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Drosera affinis: An African Gem

Eye-catching, but uncommon. Drosera affinis is quite widespread in its natural habitat, but when it comes to cultivation, few seem to have it and fewer still share about it. This species has had its moments of glory as well as hard times with me, and it seems hard to predict what phase will occur when, but as it's going strong for me now, I'll count my blessings while they're here.

A mature D. affinis "Uningi Pans, Zambia" locality, with a tall inflorescence rising from the side.

A native to much of the tropical belt of Africa, this species is a member of the stem-forming tropical complex that include D. madagascariensis, elongata, and flexicaulis, and is still often confused with and perhaps even conspecific with some of these. However unlike nearly all the others, when young one of the defining traits of this species is that it will develop a small but dense rosette, and many localities will often remain more in rosette form (so long as the lighting is appropriate for them; before the addition of my LED fixtures mine was a lanky plant, but not so much anymore). Not to say some forms don't naturally start climbing eventually though. A moderately sized to impressively large sundew, D. affinis can reach nearly a foot in length if they're the lanky type, the end of that stem supporting leaves that can spread to nearly 8 inches in diameter in some cases (though around 4 is much more common) and splay out like a firework. Like the familiar D. madagascariensis, said leaves are thin and shaped like boat paddles, though this species has a much more gracile profile, with very thin (and hairy!) petioles and the teadrop-shaped lamina often curving and sometimes almost folded down the middle of its length

Close-up of the leaves of D. affinis; the wiry hairs are easily visible, as is the curved nature of the traps.

And the color; if the lighting's right, this is a very red plant, not just in the tentacles or the lamina but throughout, a pincushion structure of crimson.

Should the plant decide it's happy enough, it may eventually grace the grower with an inflorescence that grows out from the side of the stem and curves upward, very thin and wiry with a relatively glabrous nature, and can exceed a foot long. At the tip the blooms are loosely clustered, about a half inch across with lovely rounded petals shaded in a rich mauve-pink hue:

The beautiful flowers, also displaying the rather copious pollen they can release.

Luckily so long as the plant is fed well these flowers are self-pollinating, and after a period the pods will dry and release a bunch of filiform seeds that can just be dropped on the soil surface without any special treatment.

Now, how does one grow this species? With a bit of patience. As mentioned prior this is an African tropical, and it is found from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola across to Tanzania and Mozambique. Its preferred habitat is just about anywhere open and wet, often in depressions or along stream banks. This makes it sound like this should be a relatively straightforward species then: keep it hot, keep it wet, keep it bright. But, I have found that sometimes conditions really have to be about just right for D. affinis to thrive in cultivation. A peat-heavy mix is usually okay, but keeping it fairly sandy and well-draining seems to help. I grow mine on one of the upper shelves in the greenhouse too, where even in winter it remains fairly warm (especially when the lights above and below the shelf are on), and have found that though this one likes it warm, too warm can make it sulk a bit. Maintaining somewhere in the low to mid-80's Fahrenheit seems to be the best spot.

And of course, light. The more, the better. Full sun is best, but whatever artificial equivalent will get you closest should be fine too (as it is for me). Also, the pots should be deep. This species can develop fairly thick, and very long roots, so pots at least 6 inches deep or more are the best for it (plus bigger pots keep the soil temperature more stable).

Once the plant is settled in and growing, propagation is fairly easy, if sometimes slow. Leaf and root cuttings, as well as flower stalks if you don't want seeds, are all viable, though the plantlets can sometimes be stubborn about leaving a seedling-sized state for a time. If the plants form stems, these can also be cut and buried or simply bent over to encourage the bases and the roots to bud as well.

And then there's another aspect of this plant that I love: its hybridizing potential. With such a different growth form from most sundews, it often lends some very interesting traits to crosses. As it stands one of my favorite hybrids ever, and one of the several cultivars I have registered from crosses I made, arose from this plant crossed with the common (yet no less beautiful in full growth) D. spatulata, a white-flowered form. The result was this:

D. 'Childhood Wishes,' still ranking among my favorite hybrids.

Not quite so narrow-leaved and far more rosetted (though let the lights go low and it'll show affinis' tendency for stems too), 'Childhood Wishes' also amplifies its maternal parent's odd folded leaf trait, making the profile look something that reminded me of dandelion seeds from which I took the inspiration for the cultivar name.

This and a hybrid with D. madagascariensis itself are the only crosses I've managed yet with this species, but hopefully more are to come (especially as it's in bloom for me right now), to see just what might result from even more unusual hybrids. And as not every flower lines up with another bloom elsewhere, naturally, I hope that shortly I may be able to get this species a little more widespread in cultivation, such that it may be properly appreciated for the unique characteristics it possesses.

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