from seed, the labor-intensive version

While my last post was dedicated to an easy seed propagation project, this one details a couple that were a little more labor-intensive. Still not hard, just a little bit more work to pull off.

Sarracenia Night Sky, a hybrid of S. leucophylla and S. rubra gulfensis.

I’ve posted about my pitcher plants a few times before–Sarracenia species from the American South and some hybrids–and this is the first year I’ve tried sowing my own seed. All eight species (or nine, or ten or eleven, depending on the expert you listen to) are inter-fertile, and hybrids between all of them are possible and have been made at one time or another. The hybrids, too, are generally fertile, and you can go crazy with the genetic possibilities.

Sarracenia Dainas Delight, a complex hybrid of S. xWillissii and S. leucophylla.

For creative sorts you can arrange garden plants in interesting ways, but with this genus you could also design the very plants that you grow. If you live in the heart of pitcher plant country, this might be a problem. Bees could carry pollen from your hybrid plants to nearby native species and create some new unnatural hybrids. But the genus never crossed to this side of the Mississippi River so Californians can play Doctor Frankenstein all they want without worrying about messing with the native population beyond our castle walls.

A ripe Sarracenia flava seed pod, picked mid-November.
Mature seed pod of Sarracenia flava.

So…I began in the spring making some hybrids, and the pods began to ripen in August, with the last pods just finishing up ripening right about now.

Closeup of the previous Sarracenia flava seedpod. This one contained almost 500 seeds. You can see them practically jumping out of the pod.

The seeds require a cool, damp period in order to germinate. I emptied the pods and put the seed in a plastic bag with a few strands of moist chopped sphagnum moss, one bag for each cross. And into the fridge they went for four weeks.

After this period of cold stratification I sowed the seed on the surface of chopped sphagnum moss which I’d layered on the top of post filled 50/50 with a sand/peat mixture.

Next, I put the pots into a clear plastic box, poured in half an inch of standing rainwater, closed the lid, and put them near a window that faces south-southeast. If everything goes well–and it looks like it did–the seedlings begin to emerge in two to four weeks. Warmish weather is best, though you don’t have to be too fanatical. This batch experienced the recent 90- to 100-degree days as well as many cooler days in the 60s. As long as the seed think it’s spring, they’ll begin to germinate.

That’s pretty much it. Some people place the seedlings under constant bright lights and 70-plus degree temperatures for up to three years to speed them up to maturity. I’m hoping that bright daylight in a warmish interior spot will give them enough of a boost that I don’t have to resort to the equivalent of putting the plants on steroids.

Yearling sarracenia seedlings of the cross S. (Melanorhoda, Triffid Park x rosea luteola).

And here you see the reason why people might try to accelerate growth. These are year-old seedlings from a cross by Brooks Garcia that I sowed a year ago, thinking I’d practice on someone else’s cross before attempting my own. I grew these in my unheated greenhouse which has fairly low, less-than-ideal lighting conditions. They did get some bottom heat during the coldest months of the year.

Drosophyllum lusitanicum, a couple months old.

The other carnivorous plants I’m propagating this fall are of this Mediterranean-region species, Drosophyllum lusitanicum. While virtually all carnivorous plants are creatures of swamps and bogs, this one is unique in that it comes from fairly dry areas with be limited summer rainfall. Unlike the preceding sarracenia bog plants, this species could actually thrive in California’s wet-winter, dry-summer climate without too much additional life support.

Its common name is “Dewy Pine” because the leaves have little tentacles tipped with sticky bug-catching fluid that looks like dew. But Barry Rice mentions a much cooler moniker: Its Portuguese name translates into “Slobbering Pine.”

This plant and the preceding Sarracenia do catch insects. It’s a contradiction I’m trying to come to terms with. I plant a lot of California native plants, which provide nectar and other food for all sorts of winged and crawling creatures. And then I have these little monsters that actively trap and consume them. Call me a man of contradictions. In the end I hope I’m doing lots more good than bad.

I only know of one seller who ships Drosophyllum so you pretty much have to grow your own from seed if you want one. (I got my seed from the seed bank of the International Carnivorous Plant Society.) The little black seeds have a hard coat that slows down germination. If you have some 220-grit sandpaper around that’s not a problem. Just lightly–and I mean lightly–rub the seed between two sheets of the sandpaper until a patch of the black seed coat is worn away to reveal the white layer underneath. Then pop them on top of the same mixture you’d use for germinating Sarracenia and keep the mix moist with good-quality water. Germination for me was about two to six weeks, no cold stratification necessary.

