International Carnivorous Plant Society

Growing Sarracenia from Seed

Drosera x hybrida

Sarracenia complex hybrid seedlings. Notice the amount of variation.

 

Sarracenia are fairly easy to grow from seed if you have patience. Each step in producing the seed, germinating it, and growing the plants takes patience. It can take 4 years to go from a just-pollinated flower to a mature, blooming plant. Don't even think about how old you will be or what you will be doing in 4 years. Just do it for the adventure. You never know for sure what you will get nor what will happen to you.

Sarracenia seedlings make excellent terrarium plants. For the first two years you can grow seedlings under lights without dormancy. In fact, if you give them enough light, after two years you will have a plant the size of plants three to four years old plants grown outside with dormancy. If your plants get too big for your terrarium and you don't have a place to grow them outside, give them to someone else who does and start some more seeds.

Pollination

Sarracenia flowers usually appear in the spring slightly ahead of or with the first pitchers. The very elaborate flowers do not self pollinate. In many areas, there aren't any pollinators that know how to work the flowers or the plants bloom too early for there to be any pollinators around. If you don't pollinate the flowers yourself, it won't happen and you won't get any seed.

Sarracenia flowers are designed so that a pollinator visiting a flower must brush past a stigma (the pollen receptive part) to get into the chambered part of the flower where the nectar and stamens (the pollen producing part) are located. The stigmas are near the tips of the upside down umbrella-shaped style. Once the pollinators push their way into the inner chamber, they have a jolly time rolling in the pollen and slurping the nectar. To get out pollinators have to push their way under a petal. This avoids pollinating that flower with its own pollen. Some of the pollen on the pollinators body rubs off on the stigmas of the next flower they visit.

To see where you get the pollen to put on the stigmas, lift a petal of the flower. Inside you will see the pollen-bearing stamens hanging next to the ovary and piles of pollen on the style floor. Use a fluffy paint brush to get the pollen off the stamens and to pick up the pollen that is usually laying on the style. Watch out for the nectar globules as they will gum-up your brush. You can use this pollen immediately to pollinate the flower and other flowers on the plant or on other plants. To save the pollen for later, brush it onto a piece of aluminum foil, fold the foil to make an envelope, and place in a freezer. It will last in the freezer for a month or so. Since each species tends to bloom at a slightly different time, saving pollen is necessary to make certain hybrids.

Some Sarracenia species do not take well to being self pollinated. To get good quality seed you need to cross pollinate flowers of two non-clones of the same species. Sarracenia flava is the one to be careful about most if you want lots of seeds and healthy plants. The S. flava var. atropurpurea and S. flava var. rubricorpora are the most difficult. These plants tend to have one flower per plant and there is less opportunity to self pollinate and eliminate deleterious genes. When you do the unnatural thing of selfing the flowers, all those bad genes get expressed. Sarracenia rubra at the other extreme tends to have very many flowers per plant in nature and selfing is not as much of a problem.

Now that you have finished playing "bumblebee", you get to wait 5 months to see if your pollinations were successful and you get seed.

You can collect the seeds before the pods turn brown and split to get a few month's head start with the seedlings. If your plants bloom in April, you may be able to get viable seed from the pods in mid August but it is best to wait until September. If the pods start turning brown, pick them immediately so the seed won't be lost when the pod splits open. Put the pods into a paper envelope to dry completely then carefully split them open and remove the seeds.

Sarracenia seeds

Sarracenia seeds over a 1 mm ruler. The color differences are not diagnostic. Seed from the same plant can range from purple to brown to tan.

Germinating Seed

Sarracenia seed is rather odd. It has a waxy coating making it hydrophobic. I suspect it is dispersed in nature by floating on water. This also makes it difficult to germinate quickly. The seed can't germinate until you get moisture past the wax and seed coat into the embryo. You waited how many months to get the seed and you want the plants NOW! Relax.

There are all sorts of claims about quick methods of germinating Sarracenia seeds. DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME OR SEEDS. Yes, you will get some germination but to get good germination you need to use the tried and true methods.

