Drosera Capensis Alba

Last time I wrote that I would be bringing in a new addition, and here we are…

Drosera Capensis Alba

This beautiful contraption uses a sticky dew to catch its prey – as you see from above it is quite popular amongst the local flies.

It differs from other carnivorous plants in this way so it can take advantage of the dew that sweeps across our gardens each morning, however, I read online that leaving in direct sunlight too long can essentially “dry out” the plant. This is something I’ll have to monitor over the next few days so any advice you may have could prove vital.

It joins both Hector (Venus Fly Trap) and Henrietta (Nepenthes) on my balcony outside, although I may move the Drosera Capensis to another pot to avoid any weight or “overcrowding” issues.

Unlike other Drosera Capensis, the Alba variety is given this name because it keeps its lush green colour. As a result, I feel Jessica can be the only befitting name (there was also Jordi but you may not be familiar with him) for this carnivore.

As an insect becomes trapped in this sticky fluid, the plant will slowly begin to curl and close in on the prey. Above you can see this fly has just landed – in fact, if I could upload a video I would because it’s still alive and moving!

You can see the curvature at the top of the image (which I can just about count 4 flies) as this begins to close. None of the arms are at a fully curved stage so I’ll watch closely and ensure I get greater images for the next blog.

In terms of watering, treat it like other carnivores in the sense of giving it distilled water. I read that eventually Drosera Capensis produces flowers so it will not require too much watering – just keep the soil damp and you should be ok. Budding botanists online have advised that these are some of the easiest carnivores to look after!

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What Can Plants Do For You?

We’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks, in terms of looking after carnivorous plants anyway, and it’s time to look back and reflect on what this has done for me and why I would encourage all of us to look after all kinds of plant life.

I personally feel that there are 3 key skills which a botanist develops over time and they are:

  • Patience
  • Discipline
  • Humility

Buddhists popularly keep the Bonsai tree, as this helps them on the spiritual path to a higher understanding of our existence – if you believe that sort of thing. They practiced the art of “penjing” or “pun-sai” which means to create a small landscape in a container or pot and in turn, relates to the Chinese philosophical tradition of Taoism.

Google Search: Image of Buddhist and Taoist New Year Display

Taoism is thinking and living in a natural way and less towards the thinking of modern living. Being one with nature, understanding the flow of life and going with the flow are key parts of what Taoism teaches. Even if Taoism and spiritualism isn’t your thing, you can still better shape your own mind as you get to know the world around you.

Google Search: Bonsai Tree

Meeting this with a child like enthusiasm will make your experience invaluable and enjoyable – even if your like me and struggle in the beginning, it will take time but you’ll get there. I will adapt the new found skills I am developing to my own life.

At first it may not sound very useful, or I may not even spot when it is useful but someone who is well humbled and patient will better handle a disruptive colleague at work, or the dissertation paper you are writing will be easier to find its flow. I myself have not got a particular interest in studying Taoism in depth (though now I’ve mentioned it..), however I’m sure harnessing and practicing these skills over time will aid me in many factors throughout life.

Whether it be carnivorous plants, a bonsai, fruits and vegetables or even plain old daffodils, you can find an abundance of pleasure from cultivating the life that has given so much to us throughout the history of our existence and with the increasing worries of human interference on nature – it is vitally important that we all do our bit to give back to our home.

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Urban Issues

It’s been quite a week as I’ve managed to not only solve the distilled water issue, but also brought another addition to the family.

Introducing Nepenthes, Bloody Mary.

The water issue has been solved as I previously thought boiling water would kill chemicals in the water. It appears that I was wrong and this in fact can make the chemicals more concentrated. Yikes!
Instead, I have a tumble dryer at home which collects water vapour from my clothes and deposits this as distilled water, in a plastic compartment in the bottom. Then, I can remove this and pour the water into a small glass/cup for my plants!

