Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (2015)
The Albany Pitcher Plant, Cephalotus
follicularis, is one of the most desired and
difficult plants in cultivation. Native to a
small area on the southwestern Australian
coast, its range stretches from Yallingup to
Cheyne Beach from the coastline up to 31
miles (50 kilometers) inland. In the wild,
Cephalotus follicularis can be found growing
on the edges of sloping peat/sand bogs, in
drainage ditches, in copses and, most
famously, within eyesight of the sea at
Coal Mine Beach along a hillside fed by
This area’s climate is characterized by
cool, wet winters where temperatures
rarely fall below 40° F (15° C) and warm,
dry summers where temperatures rarely
exceed 77° F (25° C). Although rainfall
drops to less than an inch (2.5
centimeters) a month in the summer,
foggy mornings are common, and
Cephalotus is well adapted to high humidity.
In fact, the scalloped lids of the pitchers
Cephalotus follicularis growing in cultivation, showing a deep
can commonly be seen to close in
purple flush due to exposure to high-intensity light.
environments where the humidity has
dropped too low.
The pitchers of this monotypic genus are small, rarely much larger than an inch and a half
(approximately four centimeters) in mature plants. These pitchers appear at the end of short tendrils springing
from a central rhizome, and appear first as a little, hairy ball. This ball slowly inflates over the course of
several days to weeks to become a leathery pitcher covered in short hairs and three “ribs” leading up to the
prominent crenelated peristome. The peristome appears similar to some in the genus Nepenthes, having
“teeth” that appear to overhang the pitcher. The pitcher is capped by a scalloped lip that serves to prevent the
CULTIVATING CARNIVOROUS PLANTS
pitcher fluid from becoming diluted.
Oddly, Cephalotus also produces a
second kind of leaf. This second type is
not a pitcher. Instead, it is green and
ovoid. The petiole is short, keeping the
leaf closer to the plant. Until recently,
the reason for production of these kinds
of leaves was a mystery. Recently, it has
been suggested that these leaves are
produced as a consequence of the plant’s
getting crowded out by competing
grasses and other vegetation.
Interestingly, Cephalotus is similar to
Sarracenia in that it is a pioneer species.
Colonies of Cephalotus are among the
first to appear after brushfires sweep
across its native habitat in southwest
Australia. In the years following a
Cephalotus producing large pitchers in cultivation.
brushfire, Cephalotus pitchers emerge en
masse from dormant rhizomes and small rosettes of non-carnivorous leaves. In time, competing grasses and
other vegetation recolonize the area and Cephalotus plants begin producing the small, non-carnivorous leaves.
The plants survive on energy produced by those leaves, and from stored energy in their rhizomes until the
next brushfire sweeps across the habitat. Naturally, this brushfire occurs every ten or so years. Since British
colonization of the southwest coast of Australia, fires have become less frequent. As a consequence, more
and more Cephalotus habitat has been lost to succession.
The flowers of Cephalotus are small, only a
few tenths of an inch (millimeters) across,
white, and appear atop stalks 23 inches (60
centimeters) tall in early summer. Although the
flowers can self-pollinate, a better seed set is
obtained through cross-pollination. Between
six and ten seeds can be expected per flower. A
few dozen flowers will appear atop each stalk.
Cephalotus seeds are small, brown, and
hairy. The dense hair on the seeds indicate that
they are meant to be dispersed via the wind.
Seeds remain viable for only a few months and
will germinate at a higher rate after a cool
stratification period simulating the winter
weather in southwestern Australia. They will
germinate once temperatures reach 68° F (20°
C) during the day. They grow slowly, taking
Cephalotus with gigantic, hand-sized pitchers.
several years to become mature plants.
Cephalotus is somewhat unique in the carnivorous plant world in that there is only one species in the
entire genus, and not much variation is found within that species. Unlike Darlingtonia, which has some well-
known variations, including an anthocyanin free (all-green) variant, no such similar variations have been
found in Cephalotus populations to date.
In both the wild
and in cultivation,
pitchers exposed to
insufficient light are
mostly so) and will
pitchers grown in
intense light. Unlike
some other genera,
pitchers can slowly be
intense light and turn
as brilliant a red as
under intense light.
