Cephalotus is a beautiful, unique plant which brings much enjoyment in cultivation. Cephalotus follicularis is the sole member of its genus. They’re Australian native too, known only to exist in a small area in Albany, Western Australia. But I digress let’s address concerns over Cephalotus being difficult to grow. I will discuss some traps for beginner growers, things that definitely cause problems across the board and may not be immediately obvious if you’re already in the growing carnivorous plants mindset.
There certainly are some big differences between Cephalotus and a Venus Fly-Trap or Pitcher Plant. The biggest being Cephalotus don’t like their roots as wet. I will say that again. Cephalotus don’t tolerate the same amount of water as Dionaea or Sarracenia. Root rot is the number one cause of Cephalotus death. Largely because a Cephalotus will look healthy on the outside while rotting away on the inside. There aren’t too many warning signs of deterioration until it’s too late. This gives the plant a undeserved reputation for being difficult to grow.
Another major difference is a standard carnivorous plant mix won’t work for Cephalotus. Now I will tell you what we do in our nursery. There are many other opinions and recommendations for mixes too. We use a 1:2 Sphagnum peat moss and sharp propagating sand mix. See Preparing media for detailed instructions. The extra drainage provided by the propagating sand is the key to success with Cephalotus.
Cephalotus also benefit long-term from a large container. We grow Cephalotus in 140mm black plastic pots. They provide extra height and drainage. The larger pots even allow us to sit Cephalotus in a small amount of water during late spring and summer without any problems at all.
The last consideration is to minimise root disturbance. Cephalotus are really sensitive to having their roots tampered with. This is opposed to Venus Fly-Trap’s and Pitcher Plants which can be safely hacked up, cut, severed and divided with the skills of a backyard dentist. So always undertake tasks which will disturb Cephalotus roots in winter. While Cephalotus don’t go dormant their metabolic processes are much slower in winter.
Always try to recreate as close to natural conditions as possible. You’ve probably heard this advice for all kinds of plants. The reason for that is because it’s a well proven rule for cultivating healthy plants. Cephalotus is no different. In our nursery we cultivate Cephalotus outside in full sun, 365 days of the year. Over winter our plants are always free draining, never standing in trays. The natural unfiltered sun light also allow non-carnivorous leaves to colour up in a deep crimson red to purple colour. We can do this because South Australia is not dissimilar to Western Australia. Temperature, light intensity, humidity are all fairly comparable.
I’ve come across all kinds of advice for Cephalotus cultivation from people all over the world. Things like use pure Sphagnum moss or compacted gravel in the media. I’m not saying these things would definitely not work. What I am saying is I wouldn’t try these things. The trick is to find the method that works for you and stick with it.
Get the cultivation of Cephalotus right, and it will reward for with beautiful and intricate traps which are present throughout the year.