Why is My Nepenthes Pitcher Plant Not Making Pitchers?
Nepenthes pitcher plants are incredibly rewarding plants to grow. Once they are dialled in they grow rapidly; vining, producing off-shoots (basals), and putting out tons of pitchers! But sometimes if a plant is adjusting or not very happy it will let you know by ceasing to produce pitchers. Here we will go over some common reasons this happens and some remedies to help your plant pitcher. Much of this advice has been gleaned from a combination of growing experience, forums, and studies, as well as recommendations from botanists. You may be wondering: Why is my Nepenthes pitcher plant not growing pitchers? Here we consider a few reasons why.
The main factors to adjust when trying to get a pitcher plant to produce pitchers are as follows:
- Disease and pests
If you are busy here is an executive summary: your nepenthes needs to fully acclimatize to its environment before it continues making pitchers as it may be stressed. Light and then humidity — in that order — in our experience are the most important factors for creating pitchers. Ensure and be aware that other factors may influence pitcher growth such as over/underwatering, production of basal shoots, unfavourable temperatures, or pests and disease.
This factor is arguably the most common reason that a plant stops producing pitchers. Whether it is moving the plant to a new growing area, or adding a new plant to your collection: when a plant experiences an extreme difference in light, temperature, and media, it will often drop all of its current pitchers and start focusing on settling into this new environment. This can also happen after a repot when the plant is focusing on settling its roots.
The best thing to do when bringing home a new plant or otherwise changing its conditions is to “bag” the plant and put it in a bright location. This means putting a plastic bag or plastic wrap around the plant, ensuring that there is moisture in the media (check this regularly), and waiting until the plant starts to actively grow and settles in. In our experience, this can take up to a few weeks. The purpose of this is to give the plant high humidity. These plants love high humidity since this is similar to their growing environments in the wild! Controlling the humidity factor lets the plant stabilize more comfortably. In turn, the plant will more quickly produce pitchers and sometimes will even prevent the plant from dropping its current pitchers!
Light is an extremely important factor for these plants. While some nepenthes are like more shaded environments (e.g. N. ampullaria and many crosses of this species), others prefer bright indirect light. It is important to note that shade does not mean the absence of light. Think about when you seek shade under a tree on a sunny day! Most more common nepenthes need a decent amount of light in order to create pitchers properly. If your nepenthes is in a low light environment, it might be a good idea to put it closer to a window or invest in some grow lights! An article on grow lights will be available on our blog soon!
Humidity for nepenthes is one of the more difficult factors to adjust for most people. The remedies for this are frequent misting, “bagging” (see acclimatization), a humidifier/mister, or a pebble tray. To make a pebble tray add pebbles to a tray with a lip, then fill the tray with water up to the top of the pebbles (not over). Then place the plant near or on top of the pebble tray. This will allow evaporation to create humidity around the plant! It is important to note that lower humidity can also be caused by winter conditions! Extra caution is advised during winter since it can impact humidity but also means less natural light.
Simply put, an unhappy plant will not grow happily. If a nepenthes is getting too little water, or too much water it will not produce pitchers. Too little water is often the culprit for lack of pitchers (or pitchers drying up), but too much water and/or a non-well-draining media will cause root rot or fungus growth. This can cause diseases, cause the growing tip to blacken and fall off or even kill the plant in extreme cases. Erring on the side of caution: nepenthes media should be kept moist to very lightly wet and never allowed to dry completely out.
This is a more complicated issue than the others because it often involves a decision on the grower’s part. A basal shoot is essentially another grow tip that emerges from the base of a growing plant. The basal will produce its own pitchers and can be cut off and rooted to propagate into a new plant! While the basal is growing, it is possible that the plant will prioritize the basal. This means that the plant will route energy to the basal rather than the original plant (this can also happen when a plant flowers). There are three main options you can choose from.
Firstly, you can cut the basal when it becomes mature in order to propagate it and let the original plant regain its priority, energy, and water from the root system (it often will start pitching again after this).
Secondly, you can let the plant do its thing. Sometimes this is a fun option to let the plant grow naturally and gain some size!
Lastly, you can cut the original plant and let the basal gain priority, energy, and water from the root system! The original plant can be propagated to gain a new plant! This option is typically easier when there are 2+ immature basals. It is not uncommon in our experience to see pitchers on basals and the original plant ceases producing pitchers while the basal is young.
This factor is usually only an issue in very dynamic temperature environments or very cold conditions. Something to note here is that lowland nepenthes (growing at lower elevations) like N. ampullaria, or N. bicalcarata prefer more constantly warm climates so a colder temperature or too large a drop in temperature at night will reduce the amount of pitchering that you see on your plant. For intermediate to highland nepenthes which make up more than 70% of the genus (like N. ventricosa, and N. glandulifera), a nighttime drop in temperature is preferred. The temperature range can vary depending on the species of plant. A warm daytime temperature and lower nighttime temperature are ideal for intermediate to highland plants.
Disease and pests
Diseases and pests can cause a nepenthes to not grow properly and thus can cause a lack of pitchers to form. Looking out for insects, discolouration on leaves and stems, as well as deformed plant growth is advised. Remedying these issues should cause the plant to return to its normal growth. There are quite a few different causes and remedies for disease and pests but this goes beyond the scope of this article. Articles are being written on these subjects all the time so feel free to check out the other articles on our site here!
Thank you for reading our article! Feel free to contact us with any questions, advice, or amendments/corrections to make. We are constantly learning and adding to these blogs to create a reliable source for growing information and more!