There you have it. With both of these kinds of plants it was a little more work than my last post growing bladderods from seed. But really, it isn’t that hard if you’re patient.

14 thoughts on “from seed, the labor-intensive version”

  1. I was fascinated to see your progress in adding to the world of Sarracenia. Breeding is slow and perilous, but so interesting! Is it possible that those LED plant lights could help the small ones along without being too much (either on the power bill or the plants)?

    Intrigued by the California-adapted Slobbering Pine. I have only ever seen Calif. native carnivorous plants where it stays wet all year. I’ll be interested to see how it does for you.

  2. I am so impressed. I have a Sarracenia which I bought in the Autumn but it doesnt look very happy so I dont think it has the right environment. It is in my frost free greenhouse as I was told it needed over winter protection but I wonder if it needs more humidity

  3. Colleen, thanks! I know bogs are often burned to keep out the invasives. Fortunately the seeds don’t rely on fire to germinate, and you’d be able to pull all this off outdoors in Washington without all my shenanigans to replicate winter…

    Pomona, I’m glad you reminded me about LEDs. I was planning on looking at what’s available. I think I could splurge on a 14 watt model, especially if I don’t run heating cables this year. This is attempt #2 for the slobbering. The last time I let the little seedlings get too dry. This time I’m planning on keeping them moist through the spring.

    Helen, my garden is usually considered Zone 10 and I worry that it’s too warm for sarracenia, though so far they seem to do okay. I’m not sure how cold you get, but people mention Zone 8 as being classic sarracenia habitat, so you might be okay with some frost. I’d not worry about your plant not looking so great right now. Almost all of them start to look bad about now, and some of mine look good only in the spring.

    Susan, if being at least moderately disciplined and patient comes naturally to you, you’d find these to be pretty simple from seed. I have as much trouble with Ceanothus and much more trouble with manzanitas.

  4. I agree: starting odd things from seed is a blast. It only seems tedious when reading about all of the steps. Never are we just sitting around waiting for them to do their thing, so the patience factor is relative. I am currently working on 5 spiral aloe seeds. High hopes.

  5. Helen, American pitcher plants need a cold dormancy to be at their best. They should be left outside in full sun, and not allowed to dry out (rain water, distilled water. They can stay outside year ’round. I bring mine into an unheated garage during the winter if temps drop below 20F.

  6. Very very fascinating stuff creating your own hybrids of the pitcher plants. I can’t wait to see the crosses. I’m amazed by all those seeds in the seedpod too. No wonder whenever you see pitcher plants you see a lot of them all together. They are really pretty plants. I keep saying I’m going to try to grow them but then never get around to it. Sigh.

  7. Denise, I worry about all the water the pitcher plants require so this might be a great plant to explore for California. There are a few additional species with similar requirements, including the genus Byblis, which has both annual and perennials species. I haven’t tried them yet but hope to soon.

    Ricki, the spiral aloe has caught my eye in the past. I hope you have some seedlings to share on your blog!

    Fer, definitely slow plants to mature like many other plants with bulbs or rhizomes or tubers. But worth it, I think!

    Wendy, thanks! I agree that the color of Night Sky is amazing, especially this time of year.

    Rob, the flava pod I showed was a simple flava x flava cross, using a var. flava “wide mouth” and a var. ornata ‘Black Veins.’ The hope is to combine the slightly grotesque form of “wide mouth” with more intense purple-black veins from the other parent.

    Blaine, thanks for the help on overwintering these. Here we can go several years between freezing temps, so I don’t have a lot of experience with the cold-climate side of their culture.

    Tina, if you can get your hands on a Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea I think it’d do really well for you in your relatively shady garden. They’re also by far the hardiest, so you wouldn’t have to worry about overwintering them since they’re found up into Canada.

  8. Great post, James,! I can see you bordering on geekdom there, but so admire you being able to hybridize! The S. ‘Night Sky’ is just awesome and love the color of the S. ‘Dainas Delight’! Do you grow these outside eventually…in a container?
    That pod is so interesting, looks like it could be a baked good of some sort.

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