Some of the most wonderful droserae in the world are the pygmy species. *Native to Australia and New Zealand, these tiny plants are probably the most powerful and prolific of the entire genus. *They are adapted to survive the brutal Australian summers, where their habitat substrates bake like clay in the summer sun. *To survive, they have evolved some strategies. *In the winter, when they begin to grow, they produce gemmae: small hard reproductive bodies which form in the center of the cone like stipules, like little green eggs in a nest of fine hairs. *They look like green seeds, but there is an important difference: these gemmae are exact clones of the parent plant, whereas seed is produced by sexual reproduction. *Easily dislodged with the first rains of the wet season, they are propelled out of their “nests”, and can quickly repopulate a habitat, even if 90% of the population was killed off in the summer heat. *The ones that survive do so by the formation of extremely long, thin, hair-like roots, sometimes reaching down a meter to whatever reserves of moisture are available in the summer. *The gemmae have a high rate of survival success, far more than seeds, and they grow at a much faster rate given wet, cool conditions and good humidity. *The process of gemmae formation is initiated by short day length and the above conditions.
(A note to growers: gemmae production will be inhibited if any light reaches the plants after sunset.) *The pygmy species can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, but they prefer cool conditions, and many withstand temperatures close to freezing and even occasional light frosts. *After the gemmae form into plants, they grow through the winter and flower the next spring. *The plants are generally sterile, having evolved stable characteristics, and the clonal nature of their reproduction ensures that they will not lose a “good plan” by random recombination of genes. *They require different clones to form fertile seed. *The flowers are beautiful and prolific, and the plants bloom continually from spring to early fall. *There is a definite summer rest period, and in habitat, a true dormancy. *(Most species will forego the dormancy, and this should be encouraged in cultivation, as losses are high during dormancy). *
Like all droserae, they require nutrient and salt deficient substrates. *For cultivation, good mix is 70/40 washed silica sand and peat. *Some growers have stated old peat is superior for good growth, and there is speculation of mycorhizal associations enhanced by aged peat. *Drosera pulchella and its hybrids differ from most by a preference for more peat: 50/50. *In cultivation, the plants should be grown in as deep a pot as possible, although most will grow fairly well in 4 inch pots. *The plants do not mind close proximity with each other. *These sit in pure water, rain or distilled, from winter to late spring, which supports gemmae development and early rapid growth, and then are allowed to dry slightly, but not enough to trigger dormancy (there are of course exceptions to this rule of thumb). * In early fall, when new growth is noticed in the now mature plants, the pots are returned to the former schedule. *Since these plants are light hungry, and cool growing, they are not recommended to terrarium growers, preferring outdoor conditions. *They are very much photoperiod sensitive, and their cyclic growth is determined by day length. *Without these “cues” the plants become confused, weaken, and eventually die.
In my climate, I must grow the plants indoors from November until April. *The process begins around November with the sowing of gemmae on the surface of the pots. *These pots sit in a plastic storage bin the sides of which extend only 2-3 inches above the surface of the pots. *I use 2 shoplight fixtures with 1/2 coolwhite, 1/2 *balanced spectrum 40 watt fluorescent tubes. *These sit on the bin, so that the surface of the substrate is no more than 3 inches away from the tubes. *A plastic sheet is then draped over the whole, leaving some open space at either end. *The higher humidity encourages the gemmae to root and grow. *I mist the sown gemmae daily, the idea being to simulate the frequent rains prevalent in habitat. *I keep the whole unit in a cool a spot as I can find to compensate for the heat produced by the lights. *I continue to sow mist the plants through January, at which point the plants are well established. *The bin gets rotated 180 degrees once every 2 weeks for even light exposure, and the water is changed at the same time. *In February, I do away with the plastic entirely, except on days when the forced air heat runs a lot. *In April, when the days are around 45F, the plants go outside. *I use white plastic garbage bags to sun screen the plants until they harden off, using several layers at first, and then reducing the number until they are done away with by May. *The pots sit in water through May, and in June – Sept. the trays are allowed to remain dry for a day before refilling. *In September, new growth commences and the pots sit continually in water. *Humidity is not a consideration at any time, other than when the gemmae are rooting. *Plants remain in full sun, with shelter from rain storms. *Occasional rain will not affect them. *In October, the now gorgeous mature rosettes are brought inside, and again close under the lights as previously mentioned. *It is at this stage their full character and beauty is visable. *Lights are now kept on a strict schedule that matches natural daylength. *The first gemmae have just been produced on one of the species I grow (October 10). *As the days get shorter, other species will follow suit, each in their own time. *It is critical for gemmae formation that the room they are growing in have uninterrupted darkness from sunset until dawn. *Like Christmas cactus, even weak light like a streetlight or a short burst of light can reset some species’ biological clock, inhibiting or even preventing gemmae formation.
They are varied in form and color, each like a miniature jewel. *If grown in mass, when they flower the surface of the pot is abscured by the flowers, which can be pink, white, orange, and almost metallic looking. *I have had one single rosette produce 748 gemmae in one season, some of which matured enough the same winter to in turn make gemmae of their own. *The same rosette bore over 100 flowers. *With reproduction like this, there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t have a knockout collection of these marvelous plants. *All it takes is some attention to what they need, and a little generosity.