How to Grow Sarracenia from Seed

        North American pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that capture insects with a “pitfall” trap. Their  ornamental leaves look like flowers to trick bugs. Most are native to the South-East United States and comprise the genus Sarracenia.  There are approximately eight species and numerous sub-species, varieties and color forms.  Some pitcher plant scientific names you may encounter are Sarracenia flava, Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia alata.  All plants in the genus Sarracenia are inter-fertile.  The offspring are inter-fertile as well.

   

Why grow Sarracenia from seed instead of vegetative propagation?

         Vegetative propagation produces an identical clone of the mother plant. It is the only way to ensure the offspring will be exact copies. Each new plant will inherit all the desirable and undesirable traits of the mother plant.

       Seed propagation of Sarracenia produces offspring that are genetically unique.  Each new seed-grown plant will have slightly different characteristics than their siblings.  Depending on the parents used in the cross, the siblings may look very similar or they may exhibit wildly different traits.  Some seedlings will inevitably be stronger or more beautiful than others.  Some may succumb to disease or be visually unappealing. In a natural setting, seed propagation is how plants evolve and overcome environmental adversity to ensure survival.  In cultivation, seed propagation offers the nurseryman a chance to improve many traits including visual appeal, vigor, disease resistance, and drought tolerance.

  

 How to make seeds from Sarracenia flowers

          Sarracenia flowers are uniquely beautiful and breathtaking.  They are a desirable addition to your garden whether you choose to produce seed or not.  All Sarracenia species and hybrids produce similar shaped flowers early in the spring; they vary in size and color.  Sarracenia flava produces a rather large yellow flower on taller stalks and Sarracenia purpurea will have medium-sized red to pink flowers on a shorter stalk.  Sarracenia hybrids will often have very attractive flowers of varying size that have colors intermediate of its parents.   Hybrid flowers can be quite interesting compared to a pure specie flowers.  All Sarracenia flowers will require the same technique for producing seeds.

 

The first thing you will need is at least one mature pitcher plant.  Two is preferable; cross pollination will produce better results.  Sarracenia will usually flower in March or April depending on where you live. The flowers emerge just before the first spring leaves of the plant begin to grow.  You will notice the flower bud begin to emerge from the inside of a mature growth point on your plant.  It looks like a ball being pushed out and will eventually grow straight up about a foot or two. Sarracenia flowers are only receptive to pollination for a week so timing is critical. When the petals have opened and are freely hanging it is time for pollination.  At this stage you will also likely see pollen in the upside-down umbrella-shaped style. For the next step you will need a small animal hair paint brush. To create seeds, your goal is to transfer pollen from one flower onto the stigma of another flower.  Find two flowers that are at the same stage of development and check them for pollen.  Carefully lift a petal and peek at the style.  Any pollen that is released will be caught by the flower’s style; a cup-like structure that looks like a little umbrella.  The stigma are located on the edge of the style that protrudes between each petal.  The stigma look like tiny barbs. Roll the tip of the paint brush in pollen caught in the style.   After you have a brush with pollen on it, bring it to the second flower and lightly brush each of the five stigma.  They curve inward toward the center of the flower.  Again, they are between each petal on each of the corners of the style. Reapply pollen to the brush as needed.  Pollinate each flower three or more times in as many days to ensure a good set.  The final step is to label each flower with a plant tag containing information about the cross you just made.  Flowers are receptive to pollination for about a week.  Within days after your work is complete, the flower will become less receptive to pollen and the petals will begin to fade and drop off.  Once the petals begin to drop it will no longer be possible to pollinate the flower.  After the petals drop off, the flower will often point upward, and the ovary will swell.  If pollination was successful, autumn will present you with a pod of up to hundreds of seeds. 

 

How to collect Sarracenia Seed

         Now it’s autumn and your hard work is paying off.   The once beautiful flowers from spring are now weathered and faded.  Collect your seeds when the ovaries turn brown but before the pods split completely and spill.  Cut the flower and discard everything except the ripened pod and the plant tag with the cross written on it.  Place it on a paper plate and carefully split the pod down the seams. Some seeds will fall out while others will stay in the pod.  You can use a tooth pick to extract the remaining seeds.  Discard all remnants of the pod leaving only the seeds on the plate.  Store the seeds in a paper envelope and place them in a cool dry place.  They will be viable for years when stored properly.  You may also choose to store your seeds in a refrigerator sealed in a plastic bag for a much longer shelf life.  Make sure to write the parentage of the cross and the year it was harvested.  

