Cephalotus - Carnivorous Plants - How to care for and cultivate your Cephalotus

Cephalotus - Carnivorous Plants - How to care for and cultivate your Cephalotus


Cephalotus are carnivorous plants that capture their prey by means of

ASCIDES OR SIMILAR deriving from the modification of some leaves.

The flap of the modified leaves loses, in whole or in part, its shape to become a cup, a wineskin, a tube, etc. which take on the function of capturing small animal prey.

The preys are attracted in various ways (with colors, with nectar, etc.) and remain trapped in the ascidian. At that point, devices are activated to dissolve them and absorb the elements that derive from them.

Generally, the Ascids are filled with water and the device that determines the death and decomposition of the prey is of secondary importance (a typical example is the Sarracenia and the Darlingtonia) as very often both the death and the decomposition of the prey occur in the work of the bacterial microflora normally present in these structures and not thanks to enzymes secreted by the plant but due to the secretion of acids by the acid-resistent bacteria they contain.

In typical carnivorous plants there is no symbiosis with bacteria and the digestion of the prey, which is always extracellular, occurs thanks to the secretion of animal proteolytic enzymes (pepsins, trypsins) associated mostly with the secretion of acids (formic acid) .

In some carnivorous plants the secretion of acids and enzymes is continuous while in others the secretion occurs only under the stimulus of the presence of the prey.

Among the genera and species that we find in this group we have the


(family Cephalotaceae) with the only species Cephalotus follicularis of Australia.

Contrary to Nephenthes in this plant there are two different types of leaves: a completely normal type and another type where the leaves are modified to ascidium with the cup shape covered by a lid.

It is a splendid plant that grows in moist and peaty soils and in full sun.

Cephalotus follicularis | Rare carnivorous plant difficult to grow

Cephalotus is a small plant native to Australia, it belongs to the Cephalotaceae family and to the Cephalotus genus, the only representative of this genus.

Cephalotus is not easy to cultivate and requires care and attention, but of course its growth is able to give great satisfaction.

The carnivorous plant maintains very small dimensions: usually the size varies from five to eight centimeters.

The Cephalotus follicularis it is perhaps the only plant that produces both carnivorous leaves and normal leaves. In young plants, the non-carnivorous leaves perform the function of photosynthesis and compensate for the lack of active ascidia in some periods.

Ascidia are, in carnivorous plants, leaves that have transformed into traps capable of capturing and digesting small insects.

Usually they are leaves that have curled up to become a sort of small sac or funnel with three well-defined characteristics: a means to attract prey, a system to imprison them, preventing them from escaping, and an apparatus rich in gastric juices to digest the victims. .

In Cephalotus, the ascidia are complex sac-shaped organs, provided with apical opercula with the ability to close in the hottest hours to prevent digestive juices from evaporating.

The edge of the ascidia is slippery and does not allow insects or small animals that lean on it to grip with their legs, so that they are forced to slide inside. The prey is attracted by the pollen and hormones produced by the glands located under the slippery gills and under the apical operculum. Escape is made impossible by the funnel-shaped structure of the ascidian.

One of the most interesting features of the Ceph

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Climate and exposure

Cephalotus lives on the South West coasts of Australia, but some plants vegetate in the innermost areas. The latter differ from coastal specimens for the type of rooting.

The climate of its area of ​​origin is in many ways similar to the Mediterranean climate, with summers reaching 28 degrees and rather harsh and humid winters. Cephalotus resists temperatures hovering around zero.

The sunny position is pleasing to the plant, but it is better to avoid the sun in the middle of the day during the hottest months.

Young plants can be kept in a terrarium for one winter so they can develop better, but this treatment should not be repeated for more than a season.

The Cephalotus needs a certain period of rest in the cold to thrive with the vegetative restart in spring.

Ideal soil for Cephalotus

The most suitable substrate is half peat and half perlite. In nature, the soil where Cephalotus thrives is composed of sphagnum, peat and sand, but this plant is not particularly demanding regarding the nature of the soil. What is important is that the pH is around 4.5 and that there are optimal drainage and humidity conditions.

The Cephalotus that live along the coasts of Australia have roots that go a couple of tens of centimeters into the soil, while, moving inland where the substrate is less rich in sand, they reach even more than forty centimeters deep.

If the optimal conditions of acidity and humidity are guaranteed, Cephalotus can also be grown in pure sphagnum only or in pure peat only.

The pH must not fall below the value of 4, or the roots will suffer from excessive acidity.


The best irrigation for Cephalotus is obtained by putting water in the saucer, then proceeding by watering from the bottom. One centimeter of water is given, it is allowed to dry up and only after this has happened is more water added.

Short periods with dry substrate are useful, from time to time, to allow the roots to assimilate nutrients from the soil.