As a consequence,
on the basis of
coloration alone are
The one real
variation in Cephalotus
is pitcher size. Some
A young Cephalotus, from a leaf pulling, potted alongside two mature Drosera
pitchers up to four
hamiiltonii plants. In the wild, both Cephalotus and Drosera hamiltonii can be
inches (10 cm) in
found growing alongside each other in the Australian outback.
length, far larger than
average. At present,
the problem with most Cephalotus cultivars (whether formally described or not) is that the species is so
reactive to micro-climates that it is often difficult for growers to reproduce similar traits from clones of
supposed cultivars. Often, growers will find their plants exhibiting slightly different traits depending on subtle
variations in the environment. This has led to some controversy about whether any cultivars of Cephalotus
actually exist at all.
CULTIVATING CARNIVOROUS PLANTS
Cephalotus growing near Coal Mine Beach, Australia.9
Regardless of whether there are cultivars of Cephalotus or not, the rule of thumb for cultivation is that
stale water or air results in a dead plant. That said, my standard growing guide for Cephalotus follows:
● Media: There is no one good mixture for Cephalotus, but most mixtures are half perlite, a quarter
sphagnum peat, and a quarter of mixed ingredients which can include charcoal, sand, orchid bark,
and/or Coir (coconut fiber). Personally, I have found that a bit of live sphagnum dressing helps
create a higher ambient humidity, which leads to good pitcher formation.
● Moisture: Moisture is, generally, the biggest problem with cultivating Cephalotus. Cephalotus sometimes
experiences what many growers have termed “sudden death syndrome.” The cause is thought to be
excessive moisture. Some growers have had success avoiding this syndrome by only top watering,
and not letting the plant sit in a tray of water. Others only use the tray method, sometimes watering
with aerated water, thinking water on the crown can cause the plant to rot. Still others aerate water
before carefully watering the plant to avoid the crown. None of these methods has been proven to
avoid sudden death syndrome, and what method works for which grower is a constant experiment.
● Humidity: Cephalotus requires high humidity. In lower than ideal humidity conditions, the lid of the
pitcher will close on top of the pitcher, in order to avoid the evaporation of pitcher fluid.
● Pot Size: Cephalotus should be over-potted for best results. It dislikes frequent repotting, so it is
advisable to start a plant out in a plastic pot, with drain holes, several inches larger than the plant in
● Feeding: Fertilizing Cephalotus is not recommended. Plants may, however, be fed insects, preferably
their natural prey, ants. I would recommend only an ant or two per mature pitcher.
● Temperature: Although Cephalotus is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, day temperatures of
75° F (24° C) and night temperatures of 55° F (13° C) are ideal.
● Dormancy: Dormancy is not necessary for long-term success, but many growers find it easy to place
Cephalotus in a cool dormancy where temperatures do not fall below freezing or exceed 55° F (13° C).
● Propagation: Cephalotus can be propagated through seed, leaf-pullings, division, or root cuttings.
○ Seed: The slowest way to propagate Cephalotus is through seeds. As stated above, Cephalotus
seed is viable for only a short period of time, is best germinated after a cool stratification
period, and it will take several years for a mature plant to result from seed sewn on a suitable
○ Leaf-pullings: Leaf-pullings are the easiest and most common method of propagation. The
best way to propagate Cephalotus through leaf-pullings is to use a non-carnivorous leaf. The
leaf will be pulled from the rhizome, with as much of the rhizome still attached as possible.
Then, soak the leaf in a solution of Superthrive for an hour and/or fungicide for ten minutes
and/or Trichoderma solution for ten minutes. After soaking, place on top of suitable media,
cover the rhizome end with a little bit of media, and place in a shaded area that stays around
75° F (24° C). It may be beneficial to cover the pot, slightly, with plastic wrap to increase
ambient humidity, but watch for signs of rot. Humidity must be high for roots to sprout.
○ Division: As with Sarracenia or Heliamphora, Cephalotus may be divided. This is best done during
dormancy, shortly before spring growth begins. Divide the crown in as many pieces as there
are growth points, while trying to keep as much of the root system intact as possible.
○ Root Cuttings: Perhaps the riskiest way of propagating Cephalotus is via root cuttings. An inch
long (2.5 centimeter) section of healthy rhizome may be removed from a growing plant. This
should be soaked in a fungicide and/or Trichoderma solution for ten minutes before being laid
horizontally on top of a suitable medium. The root should then be covered with a few
millimeters of media. Growth should appear in a few weeks.