage on the bottom of the leaves as well as the top.

On the opposite side of the size spectrum are my Pinguicula "Yucca Doo 1717", a selection from New Mexico that is really cute.

Pinguicula "Yucca Doo 1717".
They're buddies!
Mature plants from this selection are really pretty, with nice scalloped leaf edges. They've grown pretty nicely since I received them several months ago.

Also on the small side are these Pinguicula lusitanica, which are dead.

Pinguicula lusitanica, dead.
This is another one of those "liverwort and moss" pots.
These are supposed to be an annual that will sprout, mature, set seed, and die all within a few months. I received 5 plants, 2 of which bloomed and all of which have since died. I keep holding out for seedlings, but so far all I've got is a sundew in the bottom left of the pot. We'll see.

My newest ping is a hybrid, Pinguicula laureana x emarginata.

Pinguicula laureana x emarginata.
Lovely colors on this hybid.
This guy has great coloration, and is fairly large. It is in a pretty small pot though, and I don't want to end up drowning it with the water level in the tray. Another re-potting job for when I have the time.

Finally, I think my prettiest ping right now is this Pinguicula moranensis GG from California Carnivores.

Pinguicula moranensis GG.
So precious! This is one of my favorite plants.
It's a beautiful greenish pink color, and is developing quite a handsome rosette shape. When I got it it only had 2 leaves, so apparently it likes my conditions. This is definitely one I'll want to propagate once it gets a bit bigger.

Pings are great.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pest follow-up

I've been dealing with pests in the collection a bit lately, so I decided to do some follow-up with a couple of my plants.

First up, the Drosera collinsiae that had aphids on its flower stalk appears to be aphid-free.

Drosera collinsiae
This is actually the best this plant has looked in some time.
I think they had all gathered on the flower stalk to take advantage of all the sugar and nutrients concentrated there, which made it easy to get rid of them. I'm keeping this plant in quarantine a bit longer, but I think it's out of the woods.

The same cannot be said for my much more heavily-afflicted Drosera anglica CA x HI.

Drosera anglica CA x HI
A shadow of its former glory.
I don't think it really liked the treatment with isopropyl alcohol, and was already quite weakened by aphids. There is a bit of green at the crown, and hopefully it can bounce back, but it's hard to say. Also I'm not positive all the aphids are gone, since they weren't all gathered on an obvious spot. That said I haven't seen any on the sundew weeds in the pot, so I'm holding out hope that there are none left. I'm going to keep this plant in quarantine for a while until it either definitely dies or bounces back and gets stronger. Then I'm going to repot it and throw out the media in case there are eggs.

My experience with this plant is proof of the wisdom of taking cuttings whenever you get a new species or cultivar. If I didn't have those plantlets I would be seriously bummed to lose this hybrid, which is one of the loveliest in cultivation, and somewhat difficult to find.

The most severely caterpillar-munched Drosera burmannii plant has kicked the bucket, but I think the other one is going to make it out alive.

Drosera burmannii with caterpillar damage.
To be fair this plant had already probably outlived its natural lifespan.
There are a couple dewy leaves on the plant on the left in the foreground (which is the one where I found the caterpillar living). I've fed it to jump-start the regrowth process. The one on the right has basically melted. Godspeed little plant.

To honor my fallen plant I want to share this photo from back in May. It's actually of the centermost plant, but I want to share it anyway because I recently realized it had never been posted to the blog, and it's one of the most horrifying photos I have of my carnivores. Consider it a warning to future pests.

Drosera burmannii with fly.
D. burmannii is a fearsome hunter.
That's grim.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How are things over here?

There's a lot going on in this little tray right now.

Sundew tray.
Each tray is like its own neighborhood.
 First off, it appears I was wrong about that caterpillar on my Drosera burmannii being the only one.

Drosera adelae with caterpillar damage.
Chewed leaves and caterpillar poop. Great.
I found another in my Drosera adelae pot last night. Luckily there are lots of traps open on my Venus fly-trap right now. Also D. adelae is a very vigorous plant in my conditions and I'm sure it will recover just fine. Even if one or two of the plants succumb, there's a lot of root in that pot that will form new plantlets.

Next door, it looks like there are gemmae forming on Drosera allantostigma.

Drosera allantostigma forming gemmae.
Still looking good, although the colors are more orange and less pink than they used to be.
I need to get some media ready!

