I am procrastinating right now and avoiding responsibility for just a few more minutes so I thought I would make a list of some of the carnivorous plants I think are best to start with- a long with some comments. This list is meant to be pretty general and is perhaps USA centric (that is where I live afterall). Please feel free to chime in (I can even update the OP). If you have something to offer about a particular location- all the better! Although I am calling these "best to start with" keep in mind that the best CPs to start with are really individual to the particular grower. Some of the CPs I have had the best luck with on first try have been some of the hardest for others (such as Cephalotus and Heliamphoras- I have been very successful with both), while others many find easy I have had a hard time with (many "easy" droseras- I had a really hard time keeping D. capensis 'red form' alive for instance, not sure why...). I will have to work on this over time. I may put this information on my website in a nicer form when I get around to it.
Factors leading to your success
1) Being able to provide an appropriate soil media which balances adequate root system oxygen with adequate soil moisture levels. Two factors are at play here- roots need oxygen to facilitate reactions in the root system, the presence of oxygen helps prevent conditions favorable to nasty anaerobic bacteria which colonize and attack the root system. Oxygen levels may also play a role in the growth of symbiotic (mycorrhizal) fungi. I am not certain on that though and I do not think all CPs host mycorrhizal fungi anyway but I am not an expert on those relationships. Anyone know? I have a friend with more expertise in that stuff, I will ask him and try to remember to update here.
2) Being able to provide correct temperature ranges and/or tweek other factors to compensate. For example, most plants in general (Non-CPs included) can handle higher temperatures than usually suggested if provided adequate humidity to compensate for the impact on photosynthetic production associated with the higher heat (google search: C3 system of photosynthesis for more information on how that works). Some plants- just need certain temperatures, humidity will only go so far.
3) The ability to honor their dormancy if applicable- some plants depend on this more than others, some can be forced to skip it more easily than others, some need a more drastic change in environment than others- just depends on the species.
and in my humble opinion the most important factor:
4) Appropriate light levels. Without light- you have a glorified stick. If photosynthesis is not happening, carbon is not being fixed which means cellular respiration cannot happen- no energy metabolism means dead organism. CPs are energy hungry! The production of their digestive enzymes and other carnivorous factors is extremely expensive and a real strain on their photosystem. (You notice when your Drosera is not getting enough light, the first thing to go is the dew? Wonder why...). When assessing health- check for dew, fluids, rapid motion, etc... first. If these are gone, your plant may not be getting desired amounts of light and may be conserving energy. Check for anthocyanin pigment production next (if your species produces them), this tells you a little more and about which photo-system the plant is responding to.
Humidty matters, but I think it matters a lot less than light with MOST but not all CPs. Possible exceptions include some Ultrahighland nepenthes and Helis. I have grown some CPs which have a reputation of "needing high humidity to survive" quite successfully in CA humidity levels- less than 20% in the summer (for instance, cephalotus, even some helis for short periods of time with an appropriate hardening off period). Again, if you can keep the temps in range and prevent photorespiration- that makes a big difference as it prevents the waste of energy and plant exhaustion.
"Hard" vs. "Easy" vs. "Forgiving"
For purposes of this write up I want to (almost) completely avoid the question of plants being "hard" or "easy" as such terms are very relative and effected by many factors including but not limited to:
- local climate
- local microbial climate
- personal growing style
- Availability of appropriate supplies, growing media, equiptment. Instead, I want to add my thoughts on what factors into the "hard" status of CPs and shift the terminology paradigm a bit:
- Hard to provide ideal conditions: Some CPs are "hard" in the sense that providing them their ideal conditions is very difficult for most people (IE need special equipment or whatever). For instance, ultra-highlanders can be "hard" because they need to be kept cool (especially in the evenings) and they do not like to stay water-logged. Obviously, if you live in a climate with these conditions, growing these plants will be "easy" but for most of use we have to buy a room sized AC and possibly a small humidifier. Now for some of these, if you can provide these conditions fairly consistently, they will tolerate a lot of other factors very well (ex: many ultra highland neps. N. jamban being one example from my experience- great and tolerant grower until it gets scorched)
- Unforgiving of mistakes: Some CPs are "hard" because if you do that one little thing that ticked them off- they jump ship and just die on you. Cephalotus is a classic example. I find cephalotus very easy to accommodate. They are pretty tolerant of different temperatures and levels of humidity. They can even handle mistakes with forgetting to be watered to some degree (hint- look for closed lids. You have a little bit of warning there). You make the mistake of keeping them too wet for a few days and they get a soil fungus- forget it, they are toast. Best course of action in that case is start cutting and rooting leaves.
- Hidden factors or special needs: In addition to environmental considerations, some plants have special needs that must be accomodated or they die on you. An example is not providing correct supplemental nutrition to D. regia (if needed, see John Brittnachers write up on the ICPS website). I will also include dormancy requirements in this list though one could consider that to be a climate thing. Another example would be dividing sarracenias or repotting when they get too big. Forget to do this and you start to risk rhizome rot.