Observation of the Cephalotus ascidia can indicate if the plant is thirsty: these, in fact, close when there is no water supply or when it is too hot.

It is not recommended to wet from above.


The Cephalotus takes nutrients, as well as from the soil, from the digestion of prey. It has been noted that help in this sense can lead to more luxuriant and healthier plants. Specifically, ants are a prey that supplies the plant with formic acid which, in turn, leads to the production of more powerful and effective digestive juices.

Cephalotus enthusiasts and cultivation experts have noticed that a calibrated and well-dosed supply of milk is very welcome to the plant, which absorbs it easily and benefits from it.


Cephalotus blooms, in nature, with small white flowers that occur from one to five on plants with at least three years of age, in late spring.

In forced cultivation, the production of flowers, without an adequate nutritional supply, tends to significantly weaken the plants.


The multiplication of Cephalotus can take place by seed, by division or by leaf, ascidian or root cutting.

The technique that involves the use of seeds is perhaps the most complex. First of all, the flower must be pollinated with a small brush, to allow the production of seeds to take place in autumn. These must be kept at a temperature of 2 ° for a couple of months, resting on the substrate and slightly covered by sphagnum.

The temperature is then raised to 20 ° and is always kept humid at this point it can take from two months to a year for the seeds to germinate.

Propagation by division takes place above all when the plant is affected by fungal diseases such as iodine, or when it is very luxuriant and expanded, so it should be separated.

To carry out this operation, a part of the main rhizome is cut off and repotted, treating it with all the attention reserved for adult specimens.

Leaf, ascidium or root cuttings lead in a relatively short time to obtaining new plants. We proceed by cutting these parts and placing them in a sphagnum or peat substrate, the parts will root in a short time and give life to new plants in a few months.


Cephalotus is not easily attacked by parasites, but if this happens it can be treated with a specific product.

Approximately once a month, it is advisable to carefully clean the plants by eliminating, even with the help of tweezers, dried leaves and ascidia, in order to allow the whole to be well ventilated.

The combination of excessive heat, humidity and stagnation can lead to fungal diseases in the summer.

Powdery mildew and botrytis fight each other by spraying the plant with soluble sulfur, being careful to spray the plant and not the soil.

Pythium is a very deleterious fungus for Cephalotus, also caused by the factors listed above. It affects roots and rhizome and the plant becomes shriveled, dehydrated and nearly rotten. Realizing the problem in time, the remedy is to cut all the infected parts, eliminating them, to try to save at least a part of the plant.

Cephalotus cultivation tips

To be able to have Cephalotus in good health, it is advisable to carefully observe their specimens. These plants have small "personal" preferences regarding exposure to light, sun and irrigation. Some specimens tolerate sunlight very well, while others like a slight penumbra. Starting from the latter situation, it is possible to progressively move the plants towards greater lighting and observe their reactions, to understand their actual preferences.

In the winter months, exposure to sunlight and ventilation are essential to avoid problems.

Good ventilation of Cephalotus plants, combined with the correct humidity, prevents and minimizes the fungal diseases that can affect it.

Experts cultivate Cephalotus by creating small mounds of substrate in the pots and placing the seedlings at the top of these, so that the ascidia can develop in the way that is most congenial to them.

Fans of carnivorous plants find in the cultivation of Cephalotus a challenge that can be rich in satisfactions.

5 easy to care for carnivorous plant species

These "predatory" plants inside an apartment will not only perform a decorative function, but will be useful in freeing the environment from annoying insects. But which species is best suited to the home? Below is a brief overview of the most common types of carnivorous plants.

1. Drosera Capensis

Drosera Capensis is one of the best known species. It is characterized by its irresistible red tentacles, a real magnet for insects. The unfortunate little animals, attracted by the bright color, settle on them, remaining glued. Calmly, the hairs covering the stems will envelop the prey and will be digested "mercilessly" by Drosera.

It comes directly from South Africa and consequently needs heat for about the whole year. It is ideal to grow indoors, but you will need to guarantee a temperature between 18 and 30 degrees perennially.

2. Dionaea Muscipula

You know the classic carnivorous plant with teeth that populates the common imagination? Here, the identikit corresponds to that of Dionaea Muscipula. Also known as Venus flytrap, it is noted for its leaves studded with eyelashes, which allow it to trap its prey.

The carnivorous plant Dionaea has an active catching method: the colored leaves act as bait. When the insect lands on them, some sensors allow it to instantly close the lashes, trapping the unfortunate animal. Inside her mouth, the hairs will begin to produce enzymes that will make her digest the unfortunate insect slowly - even in a week.

