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rosette-on-a-stick syndrome

I've been having an issue with a few nepenthes, and I'm wondering if anyone has figured out the solution. They're growing fine up top, but they lose old leaves as quickly as they gain new ones. Over time this leads to a rosette with five or six leaves sitting on top of a tall woody stem. In my experience this can only happen for so long before the plant begins to suffer. Growth slows and new leaves start getting smaller, and if you're lucky you can start over by cutting off the rosette and rooting it, but at that point the plant is lacking energy and the cutting may fail.

I don't know what causes it. It's like the plant is abandoning its roots, but why? I suspected root rot, but I've found plenty of roots under some of the these plants. I suspected insufficient drops in night temperature, but my night drops are decent these days, and one of the plants suffering is an ampullaria which I've never known to need much of a night drop. I suspected a fungal infection but I've treated with systemics many times. I suspected insufficient light, but these plants are growing alongside dozens of healthy plants in the exact same conditions. I'm at a loss.

Any similar experiences? What has worked and what hasn't?
This has happened to my plant before, so I would like to know too. Could it be that the stem is just too long after a certain point, and it is difficult to get water up to the growing point?
Lack of food. They are withdrawing the old nutrients to support the new growth. Feed em, feed em, feed em.

I have grown the Neps on this table for the past 4 years and performing almost all watering/feeding. The plants themselves stay managable with pruning but are easily 20+ years old. I have tracked down every living person who ever had anything to do with these plants to try to guesstimate their age and they are probably older than 20 years. As you can see, they easily hold 20+ healthy, full green leaves at a time on every vine. Losing leaves is not normal for Nepenthes and usually when mine begin to lose foliage I know to liquid feed again. I shoot dilute food into the pots, flooding the media completely, and doing no damage whatsoever. Root feeding has also been recommended by D'Amato.

Pitcher size is completely normal and almost all leaves make pitchers.

Start with 1/4 tsp per gallon of any liquid feed. You can do 1/2 tsp per gallon once every two weeks. I have even gone up to 3 full teaspoons per gallon of water on a small tester Nepenthes with no ill effects--I concluded it was probably excessive and had no effect on growth at this point. So, between 1/2 tsp and 3 tsp you have a great deal of wiggle room. 1/4-1/2 tsp is a very low rate overall and will not cause burn if your plants are in otherwise optimal conditions.
Also, if it was root rot the decline would be much faster. Additionally, you would see some kind of wilting with the majority of root pathogens because they attack and kill the roots, leaving the plant with decreased ability to hydrate itself.

The plant should start showing symptoms of greening up and regrowth in 2 weeks at the earliest. Some nutrients move quickly and you can actually watch them progress through the leaves, but for a healthy appearance and new leaves you need to be patient. Once a week at 1/4 tsp for two weeks should give you a noticeable jump in vigor.

Let me know how it goes if you try this.
I tend not to feed plants through the roots to avoid accelerating substrate rot, but this does make sense. I shouldn't be waiting for pitchers before I feed as the plants without pitchers might be the ones needing food the most. I'll do some extra feeding and see what happens. Thank you.
I know it's been a while since this thread had an update, but I was having issues with my nepenthes losing leaves quickly, and I stumbled on this thread at exactly the right time. As the posters suggested, I gave my nepenthes 1/4 strength epiphyte fertilizer. Two days later I gave it a deep watering with distilled water to rinse out any salts that hadn't been absorbed. Since then, I haven't lost a single leaf, and I'm not getting any deformed pitchers (which was a problem I had but didn't connect to the rosette on a stick problem). I'll be giving the plant the same treatment in another month to month and a half.
Very interesting! What conditions do you keep your plants in? Specifically I'm curious about the light, but feel free to add other conditions as well. :)
It hangs in a south facing window with no obstructions other than a bit of shade from some aspens in the summer, so it's getting at least some direct light basically as long as the sun is in the sky. One of the newer leaves has a little bronzing on it. I don't have a humidifier, but there's probably about ten other plants within five feet, so there's probably some kind of extra humidity going on but not much.
The revival of this thread reminded me it's time to coffee the plants again so everybody got either coffee (the Neps) or orchid fert (orchids and everything else). After several months of various poisons to combat a few plants with bugs, because I figured I'd just hit everything to make sure the bugs didn't migrate and survive, I'm sure the plants consider this weekend a spa-day now!
  • #10
Just over a year update: my nepenthes was once again losing leaves faster than it should be, so I hit it with the 1/4 strength epiphyte fertilizer again and it stopped losing leaves! It's interesting to me that this has happened at the same time of the year for two years in a row, and also interesting that it's worked.

Changes: this year I've taken to giving the plant more tap water than distilled water, so it should have been getting more nutrients there (though only slightly, my tap water is quite low in dissolved solids). I've also been dropping dried bloodworms into the traps on a regular basis. It's put out two basal shoots, so it does seem to like what I'm doing, but still tried to lose leaves until I gave it the same fertilizer I did last year.

I have a theory as to why this might be happening, but I'd love input from anyone who has had similar problems or a better idea. My thought is this: even though the sun is out longer in the summer time, my plant gets more direct sunlight in the winter time because the trees lose their leaves and the sun is at a lower angle, allowing it to shine under the eaves of the house and directly onto the plant. The plant tries to ramp up growth because of the extra light, but can't get enough nutrients to keep up with the growth, and so it starts to lose older leaves rapidly. I haven't decided if I want to try to quantify this at all yet, but my thoughts are that I could a. get a light meter and take measurements throughout the day during summer and winter, b. measure the length of growth each month and compare summer to winter, and c. count how many new leaves grow over the course of a month, and compare.

Any thoughts?
  • #11
I think it is a lot easier to under-feed than people realize (the first advice everyone stumbles onto being "they need very little"). I accidentally sent a whole batch of plants into chlorosis this year because I was being too gentle with them for their growth rate, and have come around to doing even slight root-feeding on most.

Winter light does do strange things, although since my window plants are succulents I notice it in them instead. Measurements are always good!
  • #12
Your personal conditions can have a lot of impact as well as just what types of plants you are dealing with. Most of my plants do not have the luxury of a terr or greenhouse. Instead they must deal with very weak, sparse winter sun and abysmally low winter RH (typically around 10-15%).

Many of my cps deal with this better than I'd expect. My windowsill neps don't pitcher much or grow much during this time-- largely due to the weak sun-- but they don't die either. My dews and pings do get space on my light stand but handle the arid air very well. (D hartmeyerorum and B liniflora are exceptions... they seem to suffer from the dry air. Fortunately, they are annuals so I really don't have to care.) Because the neps really aren't growing during this time, I don't fert.

@BB: My cacti and succs are also windowsill dwellers for the winter. Particularly because of the lack of decent winter sunlight here in the Great White North, I don't fert and I greatly restrict water. For my plants, active growth this time of year is detrimental as any growth will be highly etiolated. Instead, by instituting drought conditions, I force them into a holding pattern. (I do get some shrivelage and leaf drop, but I find this better than the alternative.)