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Beyond Beginner's Information: Insider's Insight

This was originally written for my friend whose interest is piqued in Carnivorous Plants. I've worked very hard on this, but I don't doubt that perhaps I've forgotten anything meaningful or gotten something wrong. Please correct, or add other suggestions :)

Thanks for the help and advice!


This is a compilation of “beyond-beginners” information, and is meant to supplement The Savage Garden. I hope it's of immense help and not too overwhelming, but this will really put you far down the right track, so I hope that you love it!
First and foremost, a complete list of indispensable supplies you'll need to gather and keep around:

A water source: Distilled/Reverse Osmosis/Collected Rain Water are the only types of water that is able to be used with carnivorous plants. You need to have a location to obtain this water ready, and the funds to do so (whether you buy a water tank from a company, buy jugs of distilled at the grocery store, fill jugs up at a local fish store, have a rain barrel, etc). It is unlikely, although possible, that your tap water is safe. In order to determine this, you need to get the TDS (total dissolved solids) reading from it. If it's under 50 ppm, then it's safe. The smaller the ppm, the better it is.
Containers: Round or square standard plastic pots (ranging from 3” to 12”) with drainage holes are the most versatile. Having a few variously sized net pots and clear orchid pots can come in handy as well. Most often, it is depth that you really want from these pots... azalea pots won't do you good in most cases (the exceptions being Darlingtonia, Pinguicula and most seedlings) without being obnoxiously wide, which will use a lot of media. Clear containers (small plastic terrariums, glass vases, etc) are needed for growing aquatic utricularia. Plastic planters can be used to create nice arrangements as well- just make sure they are atleast 6” deep. Trays are also needed since almost everything requires standing water. Plastic seed trays that you can get in the garden center are perfect for this, as are shallow RubberMaid containers with drainage holes drilled into the sides to prevent flooding.
Media: There are several staple ingredients you need, and you must make sure that there are no added fertilizers to any of it (ALL MiracleGro substrates have fertilizer in them, and can NOT be used): Peat moss is 10-15 bucks a bale, lasts forever, and are usually of better quality than small bags ; Perlite isn't favored by some people, but it's relatively cheap and easier to find than alternatives ; Vermiculite or Aquatic Plant Soil true APS is difficult to find, so I just get this (great site, btw!) www.petmountain.com/product/pond-plant-food/11442-508243/pondcare-aquatic-planting-media-10-lbs.html ; BetterGro Orchid Mix you can use just bark, the dendrobium mix, or the special orchid mix- all three of these are excellent choices, and perhaps having all three on hand is ideal so you can better customize your mix ; Long-Fiber Sphagnum Moss (LFS) BetterGro produces nice bricks of LFS under the name Orchid Moss. Just be careful if you buy other brands...sometimes “orchid moss” is another type of moss which is harmful to carnivorous plants. The Chilean and New Zealand varieties of LFS are the best in terms of appearance and quality, so shoot for those if possible, and absolutely avoid crud like Mosser Lee's. Sand needs to be made of silica or quartz, in a somewhat coarse grade (8-12 grit ideally). Sand for pool filters is usually perfect. Always test a small amount with white distilled vinegar before you begin mixing- if it fizzes, then it can't be used. Cypress/Cedar/Redwood Mulch isn't really a “staple” per-se..this is truly optional, but it makes a fine top dressing for plants which medias consist of primarily peat. There's also orchid bark that comes in large shredded pieces which can be used for this same purpose.
Pesticides: Cruel irony, eh? While it's unfortunate, bug-eating plants aren't immune to pests, and while I've done my best to make sure the plants I've sent you have no problems, I can't make any promises about ones you obtain in the future...or perhaps they'll find themselves to you on their own. You can't use just anything, as carnivorous plants are sensitive and the wrong ones can prove fatal. Two that you should keep on hand are: GreenLight Neem II (a combination of neem oil and pyethrin)- this is a good, general purpose pesticide that's eco-friendly. Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 Systemic is for more severe problems that require the big guns. In both instances, make sure you get ready to use formulas.
