One of the more unusual groups of plants that are available to the home gardener is the insect-eating plants. The plants get their common name because they, in general, trap and consume a variety of insects.
The plants use a variety of quite ingenious ways in order to trap their food sources. Once the insect has been trapped in the plant's receptacle, bacteria and digestive juices dissolve the insect, providing the necessary food source for the plant.
Although these plants appear to be quite delicate and rather exotic, they can be grown successfully by the home gardener, provided their needs regarding position and watering are satisfied.
Many plants make up this group, including pitcher plants, fly traps and sundews. The Albany Pitcher Plant (Cephalotus follicularis) is a native of the Albany area of Western Australia.
These plants have small jug-like pitchers that have slippery sides and sharp hairs around the rim. Insects are attracted to the plant, slip inside and are then unable to escape.
Flies, mosquitoes, slugs, ants and slaters are all food sources for this pitcher plant. The pitchers, growing up to 5cm in length, become dark red if the plant has been grown in sun.
More-commonly available pitcher plants are natives of America and belong to the Sarracenia genus. Sarracenias live in full sunlight and are capable of tolerating a range of conditions from very high temperature and direct sun, to extreme cold with some habitat areas under snow and severe frost over the winter months.
Sarracenias are rewarding to grow as they are very ornamental and make interesting and attractive specimens when grown in pots. Their pitchers grow in a variety of colours including dark reds, pinks and greens, some with very mottled patterning. Venus Fly Traps (Dionaea muscipula) is a well-known species of carnivorous plant. It has a snap trap mechanism with hinged leaves resembling an open jaw.
The lobes have two sensitive hairs that stimulate the jaws to snap closed when they are touched, closing tightly over the captured insect. Sundews (Drosseras) are also native Australian plants that catch small insects on the sticky nectar on the tentacles of their leaves. Some varieties become dormant in summer when the soil dries out, while others grow through the year.
A collection of carnivorous plants can be grown in a large, saucer-shaped pot, where it is relatively easy to cater for their preferred growing conditions.
A mixture of 75% sphagnum moss and 25% propagating sand is ideal. This mixture should be thoroughly wet, prior to planting out the plants. Early spring is the ideal time for panting up the pot.
Plants should not be allowed to dry put, and a container of water placed under the pot will assist in maintaining moisture levels, particularly during warmer weather. Many plants will go into dormancy during the winter.
Koelreuteria turning heads
A tree that is creating an attractive, and, perhaps, more unusual picture in local gardens and parks is the Koelreuteria. Koelreuterias are generally available in two varieties; Koelreuteria paniculata and Koelreuteria bipinnata. In both forms somewhat insignificant yellow flowers are formed.
However, it is the resultant seed pods that provide the attractive autumn feature. Both varieties produce unusual seed pods that resemble Chinese lanterns and contain white seeds that turn black when they are ripe.
The seed pods form an umbrella-like covering over the upper parts of tree. K. paniculata has yellow-orange seed pods; while K. bipinnata produces pods that have a brighter colouring, in a carmine red-salmon colouring. A good example of this variety can be found in the grounds of Maitland Hospital, near the 'Long Bridge'.
Both trees may have the common name "Golden Rain Tree" whilst Koelreuteria may also be known as the Pride of China. Koelreuteria trees originate from China, Taiwan and the rocky outcrops of East Asia and are relatively drought tolerant in Australia. Adequate irrigation when the tree is establishing its root system generally results in reduced water requirements at maturity. A position of full sun is preferred. They will tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils. Fern-like foliage may turn to bronze-orange colours in autumn.
Because it has a slower growth rate, Koelreuterias are suitable for inclusion in medium-sized suburban gardens, as well as in streets and parks. Propagation can be from root cuttings, or from seeds. These should be planted when they have become black.
The seeds should be placed in moist peat and held in the crisper section of the refrigerator for 3 months. In spring, the seeds should be just covered with potting mix in a pot that is kept in a warm moist position.
Seedlings may vary from the original plant.
GROWING GLOBE ARTICHOKES
Globe artichokes prefer to be grown in sandy soil, although any kind of soil is suitable. They should be fertilised with sheep manure and potash.
The potash makes them flower and bud up better, producing the part that is harvested. Globe artichoke plants should be available for harvest in twelve months.