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Can I grow carnivorous plants?

Lots of people want to grow carnivorous plants, but don’t because they think these plants are too hard. When most of us think about carnivorous plants we think of plants which are difficult to grow outside of greenhouses, plants which need constant tropic like conditions and are so fragile they need to be contained in plastic domes for their own protection. Chances are you’ve already had a carnivorous plant that didn’t make it too, further perpetuating the myth these plants are hard to grow.

In reality, most carnivorous plants are hardy perennial plants which readily lend themselves to growing exceptionally well outside, in places like Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra to name a few. There are of course tropical carnivorous plants, like low land Nepenthes which require constant warmth and the protection a greenhouse offers, but they are the exception, not the rule.

So, can you grow carnivorous plants? Yes, if you choose the right plants. At Compass Carnivores, we specialize in selling carnivorous plants which can be readily cultivated in Australia. That’s not to say these plants can be neglected. But rest assured, none of our plants absolutely need specialized growing areas like greenhouses or equipment like heat beds and misting systems.

What’s involved in growing carnivorous plants?

We’ve already established what’s not needed, but what does it take to grow carnivorous plants?

The first thing you’ll need is a sunny spot. A place that gets at least 4 – 6 hours of sun in summer is ideal. Preferably outside, but a sunny and bright spot inside by a window will also work. Growing inside can present some unique challenges, so we recommend growing outside and bringing your plants inside for a short time every now and again, if you really want carnivorous plants inside with you. Plants grown full time inside will be weaker, more susceptible to rot, mold and fungus, and not as colorful.

Generally, grow carnivorous plants in plastic pots sitting in a plastic tray filled with water. The water prevents the plants from drying out, provides bottom watering and helps increase humidity around the plants. Plus it mimics their natural habitat, pocosin bogs.Never, ever let a carnivorous plant completely dry out.

As the weather warms up, increase the depth of the water. In summer, having a Pitcher plant or Venus Fly-Trap standing in water 1/2 – 3/4 the depth of the pot is going to make for a very happy plant. You see, where these plants come from, most of the annual rainfall happens in summer. So the warmer it gets, the wetter it gets.

Most of our plants appreciate a naturally cool winter. Venus Fly-Traps, Pitcher Plants and many Sundew plants require a dormancy period. Dormancy is largely triggered by the reduction in day length. Despite popular belief, carnivorous plants need to be outside over winter. Trying to skip dormancy and keep your plants growing over winter will kill it.

Carnivorous plants can tolerate light frosts, short freezes and even snow. Australian climate does not prohibit growing and enjoying these beautiful and unique plants.

I want to point out, plants in dormancy look terrible. They are small, often covered with dead foliage and sometimes even retreat to underground. The plant is resting, not dead. Don’t make the mistake of throwing it away. Come spring, new growth will take off like a rocket. See Venus Fly-Trap Dormancy for more information about dormancy.

The amount of time and effort it takes to grow carnivorous plants is entirely up to you. A few plants will take just five minutes a day to top up water levels in trays. The more time you spend with your plants, the more you’ll want to spend. Dead heading, dividing, re-potting and generally appreciating these unique plants are all quite addictive activities.

For more information, check out Here’s the four commandments for cultivating happy, healthy Venus Fly-Traps.

If you’ve got any questions or concerns about growing your plants, please reach out to us. We are more than happy to help and discuss specific concerns.

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My plants have arrived. What now?

Please rest assured we securely package your plants in moist Sphagnum moss, protected from heat, cold, dehydration and damage. Our plants can survive the post for at least two weeks. A regular question we get asked is, can the plants survive being posted bare rooted? The answer is overwhelmingly, yes. We have never lost plants in the mail. The information below is a quick guide suggested to get your plants settled into their new home as quickly as possible.

Begin by taking you plants out of their packaging as soon as possible. Place the plants in a plastic or glass bowl filled with pure water for 10 – 30 minutes. You can leave the sphagnum moss around the plants when floating them. Keep plants in heavy shade or inside while your plants root’s are exposed. Continue reading My plants have arrived. What now?

