Growing Nepenthes from seed
Growing Nepenthes from seed requires patience, but is a very exciting process and well worth the wait. I have heard of many people trying to germinate Nepenthes from seed with little to no germination because they didn’t follow a small trick or special method. Over the years I have had several batches of Nepenthes seed and have learned from them greatly. Each seed batch showed me something I had never noticed before that made a large difference in how I grow Nepenthes from seed today. The oldest seedling I have now is only a few months old (yes, I know it sounds witty), but I have learned so much more from the seed batches that utterly failed under my care before I had ever even germinated any seeds! Anyways, enough of the talking. Time for instructions and pictures!
Above: N. Rafflesiana rainbow var. squat seeds on a media of dead sphagnum with a peat/sand mixture underneath
The type of soil used for Nepenthes seeds varies widely among individuals. I personally like to use dry sphagnum or live sphagnum moss because it’s easier to see the seeds and the seedlings are easier to transplant when the time comes. If you choose to use sphagnum moss, then I suggest that you transplant the seedlings into a 50/50 peat sand mixture when the seedling produces it’s second true carnivorous leaf. If you don’t want to use sphagnum moss then you could just use this mixture instead. I have recently started adding peat/sand mixture below the sphagnum moss so that when the seedlings reach the right size their roots will reach the peat mixture so their root system can have even more of a good foothold then it had before. Make sure you add in about 35-45% small orchid bark chips later in the seedlings life (>6 months old). When the seedling gets larger it will need the orchid bark and the peat/sand mixture to grapple around and gain a strong foothold. If the seedlings are left in just plain peat or sphagnum mix, then they will not be able to grapple get a good root system which could pose a threat to the roots. Make sure you place your Nepenthes seeds somewhere where you have healthy plants of the same type (i.e. lowlanders, highlanders. . . etc.). There is no better place to put Nepenthes seeds then in the conditions of the mother plant or in the appropriate conditions for the seeds themselves.
Above: a Nepenthes seedling germinating in the shade. Upon closer examination there were dozens more hiding in the dark cracks of the media, a possible clue that Nepenthes seeds may germinate better with less light after a period of strong light.
The lighting requirements for Nepenthes seeds are pretty interesting. Lately I have observed that Nepenthes seeds seem to like to germinate in low light conditions. I believe this is due to an instinct caused in the wild by lack of soil for Nepenthes seeds to germinate in. My theory is that once the soil starts to cover the Nepenthes seeds the embryos will sense the decreasing light levels and will germinate now that there is enough soil to support a root system. I have only began testing with this theory and will update on the data I receive when the data comes in. For the time being, I recommend germinating Nepenthes under bright light for about a 12 hour photo period. The amount of light they receive doesn’t really matter as long as it’s a very decent amount. After a few weeks you may want to experiment with lighting options by placing a towel or something of that sort above the Nepenthes seeds. It’s possible that it may trick the seeds into thinking that there is enough soil to germinate.
Don’t be surprised if you don’t have any Nepenthes seeds after a month. Nepenthes seeds take their time (just be patient!). Don’t be surprised if your Nepenthes seedlings start off to grow slow. Some of them grow slow while some can grow very fast. I personally have found that lowland Nepenthes seedlings grow a lot faster then highland Nepenthes seedlings.
Is it a weed or one of my seeds?
I have misidentified Nepenthes seedlings for weeds a few times. Don’t feel bad if you do! We all reach that road one time or another. After a while you’ll get used to recognizing Nepenthes seeds. As you can see from the picture above, Nepenthes seeds emerge from the seed pod with triangular cotyledon (non-carnivorous) leaves. Some leaves may have a wider or more varied triangular leaf structure, depending on the species. Once the seedling puts out it’s first leaf you will know wether it’s a Nepenthes seedling or not. A miniature pitcher will appear and my or may not have a miniature leaf attached. You may need a magnifying glass to view it. Sometimes the first pitcher will not open up and you may have to wait for the next pitcher to identify the “weed”.
Once your Nepenthes are a few months old you can start to fertilize them. I use coffee because it is the easiest to use and has been the most affective treatment in my older and more mature Nepenthes. So far I haven’t seen any noticeable signs of the coffee treatment on my lone seedling, but I will update this when I do. I will be writing up a guide for coffee feeding in the next few days because it is still not well understood by most new Nepenthes growers.
Anyways, that is all I currently have in my knowledge of germinating Nepenthes seedlings at the moment. I will be updating this as time goes on and when I am able to experiment more with my Nepenthes seedlings.