HELIAMPHORA- Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (2015)

Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (2015)


Heliamphora chimantensis



Heliamphora, the Sun Pitcher or Marsh

Pitcher, is native to the table-top mountains,

the tepuis, of South America. These mountains,

the fabled “Lost World” of Sir Arthur Conan

Doyle, hold what many have long said are

among the most primitive of the family of

plants known as the Sarraceniaceae, the pitcher

plants. Recent research has shown that, rather

than being relics of a land lost to time,

Heliamphora are, instead, highly evolved to excel

in their ecological niche.

All members of the Heliamphora genus

consist of tubular traps growing from a central

rhizome, similar to Sarracenia genus members.

Most Heliamphora have a small gap in their

pitchers somewhere near the top of the tubular

pitcher, probably in order to regulate the

amount of fluid in the pitcher, and a small

nectar “spoon” above the pitcher, likely to

attract insects. Except for Heliamphora tatei, all

grow as prostrate rosettes, very much like


Unlike Sarracenia, Heliamphora have brittle

pitchers that are well-adapted to the windy

tepuis, and, except for Heliamphora tatei, do not

produce digestive enzymes. Although Sarracenia

purpurea is similarly situated in that it does not

produce digestive enzymes, members of the

genus Heliamphora are adapted to growing in

areas with near-constant rainfall. Heliamphora

pitchers constantly face an influx of new water

that dilutes the pitcher’s contents. Given the

scarcity of resources atop tepuis, evolution

favors species that do not waste resources

producing digestive enzymes.

Heliamphora tatei

Most Heliamphora species look incredibly similar. The only way to truly

distinguish most species is by flower morphology. Some species, however, such as

Heliamphora sarracenioides, possess pitchers that are unlike any other known species

and can be easily distinguished on the basis of the pitcher shape alone.

Heliamphora flowers are similar to those of Darlingtonia. The downward-facing

flowers have four usually white petals that protect the stigma and anthers from

rain. In the wild, euglossine bees (orchid bees) visit the flowers an average of 10

times per day. The bees vibrate the flowers in such a way that causes either the

stigma to pick up pollen from their back or the anthers to release pollen onto

Heliamphora pulchella

them. In cultivation, a tuning fork, a paintbrush, or some paper usually stand in



for a bee.

Among carnivorous plants, the genus

Heliamphora may be the most exciting because of

the recent discovery and introduction into

cultivation of many of the now known 23 species

Perhaps more exciting is that many of the scientific

expeditions that discovered many of the species

occurred in the early 2000s. Consequently,

unexplored areas are well-known. Based on the






mathematical models predict that more species

likely exist.

Heliamphora nutans in the wild.25

In Cultivation

The most commonly cultivated

Heliamphora are Heliamphora heterodoxa x





Heliamphora minor. These three are

frequently propagated through tissue

culture, with the hybrid Heliamphora

heterodoxa x minor being the most often

available in the retail market. Although

both H. heterodoxa and H. minor are

slightly more difficult to cultivate than

their offspring, all three make good

candidates for an area where highland

Nepenthes are grown.

Other Heliamphora species and

hybrids are more difficult to cultivate.

Generally, they require cool night time

temperatures of below 62° F (16° C)

and high humidity, much like some of

the more difficult species of Nepenthes.

More frequently, hybrids, especially

hybrids of unknown parentage, such as





introduced into cultivation. These

complex hybrids have proven to be fast

growers and tolerant of a wide-variety

Heliamphora heterodoxa x ionasii

of conditions, making them perfect for

the retail market.

Most Heliamphora, whether hybrid or species, are sold as juveniles. Juvenile pitchers look very different

from adult pitchers. Most hybrids and species produce juvenile pitchers that appear nearly identical. Juvenile

pitchers are short, rarely more than a few inches in length, prostrate, scrambling along the ground, and

tubular, having an opening near the tip. As the pitchers mature, they become more upright and begin to

resemble adult pitchers. This switch can either occur slowly, over the course of a number of pitchers, or



suddenly, depending on the exact parentage of the plant and the growing conditions.

Unlike other genera of carnivores, Heliamphora species are similar enough that it is not necessary to go

into a detailed discussion of individual species growing habits. All Heliamphora grow atop table-top mountains,

tepuis,- or in the highland savannas near tepuis - where they experience high winds, cool temperatures, and

nearly constant rainfall. Therefore, cultivation advice is almost identical for every species of Heliamphora.

Heliamphora uncinata

Instead of giving examples of I will merely follow my standard growing guide with a table denoting

species and detailing their native habitats. My standard growing guide is as follows:

● Media: In the wild, most Heliamphora live in pockets of soil that accumulate in hollows in the

sandstone. Fortunately, a sandstone base is not necessary for successful cultivation of Heliamphora.

They are tolerant of a wide-range of well-draining mixes, but I prefer a mix of one part New Zealand

sphagnum, one part perlite, and one part coarse river sand.

● Moisture: The sandstone base of Heliamphora environments combined with the frequent rainfall and

high winds of the tepuis mean that this genus experiences a well-draining but always moist



environment in the wild. In cultivation, a similar environment is necessary. I have found that the

terrarium method with only a millimeter or two of water at the bottom of the terrarium, rather than

the tray method, works best for Heliamphora.

● Humidity: Heliamphora experience extremely high humidity in the wild. It is rare for an hour to pass

without some sort of rainfall. In cultivation, some, such as H. heterodoxa x minor, are tolerant of lower

humidity levels, but most do best in a very humid environment.

