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Ultramific/serpentine soil?

Some of you might know that N. burbidgeae, rajah, northiana to name a few grow in soils that have a high coral, lime, calcium content. Has anyone tried growing their neps in a mix of some component using calcium or granite in their mix? Want to share any of your experiences?

I believe that Josh (Nepenthes Gardens) did experiments with rajah and hadn't found any difference between growing them in ultramafic versus normal sphagnum type mixes. I have a feeling a few growers in Germany have experimented as well.
I don't think its the soil composition but how it drains. Ultramafic soils/serpentine would be quite gravelly if i'm not mistaken. So planting N. rajah in sphagnum and an N. rajah in an "ultramafic" mimic soil for the same amount of time, I would have to say the ultramafic soil would yield a better plant, number one because it doesn't compact like sphagnum moss does over a period of time and number two, because of its superb drainage properties.

I'm only stating this because recently my N. rajah was repotted and before was in sphagnum, it was all compacted and it wasn't pitchering, possible death if it wasn't investigated upon. Now, a few months later I have a pitcher developing that I haven't seen in at least 2 years.
I got a N. sibuyanensis one year ago and put it in a little cheese pot with living sphagnum moss. The plant was little with few roots. Then, after almost a year, the roots got out the pot.


You can't see it from the picture, but all the pot was full of roots. I think extreme drainage and high moisture help a lot rooting. On the other hand, the N. sanguinea didn't grow roots at all, potted in a normal pot with peat and beech rotted leafs...

I hope i gave some information..
Hi Michael,
It's an interesting and contriversial question. I have spoken with people who have actually been to Bau and visited the northiana in habitat, and clain that the plant itself is not rooted in limestone, but in peaty pockets where apparently the acid quality of the detritus has eaten holes in the limestone. We see a similar phenomenon here in south Florida in the glades with "solution holes". It has been suggested that this leads to a somewhat antiseptic condition in nature. Some of these ultrabasic substrates are toxic to certain pathogens, allowing the Nepenthes to grow in an isolated micro-environment. I don't know how much of this has been truly documented, but it is a theory I've heard bounced around for a number of years.
As for cultivation...it would seem that N. northiana is not picky about its growing medium, and in fact, I know of some growers who experimented with the added calcium only to have no effect-perhaps even a negative effect. Neps (Jeff S.) has grown a beautiful northiana using standard nep media, so it would appear that other cultural factors (such as consistent high humidity) are more important. We have seedlings of northiana, and they are excruciatingly slow growing. This last winter they were moved to the "bicalcarata bench", where they reside in the shade, cloistered under the leaves of much larger bicals. Finally they seem happy.
As for rajah and burbidgeae: from what I understand thay are not particularly difficult as long as proper temps are maintained. I know a south Florida grower who was successful with N. burbidgeae in a greenhouse here in south Florida where it was subjected to our warm summer nights and it pulled through ever year...until claimed by hurricane Andrew.
Many thanks for all of your responses!

I have also begun my own experimentation regarding these ultramific/basic soils. Living in Hawaii, our natural soil is a coral base. Some regions have an overlay of volcanic cinders or cinder soil mixture. It has been documented that certain species have adapted to growing in soils that begin as an acid preference as seedling and as the plant matures into a tree, can only grow and develop into a tree if its roots are embedded in coral.

I have learned from Ch'ien Lee (pers. comm.) that he also believes that this is a requirement of some species. He claims that N. northiana only grows and becomes established where an overlay or no overlay exists over a substrate of high calcium bedrock. Other species also grows exclusively on the limestone cliffs and found no where else, this has been the case with newer species such as N. campanulata, etc., which grows only on sheer cliffs of same.

I am also lead to believe that some species (specifically N. sp. Viking) has adapted to a requirement of salty-alkaline marshes where it flourishes.

I have experienced two situations where the addition of lime/oyster shell calcium has helped revive or even grow some species faster.
I have noticed that my N. northiana started out slow and impossible. It was grown in a LFS/coarse peatmoss media. After learning about high pH of some species and to Hoyas (an asclepiad vine also native to areas where nepenthes flourish) I have decided to add some coral chips to the media.

My hoyas changed its form from a tender soft vine to a heavy coarse wirey one. My N. northiana transformed from a soft lettuce-leafed appearing plant to one with heavy leathery leaves AND pitcher development. While this is the only N. northiana that I had, no comparison with one of the same could be used as a test for a control.

I have now since been testing this idea on N. burbidgeae, rajah, lowii, stenophylla, macrohylla, and even bicalcarata to see what happens over a two to five year project test. STAY TUNED FOR THE RESULTS IN 2008-2010!