- Susceptability to specific and deadly pathogens: Some species are known to have "favored enemies" (Dungeons and Dragons reference). That is to say, particular pathogens that they are particularly suscptible to. Sometimes these are easy to manage/prevent/cure. Sometimes not. Sometimes their sickenss progresses rapidly, sometimes slowly. Examples include the dreaded "rhizome rot" which plauges sarracenias (a group of pathogens cause this actually and the behavior of the rot is dependent on the particular micro-organizm)- this progresses somewhat quickly but the signs usually show up before its too late so often you do have some notice. Another is "sudden death syndrom" in cephalous- a soil fungal(?) condition which leads to rapid death. You have almost no notice on this one- start cutting clones immediately without hesitation and hope that the fungus has not travel to the leaves. Heliamphoras are also susceptible to an incurable(or my knowledge) fungus. which rots the rhizome away.
- Naturally some plants are a combination of the above.
As I hope I have successfully argued- take comments like "Species X is hard" "Species Y is easy" and instead ask why. What conditions will kill a plant and how certain is such death? How likely is that to be an issue for you? If it becomes and issue and it is corrected- how likely is the plant to recover? How long will it take. Think this way and ask these questions instead of the face value "easy" vs. "hard" descriptions. Take into account your available finances and ability to lose your investment (and please take into account the rarity of a particular plant... from a community/cultivation perspective. Hold off on "hard" species which are less established in cultivation until you are more confident that you can handle it). Also, don't make too many assumptions. Only way to learn how to grow these plants is to try. YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES and you will become a stronger grower from those mistakes. Nothing wrong with that- especially if you share your findings generously with others.
Without further ado, my list (geez, I did not mean to add that stuff- I must really not want to work...), I have purposefully kept is shorter and to the point:
Best for most beginners(IMO)
- D. capensis, I always give these away to new people first. I think D. capensis is the best beginners plant. It is very tollerant of many conditions. If it is not happy it lets you know rather quickly but can recover from discomfort very easily. (In short, it teaches you how to grow it)
- D. aliciae
- D. venusta
- D. nidiformis
- D. spatulata (I mention this with hesitation)
- D. tokensis
There are others, those come to mind. D. spatulata I have had issues with in the past. It seems to get mad when you change its environment too quickly but I do not have a super amount of experience with it. Part of why I include it is based on discussions with others. These species are all tropical or subtropical so dormancy is not an issue.
As far as temperate species:
- D. filiformis
- D. traceyii- I am adopting Barry Rice's nomenclature on this one. I have no scientific reason, I just like the guy (he's kind of a CP hero of mine). This species is known elsewhere as 'D. filiformis var. traceyii'. Great plant!! Highly recommended!! Absolutely beautiful and one of the best bug catchers in the genus that I am aware of (I lost mine unfortunately... sad day).
- The binata complex is usually pretty good but some can be a little bit picky about soil- favoring sandier soil (its an Aussie thing...). Like D. capensis they let you know when they are unhappy and bounce back rather quickly. Plus they just look dang good. D. multifida 'extrema' is great because it does not require dormancy- The rest all do to my knowledge or at least benefit from dormancy (actually, I think D. multifida can experience dormancy- they just do not need it. D. dichotoma might be the same, not sure). Binata complex plants tend to get bigger and are often good candidates for a hanging basket (especially D. multifida 'extrema' and D. dichotoma 'giant'). The complex is also propagates very well by root cutting which is very nice. (I have also found the "T-form" very easy to grow from seed, have not tried the others but I would suspect they are just as easy if you have good seed. I have read they need to be crossed and not selfed)
- I am not aware of any difficult hybrids. I would imagine hybrids comprised purely of some of the "intermediate" sarracenia species might carry special considerations.
Most species except:
- S. oreophila which has a slightly difference growth cycle and more sensitivity to heat.
- S. alabamensis which seems to be a little more heat sensitive in my experience
- S. psittacina can be fine for beginners or can't be depending on local climate. It likes higher water levels (its practically sub-aquatic and experiences flooding at times) which can make watering simpler but it does not handle frosts very well at all. S. psittacina is less dependent on dormancy and thus can be grown in a terrarium. It also stays smaller (and low to the ground), growing more slowly than the others which make it good for a longer term stay in a terrarium. Unfortunately I lost mine and have not bothered to replace it so my experience is limited (Ironically, I lost it during a frost when I thought the last chance of frost had passed).
- In my mind, S. leucophylla is probably the best except possibly for the (true) S. leucophylla var heterodoxa form, not to be confused with the hurricane creek cultivar which is more robust. I have not grown S. leucophylla var heterodoxa myself so I am going off of reputation. I think I read that at Barry Rice's site- possible a few other places. Feel free to comment on this. I find S. leucophylla to be like a tank- super robust! (Perhaps because of its monstrous size?)
- I have also found the cultivar S. x 'Adrian Slack' to be another tank. Super robust for me. Perhaps I am growing those two differently than the others though- not sure.
- U. livida
- U. sandersonii
Both great- easy growers, easy flowerers.
- N. ventricosa. Technically an intermedia or lowlander but a mild one. I have grown it very successfully in a number of conditions and it seems to do very well growing very vigorously. I have the red form.
