FROM THE ARCHIVES: Nepenthes - Common Ways to Grow an Uncommon Plant


Nepenthes sanguinea being grown on a windowsill


By Mitch Wallace.


Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Let’s Talk Plants! July 2008, No. 166, and was updated by Mitch Wallace in 2020 for reprinting in this issue.


Carnivorous plants inspire a sense of awe, but often accompanying that awe is the slightest bit of intimidation. Most people are under the assumption that carnivorous plants are difficult to grow, and while some particular varieties do require specific and regimented conditions, a good number of them can be grown like no-hassle houseplants.


Tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes) are some of the most rewarding carnivorous plants to grow, and also some of the easiest to maintain. They can occasionally be obtained from hardware stores and garden centers, and there are also a great deal of online vendors that supply them. Nepenthes x ventrata is perhaps the hardiest tropical pitcher plant that you can buy, and it’s likely that you’ll end up with this common hybrid if you buy your plant from a local store. Nepenthes sanguinea is also an excellent starter plant, and while I’ve managed to snag a few of these locally, an online vendor might be your best bet if you’re interested in this species. Both of these varieties are relatively cheap, hovering in the $5-10 range for a young specimen. Other easy varieties are Nepenthes x 'Miranda', Nepenthes x 'Diana' and Nepenthes x 'Suki'. 

Nepenthes sanguinea being grown on a windowsill.


A relatively small number of carnivorous plants require constant high humidity to survive, and the good news is that this doesn’t apply to most common Nepenthes, which are very adaptable to the typical home environment. For this very reason, you should remove any kind of plastic cup that may be covering your plant when you purchase it. Nepenthes can be grown in a south, east, or west-facing window. North-facing windows are typically out of the question, since Nepenthes require at least an hour or two of direct sunlight each day to grow well. It is also possible to grow them under artificial lighting, although it’s not the most cost-effective method.


Try to use distilled, rain, or reverse osmosis water on your plant. Zero Water filtration pitchers (available on Amazon) are great for achieving low TDS/zero PPM water at home. I buy cheap jugs at the grocery store, but if you don’t have access to mineral-free water, then it should be noted that Nepenthes are the most tolerant of hard water among all the carnivorous plants. However, it would be wise to flush your plant’s pot with clean water every month or so if you plan on using tap water on a regular basis. Never allow your plant to sit in water! All excess water should be allowed to drain away, keeping the media moist but not sopping wet, since these plants are quite susceptible to root rot if they become water logged for long periods of time. Should there be a need to repot a Nepenthes, a good media to use is a 50/50 mix of long-fibered sphagnum and perlite. This allows for good drainage and adequate air circulation.

If these simple conditions are met, then your Nepenthes will reward you with a dazzling display of leaves and pitchers. Typically, Nepenthes will catch their own food, but dropping an insect or two into one of the pitchers every month will only encourage rapid growth. Ah, one of the undeniable perks of growing an insectivorous plant!

Author Mitch Wallace is living in Oregon these days, and no longer resides in the San Diego area, but he is still growing a ton of Nepenthes! He writes, “I’d love for people to get in contact with me about carnivorous plants at mitchrwallace@gmail.com.”

Mitch Wallace | Tech, toy and games journalist

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