Gee we're getting some deep discourse on this forum

Rod Kruger also tells me that one type of mirabilis he discovered in Far North Queensland on a ocean cliff face was regularly assaulted with sea spray. I wonder what adaptations it has made for such an atypical location (for Nepenthes).

I should have been more specific with how I am growing them in these mixes and specifics of C.L's pers. comm. explanation.
I use coral chips at the bottom of my deeper pots with an overlay of coco bark, fir bark, and peatmoss.
Ch'ien's Lee also tells me that even though the upper layer where N. northiana grows is mostly mossy, peat-like composition, their roots soon travels deeper until it hits its limestone subsoil base.

As for salt spray, in Hawaii, we have a legume (Sesbania tomentosa) that only grows in the sand of the supralittoral zone of the beach. Which not only gets salt spray, but at high tide, sea water at every high tide mark! This species' closest relative is grown some half way around the world as a shrub in mountainous wet rainforest.

Adaptions my dear Darwin, Evolution at its best! And we've seen as adaptive as a species can cope with is nepenthes!

Interesting about the Hoyas. We have several Hoya species growing with the Nepenthes. We grow them in Nep mix, but let them go a little dryer.
Michael, has Ch'ien Lee sucessfully grown northiana using the limestone in the bottom of the pot technique? Definitely worthy to note about adding the oyster shells to certain Neps seems to help. I know Paphiopedilum growers do this with their Brachy's, but here in south Florida the well water is usually akin to liquid limestone, and most growers don't bother. Of course, there are those of us who are on r.o-rainwater, and may find raising the ph for certain species of Neps, like certain Paph species, beneficial.
As for the salt spray. Check out the pics of N. treubiana in habitat on our website.
  • #10
Yes Trent, I have seen them on your site and I am sure they get more than their share of salt air where they are at.
Ch'ien has not really grown them in pots (not that he hasn't told me otherwise) but have mentioned that species such as N. northiana, burbidgeae, etc. only occurs in areas where limestone outcroppings occur (even with a surface lietter of mosses, peat and composted debris). They are absent in areas of solid deep peat/compost litter alone without the limestone subsoil.
I believe that N. clipeata also grows exclusively in limestone rock and found no where else. I believe that even though plants grown in normal peat mixes may thrive now in it alone, the limestone/calcium/and coral subsoils might be necessary for taking the plants into flowering, asexual propagation mode. Being part of their lives for millions of years, they must have found a way to utilize this media to accomplish some plant physiological processes that is required in their existance otherwise they would be grown in a more acid media so common in these parts. Also remember pure limstone alone is rather sterile with little or no nutrients for plants in general. Being in a wet environment and being insectivorous can encourage nepenthes to flourish in this substrate without any problems, but why do they prefer this media when they have a choice of a more acid peaty mixture?

Anyone else cares to speculate on this further?

  • #11
Perhaps it is that other plants don't overgrow these areas with shallow soil because there is little room for deep root growth and higher nutrients in the soil?

One must be very careful to draw conclusions. I have heard from a number of growers that used an alkaline mix for N. northiana and had horrible results but when they transplanted to an acidic peat based mix the plants turned around overnight.

If I recall correctly N. clipeata grows on granite cliffs?

This is not to say that one shouldn't experiment. Often what works best for one person may not work best for everyone else. My goal however is to grow them better than in the wild! So trying to duplicate nature while a good starting point is just that, a starting point. A plant in a pot in a greenhouse is a very different situation than a plant in the wild. I wouldn't be half surprised if I brought buckets of potting mix dug from the wild where various species are growing, to find the plants died rather quickly potted in the wild soils.

  • #12
There seems to be some confusion in this thread that is titled Ultramafic/Serpentine soil. These are soils that contain a high level of heavy metal compounds (for example, nickel, chromium, iron and magnesium). They initially formed from melted rock when the Earth first solidified, billions of years ago. They probably have undergone many transformations during their long residence in their deep earth abode, such as metamorphic recrystallization at very high temperatures and remelting. Darlingtonia is one of the CPs that grow abundantly in this soil that is "poisonous" to many other plants. There are ultramafic forests in Sabah that support Nepenthes. These are not limestone soils.
  • #13
Thanks Bob. It was ultramafic soils that were purported to have astringent properties, but also some karst limestones found in tropical Asia have some of these metals. For some reason, Antimony comes to mind.
  • #14
Based on my experiences growing both N. northiana and N. burbidgeae from seedlings to mature, flowering plants, I can say that I really don't think limestone in the compost has anything to do with successfully cultivating these species. This does not mean that it does not confer some benefit, only that it does not appear to be at all necessary to produce large, healthy, mature plants.