● Pot Size: Pot size is not a major concern, but placing Heliamphora in pots large enough to give them

some room to grow is necessary.

● Feeding: Since most species of Heliamphora do not produce their own digestive enzymes, fertilizing

Heliamphora is the best way to promote growth. The easiest way to fertilize Heliamphora is to fill their

pitchers with a diluted mixture of orchid-type fertilizer. MaxSea Grow 16-16-16 Water Soluble

Seaweed Plant Food Fertilizer is a good choice.

● Temperature: Temperature is where most first-time growers make a mistake with Heliamphora.

Although the plants can survive warm temperatures, the best growth is achieved when night time

temperatures drop to 60° F (16° C). Drops down to 50° F (10° C) are preferable for most species.

Day time temperatures should be no more than 80° F (27° C).

● Dormancy: Heliamphora experience virtually the same conditions year round, so no dormancy is


● Propagation: Heliamphora can either be propagated through division or seed.

○ Division: Division is the easiest method of propagation. Large plants with multi-growth point

crowns can be divided. Alternatively, some growers have had success with separating a single

pitcher with a bit of rhizome still attached from the parent plant. Given slightly lower light

levels and high humidity, this can result in a new plant being formed after several months.

○ Seed: The most difficult way to propagate Heliamphora is through seed. Heliamphora seed is odd

in the world of carnivores. It is thin, flimsy, and disk-shaped. Production of the seed occurs

in a way very similar to that of Sarracenia. The flowers open one at a time and the stigma is

receptive for a few days before the pollen matures. If bees are not present, a tuning fork can

be used to vibrate a flower to release pollen. This can be collected via a paper laid out under

the flower. Pollen can either be used immediately, applied via paintbrush to a different

flower, or stored in the refrigerator for a short period of time before use. Once the seed pod

matures and splits open, the seed can be sewn on a mixture of milled sphagnum. No

stratification is necessary. If viable, seeds should begin to sprout in a few weeks. Be warned,

however, growth from seed is incredibly slow, and it will take quite a few years before

mature plants are formed.

The following table of all known Heliamphora species includes their distribution and cultivation type in

order to facilitate thoughts on care:



Altitudinal distribution


Ilú-Tramen Massif, Venezuela

? - 2000 m


Pico da Neblina, Cerro de la Neblina, Brazil

1900 m

Cerro Aracamuni, Venezuela; Cerro Avispa, Venezuela;

Pico da Neblina and Pico 31 de Março, Cerro de la


Neblina, Brazil

1900 - 2100 m


Gran Sabana, Venezuela

900 m



Aparamán Tepui, Venezuela; Kamarkawarai Tepui,

Venezuela; Murisipán Tepui, Venezuela; Tereke-yurén


Tepui, Venezuela

1700 - 1825 m


Ilú-Tramen Massif, Venezuela; Karaurín Tepui, Venezuela 1800 - 2600 m

Aprada Massif, Venezuela; Abacapá Tepui, Venezuela;

Akopán Tepui, Venezuela; Amurí Tepui, Venezuela;

Apacará Tepui, Venezuela; Chimantá Tepui, Venezuela;


Churí Tepui, Venezuela; Toronó Tepui, Venezuela

1700 - 2100 m

Aparamán Tepui, Venezuela; Kamarkawarai Tepui,


Venezuela; Murisipán Tepui, Venezuela

1700 - 2400 m

Maringma Tepui, Guyana; Mount Roraima, Venezuela;


Uei-tepui, Brazil/Venezuela; Wei-Assipu-Tepui, Venezuela 1200 - 2750 m


Gran Sabana, Venezuela

1200 - 2200 m

Pico da Neblina and Pico 31 de Março, Cerro de la


Neblina, Brazil

1800 - 2994 m

Angasima Tepui, Venezuela; Akopán Tepui, Venezuela;

Amurí Tepui, Venezuela; Apacará Tepui, Venezuela;


Chimantá Tepui, Venezuela, Toronó Tepui, Venezuela

1850 - 2200 m


Ilú-Tramen Massif, Venezuela

1800 - 2600 m


Cerro Duida, Venezuela

1500 - 2300 m

minor var. minor

Auyán Massif, Venezuela

1650 - 2500 m

minor var. pilosa

Auyán Massif, Venezuela

1650 - 1800 m


Pico da Neblina, Cerro de la Neblina, Brazil

860 - 2200 m

Kukenán Tepui, Venezuela; Maringma Tepui, Guyana;

Mount Roraima, Venezuela; Wei-Assipu-Tepui, Venezuela;


Yuruaní Tepui, Guyana/Venezuela

2000 - 2700 m


Cerro de la Neblina, Brazil

1750 - 2200 m

Angasima Tepui, Venezuela; Auyán Massif, Venezuela;


Chimantá Massif, Venezuela; Upuigma Tepui, Venezuela

1850 - 2550 m


Ptari Tepui, Venezuela

2400 - 2500 m


Ptari Tepui, Venezuela

2400 - 2450 m

sp. ‘Akopán


Akopán Tepui, Venezuela

1800 - 1900 m

sp. ‘Angasima


Angasima Tepui, Venezuela

2200 - 2250 m

Cerro Duida, Venezuela; Cerro Huachamacari, Venezuela;


Cerro Marahuaca, Venezuela

1700 - 2400 m


Amurí Tepui, Venezuela

1850 m