Extreme adaptation: Documenting my highland carnivorous plants project

I am not sure how I will use this space, but for now, I’m describing the project and may follow up with photo updates if something interesting happens.

Background:

Carnivorous plants are fascinating and a thriving hobby worldwide. They grow in various climates and are often exacting of growing conditions and will rapidly die outside them. Thus, for beginners, it is advisable to start with plants that naturally grow in one’s climate and then with experience, progress to plants that grow in more different conditions.

The location of this experiment is near Bombay. Hard lowland conditions, extremely rare for temperatures to drop below 20C beyond a week or so in peak winter. Plants classified as “ultra-highlanders” need day time temperatures that are cooler than our nights! and nights in single digits or under 15C in any case. Current night time temperatures in Nalasopara where I live are around 27C.

I am using my skill, insights and experience to grow highlanders in these conditions.

WHY?

Because some of those are really beautiful and rare species that would tempt any carnivorous plants grower and let’s just say I have low impulse control. lol

Key insights guiding my actions

Over the years, I have learned that most plants have some limited capacity to adapt over time. However, for it to work, the plants must survive till that time. Toward this end, I may take limited actions to meet temperature requirements, like putting a plant in a fridge overnight for a few weeks till it adapts to day conditions and starts growing, so that it doesn’t have to face all the adversity at one go - staggering the problems and giving the plant time to adapt.

Nailing ALL other growing requirements of a plant excellently often allows the plant to thrive even if one of them is not optimal. Which, in my case is temperature. So I am meticulous with ensuring they have light, good water, good root space, air circulation, etc Ensuring that there are no pests stressing the plant. And so on.

Good humidity when conditions are adverse often lets a plant survive in conditions that would otherwise kill it. The one non-frugal spending in this project is a misting system. Before I installed the misting system, I was routinely losing half my plants in the summer. After installing it, I can actually consider growing highlanders! That is how big a difference humidity makes.

Micro-climate. The climate immediately around the plants is as humid and cool as I can make it. Temperature wise, the difference may not be much, paritcularly in humid weather where evaporative cooling has little result. But by keeping plants close together, there is a small microenvironment created. This lets plants thrive much better than keeping them in isolated pots away from other plants. I don’t know why it works, but it does. Possibly by shading the roots and preventing them from overheating and killing the plants.

Nepenthes highlanders growing as a part of this project grow among the lowlanders, in the same microclimate. However, there are a few things I do differently for them.

  • They do not grow in trays of water or on the floor. They are also not planted in solid plant pots. They are planted in net pots that are hung so that they get a lot of air circulation around the pot resulting in evaporative cooling of the roots.
  • Their potting mix is less absorbent and requires more frequent watering than the one i use for lowlanders - which could be watered as infrequently as once a week. Frequent watering and the water evaporating create a cooling effect and flush out the soil and any nutrients in it (nutrient rich soil stresses CP roots).
  • More frequent watering also pulls fresh air into the porus media as the water drains, resulting in better oxygenation of the roots, which in turn allows the roots to perform at their best.
  • Watering with cool water at night in very hot weather. If the night temperatures rise above 30C for established plants and 28C when I have plants that are still acclimatizing, I will water the plants with water that is between 20C to 24C (NOT cold water - that will give temperature shock and kill the plant)
  • Watering with cool water is a trick to pull out for any plant that may be doing poorly as an emergency measure outside routine practice.
  • I have some observation of very controlled fertilization (without nuking the roots with nutirent overload) boosts plant metabolism and allows them to survive warm climates better. I don’t have the foggiest on why it works, but it works.
  • By next summer, they will be growing in a balcony that gets the direct sea breeze for excellent ventilation + leveraging evaporative cooling better than the current set up.

What are the plants being grown in this experiment?

Most of the plants in the experiment are nepenthes, though I am also trying to grow drosera regia and drosophyllum.

