Germination Guide

Sprouts of Drosera filiformis var. filiformis "Florida All Red". Notice the non-carnivorous cotyledon leaves with the seed still attached.

Growing carnivorous plants from seed can be fun and it can be frustrating. Start with the beginner species. They tend to grow faster and do well under a broader range of conditions. The Seed Bank packets of the beginner species have more seed so you can try different techniques for starting and growing your plants. Don't plant all the seed in one pot or at one time. As you get more experience you can move on to the species that require special care.

For the more difficult species, when you start the seed can be as important as how. Try to learn as much as you can about the ecology of the species before starting the seeds. Some carnivorous plants plants are summer-growing, others are winter-growing, many don't care about seasons as long as it is the right temperature. Some seeds require a period of damp cold conditions before they will germinate. Other seeds may require treatment with smoke or hormones. Some species like growing in sphagnum moss while others prefer a peat and sand mix.

Here are some general principles about growing plants from seed.

  • Plants need light. Lots of light. Consider starting seed under fluorescent lights. Sixteen hours of light a day is optimal in most circumstances. The top of the pots should be 15 to 25 cm from the lamps. It helps to have a piece of glass or plexiglas between the lights and the plants to cut down on heat transmission. Make sure there is enough air circulation so the plants don't get too hot.
  • Plants need moisture. The planting medium should be moist but not sopping wet. You may want to put the pots in plastic bags, cover them with plastic wrap, or put them in a sealed terrarium. You will know the plants are wet enough if the bags stay fogged up.
Germinating Seeds
Germinating seeds under a T5, two bulb, fluorescent fixture.
  • Carnivorous plants are very sensitive to soil nutrients and salts in water. Carnivorous plants live in low nutrient environments.  They can be killed by regular planter mix, fertilizer, and water with moderate or high dissolved solids.  Typical soils used for CP are sphagnum peat, long fibered or live sphagnum moss, coarse silica sand, and perlite. Make sure there are no fertilizers added.  Water should have less than 80 PPM of dissolved solids.  In most areas on this planet that means buying or making reverse osmosis, distilled, or deionized water.
Fungus Gnat Larvae
Fungus gnat larvae on a 1 mm grid.
  • The seeds of most CP species do best if the seed is not buried. Just sprinkle on the surface of the planting medium and spray lightly with purified water.
  • Bugs would love to eat your CP sprouts. Keep the seedlings pots away from the rest of your plants. Fungus gnat larvae love eating the roots of CP seedlings. Try to use a sterile planting medium to combat fungus. Consider using sterilized milled or chopped live sphagnum moss for species that will grow in sphagnum. Otherwise you can use a peat and sand mix. Keeping the seedlings in sealed plastic bags will help keep the gnats away from your seedlings. They can stay in sealed plastic bags for a long time although by the time they have 4 to 6 leaves they should be large enough to go with your other plants.
  • Keep a record what you do and the dates. Put plant labels in the pots and consider keeping a journal about your plants. Most species require 3 weeks or more for germination. Many can require 6 to 9 months to germinate. This will seem like an eternity and without the dates to check, it will be.
  • Have patience. Seedling carnivorous plants grow VERY slowly. For many species it can take a year to get a plant large enough you can feed a tiny amount of dried bloodworm. Until the plants can be fed they are starving and there is nothing you can do but wait. Even plants you can fertilize very lightly such as Sarracenia and Nepenthes, it still takes years to get a mature plants. This is why we encourage beginners to start with large plants rather than seeds.

 

Quick links to growing instructions or continue reading...

Dionaea muscipula


Dionaea muscipula all red seedling. This 4 month old plant is 7 mm across. If all goes well, in 4 years it will be 7 cm across.

Dionaea muscipula, the Venus Fly Trap, is undoubtedly the most popular carnivorous plant found on this planet. If you want to grow it from seed, expect to be admiring it with a magnifying glass for a few years. If you are in a hurry or in junior high and want to have a mature plant sometime before you are off to college, look for mature size plants grown in tissue culture at your better nurseries. Of course "better" nurseries are the ones that carry carnivorous plants. They may only be available at certain times of the year.