If you live in an area where Sarracenia grow naturally or where they could if there were appropriate habitats, you can ignore all that follows and just plant your seeds outside in the fall in 15 cm (6 inch) or larger pots filled with a peat/sand mix and let nature takes it course. You should probably protect the seeds and seedlings from heavy rain until the plants get established. Consider using the tenting method used at the Meadowview Biological Research Station. Make sure you use rain, reverse osmosis, de-ionized, or distilled water if there is even a moderate amount of dissolved solids (salt) in your tap water (Usually surface derived water is OK; well water is iffy. Check the water quality report from your water company or city. Total dissolved solids below 100 ppm is best.)

 

A few words about soils for Sarracenia.

Sphagnum moss is generally recommended as the best medium for Sarracenia. Sphagnum moss is hard to find, very expensive, not harvested in a sustainable manner. Quite often moss sold as sphagnum is actually a sheet moss that can be toxic to Sarracenia.

Soil mixes with peat are quite adequate for Sarracenia. In fact S. rubra, S. psittacina, S. rosea and most hybrids prefer being in a peat mix. I grow S. psittacina in pure peat. Keep in mind though, with a peat mix you need to top water the plants and change the water in the trays frequently. How often depends on your water quality, how often you water your plants, and exactly which mix you use.

The most common peat mix is equal parts peat and silica sand. The peat needs to be sphagnum peat which is decomposed sphagnum moss. The sand should be fairly coarse and about the same size grains. With fine particle sand, the soil can become like concrete. Sieved, coarse, washed "play sand" can work. Horticultural sand and 12 to 16 mesh silica sand blasting sand are best. Sand may need to be soaked for a while in purified water to help remove the salts. The salt gets into the sand during processing because water is sprayed on the material to reduce the dust. Breathing silica dust from sand is dangerous to your health.

Many members have great success using perlite instead of sand in their soil mixes.  For others it can be disastrous. The difference seems to be whether their domestic water is low enough in dissolved solids they can and do top water their plants regularly from a garden hose or the plants regularly get rained on during the summer. If you do use perlite, absolutely make sure there is no fertilizer added to the perlite. The usual suspects for adding fertilizer are companies that also sell fertilizer.  The fertilizer cannot be easily washed out. Also when using perlite, keep in mind breathing perlite dust is very dangerous to your health.

 

The tried and true way of germinating Sarracenia seed is to cold stratify the seed for 4 weeks. Storing the seed dry in the refrigerator isn't stratification. Stratification is storing the seed in a cold and damp environment usually with natural materials that may aid the process of convincing the seed it is time to start growing. The easiest method is to refrigerate seeds in a small plastic bag with a few strands of finely chopped sphagnum moss dampened with purified water. Live sphagnum is the best choice. The moss should be wet enough so that if you squeeze it you will see water but there shouldn't be any free water in the bag. If you don't have live or dried sphagnum moss and must use peatmoss, get it very wet then squeeze it to remove most of the water and make sure there is plenty of air in the plastic bag. The seeds need air. The seeds could die if the peatmoss is too wet.

If the seeds are old you may want to soak them for a day before you stratify them. Put the seeds in a small dish of purified water and a touch of dish detergent (by touch I mean touch the detergent dispenser and disperse the detergent in the water with your fingers).

Another method is to sow the seed directly in pots and store the whole pot in a plastic bag. Stratifying seeds can be stored in a refrigerator, garage, or other location that stays around refrigerator temperature and is out of the sun. Or you can use a tenting method. Seeds planted outside in unprotected pots have a tendency to wander into adjacent pots.

Sow seed on finely chopped sphagnum moss or peat mix in conveniently sized pots. If you stratified the seed in a plastic bag, spread it over the medium in the pots with your planting spoon. Standard 8.5 cm (3 inch) pots work well.  Place the seed about 5 mm apart and use a number of pots to keep from having all the seed in one pot. I bury the seed about one layer of sand deep.