  • I have attempted to create a diversity of species based on altitudes intermediates (<1000m asl), highlanders (1500m - 2500m) and ultra highlanders (2500m+) - these are rough categorizations, as the adaptability of plants varies. For example, N. lowii would be an ultra-highlander, but does better in lowland conditions than some intermediates.
  • I have attempted diversity in stages of growth that plants start growing here - seeds, seedlings, juveniles, tissue culture (buying adult highland nepenthes will take my kidneys being auctioned to buy one plant - which won’t be statistically meaningful, so, falling short of enough body organs to auction, I’ve skipped that for now, lol)
  • I have attempted diversity in sources in terms of sellers. Sellers I’ve sourced material from range from Malaysia to the Czech republic in terms of climates the plants grew in before they came to me + different growers have different styles and some have more robust and established plants than others.
  • Pure species and hybrids. I’ve collected several pure species as well as hybrids between highlanders, highlanders and intermediates and highlanders and lowlanders. Hybrid vigor is one aspect I’m interested in leveraging - hybrids often grow faster than their parents (though not always) and are more tolerant of a wider variety of conditions (also not always). One strategy in the back of my mind is to get the plants growing very robustly through monsoon and winter so that sheer momentum of growth carries them through the summer - depleted, perhaps, but alive.

There is a hell of a lot more thinking, planning and preparation gone into this, and I’ll add things I can think of as worth documenting.

Disclaimer: There are no references for this, not even among informal grower forums. All the references agree that the plants in my balcony should be dead. The only grower I know to try something like this is one who used to grow them in Hawaii about two decades ago to a decade ago. I have no idea what happened of him since and am not able to find him, but his forum posts are a source of good information on growing highlanders in the lowlands, and I do read everything I find from him.

If this works, it will basically refute a lot of established knowledge on growing conditions. Including published research. If it doesn’t work, I’ll have spent lakhs of rupees for no result. But it is an experiment worth doing.

Disclaimer 2: I can’t move this experiment to the CUBE, because it takes daily monitoring and a very skillful eye to spot problems early and do constant tweaks to keep things optimal. I can’t delegate this and I can’t come to the CUBE daily. The experiment remains in my balcony. Perhaps we can move some of it or create a parallel one eventually if enough people in the lab learn to grow CPs.

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Started this, @G_N because I think you have a point about documenting the process. Let us see how it goes.

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@Vidyut don’t take it other ways, just a suggestion that the thing you wrote is very well versed but lack clarity in many of the steps and sound something like a typical task approach rather than something fascinating… Although I really appreciate that you are growing this in your balcony as we all know science starts from our door steps. I would highly recommend you to kindly if you can connect you work with logical reasoning I think it will sound something really WOW rather than boring rote learning which will on my opinion will not cater a much audience in today’s world. [quote=“Vidyut, post:1, topic:1566”] am using my skill, insights and experience [/quote] in there is a need a skill, experience but all this can be validated only by a logical thinking and trying to connect with what you know to what you do- CONTEXT TO CURRICULUM. Once you start doing this you will grow a lot of interest in the things you are doing…

[quote=“Vidyut, post:1, topic:1566”]
There are no references for this, not even among informal grower forums. All the references agree that the plants in my balcony should be dead. The only grower I know to try something like this is one who used to grow them in Hawaii about two decades ago to a decade ago. I have no idea what happened of him since and am not able to find him, but his forum posts are a source of good information on growing highlanders in the lowlands, and I do read everything I find from him.
[/quote] for this I state Nepenthes according to one paper is not considered to be standard highlanders 12345666.pdf (408.7 KB)

This really hurts me a lot, being myself a CUBIST, since the day I got added to the watsapp group I THINK MY THOUGHT PROCESS HAS CHANGED APPROACH TOWARDS DOING SOMETHING INCREASE YOUR HAPPINESS QUOTIENT AND THAT SHOULD BE THE MAIN MOTO

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I do not have any experience in growing highlanders or CPs, but enjoy grounded speculation.

Since CP do not need nitrates from the soil, they should grow very well in aeroponic set up. We will make a misting pot and give it to you. Please grow them at your balcony, or we will try the Nepenthes that you gave to CUBE lab.

After exploring aeroponic models for a while, I began believing that fertile soil is not necessary for plants to grow. Once we know what is the role soil plays, we can substitute that with any other thing that can play the same role.

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@bivasnag don’t understand why you are hurt. Can you explain?

