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Andrew's guide to growing Heliamphora in the desert

  • Thread starter Werdna
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I am diagonaly parked in a parallel universe
By no means do I consider myself an expert on the topic of Heliamphora cultivation, but I've been doing it for a few years now and have been successful to varying degrees with all of the plants I've tried so far despite my somewhat unconventional methods. I grow all of my plants in ordinary indoor conditions without terrariums or supplemental humidity of any kind, and since I live in the desert the humidity can get quite low, but it usually is in the range of 20%-45%. My home has forced air gas heat in the winter (temps 64-70F) and air conditioning in the summer (temps 74-82F). I haven't found any helis unable to acclimate to those conditions. My acclimation process is the same that most people use for nepenthes - bag the plant to keep the humidity near 100% until new growth is observed, then begin cutting holes in the bag to gradually reduce the humidity over a period of weeks to months, depending on the plant's response. Get a feel for the stiffness of the leaves and observe their surface texture while the plant is well hydrated, take a few pictures - this will give you a baseline of comparison as the plant goes through the acclimation process. These are much more sensitive indicators of hydration than outright wilting in my experience. If the plant seems to be suffering, particularly on new growth it is okay to backtrack and go slower. Even with this careful acclimation process expect the older growth, that likely developed in high humidity, to suffer some. Crispy edges on older pitchers are to be expected.

Heliamphora need bright light. I've used a few different full spectrum LED lighting setups and all have performed well for me. As a general rule I aim for 200 PPFD measured at nectar spoon height, but most plants are tolerant down to 100 and up to 600+. As a general rule of thumb 25W of LED lighting per square foot of growing area should get you in the right ballpark to start, you can fine tune by adjusting spacing or changing the number of lights. Heliamphora change form and coloration dramatically with the quantity of light they are receiving. Plants that aren't receiving enough will have reduced or non-existent nectar spoons and the opening of the pitcher will flatten out and widen in an attempt to capture more light, but the body will narrow substatially. I have recently noticed that plants seem to grow larger in a red heavy (low color temperature) spectrum but I haven't observed this phenomenon for long enough to be sure about it. There are some exceptions to these guidlines but I will cover that in species specific notes at the end of this post.

The best potting media I have found to date is 3 parts fluval stratum to 1 part pumice. Perlite can be substituted for the pumice but it is more difficult to mix uniformly because of it's lower density. It is completely inorganic so it doesn't break down like sphagnum or peat based mixes and plants grow more vigorously in it, roots penetrate the media more easily, and re-potting is much less damaging. Re-potting should be done with dry media only (it gets very messy to work with when wet) and rinsed thoroughly with low TDS water afterwards. If you are switching to stratum from an organic media make sure to clean the old media off the roots thoroughly or it could cause rot issues eventually. Stratum does not have as much water absorption capacity as sphagnum or peat so I keep my plants sitting in a shallow (3/4") tray of water all the time and only allow it to dry occasionally. If I am repotting a plant already growing in stratum I don't do an acclimation process unless I took divisions, for repotting from sphagnum I would re-acclimate to give the plant time to recover from root damage.

I also use a live sphagnum top dressing (with some exceptions) because in adequate lighting it out-competes other mosses that can become densely matted on the media surface. Live sphagnum is also sensitive to the same sorts of adverse conditions that can affect your heliamphora but it is more reactive, so it can serve as a canary in the coal mine - especially for water quality problems. Additionally it serves as a big evaporative cooling pad on the surface of the media which I believe helps moderate root temperatures during the warmest days in summer and provides a small boost in local humidity if you have a lot of it.

I have used both dyna-gro and maxsea fertilizer on my plants without issue, I usually fertilize once every couple of weeks but I'm not religious about it. For maxsea I recommend mixing at a rate of 1/4 tsp/gal and fill the pitchers, overfilling a bit is okay so they get some root fertilization. I mix dyna-gro at 2.5 ml/gal, I also use it to fill the pitchers but I am freer about root fertilization since it is urea free.

Plant specific notes:
These are generally organized from easier plants for a beginner to things I have found more difficult towards the bottom. I have included specific information about the source or particular clone when available. I'll try to keep these notes updated as I learn more.

heterodoxa x minor (California Carnivores) - This plant is extremely vigorous and grows and divides quickly. I have stopped top dressing this plant with live sphagnum because new growth has fuzz that is the exact correct density to wick water up to the forming nectar spoon. This can cause problems with mineral deposits that kill the nectar spoon because stratum is a relatively high mineral media. I have not noticed this same problem on any other plants.

heterodoxa x ionasi (Jeremiah Harris) - Another very vigorous and large growing plant with voluminous pitchers. This plant can be kind of a bully to it's neigbors. Not as fast as heterodoxa x minor.

'Tequila' (EP) - Very vigorous, growth speed between hxm and hxi.

parva 'EH' x pulchella (AW - ib19) - Moderate grower, great coloration and very long lasting pitchers.

macdonaldae (AW) - Steady grower, long lasting pitchers

parva (AW- typical) - Fairly fast grower, clump producing, gets splotchy in too much light.

