A tiny nepenthes pitcher.

Hand-Feeding a Pitcher Plant

Rule number one of keeping a Nepenthes is that you keep the fertilizer far,Β farΒ away. Some horticulturists have had success with foliar feeding, but I don’t yet trust myself not to hurt mine — they’re more delicate than they seem, sometimes.

Carnivorous plants are carnivorous because their roots are not well adapted to extracting nutrients from their substrates. That’s why they eat bugs. Digestive enzymes are nature’s way of making sure they get fed, roots or no. Well… Unless they’re one of the types that evolved to digest fallen leaves or be a sleeping bag for bats, but I digress.

My N. ventrata’s pitchers are still fairly tiny (there are a bunch of them now, though), and my apartment is mercifully bug-free aside from the occasional spider or stray stinkbug, so there isn’t much hope when it comes to leaving my plant to its own devices. If it’sΒ  hoping to catch a meal here, it’s going to be very disappointed for a very long time.

That’s okay, though. I’ve got this covered.

Pitcher plants are easier to hand feed compared to Venus fly traps. For fly traps, you have to rehydrate dried insects into a kind of bug-burger, then wiggle it around until the trap activates. Too much water, and the liquid might cause the plant to rot. Not enough, and the plant’s digestive enzymes might not be able to break it down adequately.

Pitcher plants, though? They’re a breeze:

worms

Delish!

Nepenthes pitches contain so much liquid, rehydration isn’t really an issue. They also lure insects rather than trap them, so I don’t have to put on a dead bug puppet show to get them to latch on. Take a pair of tweezers, pick up a pinch of dried bloodworms, and drop them in. You can even crush the worms to powder for particularly small pitchers. It doesn’t take many, so one container will last for ages.

Larger pitchers benefit from dried crickets or mealworms instead, but my guys are much too little for that. Pinhead crickets are often available as a special order from some pet stores, but they usually only come in large increments. I also don’t want to have to fight with fitting live crickets into those tiny pitcher mouths!

Feeding is kind of a misnomer, though — nepenthes are still photosynthetic, and depend on carbohydrates for energy. Bugs are more akin to fertilizer than actual food. As with other types of fertilizer, it’s better to err on the side of not feeding enough versus feeding too much. I don’t feed my pitchers often — once a month, if that. Regardless of what you feed them or how often, it’s important to make sure that the insects are completely submerged in the digestive fluid. If they aren’t, they’ll just end up growing mold instead of breaking down and feeding the plant.

Hopefully, I’ll have some pitchers large enough for crickets soon. Until then, I’ve got loads of bloodworms!

 

 

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New Pitcher Plant Shoots!

I love my little pitcher plant. It’s helpful (especially in summer), weirdly cute, and caring for it has been a really interesting learning experience. All told? 10/10 plantbro.

I’d wanted a Nepenthes ever since one of my exes and I spotted an enormous, stunningly beautiful N. ventricosa at this nursery we used to frequent years ago. (Old Country Gardens, in Delaware. Visiting that place was like going to weird plant zoo, and I loved it. They had a great collection of strange succulents and ornamental plants, as well as the usual fare. But anyway, I digress.) I was immediately drawn to it, but, since we lived in a place with barely any natural light to speak of, it was not to be.

When my S.O. and I saw a pretty little N. ventrata, we jumped on the opportunity. The pitchers didn’t last long after we brought it home, as they’re kind of prone to dropping off — Nepenthes are pretty sensitive to changes in light and humidity, and few homes are able to provide the kind of sun, temperatures, moisture, and tightly-controlled setting that a professional grower can.

Fortunately, N. ventrata is pretty adaptable. It’s a hybrid between N. alata and N. ventricosa (a lowland and highland species, respectively) and its needs are a bit better suited to the typical home environment. Even if the pitchers drop off, they’ll grow back once the plant acclimates as long as its basic needs are met.

This one grows like a weed. I have to cut it back regularly, and it seems like every spring brings me a fresh batch of these guys:

A nepenthes stem with new, green shoots.

New shoots!

Sometimes, Nepenthes produce basal shoots, which seem to grow out of (or very close to) the soil. They’ll also grow new shoots further along the vine. I’m no carnivorous plant expert, but, as far as I can tell, there isn’t an enormous difference between the two. They don’t develop their own root systems like aloe pups or spider plant offsets, but they can detach and eventually root. Left alone, they’re also a great way for a plant to continue on after it’s gotten a little too long. My plant tends to look scragglier as it vines. I also much prefer its lower pitchers to those that it produces on its upper portions, so I like to prune it back to maintain a more compact shape. (I also don’t really have the room to properly cultivate a vine just yet, so compact it is!)

A tiny nepenthes pitcher.

Plus the rosette has the cutest baby pitcher ever.

Fortunately for me, I’ve got a ton of new shoots to work with this year. This plant’ll be full and leafy in no time.