Dionaea muscipula is one of the easier savages to start from seed. For instructions on growing them from seed, see the detailed instructions.

Subtropical Drosera

Many subtropical Drosera species are easy to grow from seed and to maintain long term in a terrarium. The easiest species are Drosera capensis, D. dielsiana, D. aliciae, and D. intermedia "Cuba". These species should do fine on a 50:50 peat and sand mix. They germinate best with a little warmth, 25°C (80°F) is perfect.

For the the more difficult subtropicals it may be better to use a layer of sterilized or live chopped sphagnum moss on top of the peat/sand mix or just increase the amount of sand in the top cm of soil. Some species also prefer to be in pure long fibered sphagnum. Try different growing mediums to see which are best for your plant under your conditions.

Detailed instructions:   

Subtropical Drosera in general    
Drosera binata
Drosera capensis

Drosera capillaris
Drosera brevifolia
Drosera spatulata

Summer-growing Tropical Drosera and Byblis

Summer-growing tropical Drosera and Byblis are generally found in areas with very hot temperatures and very high rainfall in summer. In winter temperatures are warm but there is very little rainfall. The Drosera petiolaris group species are perennials that become dormant during the tropical "winter". Drosera indica and related species, Drosera burmannii, and Byblis liniflora and related species are summer annuals that grow very quickly, bloom, set seed, and die.

Most of these species are found in sandy or lateritic soils. They grow best in a mix of 1:2 peat:sand or 1:1:1 peat:sand:perlite or 1:2 chopped sphagnum:sand and/or perlite or similar mix that is very "light". Drosera burmannii is an exception and will grow well in just about anything usual for carnivorous plants.  It can become a weed in CP collections.

Warm temperatures at or above 25°C (80°F) are generally required for the seed of these species to germinate and for the plants to grow well. Some of the species are fire adapted and require "help" to germinate. The fire adapted species require a Gibberellin A3 treatment of the seeds to germinate well. Smoke water or smoke treated sphagnum may substitute for the GA3.

Detailed instructions:   

Drosera burmannii   

Drosera indica and D. hartmeyerorum

Winter-growing and Tuberous Drosera

Tuberous and pygmy Drosera live in an area of Australia with a temperature and rainfall profile similar to coastal southern California except twice the rainfall. Summers are warm and dry while winters are cool and very rainy. For tuberous Drosera, the tubers sprout in early fall and begin vigorous growth with the first rains. By late spring the plants have bloomed and they die back to the underground tubers. The tubers over-summer in warm barely damp soil. The pygmy Drosera live is slightly wetter locations and over-summer as dormant stipule buds. The pygmies produce gemmae in the fall which is the most convenient way to reproduce and trade around these wonderful and very cute plants. Drosera glanduligera is an annual and can be grown with your tuberous Drosera. It has similar requirements but doesn't require deep pots.

The tuberous Drosera seed must be planted in mid to late summer since these species are winter growing. If you have a cool basement, you can grow them any time.Use a 40:60 mix of peat and sand and a tall pot with some sphagnum moss in the bottom. Standard nursery #1 ("gallon") pots work well. In mild winter areas you may leave the pots outside and let nature takes its course. In other areas you may start the seeds in a greenhouse that allows the temperature to get down to a few degrees above freezing at night. The seeds will germinate at the warm to cool transition of the seasons. If the seeds don't germinate the first winter, don't throw out the pot! Let it dry out during the summer and try again the next fall. Please see the detailed instructions for tuberous Drosera for more information. Pygmy Drosera seed can be started at any time if you start them indoors. Please see the detailed instructions for pygmy Drosera for more information.


Drosera anglica seedlings

Temperate Drosera

Temperate Drosera grow in areas with a distinct winter. To survive long term these plants require a winter and you should consider growing them outside year round if you live within their natural range.