My compost for these plants consists largely of perlite, charcoal, and fine orchid bark, with a small amount of peat. It's fairly acidic, I'm sure, and I don't think that the specifics of the mixture are that critical, as long as it drains pretty well. Really, I think the key with these plants is simply providing the correct environmental conditions, and in the case of N. northiana, this includes ensuring that the plant does not receive too much light. It's actually quite sensitive to over-exposure.
  • #15
VERY interesting points of view. I hope that thought on this topic continues. As mentioned earlier, my N. northiana erupted with growth from a seemingly stand-still existance for a year to a plant tripling its size in three months. My N. northiana grows in full sunlight with no overhead protection. Now I wonder if its really N. northiana to begin with?!? But any way, it is now growing after being declared as legally stunted! I have helped along other plants, mainly N. burbidgeae from MT from slow growing to faster, growing with leaves enlarging three sizes larger than each previous leaf until pitcher formation. I will need to further experimentation with more exacting data using more of the same as control subjects.
My experiences with hoyas ( also growing in the same localities as nepenthes) has been also true regarding calcium to soil mix. The eriostemmas of Northern Australia are true examples of this calcium based soils. While the majority of hoyas grow is more acid media (like many nepenthes) the addition of lime to their existing mix increases plant growth and also in many cases increases flowering and mature adult characteristic development. A hoya specialist in Queensland, Australia David Liddle also knows of this fact regarding northern hoya species growing in limestone soils.

I have been implementing the addition of lime into many soil mixtures with promising results. Its is truly premature in saying that lime, calcium and coral chips is an advantage in growing many species. It is logical that a plant encountering a condition like this should have it present in its soil to further its evolutionary development. Like the cichlid fishes of Lake Malawi & Tanganyika who preforms and said to color up better when exposed to a higher pH helps with their biology, and at the same time many characin fishes of the Amazon river in requirement for a low acidic water, so said that I will incorporate this as a media component with nepenthes.
Like I mentioned earlier, in the long run, true results will be known.

  • #16
Perhaps it is just the added calcium. Calcium is extreamly important for plant growth. Potting mixes we use are pretty devoid of minerals accessible to the plant. Top that with very clean water sources and the plant has no opportunity to obtain the various nutrients it needs OTHER than capturing food on its own OR by what we feed it. Which is why I started the sticky threads at the top on feeding. I feel it is possible to starve these plants. Particularly for someone growing them indoors in a closed terrarium OR outdoors with a high density of plants in a small area.

My personal view is these things would root and grow well on a damp sponge but the more inert the potting mix and the more pure the water the more important supplimenting becomes. Even though I grow them in pots with 'soil' in a greenhouse that has some insects around. I consider them growing hydroponically and attempt to treat them as such. What I mean by this is the plant is relying on me to supply all its needed macro/micro/trace elements in the proper amounts. For me that means inorganic fertilizer as I have way too many plants to attempt to feed them naturally (captured prey).

Nepenthes can grow explosively provided the plant has all it needs in nutrients, temperature, light, moisture.. etc etc. Some plants are more noticeable in that they don't make as many leaves each year but can increase dramatically from one leaf to the next.

Here are a couple examples:
N. veitchii

N. mira
A large plant already and you can see it had produced a number of leaves of fairly similar size. One shot of some food and it took it up another notch! Took me by surprise! Nothing else had changed. It is still in the same size pot in the same location today.

  • #17
Tony, getting off track off this topic, but I can't help noticing that lime green pitcher is it an N. inermis?

  • #18
Was wondering when some folks would start picking out some of the surounding plants lol.

Lower left hand side there is the back of one N. inermis pitcher and on the left edge half way up is a shot of another looking down into the pitcher. The stem is that red thing on the left.. with the long internodes!

btw I tried to do a cutting of it since I get alot of requests for N. inermis with upper pitchers (not surprising). They HATE being cut back. The lower section never sprouted a new shoot. The growth point on the cutting died and the lower portion of the stem started to turn woody brown. I thought it was on it's way out but apparently there is a lateral bud starting to poke some green out now, about 6months later.

  • #19
I have now since been testing this idea on N. burbidgeae, rajah, lowii, stenophylla, macrohylla, and even bicalcarata to see what happens over a two to five year project test. STAY TUNED FOR THE RESULTS IN 2008-2010!

Talk about waking up an old thread, but, any updates on this front for us? I have a little N. burbidgeae that of course is growing slowly, but the leaf size is getting bigger under my conditions. Though it's happy, if I could add a little something to boost it's performance, why not!

Thank you,
  • #20
The guy has not logged in since 2008...