3. Sarracenia Purpurea

If the Dionaea stands out for its active capture method, the Sarracenia Purpurea is distinguished instead for the passive one. It is an evergreen that can reach 20 centimeters in height. It attracts insects with a narcotic nectar and then drops them into its funnel made up of leaves and petals. At the bottom, a liquid awaits them in which bacteria and enzymes will start a slow digestion.

Sarracenia can be grown both indoors and outdoors. The important thing is that the temperature never drops below zero degrees.

4. Nepenthes

Nepenthes comes directly from the Asian tropical forests and is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and eye-catching species. Like the Sarracenia, it uses a passive capture method. Insects are attracted by the scent of the nectar emanating from the plant, and are then trapped in an ampoule with smooth walls that prevents escape. At the bottom there will be a liquid rich in enzymes waiting for them, where the insects will first drown, and then they will be digested by the plant.

Being a tropical plant, Nepenthes must be grown indoors, always guaranteeing a temperature above 20 degrees, as well as a good dose of humidity.

5. Cephalotus follicularis

Defined the "bonsai" of carnivorous plants Cephalotus follicularis comes from Australia. As you can imagine, this epithet was entrusted to her due to its small size: the plant does not exceed 5 centimeters in height.

It is a fascinating specimen, which has two particular types of leaves: one with a leaf, used for the photosynthesis process and one characterized by red tentacles, to attract its prey with its color and perfumed nectar.

Carnivorous plants: the easiest and how to grow them

Since their discovery, carnivorous plants have aroused the curiosity and imagination of human beings, playing the role of protagonists in a myriad of stories and legends.

The gnat in Borneo and the carnivorous plant

A small gnat is flying quietly through the humid atmosphere of a Borneo forest. Suddenly his slow wandering is overwhelmed by an intense smell of nectar, coming from something that looks like a strange one scarlet colored flower, lying on the ground and partially covered by the undergrowth vegetation.
The unsuspecting gnat lands on the red-tinted surface to feed on the sweet liquid produced by the plant in doing so touches a small hair, then touches yet another, and suddenly the two limbs of the carnivorous plant they close on him preventing it from flying away.
Now, the flaps of the leaf instead of producing the sweet nectar begin to secrete some enzymes that will digest the gnat, slowly reducing it to mush.

This scene seems to encompass the nemesis of the plant world: plants, usually parasitized and devoured by insects, seem to have the upper hand for once.

Knowledge of carnivorous plants

The first to deal with the phenomenon of carnivorous plants was Charles Linnaeus, the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist who divided the existing into different kingdoms: animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.
However, carnivorous plants, due to their "predatory activity”, Escaped the criteria of its classification. Linnaeus in one of his writings declared that carnivorous plants "went against nature, as it was established by God".

The same Charles Darwin, following the discovery of a specimen of Drosera on an English moor, he spent whole days conducting experiments on it. He would drop small insects on his leaves and observe like these they folded their sticky tentacles on unfortunate prey. From these observations Darwin concluded that the movement to capture insects was triggered by the stimulation, by the insect, of some hairs placed on the upper edge of the leaves. He also added that the leaves, once the prey was captured, took approximately a week to digest it and then reopen.

More than are known to date 720 species of carnivorous plants divided into seventeen separate genres.

During their evolution they have adapted to live in very heterogeneous environments, including deserts, preferring however marshy areas, peat bogs and tropical forests. Also in Italy three species of the genus can be encountered Drosera, still present in small humid ecosystems of the Alps are the Drosera rotundifolia, the Sundew intermedia and the Drosera anglica.

Why do they eat insects?

Carnivorous plants feed on insects for make up for nitrogen deficiency. They changed the structure of their leaves, turning them into brutal traps to catch their prey and survive in their home environments. In fact, insects are for these plants additional sources of nutrients and in particular of nitrogen, the latter substance that often in short supply in the swamps and of which plants in general are avid consumers, using it for the growth of plant tissues.

To meet the need for increased nutritional intake, these plants have developed a number of more or less complex traps depending on the prey to be captured. In fact, if for most carnivorous plants the main source of food are insects, there are species, especially tropical forests, which can occasionally capture even small rodents or reptiles.

How do they catch insects?

Catching strategies can be broadly divided into four categories:

Ascidian traps: Ascidian is a rolled leaf in the shape of an ampoule that has speckles with a truly captivating appearance. These containers tend to fill up with water, where bacterial colonies settle which, in symbiosis with the plant, digest the small animals that fall inside. The most well-known genus that possesses these traps and also the easiest to find in nurseries is the Nepenthes. All the plants belonging to this group have ascidia which develop on the outer margin of the leaves as an extension of the central rib.

Sticky traps: plants of the genus belong to this group Drosera that grow in Italy and the first specimen that caught Darwin's attention. These carnivorous plants have cells on the upper surface of the leaf that produce a sticky substance that sticks to insects that also land on it to facilitate digestion, once the insect is stuck, the leaf tends to fold to form like a sac. digestive.

