I’ve been growing Cephalotus follicularis for 20+ years and I still find it a fascinating species. Most of my growing experience comes from growing them indoors on windowsills and under artificial lighting.
My collection of Cephalotus has steadily grown over many years but I have now reduced it to just the clones I like and want to grow. I particularly like the clones with unusual shaped pitchers. I also like the dark clones, as many others do, but in my experience obtaining such colouration needs very specific conditions that not all growers are going to be able to achieve.
I read many posts on the internet where people struggle to maintain Cephalotus, but I find them easy, so I hope that some of the guidelines below help some people with this fascinating plant.
Below is some of the experience and knowledge I’ve picked up over the years, much of which I have put into practice with my own plants. These work for me, but your experiences and circumstances may be different.
It’s often a misconception that because Cephalotus originate from Australia they like hot growing conditions but, this isn’t true. Cephalotus are also known as Albany Pitcher plants, and they get that name due to the area where they grow in their natural habitat, Albany, which is on the west coast of Australia and the climate is more akin to that of the Mediterranean. The mean minimum and maximum temperatures can be found here: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_009500.shtml
I grow most my Cephalotus indoors, so they don’t really see much temperature extremes, but the climate link above is a good indicator of temperatures to aim for. They can tolerate temperatures outside this range, but best avoided for extended periods of time. The chart here shows the minimum and maximum temperatures recorded in Albany: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_009500_All.shtml
Sometimes I think there must be as many medium mixes are there are growers 😊
There are lots of suitable ingredients which when combined in the correct ratio, can be used as part of a growing medium; here’s just a few:
- Sphagnum moss
- Grit (lime free)
- Sharp Sand (lime free)
- Lava rock
- Orchid bark
- Etc. etc. etc…
I’ve tried many of the above in various mixes and ratios and I can honestly say, I don’t notice much difference between any of them. My default mix is simply peat and perlite, at a ratio of approximately 2:1. Sometimes if I don’t have perlite then I’ll use Seramis, as they are both inert and really only serve to aid aeration and drainage.
I’ve also successfully grown Cephalotus in 100% peat which providing that it is coarse enough, provides enough drainage on its own. Root examination during repotting plants grown this way is that the root growth is very good.
Basically, the mix needs to consist of a suitable nutrient poor acidic material that is water retentive, i.e. peat or Sphagnum moss and sufficient drainage which can be aided with the addition of inert drainage/aeration material, i.e. perlite, Seramis, sharp sand/grit etc. If using sand or grit, it must be lime free (horticultural) sand, but personally I avoid it as I have found alkaline particles in some.
I’ve seen many post on the internet where people have repotted upon receiving a Cephalotus and I have to question why? The plant will have already been stressed during shipping and acclimatization into a new environment, so why add additional stress of repotting?
I only repot when a Cephalotus has outgrown its pot, i.e. no further room for pitcher growth.
I try to avoid root disturbance as much as possible by unpotting the whole plant, including the medium and root ball, and placing into a larger pot with suitable medium filling the gaps.
On occasions, I receive plants that are not in ideal potting mediums, or bare root, and in such cases I remove as much medium as possible, rinse the roots with water (see Watering section for suitable water), repot using a suitable medium (see Mediums section) and then use a reacclimatisation protocol (see Acclimatization section).
As Cephalotus dislike root disturbance, I try to select mediums that do not break down too fast, so repotting is only required when the Cephalotus has outgrown the pot
i find it best to repot at the start of the growing seasons, i.e. in spring when they are just starting to awaken. This ensures that they are not repotted when it is too hot or when they are not in active growth, but are just starting to put on new growth. I often follow the acclimatization protocol after repotting whilst the roots settle in.
Cephalotus dislike minerals in the water and typically it should have a TDS of less than 50 ppm, which usually means they should be watered with reverse osmosis (RO) water, distilled water or clean rainwater. With rain water it’s important to ensure that it comes from a run-off that does not contain any materials that could be harmful to the plant and possibly best avoided in area with high air pollution.
Apart from mineral deposits, tap water may also contain other organic or inorganic components which the plants don’t like. Boiled and cooled tap water will not reduce all mineral compounds, only those that cause temporary hardness but not others such as calcium sulfate, therefore I don’t consider it as a suitable type of water for Cephalotus.
There is a lot of discussion on the internet regarding watering, with some saying they like the pot sitting in water and others liking to keep them on the drier side. Looking to the typically natural growing environment, one can see Cephalotus growing in wet areas, such as Coal Mine Beach and for this reason, I tend to grow them on the moister side but this comes with some cautions though, as a damp environment that has insufficient ventilation can lead to fungal issues.
The frequency of watering greatly depends on the local environment and evaporation rates. I try to keep my plants moist at all times, never drying out. This means more watering in summer and less in winter.