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Tips to create your own carnivorous plant bog garden

Lots of carnivorous plant enthusiasts flirt with the idea of creating a bog garden. They look great, grow and change over time and above all, they host lots of interesting and beautiful carnivorous plants. So here’s some tips to help you create a beautiful and unique garden that will make people jealous!

If you’ve ever taken the steps towards making a bog garden you’ll realize it’s a lot harder than digging a hole and filling it in with carnivorous plant potting mix. Why? Well because nutrients from the earth quickly infiltrate the carnivorous plant mix. When it rains nutrients are washed in. When the wind blows nutrients are deposited on top. And all the time nutrients seep up from underneath.

Lots of carnivorous plants grow in areas called ombrotrophic bogs. These areas were formed in the last ice age. Theyare completely hydrologically isolated. No nutrients seep up from below. No nutrients are washed in from the rain. You can think of an ombrotrophic bog as like a swimming pool. Your swimming pool doesn’t turn brown from run off when it rains (or at least it I hope it doesn’t), nor should a carnivorous plant bog.

Common ways of replicating an ombrotrophic bog at home include using polystyrene boxes, kids pools and fiberglass ponds dug into the ground. You can also consider creating a raised bog garden. The same materials used below ground can also look amazing above the ground too.

What ever method you choose, there are some common gotchas that continually catch people out. First make sure the bog is deep enough. Carnivorous plant bogs are full of deep peat based sandy soils. They need to be able to withstand flooding and give enough depth for roots to burrow deep into the bog. A bog should ideally be at least 50-60cm deep. But really, the deeper the better.

The second gotcha is where to place the bog. Lots of people assume building bogs in lower ground is best. Carnivorous plant bogs build with this logic may very well have a fatal design flaw. It increases the chance of nutrient pollution and inundation with garden soil. Higher ground or at very least flat ground is best in our case. A fun fact, pocasin is the term used by Eastern Algonquian indigenous people to describe the type of bog we are building. In English, the term roughly translates to swamp-on-a-hill.

The last common mistake is not leaving enough of a rise between the earth and the bog. Make sure your normal garden soil can’t just wash into your bog. Nothing will kill your carnivorous plants quicker than normal garden soil.

Plant your bog sparingly. Your bog plants will multiply and expand over time. An over planted bog starts to look tired really quickly. In time it will become necessary to transplant, divide and thin plants from your bog too.

When choosing locations for your plants in the bog choose where the front of the bog is going to be. Plant your plants from back to front with taller plants being planted at the back. It’s no good having the most amazing patch of Dionaea if they’re completely obscured and surrounded by Sarracenia and can’t be seen.Taking plant height into consideration also helps make sure all of your plants get access to the light they need.

When it comes to watering your bog, the same rules as any carnivorous plant apply. Use the right water and keep water which is not safe well away. In summer you should artificially flood your bog to imitate natural habitat and weather conditions. This will create a hot and humid environment you plants will thrive in

If you’ve created a bog garden, let us know how you decided to do it or share some tips with everyone.

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Sowing and growing Venus Fly-Trap seeds at home

I’m going to show you how you can germinate your own baby Venus Fly-Traps for around $10.00. No specialist nursery equipment required!

It’s easy for a nursery to write up plant propagation guides. If we’re being honest, those steps frequently involve greenhouses, bottom heat, misting and attentive propagation staff. But despite this, it’s still more than possible to germinate your own plants, including Venus Fly-Traps at home. You just need to get a bit creative.

Greenhouses and bottom heat seek only to provide a more humid, constant and stable environment than outside. But then again so does a clear plastic zip lock bag placed over a pot. It will raise humidity, retail  warmth and protect from the elements too.

Generally speaking bottom heat accelerate germination, but seeds will still germinate without heat. They will likely germinate over a longer time, but they’ll get there none the less.

To germinate Dionaea seed at home you’ll need a few common items, most of these things can be found at cheap shops:

  1. Fresh Dionaea seeds (25 pack).  $5.00
  2. 1 litre of carnivorous plant potting mix$2.50
  3. A small plastic pot (85mm square plastic pot is ideal). $0.15
  4. 1 Large (~ 230 x 305mm) zip lock bag.  $0.40
  5. A small plastic spray bottle  $1.50

Fill the pot with carnivorous plant potting mix. water the pot gently with rainwater or pure water until you’ve watered through 2 – 3 liters of water. water will be coming out of the bottom of the pot.