In the same pot I have a little cleistogamous flower stalk of Utricularia subulata.

Cleistogamous Utricularia subulata flower stalk.
Another charming weed.
I like it. It's got a nice sculptural quality, and the dew drops at the crooks are pretty neat. I've said it before, but I think the weedy Utricularia get short shrift.

This Drosera capillaris seems to also have a bit of humic acid buildup, like the Drosera aliciae over in my community pot.

Drosera capillaris.
It's still pretty, but I need to help it get healthier.
Apparently flushing the pots can help. Another chore to toss onto my list for a day that I have free to spend with my plants.

Meanwhile I can't tell if Drosera filiformis is dormant or dead or what.

Dormant (or dead) Drosera filiformis.
Right now this is more of a "liverwort and moss pot" than a "D. filiformis" pot.
I'm definitely not chucking them out any time soon, but I wouldn't be amazed if these guys aren't gonna wake back up. I think the media is too dense for their taste. We'll see though. Give it a couple months.

My Drosera brevifolia pot is a good example of why you shouldn't give up on plants too soon.

Drosera brevifolia.
I've always liked the organic look of this pot.
See that plant in the middle? This is what it looked like back at the beginning of October:

Drosera brevifolia, apparently (but not actually) dead.
Back from the dead!
Welcome back little guy!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Some propagation progress

It's been a little quiet around the blog lately, since my real-life workplace has been understaffed and there's been a lot of demands on my time. Luckily plants mostly keep growing even if you can't poke and prod them all the time. In fact, sometimes being too busy for your plants is just what they need.

In any case, I'm hoping things settle down soon and I can spend some more time with my plants (and my blog). One thing I'm always wanting to do more is propagation. I really need to mix up a big batch of media (especially since it's pygmy season), but in the meantime I do have a few ongoing propagation efforts that are proceeding well.

These seedlings are Drosera burmannii "Giant Red" (Hann River, Kimberley, WA, Australia).

Drosera burmannii, Kimberley, Western Australia
D. burmannii already looking nice and red.
That algae-looking stuff in the corner of the pot is a bit odd. I've seen it on one pot before, and I suspect it's because I'm using a humidity tent so there's no airflow. These are well on their way to being hardened off though, so I hope it'll go away once the tent is off.

I suspect these will end up looking quite a bit like my D. burmannii (Humpty Doo, NT, Australia), since the locations are within a few hundred miles of each other. Still, I love D. burmannii. I'd like to get my hands on some of the green forms as well.

The Drosera sessilifolia I started at the same time is looking about the same.

Drosera sessilifolia
I've been looking for this plant for a long time. Yay!
I'm looking forward to feeding these and watching them grow up alongside the D. burmannii. They're very closely related, even though D. sessilifolia is endemic to South America, several thousand miles from any D. burmannii populations. I think that's rad.

My prized Drosera capensis (Bainskloof) leaf cutting has taken well to its first feeding.

Drosera capensis Bainskloof
Really really excited about how well this cutting has developed.
It doesn't look particularly distinctive now, but I'm hoping with some more feeding (I'm almost done hardening it off) it will do some serious growing.

The water-float cutting I started at the same time (early September) has developed a couple leaves.

Drosera capensis Bainskloof cutting
Now I just need a couple free days to mix up media and do some potting.
It's a bit hard to see, but it's definitely time to pot this guy up. I would love to have two healthy specimens of this plant, it's very attractive.

Finally, my Drosera madagascariensis is pretty much done flowering, and now I'm waiting for the seeds to ripen. The weight of the flower stalk has cause a lot of lean, and now the stem has a distinct wiggle.

Drosera madagascariensis
It's got that lean.
I feel like in the future I'll be very judicious about which D. madagascariensis I allow to flower. It has been pretty stressful on the tall plant, while the shorter ones have mostly taken it in stride. Can't wait to harvest seed though!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Revenge of the bugs

I was looking over my plants yesterday and noticed that my prize-winning pot of Drosera burmannii was looking terrible.

Drosera burmannii with pest damage.
What a bummer. My prize-winning plants!
I couldn't figure out what was going wrong...until I looked closer.

Caterpillar on Drosera burmannii.
This little guy sure just set up shop like it was nothing.
It's a caterpillar! Probably the same species as the one that was inhabiting one of my Drosera binata back in August. I watched it chewing away on my prized plants for a second before extracting it. It did not want to be extracted, but it is a caterpillar and I am a dextrous ape, so it wasn't much of a contest.