Chicken Wire / Bird Netting: Unfortunately, insect pests aren't your only concern. Birds tend to like jacking LFS for nest material, and squirrels and racoons have fun knocking over pots and digging up the media (and sometimes eating Sarracenia rhizomes, as well). It won't be needed if your plants are at a miracle spot that these nuisances can't access.
Labels & Marker or Pencil: These are necessary for an obvious reason- to keep track of plants. You'll want to use either special, fade-proof markers, or pencils on the labels though, as standard Sharpie fades after time in the sun. Labels printed out and shellac'd are also usable, but purely superficial.
Plant Stakes: The vinyl coated metal ones with loops at the top are the best- these come in handy for supporting tall Sarracenia pitchers, which can flop over in the rain or strong winds.
FEED ME, SEYMOUR! Sometimes, plants need help getting all the noms they need. There's many options in delivering this for them: root feeding, foliar feeding, and feeding the pitchers. For feeding the pitchers, you can drop in appropriate sized crickets, a pinch of bloodworms, or fish food pellets / diluted fish emulsion. Don't overwhelm the pitchers, as it'll lead to an accelerated decay. For root feeding, you can water with cooled coffee, egg water (take the egg shells of six eggs. Put them in an oven at 300 degrees for about 15 minutes, charring them. Crush them into small pieces and place in one-gallon jug of water, filled with warm water, and leave this to sit in the sun for a week. Then water as usual), or place a few Osmocote (Green Container: Flower & Veg) pellets in the soil (these can also be placed in pitchers). To feed foliarly, mix up ¼ strength of urea-free orchid fertilizer (BetterGro Orchid Plus, Grow More 20-10-20, or Epiphyte's Delight are popular options) and spray lightly over the leaves. The solution can also be poured over the roots. If you root feed, be sure to flush the pots a few days afterward with water so nutrient buildup doesn't occur. Also, note that root feeding is acceptable only for Drosera regia, Heliamphora, and Nepenthes. Foliar feeding is also for Nepenthes. Anything with pitchers/traps can have those fed directly (Venus Flytraps benefit if, with tweezers or by the cricket's leg or something, you wiggle the food for a few minutes, as though it were live, to encourage the product of digestive enzymes). To feed Pinguicula and Drosera, you can mash up some crickets or bloodworms and sprinkle it over the leaves. If you use bloodworms, give a light spritz of water on the leaves after.
Tricho-whaaaaat?! Trichoderma is a beneficial fungus that attacks phytopathogens and forms a symbiotic relationship with the plant, in turn increasing its nutrient uptake (the trich makes it home on the plant... so it helps the plant grow and protects it by attacking phytopathogens). It is used on Heliamphora, Cephalotus, and Sarracenia and Darlingtonia to prevent devastating rot that these plants can fall subject to. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) with this- plants can grow perfectly fine without it, and in some cases the Trich manifests, thus causing adverse effects. It seems possible that in your area, there's naturally occuring Trich, which causes problems when Trich is added. It can be purchased from ampacbiotech.com – call or email Kelly, and she'll take great care of you!
more, More, MOARRRR!!! I couldn't possibly tell you everything you need to know, and there's things The Savage Garden won't tell you either, as by these days, it's slightly dated. Find your local Carnivorous Plant Society, if possible. Get involved! It's the perfect place to meet other growers in the area and pick up new plants! ; Terraforums is run by the owner of FlyTrapShop (which sells plants and forum-produced calendars!), Andy. Andy is just super, and the forum is by far, the biggest, friendliest, most popular North-America based carnivorous plant forum. Here, you can talk to other growers from all over, trade plants with other members, read old threads which can be very informative, and post new threads sharing your progress or asking for help. Good Ol' Books there are a number of books on the topic of growing carnivorous plants. The best ones are bought from: www.redfernnaturalhistory.com/books, most of which are written by Stewart McPherson. Stewart, despite his age, is one of the leading authorities on carnivorous plants and has taken part in the research that goes into these books. Also, check out the articles here: www.aipcnet.it/aipcjoomla/index.php...editoriali-aipc/457-aipcs-special-issues.html Other less expensive and more readily available (albeit, possibly dated) books are: Growing Carnivorous Plants by Barry Rice, The Curious World of Carnivorous Plants by William Barthlott, Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada by Donald Schnell, Growing Carnivorous Plants by Adrian Slack.