I also don’t understand what you are trying to say about N. villosa. N. villosa is not just a highlander, it is an ultrahighlanderand it is super exacting about growing conditions. Growing it in a freezer isn’t the same as my experiment where I’m technically growing them in open air - a plant that the research paper says found 10 degrees celsius too WARM. Though technically, I’m not growing a villosa yet. But I have edwardsiana and macrophylla. If they survive a year, I’ll try villosa. Frankly, I’m not certain I can succeed with villosa. even among the finickies, it is a diva. It has a proven track record of poor adaptation, so seems pointless to test if their adaptation can be stretched to lowland conditions, when there is abundant record of them dying in highland conditions itself - including the stress described in the paper you quoted.

@G_N I’ll first try the aeroponics for cuttings (taking away the roots issue altogether). If that works, I’ll try with some lowlanders and intermediates, then highlanders if all goes well (purely from achieving easy and less expensive goals first perspective)

The plants I gave the CUBE are a good start to get growing skills started. They are fully acclimatized, should grow well. If they do well, we can add more difficult plants. The trickier the plants are, the more specialized conditions they will need in addition to a skilled grower. We had once discussed an outdoor area. We could create that.

Basically, if we are to grow these plants at the CUBE, it will be required to have several people with at least basic knowledge of growing them well, understanding problems to watch out for, etc. The plants I gave, for example, will do fine with neglect, but a highlander in those conditions would need immediate actions to address problems if it wilted, or it would go ahead and die before anyone noticed or recognized there was a problem even.

I’d suggest that anyone itnerested in taking charge of such a project at the CUBE could start paying attention to those plants, ensuring they have water, are free of pests, and so on. Potting them into bigger pots if they need it as they grow. And depending on results, we can try with more easy plants or progress to challenging ones.

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@G_N aeroponics for CPs should be easy. Just top off with distilled water and done. :smiley: No nutrients to mix, no concentrations to monitor.

(Any low TDS water is fine. I said distilled just to exaggerate “nothing needed in the water”)

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Please read this again

I think you have missed this, and the way you have written about cube I think it hurts a little for the cubist ** Science is the key, where we relate with what being done and build upon it to create something new**

@Vidyut

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I did not miss it. I don’t understand the point you are making. This is known information about N. villosa. It doesn’t contradict anything I said about the experiment.

I also don’t understand why what I said would hurt the cubist. What did I say to hurt the cubist?

Are you saying that the highland experiment should use a freezer? That is not my area of interest. Growing highlanders by creating the highlands in Mumbai will go way beyond my budget. I’m interesting in adapting highlanders to these conditions.

N. villosa isn’t even a target plant for me. It clearly doesn’t want to adapt. But I have the very closely related edwardsiana and macrophylla growing in my balcony. Night temperatures currently are 27 degrees celsius - give or take. I am able to give them lows up to 24 degrees in their microclimate.

The macrophyllas are newly germinated and won’t be much to see for another year or so at least (and even then they will be tiny) but the edwardsiana look like this:

Will try to get better pic tomorrow. But they are looking good, forming new leaves, roots… healthy so far. If a villosa wilts at 10 degrees, edwardsiana sulks at 15, but so far, so good in terms of success.

Can’t even call this success. Success will be after they survive in conditions I provide them for at least a year. The dreaded summer included.

Next success will be producing mature pitchers (approx 2 years away)

Long term success will be a plant that has set out a vine and is flowering (a decade or more away easily, if at all both the plant and I live to see that day)

Why would I even want to do such a crazy longterm experiment? Because this is what an adult pitcher looks like, and it can catch tree shrews and rats easy, and the average person in Mumbai will NEVER see it or know about it or be curious. If I can grow, many people can come over and see.

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@bivasnag what was the issue that caused the hurt is not clear to me. Please discuss around the issues. Nothing should hurt anyone if we argue around facts. When things are not clear, or doubtful, seek more information.