It was pretty small, a bit more than a quarter inch (.5 cm) long.
It was able to move very quickly within the little tent it had made among the leaves of my D. burmannii, but once out in the open it was fairly sluggish.

I looked around for signs of any more, but I think this was the only one. Of course, I was left with the problem of what to do with it. Luckily, being a carnivorous plant hobbyist gives you all sorts of ghoulish solutions to bug problems.

Caterpillar being eating by Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly trap).
I checked back today and yes it did successfully begin digesting.
I hope my D. burmannii are able to bounce back.

- - - - -

P.S. Check out how big my Drosera natalensis seedlings have gotten.

Drosera natalensis seedlings.
Feeding just makes such a difference.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cultivation Guides: Light, part 2

 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.
This is part 2 of my Cultivation Guide on light, which is probably the most important factor in ensuring your plants are healthy and attractive. Part 1 focused on diagnosing whether your plants receive enough light, and what changes you can expect with higher light levels. This post will focus on the technical details of my own lighting setup, as well as some notes on cost and efficiency.

Setting up indoor lights doesn't have to be exorbitantly expensive, but it will cost a bit in setup. My first set of lights cost about $150, including the cost of building the frame to mount the lights.

Grow space #1
Taking photos of lights is an exercise in futility.
I use 2 of these Lithonia 3-bulb 4 foot T8 fluorescent light fixtures from Home Depot. As you can see, it is a hanging shop light, so you need something to hang it from. I built this frame out of inexpensive 1x4 and 2x4 lumber, plus a coat of stain to make it look nice.

While this frame has worked well, I think that a better choice for people who are looking to start growing indoors under lights is one of these shelving units:

Grow shelf.
These shelves are great, and versatile.
This was also a Home Depot purchase, and was about $100. It comes with 5 shelves, but I'm only using 3 right now (and only have lights on 2 of them). This is a sturdy, classic choice for a grow shelf. It's east to hang the lights (if you buy a couple of S-hooks) and each shelf is just the right size for 2 of my fixtures.

The tubes I use have an output of around 2700 lumens, and my growing area is about 6 square feet under each set of lights. I use a mix of warm and cool bulbs, ranging between 3500 k and 6500 k. Most plants grown under these conditions seem very satisfied with the light conditions. The heat buildup hasn't been too much of an issue, although I think my living room could afford to have a bit more air circulation during the summer for my plants to be at their happiest.

A lot of people want to know what lights to use. I've looked at T5 fluorescent bulbs as well as doing a bit of research into LEDs, and right now I'm firmly in the T8 bulb camp. As I mentioned in my post about the last BACPS meeting, current research suggests that T8s are more photosynthetically efficient per watt than broad-spectrum white light LEDs. I know this is a subject to a bit of controversy, so I'm not going to get too much deeper into that until Drew's paper is published next year.

However, it's undeniable that fluorescent lighting is much more common than LEDs, and is cheaper and easier to set up for someone with no electrical knowledge. T5s are somewhat more efficient than T8s, but not by much (I would save maybe $20/year with high-output T5s), but the fixtures and bulbs are more expensive and harder to find than T8s. One thing to keep in mind about fluorescent lights is that the bulbs see a dropoff in output in a fairly short time period, and should be replaced every other year at least.

One thing you'll definitely need for your lights is a timer.

Timers can get very sophisticated (and expensive) but that's not super necessary for most growers.
These are available from Amazon and aren't too expensive. I hook mine up to a power strip and then plug the lights into that.

Power strip.
The grow rack keeps everything in one place.
I was giving the plants a 16 hour photoperiod, and recently dropped it down to about 11 hours (in 3 stages or so). I'm not 100% sure this is necessary or beneficial – we'll see how my plants respond over the season, and then maybe next year I'll keep it much more constant.

One thing the reduced photoperiod definitely accomplished was reduce some costs. With a 16 hour photoperiod, running 18 tubes, I was using about 300 kW-h per month on my lights, which added about $50/mo to my electricity bill. Now with a 11 hour photoperiod that's down to a little over $30. Obviously this is a limiting factor in the number of plants I can grow. I don't really want to add another set of tubes at this time, so interested in building a protected space for outdoor growing soon. We'll see how that goes.

