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Drosera capensis and Spiders

Drosera capensis and Spiders

Aphid infestation

Aphids roaming around the flower stalk
Aphids roaming around the flower stalk

Drosera capensis is a carnivorous plant that can effectively fight fungus gnat flies, but can have a lot of problems, when infested with aphids. Aphids are usually moving over the parts of plant without traps, which makes them safe from Drosera’s sticky mucilage. Drosera can tolerate some aphids, but will start declining as the aphid population grows. At first, leaves can get stunted, wilted and show signs of damage. When there are too many aphids, D. capensis can no longer support sucking pest and all it’s leaves, which makes it start loosing leaves. First, old leaves dry out, then it spreads towards the newer parts of the plant. Eventually, if not treated with insecticide, the plant dies.

Aphids and Overwintering

Each year when I bring my plants in for the winter, there are all kinds of insects I bring inside with my plants. As soon as I accommodate my plants, I see an ‘explosion’ of  fungus gnats population. It can easily be suppressed with careful watering and  an army of carnivorous plants. Then comes aphid outbreak. My carnivores can’t help much about that issue and are usually the source of aphids in the first place. Aphids are more resilient to insecticides, because they live in various life cycles. Aphid eggs often stay hidden and protected, hatching when the insecticide fades out.

Spiders!

Competing for food with carnivorous plant
Competing for food with carnivorous plant

Together with all the plant eating insects, overwintered plants often bring in less annoying creatures like small spiders, worms, centipedes or springtails.
This year, I’ve ‘imported’ several spiders in my large Drosera capensis container. Most of the time, they remain hidden among Drosera leaves. It’s interesting, how they can place their spiderweb around the sticky Drosera traps without being caught. They compete for food with Drosera capensis, but can’t really compete when it comes to efficiency. The thing I have noticed, however, is that the spiders seem to be hunting for aphids. I have been bottom watering for a while, and I noticed a bunch of aphid corpses under their web.

Aphid graveyard under the spider web
Aphid graveyard under the spider web

They bring all their prey to the same spot in the center of the spiderweb. When the spider eats them, tiny carcasses are dumped down onto the soil. Watering removes these piles of dead insects and it took bottom watering to observe them piling up.

I am overwintering a lot of Drosera capensis plants this winter and I have almost lost a few because of aphids. Strangely, the large pot remained quite healthy, despite the fact that there were aphids on them, as well as in all the other pots. Seems to me, that the spiders are doing quite a nice job, keeping aphid population in check. I hope that these little spiders spawn at least a couple (hundred) more. I intend to leave them on my carnivores and probably introduce them to my other plants as well. The nicest thing about them is – they stay at the same spot as long as they have food. None of them left their pot.

Drosera capensis can't catch small spider
Drosera capensis can’t catch small spider
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Feeding Sundews Fish Food

Feeding Sundews Fish Food

Each winter, when I keep my sundews inside during the cold part of the year, I try to keep them as strong as possible for the following summer. They are more than capable of catching it’s own meal outside, but when I bring them inside, they don’t get much more than occasional fungus gnat.

Why do I even bother?
Feeding Drosera capensis
Feeding Drosera capensis

Carnivore plants usually require only small amount of nutrients and can easily withstand periods without captured food. They slow down their growth and refuse to start flowering until they get enough nutrients. My goal is, to make them grow as much as possible before the following season, possibly inducing flowering at the time when they come out in the spring. I keep them under grow light, which enables them to start flowering in late winter. They are in their full health when fungus gnats strike in the spring, when I start sowing my vegetables.

Healthy diet
Fish food I use
Fish food I use

In the past, I tried feeding them different kind of food, but I soon realised that giving them fish food is the easiest option by far. I have given my plants live springtails, while they were seedlings. They multiply vigorously and are excellent source of food for tiny Sundews, but they soon outgrow their tiny food. At one point, I have fed the carnivores aphids. In the spring time, they suck on tender cherry tree leaves. I have picked the infested leaves and placed them into a bag and thrown them into a freezer. I ended up with almost unlimited supply of dead aphids which lasted until the next spring. I could not feed them as much as I wanted to, because it was really time consuming. And as I later realized, giving them fish food really makes a difference. They just love it!
The food consists 50% of common water fleas (daphnia), a bit of vegetable proteins and fish derivatives. I was afraid the food would be too much for them to handle, but it seems to be perfect for the job. I usually mix it with some distilled water, to make it thinner.

Feeding plants
Time to rock and roll
Time to rock and roll

To apply the fish food paste onto the carnivorous leaf, I use a toothpick or a screwdriver. I dip it into the paste and apply it onto the trap. In a couple of hours, leaves usually start folding and start the digestion. When the process of digestion is finished, traps usually die off. Tentacles that were used are damaged and cease mucilage production. Dew appears only on unused tentacles. That’s the reason, why I usually apply the food all over the leaf and I leave some leaves intact. I feed those later. 🙂

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Carnivorous forest

Carnivorous forest

Anyone who owned Drosera capensis knows how much seeds they can produce. In autumn, all my plants went into full bloom and managed to produce large amounts of seeds. As winter came, I decided to sow the seeds into an empty ice cream container and check for germination. I expected a lot of small plants, a mixture of regular Drosera capensis and Drosera capensis ‘Alba’.