If you choose to grow inside, additional materials are required. These include terrariums (large RubberMaid containers, little plastic terrariums, glass aquariums, etc), light fixtures (shop clamp lights and fluorescent fixtures are affordable at Wal-Mart...make sure your fixtures have reflectors!), lightbulbs (100w equivalent compact fluorescent in Daylight, or, if using fluorescent, then make sure to get a mix of red spectrum and blue/white spectrum lights (2600-3000k and 6500-10000k, respectively), mylar/foil (to line the terrarium), plastic racks or eggcrate, a temperature gauge and hygrometer, and a spray bottle to mist plants. If you want a bonefied, high tech terrarium, then be prepared for wiring computer fans to power supplies, and modifying an ultrasonic humidifier. If you're growing lowland plants, heating pads and reptile basking bulbs with UVA/UVB do a great job of creating the necessary heat, although having a water table in the bottom to provide adequate humidity is also crucial.

Now, here's some information that you won't necessarily find in the books. It's stuff I've learned as I went along, and having this at your disposal will make you fit into the community more easily, and other growers will appreciate you having this knowledge already.
Common names aren't so common. While every plant has a common name (such as “The Yellow Trumpet” or “The Painted Pitcher”), these are outdated- no one uses these as it can be confusing and they're mostly unknown. Therefore, when referring to plants, the specific epithet (species) name is used. In speaking, that's all that's usually needed, although there are instances when further specification is required and the genera is also needed (such as with alata, dichotoma, villosa, madagascariensis).
Eddie? Who's that? The nomenclature rules when speaking are far more lenient than in writing (which is always annotated with the abbreviated genera and the species name, even if accompanied by a picture, ie. U. nelumbifolia). This being said, some scientific names are shortened further as a casual slang, for instanceL “Sarr” for Sarracenia, “Nep” for Nepenthes, “Eddie” for N. edwardsiana, “Spect” for N. spectabilis, “Aristo” for N. aristolochiodes, and RHH for “Red Hairy Hamata”. Also, since more than one genera may have the same letter (ie. Drosera, Darlingtonia, Dionaea, etc.), you should mention the complete genera the first time it's mentioned, and abbreviating it for every mention afterwards.
Proper form! While true, if you incorrectly write something, most people will know what you're going on about, mistakes can lead to confusion or mean a totally different plant. Some rules to follow are below:
Capitalization: Because we're dealing with scientific names, they are written in the following way: Genus species (names should be italicized as well, but that's pretty much not bothered with, unless you're writing a formal essay or somesuch). The first part of the name, the genus, ALWAYS has the first letter capitalized, and the second part, the species name, is never capitalized. When two species are crossed, it's denoted as species x species. The x should never be capitalized, as this denotes an intergeneric hybrid, which is impossible within carnivorous plants.
Are you my mother? There's a few things behind the protocol of writing plant hybrids: 1) Hybrid names should be and are traditionally written with the mother plant first, then the father (ie. N. maxima x aristolochioides, maxima would be the mother and aristolochiodes would be the father). An acceptable alternative, however, would be to place symbols after the parent names (ie. N. aristolochioides ♂ x maxima ♀, in which case the order of the parents doesn't matter). 2) Only natural hybrids get an x before the cross name (ie. S. x Catesbaei). Also, all progency of the parents, regardless of times crossed, is called by this name (ie. S. x Moorei is flava x leucophylla. leucophylla x [(flava x leucophylla} x flava] is still x Moorei). 3) Horticultural hybrids can be given a name, but it's crucial to note that these names are unofficial, and unregistered – essentially bogus and used for nothing more than simplicity and keeping track. When giving a name though, it's important to still keep track of the lineage, that the name isn't already in use, and to put it in markings other than apostrophes (ie. N. “Marbled Dragon” or Pinguicula (Red One) Also note that an x wasn't placed between the genus and name as these are not of nature.) (Side note, when listing plants, I use the following marks to differentiate information in a simplified manner: Seedlings* ; 'Cultivar' ; "Distinct Trait" ; {Location}. It's just as acceptable to do something like: Drosera filiformis (All red leaves, Washington county, Florida)..however, I find this nondescript and it gets messy when used next to hybrids. It's all whatever works for you). 4) There are a few different types of hybrids:
→ Grex- is a short, simple name given to a particular hybrid cross, used to substitute for a specific hybrid lineage. (For example, Nepenthes "Ali'i" is a grex for the hybrid N. [(kampotiana x maxima) x sanguinea]). Cultivar(s) can be made from plants within grexes (ie. N. Briggsiana 'Peter D Amato' and N. Briggsiana 'Atlanta Giant').
→ Cultivar- the shortening of cultivated variety. They can be a group of plants or a single clone that have unique and reproducible characteristics and have been published and registered with the International Carnivorous Plant Society (ICPS). Cultivars are noted with apostrophes around the name with the first letter of every word capitalized (ie. D. muscipula 'Red Dragon'). It's also acceptable when writing, to put just the genera and the cultivar, or the genera and species/hybrid and the cultivar (ie. Drosera spatulata 'Ruby Slippers' / D. spatulata 'Ruby Slippers' vs. Drosera 'Ruby Slippers' / D. 'Ruby Slippers'). It should be noted that apostrophes are reserved for noting cultivars, and should not be used otherwise.
→ Clone- a group of plants that share the exact same genetic sequence. They are almost always produced by vegetative propagation.
It's A...Whatsit... There are a few intraspecific epithets (sub-ranks below species that add more specific detail) that can be added to further identify plants. When these are used, the binomial name becomes a trinomial one. These terms, however, are not all the same, and cannot be used interchangeably. The definitions of those that can be used are below:
→ Subspecies (subsp.)- have separate geographic locations and differing characteristics (sometimes to the extent that it's pondered that they should be bumped up to species), although are able to interbreed.
→ Variety (var.)- can be found in same or separate locations with (usually) atleast more than one differing characteristic.
→ Form (f.)- is found sporadically within a location and has just one minor, yet still differing characteristic.