Place the Dionaea seeds on top of the wet carnivorous plant mix. Try to spread them out evenly with a few centimeters between each seed. The seeds are small so it make take some time and effort. Watch out for seeds that you think you’ve sown but have stuck to your fingers instead!

Next step is to water the seeds. When watering small seeds like Dionaea, use the spray setting rather than the jet setting. Otherwise you risk dislodging the seeds. Dionaea grow in bogs so you really can’t over water the seeds. Be generous and ensure the seeds have received a good soaking.

Place the pot in a large zip lock bag. Add a 3 – 5 centimeters of water in the bag so the pot sits in the water. Seal the top of the zip lock bag so that you’ve created a closed environment with near 100% humidity and warmth.

Congratulations. You now have a controlled environment, which will stay warm, humid and much more constant than if you kept your seeds outside in the elements. The bag will act as a mini greenhouse.

Keep the bag and pot out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will raise temperature inside the bag too much, and likely kill the seeds. You’re looking for somewhere which receives bright indirect light, ideally outside. The seeds won’t germinate inside or in a dark place. They need light. Not direct sun.

Germination will begin in 4 – 6 weeks. Don’t give into the temptation to tamper with the pot or seed mix! Disturbance will set back germination or in worst case scenario will prevent germination.

Once the first seedlings start to emerge, you can poke a few small holes in the zip lock bag, adding a few more holes each day. Take the pot of seedlings out of the bag three to four weeks after germination started. Keep the pot standing in a tray of rainwater in the same place it was kept during germination.

Dionaea seedlings are slow growing. They can slowly be acclimatized to some sun over 7 – 10 day period. Keep seedlings in their original pot for a few years. When they are large enough to individually handle they can be potted up into their own pots using fresh carnivorous plant mix.

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Drosera root cuttings

Drosera root cuttings can yield mature plants within as little as one growing season. Root cuttings are the most effective way to propagate mature sundews quickly, followed by leaf cuttings, then traditionally sown seed. Both root cuttings and leaf cuttings are considered asexual reproduction versus the more common sexual reproduction that involves flower pollination and seed production.

Why would you want to take a cutting? All plants grown via cuttings will be clones, completely identical to the parent plant – so you’ll know precisely what to expect from them. The technique is easy, won’t harm your parent plant, and works with just about any sundew that has long, thick roots. Cuttings are super effective with most rosetted subtropical sundews, king sundews, cape sundews and fork-leaved sundews.

When & how to take Drosera root cuttings

It’s best to take root cuttings towards the end of a dormancy period, or early in the growing season – especially if you’re already going to be transplanting your sundews. Expose the plant’s roots and identify healthy roots that will look black with white tips. Choose the thickest roots. Separate out a few of these roots, leaving plenty behind for the parent plant, and use a knife or sharp pruning shears to cut five centimeter sections.

Place the root cuttings horizontally on the plant’s preferred media mix, and cover with a few centimeyters of moist media. It’s best to keep the po in a propagation tray with a humidity dome, or use another means of keeping conditions humid and warm. A really effective and affordable solution is to keep your pot in a large zip-lock bag. Until the cuttings start growing green leaves keep humidity as high as possible. In the case of a zip-lock bag, seal it up completely.

Even though the roots don’t have leaves to photosynthesize yet, it’s important to expose them to bright, indirect light, so place them under grow lights, in indirect bright outdoors. Make sure that the propagation tray stays out of direct sun, or you risk overheating and cooking your root cuttings.

If you can provide bottom heat you should do so. Bottom heat will reduce the time it takes for the cuttings to strike and begin to grow. Growing heat mats are available from hydroponic shops and some garden centers. Bottom heat is by no means mandatory, cuttings will strike in spring without  it.

Be patient, keep the soil moist, and within a few weeks, you’ll start to notice your cuttings sprouting. After a few leaves have emerged, slowly reduce the humidity over the course of a few days, and place the plants in direct light. Give the root systems a few months to establish themselves, and you can replant your Drosera into a more permanent home.

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The problem with the wind

Wind can be damaging for our plants. Not only from sheer force and speed, but also when it comes to drying plants out. Hot winds often cause Drosera to loose its mucilage and can burn off Sarracenia, ruining their pitchers. Wind can also cause Dionaea teeth to become brittle and burnt. Hot and dry wind will decimate Pinguicula. This type of physical damage is pretty obvious, and to a large extend anticipated and relatively easily dealt with. Just provide some protection from the scorching sun and physical protection from the winds and plants will quickly show their appreciation and resilience.

The wind also brings another serious threat, one which thanks to land clearing and unsustainable agricultural activities, is becoming a more frequent problem. Strong summer winds often carry top soil with them. Top soil is the most fertile and precious soil because that’s where much of the nutrient content is. Nutrients will burn carnivorous plant roots and eventually kill our plants. If you’ve ever had a carnivorous plant suddenly up and die on you for no known reason, the answer may literally be blowing in the wind. If wind deposits nutrient rich top soil in the plant’s pot, it can cause the total dissolved solids to increase, killing your plant.

It doesn’t take much nutrient rich top soil to raise TDS to fatal levels. Of course it depends on the specific elements being deposited, for example we know copper and zinc are poisonous to our plants in very low concentrations. The same is true with nitrates, which are often found in high levels in top soil from agricultural areas because it is a large ingredient in fertilizer. Whereas inorganic particles from metamorphic and igneous rocks are less of an issue for our plants.

So the bad news is that winds, especially those originating from agricultural areas and inland Australia, can bring with it materials which may be poisonous to our plants. The good news is now that we know about this semi-invisible threat we can be on the lookout. A $30.00 TDS meter can be used to test water which is sitting in your plant trays, as well as the water which has been collected after being watered through your pots. Take a reading from the water you’re using to flush your pots so you’ve got a base level. Then collect and test the water coming through your pot. The water will dissolve and transport nutrients and salts. The reading you receive is what TDS your plant roots are living in.

TDS Meter
TDS Meter

If the TDS is 50ppm or greater the water should be replaced. In a tray situation it’s easy to replace. Empty the old water, wash the tray and replace with acceptable water. If the high TDS water is coming through your pot, you’ll have to keep flushing the media and the plant from the top until the water reaches a new acceptable level. You’re aiming for as low as TDS as possible.

If you test your plants every few months you’ll be all but guaranteed to catch any issues with nutrient build up before they become toxic to your plants. Of course you can run the check as often as you like but the more plants you have the more time it takes.

The last point on this topic worth mentioning is make sure your TDS meter is calibrated and accurate. When you buy your TDS meter you will also be able to buy some calibration solution to keep the instrument accurate. False positives waste water. False negatives kill your plants.

The images below shows a pot of Drosera capensis suffering from wind and scorching sun damage.

Wind damage of D. capensis

The same pot is sown below four weeks later, after the plants has been placed in a greenhouse and protected from wind. The sun intensity was also reduced. The plant still had bright, indirect light. Just not, direct, scorching sun.

D. capensis recovered from wind damage.

You’ll even notice, the Sphagnum moss has grown and looks greener and healthier than before.

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Letter from John Ellis

Below is a copy of a letter sent to Carl Linnaeus, who was the world’s recognized authority on all things botanical, from John Ellis in 1769.

The letter was published in Directions for bringing over seeds and plants, from the East Indies (Ellis, 1770). Ellis was a British linen merchant and naturalist, he was also the first person to have a published a botanical description of the Venus Fly-Trap and give a name of Dionaea muscipula.

Ellis was born c 1710 and died on the 15th of October 1776. Ellis received living Venus Fly-Trap plants from William Young, who imported Venus Fly-Trap to England.

The copies of these documents are from the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology.







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Safe soil for carnivorous plants

There are over a thousand species of carnivorous plants which have been identified by botanists, so to suggest their soil requirements can be lumped together would be naive and dangerous. However soils for carnivorous plants do often have things in common.