'Godzilla' (AW) - received as juvenile. moderate grower, plant alternated between producing mature and juvenile pitchers for a long time before settling on mature. Nectar spoons might brown prematurely in bluer light, needs more observation to rule out other issues.

purpurascens (BCP) - Slow to acclimate and grow but seems to tolerate low humdity.

pulchella (AW - Apacapa) - Slow grower, likes top water frequently, sometimes suffers pitcher edge die back in summer but recovers in winter.

exappendiculata (AW - 02/06) - Moderate grower, pitchers like to brown at the egdges prematurely
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Great write up, thanks for the details!
Would you caution having Helis in this mix sharing water trays with plants more sensitive to minerals? Or once you rinse the media, it doesn't continue to release tds?

Also, going to leave this as a regular post for some attention and question answer period- but I'll sticky it after a bit!
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Great write up, thanks for the details!
Would you caution having Helis in this mix sharing water trays with plants more sensitive to minerals? Or once you rinse the media, it doesn't continue to release tds?

Also, going to leave this as a regular post for some attention and question answer period- but I'll sticky it after a bit!
I’ve not had any problems with it yet, but I do dump and clean the trays every few months which should keep the minerals from building up too much. My helis have shared trays with Mexican pings, a few common drosera, cephs and flytraps. In fact, Drosera binata and capensis, and Cephalotus will grow directly in stratum.
Which dyna-gro?
I use Grow, but I know other successful Heli growers are also using Foliage Pro.
I appreciate the info about your experience with that inorganic mix and look forward to trying fluval stratum. That product is new to me and looks like an excellent strting point for a mix.
That's really interesting!

And very relevant to my current experiment.
I'm trying to bring my heterodoxa x minor out of the terrarium and into windowsill conditions, but it seems to be struggling a bit. The plant is growing new pitchers, but I see several dry patches on the older leaves which were not there before (see arrows on the photo). The overall color also seems to have become yellowish (see before and after photo), with both red and green fading quite a bit... I had LEDs in the terrarium and now the plant is getting only natural light, with about 3 hours of direct sun per day (filtered through the window glass). I guess the LEDs may bring out more red than natural light, but I wasn't expecting the yellowish tones... I'm wondering if the sun may be too strong for the plant? But Heliamphora are supposed to like a lot of light, right? Could it be overheating? I live in Brazil and it's summer here, with high temp of about 30C around noon and down to 22 or so at night. Humidity varies between 50 -75%. Interestingly, the Sphagnum around the plant seems to be doing very well.

Also, I've been trying this for the past 3 weeks or so and the plant is already completely out of the humidity bag... perhaps I rushed the process a bit too much? :oops:

Any tips are very welcome!
(And I hope I haven't hijacked your thread — I thought the topics were related!)


No apologies necessary! I’d hoped this thread would spark this type of discussion and maybe prompt a few people to be more adventurous with their plants. I don’t have any windows bright enough for Heliamphora, so all of my experience is growing under lights. The humidity range you specified should be completely fine for your plant, mine grow in much drier conditions. 3 weeks is about the time I take to acclimate tougher plants like heterodoxa x minor, for more sensitive plants I’ll take 6-8 weeks, but I’m acclimating to 20%, not your 50%, so you could likely go faster. Brown patches and pitcher edges like yours has are to be expected during the acclimation process, but any new leaves should handle the dryer air just fine. I try to keep the pitchers full because they can absorb water from their pitchers to assist root uptake and reduce water stress. Your daytime temps are borderline, mine see daytime highs in the summer around 28 C and some of the more sensitive plants suffer a bit, but heterodoxa x minor doesn’t seem to mind.

Here’s a picture of purpurascens post acclimation:

I received it as a fresh division 7 months ago and it is extremely slow growing, but notice that the newer growth doesn’t have any brown spots and the older growth looks pretty rough. This plant will take a while to replace all of the old growth, so I’ll wait to cut it off until it’s mostly brown.

Edit: At this point I have so many divisions of heterodoxa x minor that I’m going to throw one outside to see if it will grow with morning sun only on my porch. I’ll have to bring it in during the summer and during freezes, but it would be pretty cool to have a porch heli the rest of the time. I’ll try to remember to report back with results.
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Thank you very much for the reply!

So it seems that temperature rather than humidity might be a bigger stress factor in my case. I'll try moving my plant a bit away from the sun, since it's a few degrees cooler in the shade, and keep an eye on it for the next several days/ weeks. If it doesn't look like the new growth if healthy and thriving after this time, I'll probably try moving it back to LEDs, but keeping it outside the terrarium. Many things to test! hahaha

Thanks again! I'll also try to remember to update this thread in a few weeks to let you know how it went.
  • #10
I made a video about my Heliamphora cultivation technique for World Carnivorous Plant Day. It covers much of the same information in this post, but thought someone might find it helpful.