Seeds of the temperate Drosera need a "winter" to germinate. Drosera filiformis, D. anglica, D. intermedia, and D. rotundifolia require a few weeks of damp cold stratification. You can put pots planted with the seeds in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks or you can be put the pots outside in the early spring and allow the seeds to sprout naturally. A 50:50 mix of peat and sand usually works well although D. rotundifolia is commonly found growing naturally in live sphagnum. According to Adrian Slack in his book Carnivorous Plants, D. filiformis appreciates a tall pot, D. anglica and D. rotundifolia like short pots, while D. intermedia can be grown as an aquatic during the summer.

Detailed instructions:      Drosera anglica
Drosera filiformis         
Drosera intermedia
Drosera rotundifolia

Alpine and Temperate Pinguicula

Alpine and cold temperate Pinguicula like Pinguicula alpina, P. vulgaris, P. macroceras, and P. grandiflora are native to areas with cold, distinct winters. Seeds of these plants need to experience a winter before they will germinate. Warm temperate Pinguicula like P. lusitanica (an annual), P. pumila, and P. lutea do not require stratification and will germinate without stratification.

Seeds of alpine and cold temperate Pinguicula need a damp cold stratification at temperatures from -10°C to 5°C (14°F to 40°F) for 8 weeks before they will germinate. If you plan on keeping the plants in a terrarium during their summer and in the refrigerator during their winter, you may start the seeds at any time. For plants to be kept outside in cold temperate locations, it is best to plant the seeds outside in late fall. Warm temperate seeds may be started at any time indoors or during the spring outside. A good soil mix for these Pinguicula is two parts peat, one part silica sand, one part perlite and one part vermiculite.

Please see detailed instructions on alpine, cold temperate, and warm temperate Pinguicula.

Mexican Pinguicula

Seeds of Mexican Pinguicula such as Pinguicula moranensis, P. moctezumae, and P. agnata need temperatures between 22°C and 25°C (70°F to 80°F) to germinate. They can be started indoors anytime and out doors in the spring or summer. To prepare a pot to start your seeds, fill it most of the way with one part each of peat, sand, and perlite and cover that with a thin layer of the mix sifted to remove the large pieces. Use dolomitic or limestone sand if you have it. Place the seed on the surface of the medium and don't bury it. The soil should be damp but not sopping wet. You may want to put the pot in a plastic bag. Seeds germinate in 4 to 8 weeks. Please see the detailed instructions for more information.

Sarracenia seedling
Two year old Sarracenia rubra ssp. alabamensis seedling in 55mm wide pot.

Sarracenia and Darlingtonia

Sarracenia seeds needs a damp cold stratification for 4 weeks before they will germinate. If you plan on keeping the plants in a terrarium for an extended period (up to 2 years), you may start the seeds at any time. For plants to be kept outside it is best to start the seed in the fall if you plan to keep the seedlings under lights the first winter or plant in late winter if they will be put outside in late spring. If you live in an area where Sarracenia or Darlingtonia grow naturally, consider starting the seed in pots outside during the winter.

Darlingtonia should be grown in pure sphagnum moss. Sow the seed on the surface of chopped sphagnum moss. Live sphagnum works best but needs to be trimmed back regularly. Don't bury the seed. Place seed about 5 mm apart. Put the pot in a plastic bag and store in a refrigerator, garage, or other location that stays between a few to 10 degrees above freezing for 4 weeks. Seeds may also be put in a plastic bag with a few strands of finely chopped damp sphagnum moss and placed in a refrigerator for 4 weeks. Sarracenia may be started the same way as Darlingtonia but may actually do better if started in pots with 50% or more sphagnum peat. They appreciate the extra nutrients in peat.

After stratification, move the pots to a bright, warm location. Leave the pots in the plastic bags until the seedlings have a few pitchers. 

Detailed instructions:   

Darlingtonia californica
Sarracenia from seed
Sarracenia alata
Sarracenia flava
Sarracenia leucophylla
Sarracenia minor

Sarracenia oreophila
Sarracenia psittacina
Sarracenia purpurea & S. rosea
Sarracenia rubra complex
Sarracenia hybrids

For more information and opinions check out Meadowview Biological Research Station.