What not to use

  1. Nothing with added fertilizers or soil conditions. These things will burn carnivorous plant roots and ultimately kill the plant.
  2. No garden soil or regular potting mixes. These soils are both too high in nutrients and don’t hold enough water for many carnivorous plants.
  3. Don’t use coconut fiber or coir bricks – they are not Sphagnum peat moss. They often contain salts which will kill carnivorous plants.

What  to use

A few common, standard mixes are comprised of the following:

  1. 100% Sphagnum moss.
  2. 1:1 Sphagnum peat moss and sharp propagating sand.
  3. 1:1:1 Sphagnum peat moss, sharp propagating sand and perlite.
  4. 1:1 Sphagnum peat moss and Sphagnum moss (could be mixed with sand or perlite too).

What works for one grower may not work for another, depending on environmental conditions. Growers who grow their plants inside under lights are more likely to want an open mix compared to growers who grow their plants outside or in a greenhouse. While not particularly helpful, often it’s a case of trial and error to see what works for you. Sticking to acidic pH, low nutrient ingredients which have good water retention is a great start.

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South Australian endemic Drosera

Did you know the majority of Drosera are found here in Australia? Seeing these plants in their natural habitat is very rewarding and at times a stunning site. South Australia has many Drosera endemic to the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges and beyond.

Drosera aberrans
Drosera aff. stricticaulis
Drosera aphylla, nom.illeg.
Drosera auriculata
Drosera binata
Drosera bulbosa var. praefolia
Drosera finlaysoniana
Drosera foliosa, nom.illeg., non Elliott(1821)
Drosera glanduligera
Drosera gracilis
Drosera hookeri
Drosera macrantha ssp. planchonii
Drosera macrantha var. stricticaulis
Drosera menziesii var. albiflora
Drosera peltata
Drosera peltata ssp. auriculata
Drosera peltata ssp. peltata
Drosera peltata var. auriculata
Drosera peltata var. gracilis
Drosera peltata var. peltata
Drosera planchonii
Drosera praefolia
Drosera pygmaea
Drosera schmutzii
Drosera sp. Rigid (R.J.Bates 2268)
Drosera stricticaulis
Drosera whittakeri
Drosera whittakeri ssp. aberrans
Drosera whittakeri ssp. praefolia
Drosera whittakeri ssp. whittakeri
Drosera whittakeri var. praefolia

For more information on these species, including areas where these species occur, take a look at Seeds of South Australia.

A great pocket guide I recommend is Common Wildflowers of the Mount Lofty Ranges (ISBN: 759010390), it’s a great field guide to many endemic plants found in the Mount Lofty Ranges, including Drosera. You may also like to refer to the Census of South Australian Vascular Plants.

Remember, you need a permit to collect plant material, including seed. Collecting material without a permit is prohibited.

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How to divide a Sarracenia the right way

Dividing Sarracenia plants is the fastest and easiest way to grow more plants and maintain vigorous growth. Divisions will give you a decent sized plant in one season.

Information below applies to both short and tall Sarracenia plants.

Step 1

Select a mature plant in winter dormancy.

Sarracenia during dormancy.

Plants should have multiple growth points. You’ll be able to see  growth points through the brown mature pitchers. Growth points will be swollen and have multiple small spikes protruding out of the base.

Sarracenia growth points. Old pitchers removed. Roots cleaned of media.

Step 2

Expose the roots and remove as much media as you can from around the root zone with your hands. Once excess media is gone, wash the plant in a bucket of water to remove the last of the old media from around the roots.

Step 3 (optional)

Cut off the old pitchers about 5-10cm up from the base of the plant’s rhizome. Use secateurs to make clean cuts.

Some growers skip this step. The argument for removing old pitchers is that it prevents dead pitchers from contacting media and growing mold. It also helps spring sun get into the new growth points, promoting faster spring growth. The argument for keeping old pitchers is it acts as an insulator to help keep new growth points protected from the harsh winter conditions.

Step 4

Cut the rhizome into clean sections, respecting growth points. Don’t cut through or damage growth points.

Use secateurs to do this job. If you try to use your hands to pull the rhizome apart without first cutting the rhizome, you will more than likely rip the rhizome and damage the plant.

