Pitching in

Back in 2015, when the limery was first built, getting some carnivorous plants seemed like a really great way to control the burgeoning fly population, and so it proved (much more pleasant than fly paper). One of the carnivores that I bought, however, was purchased mainly because it was a type of plant that I had always wanted to own – a tropical pitcher plant, otherwise known as a monkey cup or Nepenthes. I knew virtually nothing about these amazing plants other than that I had always admired the collection in the botany gardens at the university in Aberystwyth – a collection put together by an amazing gardener called Don Parker, who had trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh amongst other places. Don collected all sorts of species and was very proud of them and I used to admire his new acquisitions whenever they arrived. Don is no longer with us, but his collection lives on in the tropical house at the university botany gardens (I’ll go and take some photos one day)… and his inspiration lives on in the one specimen that I own.

nepenthes ventxtala

Then: Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis when I first bought it

I just wish I’d taken the time to learn more from Don about these amazing plants; as it is I’ve had to read up about them as I don’t know another expert. The specimen that I bought in 2015 is, it turns out, a hybrid of two relatively compact upland species of tropical pitcher: Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes talangensis. This upland origin is fortunate because it means it is more suited to surviving cooler conditions than its lowland relatives. It has, however, taken me a while to discover a location for it over the winter that allows it to thrive. But I have now discovered that it loves our bathroom – bouts of high humidity, dispersed light and (it appears) just the right temperature. As a result it has started to produce new pitchers and, for the first time, a flower. Nepenthes plants are either male or female and you don’t know which until they flower, so this event will allow me to find out whether it’s a boy or a girl – probably the former as they are more common (70:30 ratio in the wild, apparently). Here it is now:

Many of the plants I grow have a real practical purpose, but the job of this one is mainly to bring me joy… and it does.

Hanging around

IMGP9934

Not an appealing sight

In order to control flies in the limery I have been using a combination of carnivorous plants and fly paper. The latter is unsightly, but effective to hang high up. However, now I’m getting to know my insectivores better and discovering what grows well, I have been able to ditch the fly paper in favour of Drosera dichotoma. This astonishing sundew (at least astonishing to those of us used to our tiny native Drosera rotundifolia) produces long trailing leaves, and so is best in a location where these can drape down the side of the pot, unrestricted. Suspending this plant shows it off to its best advantage and gives it the greatest opportunity to trap its prey.

Since the plant needs to sit in water, a reasonably deep suspended dish is required. After a bit of rummaging around, I located a plastic bowl that had been given to me years ago full of pot pourri (pointless stuff, long since composted).  A little bit of work with some jute twine and a crochet hook and I had constructed a hammock for my pot.

And now it’s hanging in the limery looking much more attractive than the fly paper, and photosynthesising to boot!

Fingers crossed that it’s happy there and grows lots more fly-catching leaves.

Cohabiting carnivores

When the limery was first built, we noticed that flies had begun to congregate in there and one of the builders suggested getting some carnivorous plants. I liked this idea – no unpleasant chemicals plus interesting specimens to care for.

In the past year I’ve had some successes and some failures – sadly not all of my plants have survived, but I have learned a lot, including what types of carnivores like the conditions available and the fact that slugs eat pitcher plants. It is because of this latter fact that my Sarracenia purpurea has a hole in the lower part of one of its 2015 pitchers (each pitcher in this species lasts a couple of years). As a result no liquid can accumulate in there, but it has attracted a resident – a spider. So I have an insectivore living inside an insectivore!

As you can see, it’s living perilously close to a Venus fly trap that would be perfectly capable of catching it. It has spun its web around all four of the plants in the water tray, but it must be very careful as it does this. This co-habitation has been going on for several weeks now and none of the organisms involved seem to be adversely affected, so I’m not interfering, although I have removed the Sarracenia seedling now as it was getting swamped by the web.

Looking round at my carnivores, it’s obvious how common co-habitation is… well, actually it’s really that sundews seem to be particularly keen to move in with any other carnivore except the Venus fly traps. What is particularly nice is that some of the young sundews must have arrived as hitch-hikers, because they are not species that I have bought.

In terms of doing their job, I’m pleased to report that fly capture is proceeding well – the pitcher plants (and spiders) catch big houseflies and the sundews catch the little black flies that seem to be associated with peppers growing in pots and whitefly that like the melons. I’m going to put the most rampant droopy Drosera dicotoma in a hanging basket, as its long leaves are getting rather out of hand on the window sill and it will then have maximum access to little flies.

And it looks like there may be more offspring to come – assuming Sarracenia is self-fertile, I am hoping for some seeds from this lovely specimen:

And there are likely to be yet more sundews as the Drosera capensis are flowering all over the place and forming seed pods

Now isn’t that so much more fun than fly sprays?

 

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: