Tag Archives: cultivars

Carnivorous plant news

Winter, such as it is for Texas, finally hit this week. The weekend already featured a full five inches of rain at the Triffid Ranch on Saturday and Sunday, and you’d barely realize it two days later. Yes, we were THAT dry out here. Give us a full foot between now and New Year’s Eve, and we might actually get through 2012 without bursting into flame.

And yes, everyone can remind me of how Dallas winters are nothing compared to Boston or Milwaukee or Calgary winters. I was born in Michigan, so this knowledge is burned into my DNA. I remember coming to school in first grade and looking over the snowdrift that covered one whole wing of my elementary school. I remember regular blackouts lasting for days because of ice storms. Don’t laugh at me about our pathetic and weak “snowstorms”, and I won’t bring up how the main entertainment in Appleton, Wisconsin through January and February involves carving lawn furniture out of blocks of frozen oxygen and nitrogen on the back porch. Deal?

In the meantime, since there’s not much to report in the way of plant developments outside, let’s look at other news. For instance, the December 2011 issue of the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter arrived last night, complete with photos of Jay Lechtman’s new Sarracenia cultivars. Odd artists get the nod this time, by way of the new cultivars “Seurat” and “Gorey“. Between these, the Lovecraftian Utricularia cultivars, and the Nepenthes cultivars “Bill Bailey” and “Dame Helen Mirren,” I think we’ve finally hit the point in the carnivorous plant trade where people are buying cultivars solely because of the interesting names.

And speaking of the Carnivorous Plant Newsletter, the lovely and talented Emily Troiano of the New England Carnivorous Plant Society, the hosts of the 2012 International Carnivorous Plant Society Conference, announced in the newest Newsletter that registration for next year’s conference will start on January 1. In addition, those who register before April 15 get an additional $50 discount on their memberships. The Czarina is still thinking long and hard about whether she wants to be in New England in August (she’s terrified of that frozen oxygen lawn furniture, you see), but otherwise expect at least some Triffid Ranch presence out there, complete with video. All I need is a spare 300-pound Samoan attorney, and I’m already ready to go.

Finally, everyone at the Triffid Ranch expresses regret on the news that John A.A. Thompson, Ph.D died last month, just days after his 100th birthday. Dr. Thompson, for those of you unfamiliar with his work, was the inventor of gardening supplement SUPERThrive, and the advertising copy on every bottle made Dr. Thompson the Dr. Bronner of horticulture. Standing in the checkout aisle at Home Depot definitely wouldn’t be the same without those insane testimonial cards on the SUPERThrive bottles on the endcaps.

Introducing Hylocereus costaricensis

In what’s shaping up to be the worst drought in recorded Texas history, there’s a few bits of good news. Namely, it’s a remarkably good season for dragonfruit cactus.

Hylocereus costaricensis

The genus Hylocereus is one of the two genera of true cactus raised commercially for food: the other being the prickly pear Opuntia. In the US, two varieties generally appear for sale in Asian markets and high-end grocery stores, and both are sold under the common name “dragonfruit”. It’s not hard to see why, between the color and the scales, as shown below.


The difference between the two is really only obvious when you cut one open. H. undatus has white flesh speckled with tiny black seeds. H. costaricensis, though, is a brilliant red-purple, about the color of fresh pomegranate juice, with the same black seeds. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which variety is which solely based on the rind, but it really doesn’t matter as far as the flavor is concerned. First-time dragonfruit eaters are often disappointed at the seeming lack of flavor in the ripe fruit, as it’s really subtle, but the crunchy consistency makes up for it. (I personally prefer it well-chilled, quartered, and served with the rind on the back of each segment, but it’s also a great addition to fruit salad or smoothies, and dragonfruit jam is apparently quite popular in England. I’ve heard of recipes that involve broiling dragonfruit like grapefruit, but dragonfruit doesn’t last long enough around the house for this to be an option.)

Sliced dragonfruit

With one big caveat, both commercially available varieties of Hylocereus are very easy to raise in propagation. They can be grown from seed taken from ripe fruit: my best results have come from mashing a chunk of the fruit gently with the flat of a knife, smearing the pulp atop standard potting compost, and keeping the compost moist but not wet. The only real problem with this method is that the resultant seedlings are very slow-growing, and they tend to be rather susceptible to large changes in environmental conditions. A much more dependable method of propagation involves cuttings, and considering how often branches break off, simply putting the cutting atop a pot full of compost can produce a full-sized plant within a year instead of three to four for seedlings. Most branches grow aerial roots whenever the ambient humidity is above 50 percent, so just sink those into the compost and watch the plant take over.

As a potted plant, H. costaricensis makes a spectacular hanging basket. In the wild, Hylocereus climbs trees with the help of those aerial roots clinging to bark, but it also apparently sprouts in the crooks of large trees or rocks and hangs downward. Since it’s a tropical cactus, Hylocereus cannot handle sustained freezes, and should be brought into shelter when the outdoor temperatures drop below 40 degrees F (4.44 degrees C). Since it adapts very well to both standard pots and hanging pots, though, this generally isn’t a problem. The typical cactus spines are both small and fragile in Hylocereus, and don’t appear to set off any sort of allergic reaction, but be cautious all the same. Other than giving it full sun to light shade whenever possible, these cactus are very low-maintenance: I water whenever dry, and fertilize with bat guano about once per month.

Hylocereus costaricensis in hanging basket

Remember the caveat mentioned before about dragonfruit propagation? If you’re planning to grow any Hylocereus, don’t expect the cactus to start blooming until it gets big. Most growers report that the individual plants won’t bloom until they weigh at least 10 pounds (4.53 kilograms), and some varieties may not bloom until the total weight of the plant is over 20 pounds (9.07 kilograms). The good news is that unlike most other cactus, Hylocereus is self-fertile, with some plants producing fruit without being pollinated at all. They’re also apparently capable of producing viable hybrids within the genus, leading to quite the entertaining assortment of cultivar names, ranging from “David Bowie” to “Physical Graffiti”. In addition, the night-blooming flowers are huge, resembling giant white versions of Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) and very sweet-smelling.

The only complaint I have about raising Hylocereus is minor. Namely, growing them is addictive. Expect to see several plants at next month’s FenCon show, and we can all sing Ministry’s “Just One Fix” together.

“In sunken Okeefenokee, dead Utricularia waits dreaming.”

It shouldn’t be any surprise to friends and cohorts that I’m distantly related to Howard Phillips Lovecraft on my mother’s side. At the very least, my urge to grow gills and spend the summer at the bottom of a swimming pool can then be attributed to the Innsmouth Look and not to allergies. It also shouldn’t be any surprise to friends and cohorts that I’m very pleased that Grandpa Theobald’s cultural heritage continues to spread far and wide. Considering the number of Lovecraftian cultivar names for Utricularia by way of Dr. Barry Rice, it just means I’ve got to get on the stick and start naming cultivars for one of my most influential literary role models. I think the world needs “Xolotl Zapata” and “Pablo Redondo” Pinguicula cultivars.

“The garden hooligans are loose!”

Of particular note in the news from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is that Dame Helen Mirren has a new Nepenthes cultivar (of the hybrid Nepenthes spathulata x spectabilis) named after her, courtesy of Borneo Exotics. This, of course, goes very well with last year’s “Bill Bailey” Nepenthes cultivar, which I can state with authority is an absolute beauty in the greenhouse. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to attend this year’s Chelsea Flower Show: I keep getting invites to the Arsenal Flower Show, but I don’t know why. (Fat chance on that. We Riddells are going to be Manchester United Flower Show Enthusiasts until we die.)