Growing Cephalotus follicularis in Perlite

Hey guys! In this blog I will be talking about growing Cephalotus follicularis and how we have changed the way we grow them.

One of our original Cephs straight out of a peat, perlite mix
A few months ago, I was chatting with Ashley about how I felt like our Cephs were not growing well and I wanted to try something different. They seemed to grow very slowly and never had very many roots. We had them in a dense peat:sand or peat:perlite mix and we kept losing them slowly over time. I told her I felt like we should give pure perlite a try and grow them truly hydroponically in a water tray. So we gave it a go and the results have been INCREDIBLE!
 
Another Ceph we unpotted from a peat, sand mix to transfer into perlite
I never could have guessed we would have gotten the results that we have. Its been amazing! The Cephs are obviously much happier and healthier. They are growing much faster and putting out so much new growth! The photo below shows root growth after 6 months in perlite growing in a water tray.
The reason I decided to give this method a try was ultimately because I reflected a lot on what I saw with our Cephs. They were growing slowly, had very little roots, and often would slowly die from what seemed like rot. They were not happy and we needed to do something differently. 
When growing plants in captivity we have 3 main things we should take into consideration:
 1. How do they grow in the wild
2. How are they growing in our set up and what is it telling us?
3. How can we optimize their growth?
In the wild, they grow near swamps or flowing streams, but tend to be on the banks in very sandy soils. Sand is a very quickly draining soil. However, when you have sandy soils near a body of water, you end up with a kind of natural hydroponic set up. Which would result in the plants establishing a longer 'tap root' that would look for the near by water. Once the main root hits water it spreads and puts out more roots. Another important thing to note, is that Cephalotus are not closely related to other Carnivorous plants. They are more closely related to Apple or Oak trees than they are any other carnivorous plants. With this in consideration, my theory was that if they were grown in a true hydroponic set up that they would be able to put down a longer tap root to look for water while also reducing the risk for rot. And it worked! If you look at the before and after photos you can see the incredible amount of root growth in 6 months. Our plants have pushed out so much new growth because they have been able to establish such expansive root systems in comparison to what they were able to establish in the dense peat mixes.  
Some Cephs freshly transferred to pure perlite

How we made the switch to growing in pure perlite:

First, we unpotted our Cephs from the peat mix they were in. We gently rinsed the roots to remove all the old media. Then, we repotted them into pure perlite.  We used course size perlite. We fill the pots a little and then hold the plant in place and back fill the pot. We are not to cover the crown of the Cephs! Next, we top water and place into a water tray. Then, we sat back and watched! We started to see new growth within just a few weeks! They did go through an acclimation period and we thought we might loose a few but once they established better roots they took off! 

Tip: We wash our perlite before we use it. While this is not totally necessary, it makes it much easier to work with and less dusty. You don't want to breathe in all that perlite dust! You can get perlite like what we use here. Also, if you have any flower stalks at the time you make the switch be sure to cut them. They draw a lot of energy so it makes the transition harder for them.

Acclimation:

It does take a little while for them to acclimate to the switch. Right after you switch them over to straight perlite I definitely recommend making sure you keep the water level in your tray higher for the first few weeks. You can also top water every few days while they are establishing. They will be sending out new roots and having a higher water table will help this transition be faster and easier. Gradually over a few weeks you can start leaving about 1-2 inches of water in the tray.

Fertilizing and Watering:

If you are watering with RO water or distilled it is important to also fertilize your plants every so often. We generally fertilize once every two weeks with Maxsea. When we fertilize our Cephs, we pull them from the tray and top water them with our Maxsea mix. We also use this time to clean our water tray and fill it with fresh water. Depending on your conditions you may find you need to change the water in your tray more often. Its a good habit to top water your plants whenever you clean or refill your water tray to help flush out the pots. 

Do I have to grow my Cephs in perlite?

You can absolutely grow Cephs in a peat mix if that is your preference, but for us this method has proven to be superior. If you choose to grow in a peat mix, we definitely recommend top watering and not allowing your plants to sit in a water tray.
Growing plants in captivity and is very nuanced. What works for one person may not work for someone else. You have to consider all the factors like: what kind of grower are you; what are your conditions; what is readily available for you; and so on. If this is something you need help with please reach out! We are always happy to help!
We are doing further experimenting and will have another update for you guys soon!
I hope you have found this blog useful! Growing plants in captivity is as much science as it is art. You have to be willing to try new things and adapt.
Thank you for following along and happy growing!!

3 comments

  • We used small course perlite. I have added a link in the blog post under tips if you would like to pick up a bag!

    I don’t believe akadama or kanuma would work well in a tray set up like perlite but it’s possible they could work if you top watered. When they sit in water they tend to degrade fairly quickly. I imagine pumice would work similarly but I feel like its not quite as porous as perlite. I also believe that because perlite is more airy and light it helps the roots spread and grow. We have not had any issues with the perlite floating because the plants are only sitting in a tray of 1-2 inches of water.

    Thanks for reading!

    Hannah-Pearl River Exotics
  • Do you think other rocky/ volcanic mixes would work too if perlite went ok?

    Like Akadama, pumice, Kanuma etc.

    Or at least the top dressing with any of those cuz i hate the floating perlite

    Constantin
  • Source for the size perlite you used!

    Mark Baker

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