A second issue I have is that the windows in my apartment are double glazed and greatly reduce sunlight to the plants – an issue I had not anticipated in the beginning. I’ve now hung up a pot out the front and will need to purchase some more pots for the west side too.

I’ve cut the flower from Hector (Venus Fly Trap) as the plant will spend all its energy trying to produce a flower and I want it to use that energy to thrive into the heads, instead. Even from the above image you can see how much that head on the right hand side is thriving, now I’m hoping it will turn more of a red colour in the coming weeks.

I’d like to look more into the nature of the Nepenthes, whom I shall call Henrietta, and the sacs that it uses to catch prey so I’ll elaborate on that perhaps in the next day or two. I hope these past few weeks have taught you a thing or two, as they have for me, so please do share your own thoughts and experiences if you wish!

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A Carnivorous Advantage

Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at the progress of my Venus Fly Trap and its growth since I purchased it from the local florist. Now, I want to look at it in depth and understand how the carnivorous plant has grown into such a dynamic wonder of our world.

I’ll admit, I’m no biologist but I want to help give you a basic understanding of what makes a carnivorous plant different from a regular plant. Once a Venus Fly Trap snaps shut on an insect it will digest its body, but why? What evolutionary advantage does this present?

It almost sounds like a cruel science experiment gone wrong, however, billions of years of evolution has formed this intricate and beautiful plant on our American neighbours soil, in North and South Carolina. Although I’m sure many of you reading will be living in the US, lucky you to have such a wonder of life on your doorstep!

Carnivorous plants are nothing new to the short span of life on Earth and have existed for thousands of years, becoming ever more specialised as the years went by. There are over 500 different species and they eat a multitude of insects and aquatic organisms, with the Venus Fly Trap being one of the most famous on our lands due to its unique heads and teeth. We’ve even seen it mentioned amongst television shows or movies like Little Shop of Horrors.

The VFT still uses photosynthesis like a regular plant, turning carbon dioxide into sugars and foods, they have adapted themselves to thrive in their humid environments as their soil is fairly acidic so nutrients are scarce.

Due to this scarcity, they have had to find a unique way to obtain key nutrients such as nitrogen (for amino acids), phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, calcium and potassium. The insects in their environment provide this vital source of nutrients, thus the evolution of a head that can eat. They can identify by what is edible and what isn’t, by the thrashing around of the insect inside its mouth which will encourage the plant to close tighter but because it has no brain it cannot tell itself when it is hungry.

The remains of a small beetle after a meal

Instead it will use acidic fluids to digest the bug over a 12 hour period, leaving nothing but a empty shell of an insect which either falls out or is blown out by the wind. This acid breaks up the insect body to extract its key nutrients, so it’s easy to see why the botanists of our time have been so eagerly fascinated.

I’m very pleased that not only is the next cycle fully thriving, I am also beginning to see new heads form..

My own VFT, Hector, is now unique to its environment here in the UK and will depend on me to help it thrive. I’m considering getting another, or perhaps another carnivorous plant to join the ranks.

P.S. The strawberries aren’t growing just yet but there is life in the soil!

Two tiny leaves have formed from the soil, identity unknown.

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Heads Up!

Look around your city, town or village and you’ll find life growing in all sorts of places. One interest of mine in particular, is the way in which plants manage to grow on rooftops or even on the side of buildings.

You can spot green leaves just under the lip of my roof

The way this happens is that seeds land and germinate in between cracks of the concrete and brick and as long as they have sunlight, oxygen, warmth and water, they can survive. As a tree or plant goes through its cycle, seedlings are blown around and it is just pure luck that this is where it has landed and thrived.

If seeds make it up so high, they will have the key ingredients which will allow them to grow with plenty of sunlight, rainwater and oxygen getting to them. A healthy plant makes its own food from the sugars in sunlight, using photosynthesis.