The pots are sat in a water retaining plastic tray or saucer which is filled with water to a sufficient height for the base of the pot to be submerged – I usually aim for 2.5 cm (1″) for pots up to 6″ tall. The height of water is typically below the depth of the roots; however, if the roots later decide to grow that deep then that is okay as they will have adapted to the wetter conditions. The tray is topped-up a period of time after the water has all gone, this is to allow the Cephalotus to have a period of time slightly less wet, the potting medium should never be allowed to completely dry out though. As mentioned before, this time will depend on the local environment.
As the name suggests, this consists of watering the plant from the top. The aim is to achieve a moist growing medium at all times. Again, the time this takes is dependent on local conditions. There are some reports that getting the pitchers and leaves wet can cause crown rot, but I’ve never personally experienced this and suspect there may be other contributing factors, i.e. insufficient ventilation.
I personally use both the tray and top watering methods and do not notice much in the way of difference in plant growth, with the tray method being slightly less maintenance.
It’s often a debated subject whether to feed Cephalotus or not. The naysayers will say that the plant have evolved to catch its own prey. Others are a little happier to feed the pitchers natural foods such as dried bloodworm, mealworm, ant eggs etc., which is closer to how they obtain nutrition naturally. Caution must be taken when feeding such foods though, as too much can cause the pitcher to rot. I’ve also read about people placing a single slow release fertilizer pellet into a pitcher, but when I tried this the pitcher died.
There are some, including myself, who are happy to use fertilizers to root or foliar feed Cephalotus. Whilst feeding is not essential, in my experience it certainly helps with speed of growth; however, I would avoid feeding a plant that is not healthy as this could add to the issue.
I tend to use a quality orchid fertilizer, as they typically have a lower NPK, some macro nutrients and are often urea free. Urea is used as a nitrogen source, but it requires to be broken down in the soil to become available to the plant and whilst this will likely happen, it is not so good for foliar feeding. I have also used hydroponic nutrients in the past for pretty much the same reason as using orchid fertilizer.
During the active growing season, I feed the plants’ orchid fertilizer approximately every two weeks. In slower growing season I might do it once a month and in winter, I don’t feed them at all as they are not growing. If top watering, this helps flush out excessive nutrient in between feeding. If using the tray method, I tend to give them a good flushing through approximately one week after feeding.
Plant lighting is a massive subject and beyond the scope of this article, but there is plenty of information on it on the internet and II will try to go through the basics to allow people to further research.
Cephalotus enjoys good light, from bright shade to full sun. Care must be taken in full sun though, as in hot climates this will cause harm to the plant and bright shade would be a better option. In climates where the sun intensity is not extreme, a sunny windowsill can serve as a good place to grow Cephalotus.
Light intensity can have an effect on pitcher size and colouration. In very bright conditions, such as direct sunlight, they can become more coloured. I believe however that more than just light intensity is involved in pitcher colouration, as it appears to be deeper in cooler months with good lighting. Lower light levels result in green but typically larger pitchers.
If appropriate natural lighting cannot be provided, then artificial lighting can be considered. There are various technologies that can be used, from discharge lamps such as sodium or metal halide, through fluorescent tubes to LED. Care must be taken if using discharge lamps, as the temperatures are very high and can cause plant damage if placed too close.
Typically, white lighting is described in colour temperature Kelvin (K), but this is more applicable to how humans perceive the light colour, rather than how plants do. If you look at the spectral distribution of many lamps, you will see that there are peaks at certain wavelengths. In white fluorescent and LED lights, these peaks represent the phosphors used in discharge lamps they are the various halides.
Plants need light at certain wavelengths, primarily the chlorophyll absorption wavelengths, for photosynthesis. These wavelengths cannot be determined by colour temperature (K) alone. It’s often quoted that daylight (6500K) is the best colour for growing Cephalotus but I don’t necessarily agree, as the temperature does not tell you the spectral distribution, however it is clear from the output that there is a higher content of blue, but plants typically need a higher ratio of red to blue. For this reason, if I were to choose lamps based on colour temperature, I would use a range of lamps to try to get a good spectral spread.
Over the years I have tried various LED lights and to be honest, I’ve always reverted to fluorescent lighting. That being said, LED technology is still advancing, and a time will come where I’m likely to try again.
One of the advantages with LEDs is they come in very targeted wavelengths, so one can choose them to closely match the photosynthesis absorption band of plants, making the lighting more efficient as there is little wasted light output. For example, plants hardly use any green wavelength as they reflect it, hence they look green, but white lights will have some green spectrum.
You need to ask yourself whether you are growing Cephalotus to try to achieve the fastest growth, or whether it’s for aesthetic reasons, as looking at a plant that is growing under the typical red/blue (blurple) LED grow lights is not aesthetically pleasing to view the plants under. For aesthetic reasons, white LEDs would be preferable, maybe with some additional red to boost photosynthesis in the red chlorophyll absorption band.
The specifications of LED lights are sometimes quoted in the equivalent Watts to a conventional light, or the maximum wattage capability of the LED, but not being driven at this wattage, i.e. a 36W LED lamp could consist of 12 3W LED, but they may actually be running at 2W each so only actually 24W in total. This is something to be aware of, as the output power may not be what you expect it to be.
