The dos and don’t of tropical pitcher plants


Above: Cephalotus follicularis, Heliamphora tatei x (arenicola x ionasi) and Nepenthes palawanensis.

While I’m waiting for some certain bulbs to come out of dormancy (my next big article) I’ll give everyone a quick rundown of my experience with tropical pitcher plants. By “tropical pitcher plants” I mean Nepenthes, Cephalotus and Heliamphora. I’ll break down the care into a few categories.


When it comes to watering Nepenthes, it is fairly variable and rather easy. Some of the more subaquatic Nepenthes and ones with less sensitive roots can take being submerged in water, but others should be watered overhead frequently. DO NOT LET THEM DRY OUT. Nepenthes need to be constantly wet or they will shrivel up and die. Water quality isn’t much of an issue for Nepenthes, and most can take tap water, though purified water or rainwater are always preferred. For Heliamphora, I believe the water quality should be the same as the Nepenthes since I haven’t had any issues with water in the past. The plant that’s really sensitive about water is Cephalotus follicularis, the Australian pitcher plant. These plants should have boiled, purified or reverse osmosis water, though rainwater is the best. They should be watered from below as prevent crown rot and the trays of water used must dry out, but the soil must never dry out.


Nepenthes are tolerant of a fair amount of substrates, including dead sphagnum, but live sphagnum seems to be the best or a mix with sphagnum, orchid bark/charcoal and perlite. When using pure sphagnum, make sure to water a bit less, as Nepenthes can be prone to root rot. For Heliamphora, some mixes use sphagnum, although I’ve heard equal parts peat and perlite work well. For Cephalotus follicularis, mine grow well in equal parts silica sand and peat moss for drainage, but there are other substrates you may want to explore.


Light can be the trickiest part for many pitcher plants. It isn’t the biggest concern for Nepenthes, but lower humidity must be supplemented with brighter light. I plan to grow my Nepenthes like the rest of my pitcher plants, under full spectrum LED gro lights and 75-80% humidity. Cephalotus prefer bright light but they will grow well on a windowsill or even outside in zones 9b-10b. Heliamphora require A LOT of light and rarely do well on a windowsill. They should be grown under full spectrum gro lights, but can be grown in a very bright part of a greenhouse with success.

More to come on these genera as I gain more experience with them, but I needed to post something before the big surprise post is revealed.

Featured image: Nepenthes macrophylla(?) seen at California Carnivores


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