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Live sphagnum moss

Live sphagnum moss

Growing live sphagnum moss is not hard as long as you can offer it enough moisture, light and adequate air humidity.

A few words about sphagnum…

Naturally, sphagnum grows in wetlands all around the world. The problem is, it’s being overexploited and it’s rapidly losing ability to regrow. I have successfully started growing my own sphagnum moss some time ago. I keep it outside and try to maintain healthy amount intact, so it can fully regrow rapidly. By having my own source, I don’t need to buy it commercially or even worse poach it in the wild. Lately, I started planting moss inside with my carnivores and I noticed it is possible to keep it growing in pots as well. I’ve seen others do it, yet, I was skeptical, I can offer them proper conditions.

How to plant sphagnum moss

When growing sphagnum you need to keep a few things in mind. Like other bog plants, it needs a lot of water, proper light, it hates heat, suffers when air is dry and doesn’t tolerate high salts content dissolved in water.

Most of the plant, when you pluck it out is actually old dead tissue which is usually yellow to brown colored. The top part (sphagnum head) color can range from green to red and is actively growing part of the plant. The dead tissue still has a function, though – it wicks the water from the water level upwards, supplying it to the heads which are above water and could (would) otherwise dry out. By disturbing the moss in the wild, you can damage it and cause it to dry and die.

Place the sphagnum on top of the peat based (non-fertilized) substrate and push the lower parts into the substrate, making sure the moss heads are turned upwards and the dead tissue below is able to wick the moisture. I usually add some sphagnum that is in bad shape on top of peat, it keeps it in place when watering and keeps moisture high.

When everything is prepared, I poke a hole in the substrate and use forceps to insert the sphagnum as deep as possible without breaking the stem.
When I’m happy with the result, I add carnivores or start growing the moss alone to add the plants later.

How to care for sphagnum moss

It’s best to keep water level slightly below the sphagnum layer. Dead part of sphagnum should remain in water or saturated peat. If water level gets low, moss can start getting dark brown growing tips. At that point, it’s best to water it thoroughly, discarding the water that drains out. I often partly submerge the whole pot for a short time to flush out the salt and humic acids buildup. The browning of the moss happens due to humic acid buildup in the growing points. Same often happens with carnivore plants but usually happens later when concentrations get even higher. It can lead to necrosis which means the affected moss or plants eventually die. It’s not that damaging if concentrations are low or the buildup doesn’t last long enough to cause damage.

Moss like regular misting or spraying with distilled, reverse-osmosis or rainwater. It keeps air humidity up and reduces humic acid buildup.

For proper growth, sphagnum needs ample amount of light. It should be kept away from direct sun in well lit location. I keep them under LED grow lights.

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Drosera capensis color

Drosera capensis color

D. capensis 'Alba' under grow light
D. capensis ‘Alba’ under grow light

As mentioned numerous times, I’ve used two LED chips as growing light for quite a while. To induce coloring on Drosera seedlings, I decided to use cool and warm white LED chip, and they worked good enough. The regular Drosera capensis seedlings were getting red tentacles, Drosera capensis ‘Alba’, on the other hand, remained white, despite showing some pink coloring while positioned outdoors for the summer. All the plants have been growing OK, but Drosera seedlings did suffer a bit when I got them inside for the winter and started to get pale, lost some of their vigor and had hard time flowering.

Drosera capensis before
Regular Drosera capensis before changing its grow light with 380 – 840nm LED chip

d-capensis-regular-red
Drosera capensis under new light

d-capensis-regular-red1
D. capensis under new grow light

 

Drosera capensis 'alba' before
Drosera capensis ‘alba’ before

Alba under grow light
Alba under grow light

Drosera capensis 'Alba' under new LED
Drosera capensis ‘Alba’ under new LED

When I found extremely good offer from Chinese vendor on-line for a full spectrum 380-840nm grow light, I decided it’s worth a try. I placed two weaker, 50W LED chips, instead of two 100W white LEDs. The light intensity was seemingly lower, but after a minute spent around the plants, and leaving the room, I could see that normally lit room suddenly appeared dark. Well, beside that, colors were completely screwed for a couple of minutes due to brains correcting algorithms :).
After 14 days under new grow lights, Drosera seedlings got noticeably more colored. Regular Drosera capensis was dark red, looking almost like the red variety and Alba finally got the pink color. Both varieties also began to start growing flower stalks, which might indicate they like their new grow light.

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Feeding Sundew Seedlings

Feeding Sundew Seedlings

Aphids can be easily fed to young Drosera seedlings.
Aphids can be easily fed to young Drosera seedlings.

3 months old Drosera capensis seedling eating aphids.
3 months old Cape sundew seedling eating aphids.
Some people feed their young Drosera seedlings dry fish food, since it’s time of the year with abundance of insects outside, I intend to use living food.

I introduced springtails into the soil mix that I used for sundew seedlings by sheer accident. They were happily living in sphagnum moss I gathered and mixed into the soil. I soon discovered that small creatures often ended up being caught in tiny little carnivorous traps. Springtails primarily eat fungus and algae on moist soil and don’t attack even the smallest and most fragile seedlings, so they are safe to use as janitors and easy prey for growing carnivore seedlings.
I isolated several springtails and started growing whole colony in separated glass container. I used Agar as moisture and food source and gave them a tiny chunk of potato, which eventually started to decay. Springails enjoyed their new home and started multiplying.

Springtails and aphids are ideal food for small carnivorous seedlings.
Springtails and aphids are ideal food for small carnivorous seedlings.
In a couple of weeks there were thousands and I was able to blow them from their container into the pot full of Drosera capensis Alba seedlings. When traps get larger, it’s easier to feed small insects, so I started looking for appropriate food for my carnivores. I started with live aphids, but soon realized that they can multiply and some extremely small aphids managed to somehow escape the traps. I caught all the escapees and helped them get caught. Since then, I always put them into the freezer for a couple of days, together with aphid infected leaf. That way I can be sure they are all dead and harmless. When larger leaves appear, they can easily digest a mosquito.

During the summer and fall, there can be a lot of fruit flies around decaying fruit. I found a way to easily feed my sundews during the night by putting a small LED light so it lights up the sundew I’d like to feed. When you force flies or fruit flies into the air, they instinctively follow the light. In only a couple of minutes, you can end up with well fed sundew, completely covered with small flies.

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Drosera capensis ‘Alba’

Drosera capensis ‘Alba’

One month old Drosera capensis alba seedlings.
One month old Drosera capensis alba seedlings.
Drosera capensis Alba is very similar to regular D. capensis, but it lacks red pigment which forms in bright light. When it’s exposed to intense light and if it’s not regularly fed, it’s tentacles turn pink. When fed or in low light conditions, they loose their pink coloration and turn green with white tentacles.
It likes as much light as it can get. Seedlings grew slightly faster for me, when compared to regular Drosera capensis. At first I left them without food, but as soon as I noticed mold formation on top of the peat, I started adding springtails to fight the mold infection. I learned with regular D. capensis seedlings, that springtails can be extremely beneficial for small seedlings, because they not only feed on mold and algae, which can hurt young sundew seedlings, they are also easy prey for small carnivore plants. Because of their small size, feeding young seedlings can be real problem without some help from tiny springtails.

Drosera capensis Alba seedlings after feeding
Drosera capensis Alba seedlings after feeding

When seedlings became large enough and started growing first carnivorous leaves, it was time to add springtails into the pot. I managed to multiply a lot of springtails and when I threw them into the container with drosera seedlings, traps became filled with them. Most of them remained alive and started fighting fungus that also stared growing on top of the soil. Larger traps were already able to consume larger insects, so I added a couple of black aphids.

Just like regular Drosera capensis seedlings, ‘alba’ also starts growing rapidly when it gets bigger and starts catching more insects. It could have been a coincidence, but the pale variety of Drosera capensis managed to outperform it’s regular sibling when it comes to hunting. I found butterflies, bees and large insects that mostly managed to escape, but many of them most likely died with completely destroyed wings, covered with Drosera mucus.

Way too crowded with not as much soil as they would like to... They thrive anyway
Way too crowded with not as much soil as they would like to… They thrive anyway

Fascinating hunting skills of  Drosera capensis 'Alba'.
Fascinating hunting skills of Drosera capensis ‘Alba’.

When growing outside, all Cape sundews managed to cover their leaves with insects on a daily basis. In late summer and during early fall, they could get completely covered with small insects. At that point, they started flowering and growing vigorously.

Sadly, our climate doesn’t allow them to stay outside, which means they need to go inside in late September. They all need to get transplanted into separate pots too.

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