Suction trap: these traps generally belong to aquatic plant species. In fact, their mechanism consists of small air-filled ampoules, which once opened, following the stimulation of the prey, tend to suck into the water with the small insect on duty.

Snap traps: they are perhaps among the most fascinating traps, in fact their rapid movement to capture insects makes them really look like animals rather than plants. Their trap is a modified leaf that almost has the appearance of jaws also equipped with thin and sharp teeth, which in reality are nothing more than small hairs that prevent the captured insect from flying away.

For years it has remained a mystery as to how the closing mechanism it could act fast enough to even catch an insect. Today, thanks also to Darwin's pioneering studies, it has been discovered that the closure is induced by the rubbing of some sensor hair placed inside what appear to be the jaws of the carnivorous plant from this initial stimulus starts a cascade of events inside the plant which ends with the dehydration of the cells of the central rib of the leaf, which leads to the closure of the two leaf margins. Perhaps the most representative species of this group is the Dionaea muscipula, whose redness of the leaf surface is so reminiscent of the palate of a mouth.

The easiest species

Among the easiest species of carnivorous plants to grow at home there is definitely the Dionaea muscipulawhich requires direct sun for at least a few hours throughout the day. Whoever decides to cultivate this species, keep in mind that the Dionaea it has a period of quiescence in which the plant has a not very vigorous aspect: do not despair, within a couple of months your plant will grow again and produce numerous "ravenous jaws".

Many species of the genus are also easy to cultivate Drosera, the Sarraceniarosy, the Cephalotus follicularis and the Nepenthes truncata. The latter, but more generally all species of the genus Nepenthes, tend to consume a lot of water if grown at home and it will also be necessary to ensure that the ampoule-shaped traps are always filled with water up to half: provide with small watering.

How general rule you can help your plants by providing them with some insects captured by you, but it absolutely is to avoid the administration of small pieces of meat that would not benefit the plant in any way.

How to grow them

Unique and peculiar in the plant kingdom, carnivorous plants have curious shapes, strange blooms and, of course, a very particular diet. Although the different species have varying demands in terms of exposure, humidity and soil, most of the specimens that we can try to keep at home share some common characteristics. Let's see them together.

  • Water. They require fresh water low in minerals, such as rainwater not contaminated by smog. It is important to collect water in plastic and non-metallic containers. The common bottled waters are to be avoided: they contain minerals, in particular calcium salts, which cause the death of the plant. Distilled water represents the optimal solution in the case of a large collection, it may be advantageous to install a system to obtain deionized water by reverse osmosis.
  • Humidity. In nature these plants live in swampy situations or in tropical environments and therefore need to high humidity, which can be obtained by grouping various specimens in a saucer and irrigating so as to keep two fingers of water at the base. Pour the water into the sub-tray and never over the pot or the plant. Many species appreciate a slight vaporization, but not directly on the foliage. The small species (Dionaea and some Nepenthes) grow well in large terrariums or glass vases.
  • Light. They require an environment sunny (at least 12 hours of light) to which they respond by synthesizing red and purple pigments that make them spectacular. With the exception of Nepenthes, who prefer diffused brightness, many others, such as Sarracenia, they love direct light. For some it is necessary to artificially recreate a good winter light.
  • Temperature. Carnivores of temperate climates, although they cannot stand severe frost, can be placed on the outside for most of the year. In winter they should be kept in a cold place, with temperatures around 2-5 ° C, so that they go into dormancy until the following spring, otherwise they will grow stunted and weakened. The exceptions are Nepenthes, which being tropical, require one temperature from 20 to 30 ° C to survive.
  • Topsoil. It must be poor in nutrients. They appreciate a mixture composed of three parts of acidic peat (pH not higher than 5) and low in nitrogen obtained from the decomposition of a particular moss that accompanies the carnivores in the wild (the sphagnum) and a part of horticultural sand or perlite. The Nepenthes they grow well in soil from orchids or in a pure sphagnum substrate. For some species, such as the Sarraceniacee, it is recommended to add 10% of vermiculite, available in consortia or specialized centers, or the quartz gravel used for aquariums.
  • Repotting. It is carried out at end of winter (usually in February), but it's not a regular process. The condition of the specimen must be assessed individually to determine if a larger container is necessary, given the small size of the root bread. The new pot should only be slightly larger and made of plastic, which avoids the formation of enemy organisms such as mold, fungus or algae.

For you two insights: the interview with Graziella Antonello, president ofItalian Carnivorous Plants Association and a video dedicated to Nepenthes alata by Cristiano Giovenali.

(taken from "Carnivore: mysterious creatures", by L. Ferrari, n. 11, 2011)

Video: Native Australian Carnivorous Plants