Smarter gardeners than I approached Collectors’ Plant Fair a few weeks back with a strategy. Some had a list, others had a budget. I had a resolution to bring home only the plants I knew exactly where to put in my over-crowded garden. I failed, but I wasn’t the only one – the ATMS had run out of money by Saturday afternoon. Of all the little plants now resting on the terrace til I find them a home in the garden, let me tell you about the one I have snuck inside to admire.
It is a trumpet pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, a carnivorous plant from the bogs of the south-east of the US. It’s endangered at home, mostly due to housing development on the Gulf Coast, but also to poaching for the florist trade. It’s easy to see why poachers would bother getting their feet wet. The pitchers are tall slender funnels, topped with a frilled hood. The top of the pitcher is a translucent white, veined with red or green in fabulous patterns. The effect of the erect funnels, each turned a different way, is like a nest of exotic baby birds, mouths agape awaiting dinner.
I bought the plant from the stall of the Australian Carnivorous Plants Society. Kirk Hirsch is the group’s publicity officer. Hirsch fell for carnivorous plants as an 8-year-old when he started ordering venus fly traps, pitcher plants and sundews by mail order. “I do like the irony of them,” he says. “If I find something eating my plants, a caterpillar or bug, down the throat of another plant it goes.”
Just as good is the ingenious way the plants catch their food. The white-topped pitcher plant I bought is an especially good flycatcher. Flies are attracted to the white top, and get busy collecting drops of nectar around the rim. As they do, the plant attaches tiny waxy plates to the feet of the flies so that they lose their ability to hang on and slip down the funnel. The narrow space at the base of the pitcher is so tight the fly can’t gyrate its wings and get lift off. It’s stuck. A pitcher needs only a few flies a week to feel well-fed, but if there are a lot of flies around, the pitchers can fill with trapped flies.
If that happens I’m putting it straight outside! Pitchers like humid conditions, wet feet and full sun, but Hirsch reckons I can admire it up close for its autumn display as long as it gets at least four hours of direct sun a day. Once the weather gets cold, the pitchers will brown off, the plant will go dormant, and then I will have to find a proper home for it.
You can find pitcher plants at water garden specialists, and at meetings of the Carnivorous Plants Society.
[golast] The Carnivorous Plants Society meets on the second Friday of the month at Woodstock Community Centre, Burwood, at 7.30pm. Next meeting: May 13. More: www.auscps.com.
It’s time to
Bring a box to collect new bromeliads, tillandsias, neoregalia, guzmanias and more at the Bromeliad Fair. Saturday, April 30, 10am- 4pm and Sunday, May 1, 9am – 12pm, Concord Senior Citizens Centre, 9-11 Wellbank Street, Concord.
If not buying new stars, it is still a good time to clean up bromeliad clumps. Once pups are a third as big as the mother remove the pup, compost the tired old plant and replant the fresh newbie.
Broadbeans will flop and flail if not given good support. Create a frame with bamboo stakes and a cats cradle of string in several tiers to support 1.5m of growth.
Eryldene, historic home of Sydney’s camellias, is open May 7 and 8, with morning and afternoon high teas both days as a Mother’s Day treat. 17 McIntosh Street, Gordon. $24 plus $8 entry fee. Bookings: www.eryldene.org.au.