Fluorescent lighting has long been established as a suitable light for growing plants and the tubes come in quite a range of colour temperatures and specialist spectral outputs. My current setup consists of T5HE fluorescent tubes in the colour temperatures of 4000K (cool white) and 6500K (daylight) which works effectively, but the addition of 2700K (warm white) may be beneficial as it will increase the red spectrum output.
I keep my growlights on for 12 hours per day, all year around, but some growers prefer to more closely match the seasonal daylight hours that Cephalotus get in their natural habitat. Seasons occur at differing times around the globe, so if intending to replicate the daylight hours, it’s best to match them to your particular seasons.
When receiving a plant, care must be taken to ensure that it is acclimatized into its new growing environment, especially where it may come from a significantly different one. Typically, Cephalotus are shipped potted to avoid root disturbance, which they don’t like.
I always try to establish the conditions that the previous owner was growing the plant in. I grow all mine in an open room, so not particularly high humidity, so if I receive a plant from a higher humidity I will acclimatize it. I follow the same technique for acclimatizing any Cephalotus sent bare root, as the roots take a little time to settle in after repotting, so the higher humidity will help stop the pitchers from drying up.
I start by placing a plastic bag over the top of the pot with a small corner cut off it. I will usually use the tray watering method on this occasion, to avoid having to remove the bag. After a week, I cut a small corner off the opposite side of the bag. Each week I increase the size of the holes, which will gradually reduce the humidity. After several weeks, the holes will be of a size where there is very little difference between outside and inside of bag humidity, indicated by lack or reduced condensation inside the bag, at this point I remove the bag.
Individuals Growing Conditions
I read from time-to-time how individuals have had great success in using certain soil mixtures, growing Cephalotus moist, or wet, in a terrarium, in the open, in a greenhouse, under growlights, on a windowsill, tray method, top watering, etc, etc. It’s quite easy to think, well that worked for them, so I’ll do it too, but consideration must be given to other variables. For example, what is that individuals local climate, i.e. is it arid, tropical, temperate etc., as these variables and others can have an effect on the soil type used, whether a terrarium is preferred due to insufficient humidity, whether supplementary lighting would be beneficial, etc. There could also be variables in the individual components they use in their soil mix, for example, the peat they use could come from a completely different bog, may have been processed differently, i.e. it may be coarser or finer than what is available elsewhere. Natural aggregates, such as sand, grit, lava rock etc. can vary considerably too from region to region.
With the above potential variables, and many more, you can easily see that one person’s conditions may be greatly different to another who is having good success with a certain method, therefore that may not work for you and it may be necessary to adapt to your local variables, find something that works for you and if successful then don’t be too tempted to change just because someone else is having success with something different.
Cephalotus is a genus containing only one species, Cephalotus follicularis and therefore there are no hybrids; however, there are cultivated varieties (cultivars) consisting of plants that exhibit particular characteristics.
A cultivar is an assemblage of plants that (a) has been selected for a particular character or combination of characters, (b) is distinct, uniform, and stable in these characters, and (c) when propagated by appropriate means, retains those charactersThe International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (ICNCP)
I’ve read articles that suggest that cultivars do not exist in Cephalotus and the variances are due to micro climate, but I don’t agree. Cephalotus ‘Bananito’ and Cephalotus ‘Squat’ show morphological difference in the pitcher shape to what is considered as a typical shape. These characteristics have been expressed in differing growing conditions, so I do not believe the differences are due to micro climate. As this is the case then I believe that they qualify as a cultivar in accordance with the ICNCP definition.
In my experience, the darker clones possibly have the capability of getting darker colouration in condition that a typical clone would also get good colouration, i.e. if the conditions are not conducive to colouration in a typical clone then this is unlikely to be realized in a dark clone either.
There’s also variations in some Cephalotus pitcher shape and possibly the most distinguishable are those in Cephalotus ‘Bananito’ and Cephalotus “Squat”
A full list of registered Cephalotus cultivars can found on the International Carnivorous Plant Society (ICPS) website
In addition to cultivars, there are also named clones. Of recent times, these are becoming more and more numerous, with some possibly being questionable whether they are deserving of a name, as they seem to be just expressing condition or seasonal variations. This claim has also been levelled at Cultivars by some, but as explained above, some Cultivars seem to show stable morphological variations.
I find Cephalotus to be relatively pest free but have had scale insect on them. Whilst this can be treated with pesticides I dislike them, so I remove them manually using cotton buds wetted with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). The alcohol alone should kill the scale insect, but with a little gentle rubbing with the cotton bud they should come off.
Fungus can be another common pest in Cephalotus, often manifesting itself in the form of black mildew on the pitchers, particularly around the peristome.
Whilst suitable fungicides can be used for controlling this, it’s far better to fix the cause of the problem, which is nearly always due to poor ventilation in combination with damp conditions or low light levels. Stagnant air should be avoided with Cephalotus.
Few of us would be able to accurately reproduce Cephalotus’ natural habitat, but we can perhaps learn a little from observing it.
This video gives an insight into the area and conditions in which Cephalotus grow and also other plants it grows with: