Australian Pitcher Plant – Cephalotus follicularis
The Australian Pitcher Plant (Cephalotus follicularis) is the small cousin of the pitcher plant family. Like the Cobra Lily, it is the only species within its genus, but it does have several cultivars that exhibit variations in trap size and coloration. The plant’s physical appearance is that of a miniaturized, fuzzy, wrinkly Nepenthes with bright reds, greens, whites, and purples. – A very fascinating appearance, making it very desirable among carnivorous plant collectors. The short pitcher-traps grow in dense rosetted clusters that hang low to the ground. Jagged sharp ridges line the lip (peristome) of the trap; they both prevent insects from escaping the trap and give the pitchers a violent appearance. The traps on the plant collect and digest bugs in the traditional manner of pitcher plants. The bulb of the pitcher contains digestive enzymes, which dissolve bugs and prepare the nutrients for absorption.
Biology of an Australian Pitcher Plant
The pitchers of an Australian pitcher plant are fuzzy little traps that grow at the end of petioles. These petioles extend, in a rosette pattern, from the center of the plant. Pitchers generally grow to a maximum size of about 1 1/2 inches, but a “Giant” variety can produce 3 inch traps. A lid overhangs the trap, protecting it from rain and shading the digestive juices from evaporation. Inside the trap, there is a slippery collar that secrets nectar to encourage insects to spelunk into the pitcher. Dunking a head into the trap to feast upon the nectar, an insect will lose its grip and fall to the digest juices below. The insect will have a difficult time scaling the waxy interior of the trap, but even if they do, they will not be able to navigate the overhanging collar.
In addition to carnivorous leaves, Cephalotus follicularis produce bright green, oval, pointed, non-carnivorous leaves to aid in photosynthesis.
Hailing from the southwestern coastal tip of Australia, the Cephalotus follicularis requires a Mediterranean-like climate of warm, dry summer, and cool wet winters. Extreme or extended heat will kill the plant, but it will tolerate brief frosts down to the mid-twenties. Growth will slow or stall in the winter, but they are evergreen perennials with old leaves dying as new ones replace them.
The Australian pitcher plant enjoys an airy, sandy soil mix for its branching, woody rhizome. Root shoots will cause plant clumps that appear like mounds of hungry traps. During late winter, 2″ root cuttings can be taken for propagation purposes. See below for root-cutting and propagation techniques.
Australian pitcher plants produce long, 2-foot flowering stalks during the summer. Due to the length and weight of these flower stalks, they sometimes lean against the ground.
Towards the end of the stalk you’ll find clusters of small green flowers that lack petals. A few of these flowers will open at any given time, and should be teased with a paintbrush daily to transfer pollen from one flower to another. After several weeks, you’ll notice hairy beige seeds within the successfully pollinated flowers. Each flower should produce between six to ten seeds – one per ovary.
Seed viability is short, so our recommendation is to sow immediately. Stored in a refrigerator, they will survive no longer than about four months. Read below for seed germination tips.
Where to find Australian Pitcher Plants in the wild
There is a 250 mile range along the coast of southwestern Australia where Cephalotus follicularis naturally thrives. It is near Esperence Bay between Augusta and Cape Riche where where you can find the Australian pitcher plants hanging out in the shade of neighboring plants. It is a threatened species, so make sure to get yours from reputable greenhouse growers.