Keeping Track​
Once upon a time, I didn't have too many plants. I didn't need labels on them because I could identify them by looking. I knew exactly where I got each one. I thought people that kept impeccable records of their plants; when they got them, from where, even what location...it was all silly to me- what did it matter? But as time went on, and more plants were acquired...keeping mental notes became increasingly more difficult. And that's when the lightbulb went off.
Some people use a well formatted list, others use charts or Excel sheets, and some use the CP Growlist program. I found that the CP Growlist program wasn't for me, so I've reverted to an Excel sheet. The information I keep track of follows:
Species/Hybrid- Pretty self-explanatory.
Cultivar/Name/Defining Trait- If applicable, here will either be the cultivar, grex/unregistered name, or unique traits that make it stand out from the others (beyond variation or form).
Location- From where the plant was originally collected (if known).
Source- How did this plant come to be? Is it seedgrown, cutting, from tissue culture?
Price- How much it cost, sans shipping charges. This is good to keep track of value, and a reference for if you should ever wish to sell the plant, or a like one.
Distributor- Who brought this plant to cultivation and made it available for sale (ie. Wholesale: Wistuba, Borneo Exotics, etc.)
Vendor- The retail store (or person) from where you actually obtained the plant.
Date Acquired- When did you receive the plant?
Natural Origin- Where is this plant found in the wild?
Climate- What conditions is the plant grown best in? (ie. highland, lowland, temperate)
Media- What you grow the plant in.
Special Care Notes- Some plants absolutely need high humidity, others need it a little drier than standard, some sundews are annual and must be fed heavily and seeded, etc.
Last Repot & Feeding- Good to keep track when it's time to repot again, and when to feed again (for plants that aren't fed weekly)
CP Growlist also gives you the option to add pictures, quanity of plants, size of plants, complete vendor information (I find this is redundant- internet browser bookmarks, afterall :p). Some growers also use codes they've created to track every plant in their collection, especially if there's many of a certain species.
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Proper form! While true, if you incorrectly write something, most people will know what you're going on about, mistakes can lead to confusion or mean a totally different plant. Some rules to follow are below:
Capitalization: <snip>

Obi-Wan has taught you well :-D
Joseph will be proud.
Let me say first off I hate "spelling police" on forums but, since you asked and this happens to be my profession finding and correcting spelling, grammar, etc., in medical records and dictation, I have a few corrections for you. I did not go over it with a fine-tooth comb and skimmed some of it, just a few that jumped out at me. First, let me say that you did an excellent job not only on the grammar/spelling stuff, but the content as well...kudos to you. I learned a great deal and thank you.

Okay, the unpleasant stuff:

[Salutation involving a cute pet name for my friend]: In the first paragraph indispensiable should be indispensable.

Helpful Hint section: (atleast the drainage holes) fix "atleast" to at least

Every place you put ie. - no need to put parentheses around it, i.e., use either i.e. or parentheses, not both.

There were a few missed/incorrectly used punctuations, but too hard to find these now there is so much material and really none of them changed the meaning of the sentence, so no big deal except to me, LOL. Really, in my opinion you got what you wanted to say across very well, very articulate, and none of the mistakes loses the meaning of what you were trying to get across and most will breeze right over them without a second thought.