Germination of fresh seedlings
First drosera seedlings appeared
First drosera seedlings appeared

I’ve kept the ice cream container outside during the rainy autumn, filled with cheap peat moss. I hoped for the peat to get thoroughly washed for the new seedlings to grow. When I bought my first Drosera seeds, I needed to wait around a month, before the first tiny seedlings emerged. I expected the same thing with my seeds. How wrong I was!
I used the seeds that somehow ended up on my desk where I kept the flower stalks I’ve cut off during after the flowering. Most of the flowers were completely ripe and the seeds just loved to ‘jump’ out of the seed pods. That is one of the reasons why D. capensis easily seeds into surrounding pots when you leave flower stalks to ripen.

Sundew volunteers after flowering
Sundew volunteers after flowering

I’ve been growing my Droseras outside during the summer, both regular D. capensis and Alba variety in the same spot. The seeds I used were from both, white and pink flowering carnivore plants.
As I mentioned before, I expected the seeds to germinate really slowly. I was extremely surprised when I saw first tiny green plantlets emerging in less than a week. After a couple of weeks, there was a whole forest of small seedlings, baking under my grow light.

The carnivorous forest
Numerous seedlings ready to hunt
Numerous seedlings ready to hunt

I’ve sown Cape Sundew seeds tightly together in the past already and never managed to separate them. At first they didn’t look too happy and needed to fight for their position in the pot. After a while, weak plants died off and the strong Sundews remained healthy. In the end, the pot got completely covered with healthy sticky leaves and the plants set numerous flower stalks. I actually liked the crowded pot much better than my large but lonely growing plants. There is another thing I loved about that pot – these tightly grown carnivores were hungry! When I placed the pot near to the source of light during the night, or close to the pond during the drought, they caught all kinds of flies, mosquitoes and other flying, bloodsucking vermin. I intend to do the same thing this year, but on a much larger scale.

Taking care of the seedlings

Same as before, I placed some springtails into the container to keep the small seedlings well fed and to remove any possible source of mold infection. Springtails feed on decaying organic matter which can quickly lead to mold growth. When I feed my adult carnivores with beta fish food, I usually use the same food to feed the tiny seedlings as well. Well, at least some of them. I dilute the fish food with distilled water a bit more than the food I make for my large plants. I dip a toothpick into the prepared fish food and tap the tiny carnivore leaves with the toothpick. I make sure there are no large chunks that could harm the plants. I don’t feed them that way very often, because it’s much easier to just watch the springtails get caught.

🙂

Feeding the Sundew forest
Feeding the Sundew forest
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First Try Pollinating Drosera capensis

First Try Pollinating Drosera capensis

Drosera capensis is one of the carnivores that is able to self pollinate and produces quite a lot of seeds, even when grown indoors. Outdoor plants usually get help with pollination from insects, wind and rain droplets which are absent when you grow plants inside. For successful pollination, pollen from anthers needs to get transferred to stigma. Since there are no pollinators inside, Drosera capensis needs another way to get self pollinated and in the same time, allow and even promote pollination with pollen from nearby droseras.

D. capensis flower with removed petals
D. capensis flower with removed petals

As it can be seen on the photo on the left, the anthers are much lower than stigmas, which prevents from self pollination while the flower is still closed, but ripe enough for the pollination to occur. Eventually, when flower opens, the filaments that hold the anthers elongate enough for them to get the same height as stigmas, but as long as flower remains open, they remain separated and pollen can’t get transferred. If plants get pollinated while the flower remains opened, the seeds will not be a result of self-pollination but a regular pollination from plants, growing nearby. If there’s no pollination when the petals start closing (Drosera does that quite fast!), the anthers get pushed towards the stigmas and eventually, when the flower closes completely, they all get compressed together in the middle of the closed bloom, efficiently pollinating the flower.

Drosera capensis flower. Flowers only last a few hours.
Drosera capensis flowers only last a few hours.

Despite the fact that Drosera capensis simply gets self pollinated, I decided to manually transfer pollen from Drosera capensis ‘Alba’. By pollinating Drosera capensis (typical) with pollen from white version of the plant, I could get seedlings that will be a bit different from the mother plant. By removing the petals I made self pollination unlikely to occur, because the anthers won’t get pushed towards the stigmas as they usually do. I could further make sure to completely prevent self pollination by removing the anthers, but as my goal wasn’t getting hybrids, that wasn’t really necessary. The same method can be used to get hybrids by pollinating different Droseras which have compatible number of chromosomes.

A few months later, after germinating the seeds, I have learned that cross pollination of Alba and typical Drosera capensis most likely failed. Sadly, I never wrote down which pollinated flowers I picked and sown. If it was from typical variety, I may have been extremely successful, but I’m afraid it’s not the case. I think I have sown seed pod of pollinated D. capensis ‘Alba’ and noticed that it only produced white seedlings. It might be, that I was late to apply the pollen or it was just that the ‘white’ gene is dominant over the typical ‘pink’ gene, which I find highly unlikely. I have decided to retry the Alba-typical pollination process again, before trying to make a real cross pollination. The next time, I am going to make sure I cut off all the antlers  and wash the pollen that might already be on stigmas using spray bottle. I am also going to use both varieties as mother plant. That way it might be a lot clearer if I actually managed to successfully apply the pollen. If I get all the seedlings identical to mother plant, I’ll know I failed miserably. 🙂

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