Cephalotus follicularis seedling. The Seed Bank has had these seeds but don't hold your breath until the next time.

Cephalotus follicularis

Cephalotus follicularis is very easy to grow from seed if you can get it.  Following the instructions in Peter D'Amato's book The Savage Garden works very well. Stratify fresh seeds in the refrigerator for 8 weeks. You can plant the seeds before stratification and put the whole pot in the refrigerator or you can put the seeds in a small plastic bag with finely chopped damp sphagnum moss. Use a planting mix of 1 part peat to 2 parts sand and/or perlite. As an alternative, start the seeds in finely chopped sphagnum and transplant to their regular mix after the plants are a few months old. The seeds can take two months to germinate.  The 5 mm high pitchers at right are on a one year old plant. You can get a mature plant in two to three years. Please see the detailed instructions for more information.

Nepenthes

Nepenthes seeds need to be started on chopped sphagnum moss in very damp but not wet conditions. Chopped live sphagnum works best but you have to trim it to keep it from overgrowing the plants. Sprinkle the seed on the surface of the sphagnum and put the pot in a plastic bag or other sealed container under bright light. Temperatures above 25°C (80°F) are usually required for seed to germinate. Germination may take 6 weeks or longer. When the seed germinates, give the seedlings some air circulation to help combat any mold that may spontaneously generate. Please see the detailed instructions on Nepenthes for more information.

Utricularia

Currently there are over 220 named species of Utricularia. Representatives of the genus can be found from tundra and alpine locations to seasonal lakes in deserts to hot steamy swamps and cold fog forests. The species commonly found in cultivation fall into two groups: the terrestrial species from bogs and shallow water and the epiphytic species from fog forests and wet, mossy hillsides.

The terrestrial Utricularia can be grown like subtropical Drosera. Scatter seed on the surface of a mix consisting of 50:50 peat:sand. Sit the pot in water in a plastic zip-lock bag. The bags should go under florescent lights but be careful not to have them too close or you could cook the seedlings. After the seeds germinate, remove the pots from the plastic bags and put the pot in a terrarium.

For epiphytic Utricularia, the easiest way to start the seed is to follow the same procedure as terrestrials but use a pot with 40:60 long fibered sphagnum:perlite topped with finely chopped sphagnum.

Please see detailed instructions on terrestrial and epiphytic Utricularia.

Drosophyllum lusitanicum

Drosophyllum lusitanicum, commonly known as the dewy pine, is a popular plant among collectors since it is the sole representative of its genus.  It is also significantly different from other carnivorous plants in that it inhabits drier climates.  Unfortunately, this plant also has a bad reputation as being difficult to grow and maintain.  The main problem is that cultivation methods used for other bog-dwelling carnivorous plants are lethal for DrosophyllumRead more...

Ibicella and Proboscidea

These plants are not carnivorous but they are so nasty everyone wants them to be carnivorous. The popular name Devil's Claw understates the features of Ibicella lutea and Proboscidea louisianica. They could equally be called Devil's Breath or Devil's Snot. You don't want to grow these plants if you have small children or pets that blunder into your garden plants.

Ibicella and Proboscidea plants get big and can be grown like regular garden plants. If you live in an area that has hot summers, expect the plants to be at least a meter across. They have a rather unpleasant smell—something like rotting gym socks. The smell won't put you off lunch but it does serve as a warning to remind you to keep away. And keep away is something you may want to do. The leaves and stems are covered with a resinous slime that you can't easily wash off. It gets on your clothes. It gets on your hands and arms. It gets on your garden tools. It won't come off. And then there are the seed pods. Those suckers are evil. They are very sharp. They are designed to snag onto animal feet and hold on until the poor beast dies and serves as fertilizer for the next generation of Devil's Claw. If you still want to grow these plants, read more...

 


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