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I am hurt because I guess we have failed to convey @Vidyut that CUBE is not just a lab it is a place everyone can learn something new everyday… and one more thing I think she is not aware that curiosity like this which she have raised gives birth to new projects in CUBE… so it is not that cube people work only on the fact which is only proven each and everyday we are answering some new questions that really questions the research that are in recent focus…

that’s all @G_N

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@bivasnag this is an ongoing project, in which I have invested lakhs of rupees. It takes a LOT of monitoring by someone who knows what to watch out for. Me not moving it to the CUBE is not any kind of rejection of the CUBE. I have GIFTED starter plants to the CUBE so that these skills can eventually be developed.

It is not reasonable to expect a collector to simply give over a rare and expensive collection that is very hard to replace or be hurt. Those plants not just took money, they took hours of effort on a daily basis to monitor and they can be killed in one day in one heat wave. You can’t observe anything about the plants if you don’t know how to keep them alive first. I can’t come to the CUBE daily, and there is no one there who has the skills to recognize symptoms and know what to do. This is not an insult, this is fact.

Leave aside the money or effort I invested. Would you transport an ongoing experiment of yours to some other CUBE where you can’t go and no one knows what you are doing with it?

If I didn’t want to share the interesting experiment, I would not post here. I would not share plants so that growing skills could be developed among students. I have issued an invitation to whoever wants to come and observe them here, for as long as you want, including staying here. So far no one has taken me up on it.

There are plants there at the CUBE right now. Have you seen them? I have no idea what happened to them since I dropped them off. If we can keep starter plants alive, we can attempt more difficult plants. It is absurd to expect access to very difficult plants without knowing the basics.

I am fully supportive of doing all this in the CUBE. Have always been. But there are steps. You can’t fly to the summit of Mount Everest.

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No one disagrees with you. But, @Vidyut is right in her observation that delicate CPs cannot be kept in CUBE. We maintain only those that can afford to be left alone during weekends.

For example, I left Hydra in my room for over a week when I went to Jaipur. After returning, 7 days later, they were fed yesterday. They are still alive. This we learnt after several failures in the past.

Also, we want to work with simple model systems for learning to do research. CPs are not simple model systems. Not easy to maintain (see the following post by @Vidyut). So, CUBE should not work with CPs unless we can find out a simple way of maintaining them. We will try with the existing set of plants and explore further. At some point when we understand the habit and habitat, we will do some experiments.

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Some Electronic automation should do the job.
@Vidyut have you tried the Peltier devices?

I tried in the sense of testing and it works, but with the monsoon here and the night temperatures only due to drop in coming months, we decided that a permanent installation should be done when we move to the new home (we will have access to start setting up furniture etc Dec onwards with any luck, and possession in March).

It works okay to cool the box though I didn’t keep it on long enough to get an idea of consumption of power longterm. Covering box with glass is more efficient than covering with net and sphagnum - but that was to be expected.

In terms of using for the CUBE, automation should make watering and such easier and keep the plants growing indefinitely without needing intervention unless they outgrow their pots, etc.

The attention demanding time will be when you get them established first. Every growing area has areas that are brighter, dimmer, hotter, cooler, etc - and how to place your plants so that the most stressed plants have the easiest available conditions. Takes a while for everything to find a good place it likes. Also a keen eye to monitor for pests/diseases kind of thing and deal with them before they slow the plant down or kill it altogether. These plants growing slower than say… tomatoes makes it harder for them to recover from pest damage etc because they don’t have the kind of rapid growth that will simply put out another ton of leaves to replace those lost. So preventing damage becomes somewhat crucial. Additionally, plants growing outside their climate requirements have a default stress of adverse conditions which slows them.

Not such a big issue with the plants we have at the CUBE currently. I mean, pests or disease will still damage them, but they are used to the climate here, so for the most part, as long as they are watered, they should continue growing just fine without having issues with heat stress or lack of humidity, etc. Automating watering will probably make everyone’s life easier, but it isn’t such a constant requirement and a good watering on Friday evening should last just fine till Monday, except in summer heat. right now it is monsoon and they are getting the best possible watering automatically.

But speaking of those plants, someone should probably take charge of them or monitor them on a day to day basis or something. Or one day someone will remember them and there will be dead plants in dry pots. Not heard any updates or questions about what to do etc. So am just wondering whether they are just abandoned or something.

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