One thing which can definitely improve the efficiency of your lighting (and possibly save money) is some reflective material around your lights. I don't use much – just a bit of foil on two sides of one of my growing areas – but it can definitely make less light go farther. Mylar is a better choice than aluminum foil. Remember though, that reflective siding reduces airflow and increases heat buildup, so factor that into your design.

Drosera capensis windowbox next to the reflective foil.
Keep on shining.
Growing under lights isn't for everyone. However, if you can't grow out in the sun (because of a lack of space, or because your climate isn't appropriate for some species) it is definitely preferable to a windowsill. It makes a huge difference in plant health, and is not too expensive with a moderately-sized collection. I'd love to hear what sort of lights other people use to keep their plants happy.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cultivation Guides: Light, part 1

 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.
I've been trying to write a post about light for sundews (and carnivorous plants in general) for a while. I'd started several posts and then shelved the idea for later – it's a pretty big subject, and I definitely don't have the definitive word on it. However, I've been getting a number of requests lately to talk about my setup, specifically my lighting situation, so I've got to tackle it.

I'm going to make 2 posts on the topic. This one will deal with the overall importance of light, and how different light levels will affect your plants. Part 2 will deal with technical specs, including which lights I use, how I position them, and how much it costs.

Carnivorous plants need a lot of light!

Lighting setup.
My lights light up the whole room.
Lighting setup.
It's not too expensive, but there are costs. I'll talk about that next time.
In general, carnivorous plants are found in areas that are poor in nutrients but rich in sunlight and water. That's sort of the whole thing about carnivorous adaptations: they trade photosynthetic efficiency for the ability to get nutrients from bugs.

I don't believe sundews can be successfully grown on windowsills, or even in most greenhouses. Windowsills usually only offer 3-4 hours of direct sun (at most) and the vast majority of greenhouses have some degree of shading to help manage heat. I'm far from an expert, but most pictures I've seen of sundews grown in greenhouses are under-colored with lackluster dew production. I'd love to hear from growers who have figured out how to grow Drosera in a greenhouse environment, by the way!

How can you tell if a sundew is getting enough light? There are 3 main things to look at: robust, upright growth; reddish coloration somewhere on the plant; and lots of big dewdrops on the leaves. Consider this Drosera capensis:

Drosera capensis.
A D. capensis growing in good light conditions is very lovely.
The leaves are upright and thick. On under-lit D. capensis you usually see the laminae (the part of the leaf with the tentacles) curving downwards (check out this photo from Wikimedia). The tentacles are deep red, and the old growth gets quite red. The dew is robust enough to stand out in contrast to the rest of the plant.

I think color is the number one indicator if you're wondering about your light conditions. Dew production can be reduced by low humidity or too much wind, and other things can mess up leaf growth, but if there is no red color on your sundew you can safely assume that it's under-lit. Even D. capensis 'Albino', a cultivar that is defined by its lack of red pigment, gets a pink blush in the tentacles if properly lit.

Drosera capensis 'Albino'.
This plant also hasn't been fed much recently.
Of course, you need to go on a species-by-species (or cultivar-by-cultivar basis), but the above picture shows about the minimum of red coloration you should see in your plants. The Drosera adelae I recently posted about is another example of a plant that has at least a bit of red color (I would really like to see that one get redder, actually). Others, like Drosera ultramafica x spatulata and some forms of Drosera burmannii get deep, deep red in bright conditions, and having any green on the plant at all suggests it could use more light.

Plants grown in higher light conditions will also tend to be more compact than those that are somewhat under-lit. Consider this clump of Drosera capillaris.

Drosera capillaris.
The perspective isn't the best, but the leaves are flat against the soil.
Drosera capillaris.
With more light they get much more upright.
The first picture is from January 28th 2014, shortly after I bought it from California Carnivores at the winter BACPS meeting. The second picture is May 23rd. The color is certainly a lot better. Also the petioles are shorter, and the plant is smaller over all. Now, I've heard things about growth habit like this being influenced by light spectrum, with blue light affecting growth differently than red light. This is still something I'm investigating, and frankly I don't have the resources to test it thoroughly. Still, the tendency I've seen is for plants to get more compact under brighter light.

Providing a proper amount of light is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your plants stay healthy. Light-stressed plants are more susceptible to water stress and pests, and are harder to keep in cultivation. When looking to perfect your growing environment solving the light question is one of the most important to answer.

More to come in part 2.