Again, excellent job and I can tell you put a lot of time and research into it. My hat is off to you :-D

One more thing, you might want to add a line about staying away from Miracle Grow products for CPs as this company puts fertilizer in most all their products including peat moss, perlite, and moss even though it is not always on the label. I know a few people who have lost their CPs by using Mircale Grow products because the label did not say there was fertilizer in it and then verified it by calling the company.
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Wow! You're puting together quite a resource for your friend!
Great job, Liz!
:bigthumpup: Yes, very nicely done. Clean it up a bit for Terraforums consumption and submit it to the plant article section
Wow, thanks everyone :3
I'm adding a bit on Trich, too...
And just realized that the auto-spellcheck was off (oops, but it explains so much XD) so I'm correcting all the bad spelling (foliar is foilar, if you notice, LOL)

I'm editing everything in the word file, and then I'll edit my post and repaste/reformat everything, cause going back and forth isn't working out >.>
wow, thats quite the article! very nice!

Im not saying its bad..because it isnt..
but IMO its really "a bit much" for a newby..
you dont want to scare people away by showing them something that makes growing CP's sound as complicated as nuclear physics! ;) All those details are great for people who want to "know it all"..
but IMO its really far too much to give to someone just starting out in the hobby..

reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure I watched recntly, Chris was teaching Marilyn how to drive a car, it didnt go well because he started out with complicated details about how an internal combustion engine works.. "you came to me with the desire to know the time, and I taught you how to make a watch"..

I would make that the "if you want to know more, click here" document, at the bottom of the more basic newby growing guide...just my opinion! ;)

wow, thats quite the article! very nice!

Im not saying its bad..because it isnt..
but IMO its really "a bit much" for a newby..
you dont want to scare people away by showing them something that makes growing CP's sound as complicated as nuclear physics! ;) All those details are great for people who want to "know it all"..
but IMO its really far too much to give to someone just starting out in the hobby..

reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure I watched recntly, Chris was teaching Marilyn how to drive a car, it didnt go well because he started out with complicated details about how an internal combustion engine works.. "you came to me with the desire to know the time, and I taught you how to make a watch"..

I would make that the "if you want to know more, click here" document, at the bottom of the more basic newby growing guide...just my opinion! ;)


Agreed. great info, but start your friend off slow, with just a few plants at most. Keep it simple and let your friend ease into it. Good luck :)
  • #10
Yeah, I thought so too, I guess I'm sorta OCD in that subject cause I'm like "KNOW ALL THE THINGS!" :laaa: hahaha.

But the good news is that she's not totally new to the subject, and is one of those types that like knowing more. She's already read The Savage Garden- she just needs to actually start growing now (hence me mailing her plants) and I'm taking up where the book left off so she can actually do it right from the start instead of learning things the hard way.
  • #11
but IMO its really "a bit much" for a newby..

But OTOH, it depends on the person too, as you pointed out:

All those details are great for people who want to "know it all"..

I'm a rank noob and I admit I didn't completely understand all of that but rather than scare me off it simply made me want to learn more until I totally comprehend the parts I didn't fully get. But I'm a nut that way :jester:

Where can I find a friend like this? Is there a "for sell or trade" board I missed somewhere? :-))
  • #12
maybe links to online resources?

YMMV: some want more light than others. Many of the utrics and some of the dews haev a "Sweet spot" that you need to find. She might want to visit local resources nearby Cal State Fullerton? etc....
  • #13
Tell her to make it to one of the LACPS meetings. There are always plants she can acquire.

Next meeting is in Dec. Our annual potluck meeting but she's not obliged to bring anything.
  • #14
You said you need clear containers for aquatic utrics, to the extent of my knowledge, the container should be opaque or have an opaque cover to prevent them from being overrun by algea
Correct me if I'm wrong
  • #15
Okay, I've gone through and added what I wanted to and edited it for "general use" as suggested.
If Andy or a Mod feel like this is truly plant article material (omg :blush:), then it can be moved there.
  • #16
Awesome article, Liz. I think it's important that people have something to supplement 'The Savage Garden,' because of how dated some of the finer points are (which, in my opinion, can do more harm than good, i.e., feeding your plant chocolate).
  • #17
Oh, thank you kindly :)
Yeah, I mailed her my copy of The Savage Garden to get her good and prepped, and this stuff...you know...I don't think it's in any book, yet it's something all growers eventually end up learning and should know. And instead of sifting through a bunch of different threads or asking different things at different times for the upteenth time, just have all the need to know -BAM- in one place.

If I had the time I'd add more in the beginning...maybe a review of all the genera and a description of all the subclasses of growing conditions (you know, like...temperate dews, tropical dews, petiolaris, etc etc etc).
Perhaps I'll sit down and do that sometime next year.