Put the pots with seeds in plastic bags under florescent lights until the first signs of germination.  The warmth of the lights helps the seeds germinate quicker. If you leave 1 to 2 cm of head space on the pot, you can use plastic wrap and a rubber band instead of plastic bags. Don't put the bags in direct sun or too close to the lights as you would end up with cooked sprouts. A temperature of 20° to 25°C (70° to 80°F) is ideal. The seeds should germinate in 2 to 4 weeks.

After the seeds germinate and you get a few true leaves, the plastic wrap should be removed or the pots removed from the bags. Put the pots into a terrarium with some air circulation. Or if the weather is mild, just put them outside in a sunny location with your other Sarracenia. Please see Sowing Seeds Step-by-Step for more details on starting seeds.

Growing Juvenile Plants

Juvenile Sarracenia can be raised in a terrarium under lights for two years before they need to join the adults and start the cycle of seasons. When the Sarracenia seedlings have about 5 leaves, they can be transplanted into pots with the plants spaced about 2 cm apart or 9 to a standard 8.5 cm (3 inch) pot. If you use long fibered sphagnum, it should be chopped into 1 cm or shorter lengths so the plants can be transplanted later without breaking the roots. The pots should be put into a terrarium under 25W of fluorescent lighting per square foot. The lights should be on for 16 to 18 hours per day and it is a good idea to line the outside of the terrarium with aluminum foil or mirrors to maximize the amount of light the plants get. As the plants grow too large for the community pots, you may want to transplant the larger ones individually into 5 cm (2 inch) pots.

If you have a greenhouse that stays between 15° to 32°C (60° to 90°F) year round you can push your Sarracenia there as well. At higher latitudes they may need some supplementary lighting in the winter to keep them from going dormant. The plants benefit from being bumped up into larger pots sooner. They can go immediately individually into 5 cm (2 inch) pots and after a year into 8.5 cm (3 inch) pots.

You can fertilize seedling and juvenile Sarracenia if you are careful. The plants enjoy foliar feeding with foliar fertilizers such as high nitrogen no urea orchid fertilizers. Make sure you use rain or purified water to dilute the fertilizer and use no more than 1/2 tsp fertilizer per gallon of water (1 cc per 2 l). You can also fertilize the soil with high nitrogen Osmocote™ Smart Release® Plant Food. For a 9 cm (3 1/4 inch) pot evenly place 4 to 6 pellets about 1 cm (1/2 inch) below the soil surface. Soil fertilization makes a huge difference in how quickly the plants grow.  However don't grown the soil fertilized plants in the same water trays with other carnivores. The fertilizer leakage will soil fertilize all the plants in the tray.

The tricky part of growing Sarracenia indoors is how and when to acclimate them to life outdoors. Too early in the spring, the cold nights could trigger dormancy and halt their growth for a few months. Too late in the spring or early summer, the heat and intense sun could burn off all their foliage. Sarracenia are very tough plants and they should recover quickly. But you put all this effort into getting your plants full grown as quickly as possible and don't want to blow it after so much effort. Plants can be set back a year if the acclimatization goes wrong.

-- John Brittnacher

 

Sarracenia seedling a few months old. The longest pitcher is about 2 cm.

 

Sarracenia Flower

 

Female Flower Parts

 

Sarracenia rubra seed pod with ripe seeds

Sarracenia seeds stratifying in finely chopped live sphagnum moss.

Whenever possible, grow your own sphagnum moss. Put it in the pots with your Sarracenia, in any extra pots you may have, grow it in trays under the benches in a greenhouse if you have one, grow it outside if you can.

Sarracenia sprouts. Note the seed still attached to one of the cotyledons (embryo leaves) and that the first true leaves are miniature pitchers.

Sarracenia seedlings and yearlings in a terrarium. This terrarium has mirrors around it to reflect light diagonally so the pitchers get better light. It also makes it look like you have twice as many plants!

Max headroom is a major concern with Sarracenia in terrariums. These three year old plants put on a tremendous growth spurt.