This lonely plant is thriving all by itself


Closer view of the plant

Take a look outside your own front door and I can almost guarantee there is life growing around it, particularly if you live in an older house near a park or forest. We’ve used this technique to manipulate our cities and walls to create intricate and attractive patterns, particularly using vines.
Life is stubborn in such a way that it will try and grow wherever it can, which only emulates the beauty of its presence. Even between the cracks in concrete pavement slabs you will find life growing and a tiny little ecosystem will be growing inside, of which is completely unique to our planet.

An old castle almost completely consumed by vines

As common as it appears to us, all of it is so infinitely rare within the Universe – as are we. You can really appreciate life when you understand how determined it is to find a way to grow any way it can. There are many guides online which will teach you how to allow plants to grow in this vine-fashion if you wanted to emulate this look and it can give your walls a very unique touch.

Google search “ivy garden” for similar looks


Large, naturally growing vines on the roadside

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Crowning Glory

We have a new addition to the family (or 2 in fact) as I’ve managed to successfully pot some strawberry plants, although as they’re just crowns for now it may take a while before we see any flowering and perhaps not even till next year that it produces fruits.

Two strawberry crowns in a packet with some bone meal

Strawberries require a lot less specific attention, as apposed to Hector our Venus Fly Trap. They are perfectly happy with tap water (although natural rain water is always best) and don’t require much, probably only a couple of inches of water once or twice a week. As long as the soil is moderately moist this should be ok, stick your finger in the compost a couple of inches deep to ensure the soil is damp below the surface.

Two strawberry crowns with the roots

All the roots should be buried with just the crown showing

Leave the crowns in water for 1 hour to allow moistness to roots

Make holes in the bottom to ensure good drainage

When potting your soil it is important to break up the compost, use a good quality soil designed for fruit and vegetable growing for best results.

Only the crown should be exposed

I would actually recommend filling up your bucket higher than I currently have, about an inch from the top. I do plan to go back and add more soil.

Two potted strawberry plants

That’s it! It is a lot easier than you may think, I will monitor the growth over the next few weeks with some updates on when it begins to sprout.

The biggest problem a lot of people face with strawberries is putting them in a place away from birds or animals so keep that in mind when you plant yours.

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We Have Growth!

Continuing our journey with Hector, The Venus Fly Trap, I’ve noticed some change in his appearance. The last 2 days have been particularly hot and not a cloud in the sky has given me pleasing results.

Notice the red tint to the head

If you pull up a Google search you’ll see that mature adult plants have almost fully red heads. This one of mine in particular is beginning to find its way and I discovered that the moss presents a challenge as they need to be kept damp, whereas the Venus prefers just a little dampness (note my previously blog on the topic of watering your plants).

You’ll see the moss has turned brown in parts

When moss is not kept moist enough this will turn brown or even white. It can also be seen as a blessing in disguise as this will help me find the perfect balance for how often I should be watering.

A Little Sprout of Life!

My most exciting feature of Hector the Venus is this little sprout that has popped up whilst I have been out of the house today. A sure sign of life and that things are going well in my mini-ecosystem and now we have a means to measure the progress as more heads begin to blossom.

Food

Venus’ are proudly efficient in catching their own food. I’ve not been concerned with how much or how often Hector will be eating as he will literally do the work himself. We’ve had a small variety of visitors, mostly flies, but I haven’t managed to capture anything live in action just yet.

Possible Flesh Fly


Possible St. Mark’s Fly


Eaten Snipe Fly

My knowledge of flies is still delicate (remember, we’re learning together) but I’ve taken sensible guesses as to what flies have been visiting and the Snipe Fly is most easily indentifiable due to its curved tail (apologies I know the images aren’t the best as I’m using an iPhone camera for now). I’ve had Hector for 3 weeks and this is the first meal I’ve spotted so don’t become too anxious if you don’t get any visitors at first.

You’ll notice I am taking a steady, laid back approach now Hector has been here a little while. You’ll naturally become more comfortable too and find your form.

I’ve got some exciting news for next week, and we will start to move away from plant life as the weeks go on but of course, will always have to monitor Hector and inform you of his progress. Bye for now!

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