- N. alata. I think this guy is a mid to highlander but am not sure. I have royally abused this one and it always comes back for more. Its a tank!
- N. x 'miranda' great grower. I grow mine like a houseplant. It does not do super well that way on account of the light but it does alright. Overall very forgiving.
I believe I have read that N. sanguinea is pretty good but I have no experience with this species
Ones to hold off on for now
That is good for now. Start with those guys. I will start another thread for intermediate plants at some point later. Personally, I would avoid the following. Are they "hard"? That is relative (so please don't come here posting about how cephalotus is "easy" its easy in the sense that it is easy to give it favorable conditons, but it is hard in the sense that it is not forgiving. Screw up once and it dies very very quickly- see comments above). I am commenting on ones I bet you have been thinking about:
- Heliamphoras: some are easier than others (H. neblinae, H. nutans and H. minor being examples of pretty tolerant ones) but all require some special considerations and thus are not best to start with. Also- they are usually pretty expensive. I have dropped several hundred dollars into my heli collection and I got some dang good deals on them!! These CAN be hard to provide for if you live in a hot climate and CAN be unforgiving. I do not think they are quite as bad as some people seem to think. Frankly, I have found them to be pretty forgiving of most mistakes all things considered- just watch out for fungus. If you want to try out a heli, I would go with H. minor or H. nutans both because they are pretty forgiving and because they are usually pretty low in cost.
- Cephalotus: Easy to provide favorable conditions, don't keep too wet, give it lots of light, etc... but very very unforgiving (IME). By the time you notice a problem it is usually way too late to save it. Not always though- I have a few tricks I have found. Propagation is also typically slow and requires some care. Leaf pullings take several months for instance (last time I tried I think it took like 4 months using phyllodia in a greenhouse with dang near ideal conditions). Divisions are much faster.
- Ultra-highland nepenthes. Just wait, you are going to make the same mistake as everyone else. You are going to splurge and buy a bunch of ultra-highlanders (N. hamata, N. inermis, N. dubia, etc...) and they are going to do well for several months. You are going to convince yourself that you are a nepenthes genius and all of the rest of us are wrong about their difficultly level. Trust me, that will bite you (did to me)- they will one day rapidily die on you during a hot day when you forget to turn the AC on! Or you will accidently overwater them too many times and they will get the black stem of death. Resist the urge and work up to these guys (at least wait until you have an appropriate cooling system and humidifier unless you live in a conducive climate)! If nothing else, your wallet will thank you. Plus, in general the higher the elevation of the species- the slower the growth rate. If you want instance gratification go with something lower. I would classify these guys as harder to provide for and fairly unforgiving with respect to temperature. My experience with ultra highlanders has been limited to N. hamata and N. jamban, N. jacquelineae (which I believe is a lower elevation species anyway) and N. aristolochioides.
- Hold off on tuberous drosera for now- temperature sensitive and require a dormancy with conditions which are not necessarily hard to provide but may be a little counter-intuitive if you are still in D. capensis mode. If you have to try- go with D. peltata.
- Many pinguiculas can be fickle. I do not grow a lot of them and have had trouble myself so I will leave it at that. Go for hybrids first. Make sure you read up on the dormancy requirements for tropical species. Both Exo and mylesG report Mexican/Tropical pings as being easy for them- see their comments below. Personally, I have a harder time, but their suggestions might be the key here.
- Drosophyllum- very very unforgiving of less than ideal watering. I have tried like 5 times now and am getting better but still... (and my climate very closely resembles their natural climate!)
- D. regia, awesome plants but temperature sensitive and more nutrient hungry. Also can be rapid diers. At least do your research first. On the upside they have good germination rates and germinate rather quickly. Getting them out of the seedling stage is challenging though as they need supplemental nutrition and are very prone to damping off (IME).
- Darlingtonia, these can be unforgiving and for some hard to provide for. They like cooler root conditions and good flowing water (at least periodic rinses throughout the day). If they get too hot they start to die back. Best to grow these guys in a larger pot with a lot of soil surface area and pretty airy mix, top water several times throughout the day. I have tried both top watering periodically and doing a light tray system thing. I have had success with both but prefer to top water- I like to avoid wet feet. Mine seems to be a little more tolerant of slightly dryer soil (as in I do not feel the need to water like crazy). Some people put ice on top of the soil to cool the roots and sustain a water flow. I have not really tried this. Exo and Maiden suggested adding Darlingtonia to the list. Exo added a comment on this which I think is very noteworthy: "For me, they are fickle, they want HL nepenthes conditions, and mild winters, conditions I cannot provide outdoors." Thanks Exo!
I will probably move some stuff around on this and edit here and there but comments are welcome. Most of this is based on my personal experience which is based on my personal style and my climate or indoor setup climate (wire growing shelves with 4-tube T8 bulbs each level with a fan and room sized hepa filter running. 16 hour light cycle). Naturally, think about your local conditions and how closely they match a particular species native climate (project in the works on this.... volunteers welcome. Stay tuned...). If your local climate does not match the native one, think about whether you can recreate it artificially. If not, consider looking elsewhere or be prepared to potentially lose a plant. Experimentation is always a good thing too- just cut clones first
Hope this helps!