   

How to cold stratify Sarracenia seed 

          To prevent Autumn germination in the wild, Sarracenia seeds are dormant.  Cold, wet, oxygen rich conditions in the winter enable biochemical changes within the seed to break dormancy.  In horticulture we refer to this type of seed treatment as "cold stratification". 

        To be clear, Sarracenia seeds will not germinate properly without first being treated for seed dormancy. The preferred method for overcoming seed dormancy is cold stratification in a refrigerator. 

To properly treat seeds you will require absorption of water, adequate oxygen, cold temperature, and time.  Instructions are as follows: 

  1. Make a 50/50 mix using peat and perlite (no fertilizer).
  2. Fill a 2 inch pot with your medium. The medium should be damp.  Wet media will not contain adequate oxygen.  Dry media will not provide enough moisture to be absorbed into the seed. 
  3. Sprinkle about 24 seeds on the surface of the medium in your pot. Do not cover the seeds.
  4. Place your pot in a zip lock bag and seal the bag.  Keep it damp in the refrigerator for a minimum of a month.  As cold, wet water is absorbed into the seed, the embryo undergoes a biochemical process known as "after ripening".  Reversal of after-ripening can occur if the seeds dry out at any time during the cold-stratification process.  

    How to Plant Sarracenia Seed

             Seed germination is the next step of the process and probably the most anticipated part up until now.  After being in the refrigerator for a month, pour a tablespoon of distilled water into the bottom of the bag.  Re-seal the bag then place it under a T-8 fluorescent light fixtures on a shelf indoors on a 12 hour light cycle. T-8’s produce the ideal amount of heat for Sarracenia germination.

          Expect your seeds to germinate in about a week or two. You will start to see little fuzzy roots emerge, followed by little bits of green. The seedlings are tiny and are extremely delicate.  Leave them in the sealed bag for a couple of weeks to keep the humidity extremely high.  This also allows the roots to have a chance to bury themselves and become established. You will notice the first pitchers emerging shortly after.  They are tiny and look nothing like they will in adulthood.  In a few months when the roots seem like they are taking hold, open the bag slightly to acclimate them to lower humidity.  Open the bag a little more every few days until it’s completely open. A sealed bag for too long could invite mold and kill the seedlings. 

           Once the bags are completely open you can move the pots into trays of water under the lights.  Always maintain water in the trays; the seedlings will not tolerate drying out in the slightest.  

     

    Transplant Your Seedlings

            After about a month of growing without a bag under lights, your small plants will have a few tube-shaped leaves and a few small roots.  Now is the time to carefully transplant your seedlings to prevent over-crowding and provide fresh, aerated media.  Plant approximately 6 plant per two inch pot. 

          Over the next few months, observe your plants for a slow-down in growth.  They will have roots to the bottom of the pot and a respectable amount of leaves, but new leaves will not be taller than the previous leaves.  Now is the time to transplant about 3 plants into each two inch pot.  While transplanting, add one pellet of "Osmocote 14-14-14 flower and vegetable slow release" fertilizer to each pot.  This transplant often triggers a large growth spurt.  Subsequent leaves will often be 2 or 3 times the size of previous leaves.  Many experienced gardeners will grow Sarracenia under lights for the first two years.  

      

    Sarracenia Seeds for Sale

              There are a number of reasons why you might want to purchase pitcher plant seeds.  It is faster and easier than growing your own and it is a great chance to introduce genetics into your garden that you don’t have access to.  When purchasing seeds please be aware of the following terms: open pollinated, self-pollinated and cross-pollinated.

     

    • “Open pollinated”pitcher plant flowers are at least in part, pollinated by bees.   Growing open pollinated seeds is exciting; the parentage is a mystery!  They are cross-pollinated by nature and may be a hybrid or a species.
    • The term “self-pollinated” refers to a nursery technique in which pollen from the same pitcher plant is used to fertilize the flowers.  Expect a wide array of seedlings from self-pollinated hybrid plants.  Self-pollinated species plants will produce seedlings of that species.
    • Cross pollination” by a nurseryman often yields the most exciting results.  It is a nursery technique that produces seeds of a known parentage.  When two pitcher plants love each other very much, a mad scientist nurseryman uses pollen from a daddy plant to fertilize the flower of a mommy plant.  Seeds produced in this manner are referred to by their parentage. For example, S. ‘Lunchbox’ x ‘Adrian Slack’. 

          The seeds for sale at Flytrap King nursery have been meticulously produced, packaged and properly stored.  Try your hand at growing some less-expensive open-pollinated seed or attempt to develop the next hot pitcher plant cultivar with our hand-pollinated specialty crosses.  But most importantly, have fun!