Each plant division should have a complete growth point and a decent amount of roots. It may also have old pitchers too. Individually wash each division in a bucket of water. You’ll find more old media comes off once the division has been separated.

Sarracenia cut into divisions based on growth points.

As you divide your plants you might come across smaller divisions too, plants which are a 6-12cm tall, and appear more seedling like in appearance. You can certainly pot these up if you wish. They’ll take a longer time to produce mature plants (5+ years). They will also likely need extra protection over their first winter.

Step 5

Pot each division into a clean plastic pot no smaller than 120mm. Use a standard carnivorous plant mix of 1:1 Sphagnum Peat moss and perlite (or washed propagating sand).

Make sure all of the division’s roots are beneath the media and the growth point is centered in the pot. The growth point itself should be slightly above the media.

New division potted up.

Step 6

water your division into the pot with safe water for carnivorous plants. Keep gently watering the plant until two or three times the volume of the pot has been washed through.

Sarracenia divisions potted up.

Six months down the track your divisions will be established large plants. In a few years you divisions will be fully established plants with multiple growth points of their own. And so the division process starts again!

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Plant life-cycle terms

You’ve probably heard the terms annual, biennial and perennial used in the description of plants. Even with plant descriptions on this website, we use these terms. So what exactly do they mean?

Annuals

Annual plants completes their life cycle, from germination to the production of seeds, within one year, and then dies. They are generally smaller plants and can be broken into into summer annuals which sprout, flower, produce seed, and die, during the warmer months of the year. And winter annuals germinate in autumn or winter, live through the winter, then flower in late winter or spring. Some Utricularia are annual plants, returning each year from seed.

Biennials
Biennial plants are flowering plants which take two years to complete their life-cycle In the first year, the plant grows leaves, stems, and roots before it enters a period of dormancy over the colder months. Usually the stem remains very short and the leaves are low to the ground, forming a rosette. Many biennials require a cold treatment before they will flower. During the next spring or summer, the stem of the biennial plant grows. The plant then flowers, producing fruits and seeds before it finally dies. There are far fewer biennials than either perennial plants or annual plants. There are some Drosera which some growers consider biennial, depending on where they are grown.

Perennials
perennial plants or simply perennials are plants that lives more than two years. The term is also widely used to distinguish plants with little or no woody growth from trees and shrubs, which are also technically perennials.

Perennials, especially small flowering plants which grow and flower over the spring and summer, die back every autumn and winter, and then return in the spring from their root stock, are known as herbaceous perennials. Most carnivorous plants, including Dionaea muscipula, are herbaceous perennials.

Plants can behave and grow differently when cultivated outside of their natural climate. Some plants grown in climates colder than their natural climate may grow as annuals, while in their original climate may be biennial or even perennial.

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Showing plants for competition

Lots of carnivorous plant societies, country shows and horticultural events hold plant competitions. Carnivorous plants can do very well in such events, but there are a few rules to give you maximum chance of success. Here’s some time proven tips when showing your plants:

  1. Make sure the plant’s pot is free from weeds, including any horticultural weeds such as D. capensis. Live Sphagnum moss is generally OK, but make sure it isn’t smothering or diminishing your plant.
  2. Make sure the plant’s pot is clean, unblemished, unfaded and in good physical condition.
  3. Center your plant in its pot.
  4. Make sure the media level is high enough to bring the plant to the top of the top. Most pots have indicator lines on the inside. Use these to make sure the plant isn’t sinking in the top.
  5. Remove any dead and dying traps, leaves, flower spikes etc. It may not be in the best interest of the plant, but presentation matters.
  6. Make sure the plant is clearly and accurately labeled.
  7. Remove any visible dead insects from your plants traps.

Be sure to have some interesting facts about your plant on hand. Not how much it cost, or where you bought it from. Things like how long you’ve been cultivating it. Whether you tried propagating it. What are your cultivation conditions etc. These make great discussion points and help people understand just how much effort and TLC has gone into your plant. Of course, nobody may ask you any questions. But if you’re standing next to your plant and a big blue ribbon, you at least want to be prepared.

And of course, good luck. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get the result you hoped for. Plant judging is very subjective despite what some may suggest. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.