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Cephalotus follicularis

Cephalotus pitcher.jpg

Range: southwestern Australian peninsula, near Albany

Known as the Albany or Australian pitcher plant, this species only pitfall-type carnivore in southern Australia, and the only species in the family Cephalotaceae. Found in coastal regions on the peninsula of southwestern Australia near the city of its namesake, this species grows in peaty or sandy soils often along the edges of creeks, streams, ponds and seasonally flooded depressions, and seeps. Plants average between 10-45 cm across (though very mature spreading clumps can be nearly a meter in diameter), with rhizomatous growing points producing rosettes of leaves borne on distinct petioles. Two types of leaves are typically produced, the summer traps and winter photosynthetic leaves (though it is not uncommon for intermediate leaves to be produced during changing of seasons). The photosynthetic leaves may reach 4 cm in length (typically 1-3) and are roughly ovular to acuminate, tapering to a point at the tip. Pitchers average up to 2-5 cm tall but can be nearly 8 cm on particularly robust clones, unique in their design amongst carnivorous plants. The attachment of the petiole occurs at the joint between the moccasin or kidney-shaped pitcher and its arching, dome-shaped lid, and 3 wings adorn the pitcher body, two curving from the mouth down around the sides and the third double-wing running down the front of the pitcher. The peristome is thick and rounded, bearing numerous thick ridges that curve inward to end in teeth, below which is a fleshy collar inside the mouth to help retain captured prey. The lids possess a series of translucent areole-stripes between wavy photosynthetic tissue, helping illuminate the mouth to lure prey. Coloration varies depending on light and clone, ranging from solid green through red or purple flushed to nearly solid black in some individuals, contrasted by greenish to white interiors and intermediate-colored traps holding their darkest shades on the peristome teeth.

Tall stalks capable of reaching more than a meter in height are produced during the spring season, bearing clusters of flowers interspersed along the upper half to third of the stalk. Flowers are small, composed of six fleshy greenish to white or pink tepals (lacking true petals and sepals), and possibly pollinated by ants or gnats. Unique in its taxonomy, this species is more closely allied to plants such as apple trees than other carnivores, and it is also the home of an endemic wingless fly species Badisis ambulans which breeds in the pitchers and nowhere else.

Cultivation: Grow in a deep pot of 3:2 sand/peat, kept just moderately moist (preferably via bottom watering) and humid with temperatures of  between 75-90°F daytime before cooling off at night. Plants do not enjoy having their growth crowns wet, as this can result in rotting. During winter, best health and flowering chances are gained when plants are allowed to experience cooler constant conditions and lower lighting (with somewhat reduced watering, but never allowed to dry) for at least 3-4 months. Sow seeds on soil surface (a 4-8 week cold stratification may be beneficial to germination though I have not found it necessary; seeds may simply be naturally seasonal germinators) and grow in moderate artificial light to diffused full sun.

Lifespan and reproduction: long-lived perennial. Reproduces naturally through seeds and can be self-pollinated, but takes up to 5 years to get a mature plant. It is more easily grown through leaf and rhizome cuttings, and division (plants are sensitive to root disturbance; caution should be taken when attempting propagation via these methods).

Cephalotus leaf.jpg

Cephalotus is a bit of an enigmatic species that proves very easy to grow for some, and very difficult for others, or even flip-flopping its ease of growth due to even miniscule changes in its environment. I have managed to keep specimens alive for up to 2 years in the past, but then plants have succumbed without warning a month or two after a repotting event or change in season, answers for which have never been satisfactory. The soil recommendations for this species also differ depending on who one is talking to and what your own conditions may be; some successfully grow the plants in almost pure sphagnum or even with live sphagnum as top dressings despite the species' dislike of wet leaves and crowns. Others may grow them in pure sand, and a few have even attempted this species in hydroponic environments. Experimentation is often key to finding your own recipe for success in this species.

While plants are often readily available (if slightly on the pricey side due to demand and rates of propagation), many people also seek to grow these plants from seeds. The seeds are odd, small and covered in little brown hairs (rather similar to the appearances of Darlingtonia seeds), and just as in the different techniques for growing plants there are many recommendations for germination. Some success may be had merely by sowing fresh seeds on soil and waiting, but experiments have been done showing that in some cases, particularly with somewhat older seeds (though fresh is always better, as this species may lose viability rather rapidly even in good storage conditions), a cold wet stratification mimicking the plant's winter dormancy period may greatly improve germination rates and speed. 

The Australian pitcher plant is also a rather variable species in terms of coloration and general appearance, both on single plants grown in different conditions (bright green in low light, red to black in high) as well as various clones and locales possessing unique traits. A few cultivars have been registered, including 'Eden Black' (a very dark plant under most growing conditions), 'Hummer's Giant' (a clone capable of producing traps exceeding 7 cm in length on a regular basis), and a handful of others. The natural variability of the species under varying conditions though has raised the question of just how reliable placing cultivar titles on these plants is, as the desirable trait may be reliably produced by one grower, but nearly impossible to obtain by others.

Cephalotus seedling 1.jpg
Cephalotus seedling.jpg

Cephalotus seedlings in their initial growth phases. They may begn by developing immature pitchers, or photosynthetic leaves.

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