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From Seeds: Cephalotus

The next installment of the "growing from seed" series; we're getting a bit low now on groups of carnivores that I actually have decent experience with from seed, but this is an interesting and rather straightforward one: the Australian pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis.

The first and second stages: apologies for the blurry look, but the fuzzy brown seeds are tiny, and seedlings similarly so.

Cephalotus seeds look a lot like Darlingtonia, interestingly; they're small, sort of oblong or teadrop-shaped in form, and the brownish seed coat is covered in numerous tiny fuzzy hairs. Overall, each one is only a couple of millimeters long. In the wild, plants naturally begin blooming in the spring time, with pods ripening over summer and releasing seeds from late summer into fall. They have a relatively short shelf life if kept at room temperature, questionable shelf life even when stored cold, so starting with fresh seeds is your best bet. The next step, is a little under debate: because these plants naturally grow in the winter-wet regions of southwestern Australia, but tend to have a sort of semi-dormancy at this time and more actively grow in summer since they're located in permanently wet seeps, it's controversial whether or not the seeds actually need any treatment such as stratification or heat before they actually start their growing cycles. In my experiences, I've never had significant luck with stratification and have just sown fresh seeds on soil right away and left them in naturally cycling conditions. Reports on the ICPS website suggest what also seems to align with my results as well: that germination is more based on seasonal timing, than any actual treatment. If sown at the start of the fall season, seeds will usually begin to germinate after 6-8 weeks. If sown at any other time of year or put through a stratification period...you might just see seeds wait to sprout until they experience what they think is the onset of fall. Soil composition for sowing varies depending on your conditions; in general, whatever the adult plants are going to grow in, is what you should use. Some people use sphagnum with success while others see this cause rot; I personally use a similar aerated perlite/sand (or blasting abrasive in my case)/peat mix as I put tuberous and pygmy sundews into. Well-draining, holds moisture but not sopping wet in any spot, so as to avoid rot. Seeds are distributed on the soil surface, given fall conditions, and should begin sprouting with a pair of fleshy little cotyledons. First leaves following may be one of their flat non-carnivorous leaves, or an extremely minute immature pitcher.

This seedling began true leaf growth with pitchers...
This one made a flat leaf instead first.

Once seedlings are sprouted, it's a slow game of patience and careful cultivation. Maintaining appropriate moisture while keeping things moderately humid and well ventilated are all necessary; seedlings are at great risk of damping off if things are too wet or dim, so strong light and good circulation are a must. It may also be difficult to feed them to get them up to size, but if you have experience with needles for injecting fertilizer into tiny traps, this is quite effective. Even then, it may take several leaves and subsequently larger pitchers that just feed themselves with random springtails and other organisms in the pot before you can manually give them anything.

First traps are incredibly small, and lack many of their famous traits.
Eventually seedlings will get big enough to form clumps of traps and photosynthetic leaves.

Once traps are big enough to readily feed, growth can be moved along faster, however this is still a plant that requires patience. My record for going from a sprouted seed to the first small mature trap took 18 months with regular feeding, and more commonly 2-4 years from seed to maturity is standard. Maintaining cool conditions, strong light, and the seasonal mediterranean-style climate that this species hails from are all paramount. Too warm and you'll lose your seedlings, and frost can damage them as well if it gets too far below freezing. It'll be obvious when the plant hits maturity though; many people report a sudden jump from little, nearly toothless baby pitchers to the colorful, toothy, translucent-lidded adult traps. I had more of a gradual shift in most of mine, as new traps developed more and more pronounced peristomes and coloration, before obviously adult traps started gaining size from that point on.

In general, the hardest part of growing Cephalotus from seeds is not actually the growing-from-seed part, but the maintaining of the conditions that they just need in general and having the patience to deal with things that grow that slowly when young. Once they're sprouted and regularly producing new leaves, it's fairly straightforward...until time comes to repot them, but that's a whole different subject (their roots are sensitive and they don't like being moved around much). If you can keep them at the right moisture levels and you're proficient in giving the sort of environment tuberous and pygmy sundews expect, then Cephalotus can be a fairly straightforward plant to grow. And eventually, you might just end up with a plant that looks like this:


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