Carnivorous Plants/Nepenthes


QUESTION: My pitcher plant is not growing pitchers, its leaves are healthy enough, but the pitchers it produces are never large, I tried to put it in a place with direct sun and it almost died! I moved it under a tree which is almost always shady and it seems to be doing better, but it still refuses to grow pitchers. I've been misting it because I heard that pitchers won't grow on a plant if it's not humid enough, I'm not sure that it's working though, I'm just wondering if there's something I'm missing, I give it water every day and I live in Tiverton (map attached), I'm just worried that if it doesn't grow pitchers, it won't be able to catch bugs, which means it would slowly wither and die, help please, this is a miranda velvet pitcher plant.

ANSWER: Hi Brandon,

What your plant is suffering from right now is what I call the "Move it here, move it there" syndrome.  Not just carnivorous plants, but all plants hate that!  Every time you move a plant to new conditions, or keep changing the environment, such as misting, you're forcing the plant to try and re-adapt to changing light, changing humidity, etc...  Nepenthes like things nice and boring, and every time the conditions change, they will go into stress mode which inhibits pitcher production.  Plants don't move around in nature.

Here's what you need to do.  Find a sunny window in your house.  The window should get no less than 4 hours direct sun.  "Good light", ambient light, don't count, it should have sun shining through the window.  This is usually a west or south window.  If your area is sunny in the morning, then East windows will work too.  North windows do not work.  Park the plant there, and leave it there.  If the window is very bright, you may see some leaf burn, but indoors that is not common.  Water it regularly.  The soil should be damp, but not waterlogged; don't let the plant sit in water.  To help the ambient humidity a pebble tray is very helpful, but avoid misting.  This is an old urban legend that is of little to no benefit to plants, and it can inhibit pitchering of Nepenthes.  It will take no less than 2 months to see new pitchers once the plant starts growing new leaves and pitchers again.  If you have leaves that got burned from being outside, just cut those off.

Let's discuss feeding.  I've found over the years that a hurdle that every new carnivorous plant grower has to get past in order to be successful is to understand that they are gardening.  You're not caring for a pet.  Carnivorous plants capture insects to get fertilizer, they don't get energy that way.  They photosynthesize to get energy just like other plants, and in fact, the only thing that makes them different from other plants in any way is this weird way of getting fertilizer.  Like other plants, you don't fertilize every day, and they don't need a big quantity.  Just like regular plants too, the fertilizer for carnivorous plants (insects) does the plant no good whatsoever if the plant is not in proper growing conditions and stable.

For actually feeding your Nepenthes here's what you do.  Nepenthes are odd among carnivorous plants in that they don't mind a little regular fertilizer.  Once you find your window for your plant, give the plant an orchid fertilizer mixed to 1/4 strength (this is usually 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water for a powdered fertilizer) once a month.  Since your poor plant has been stress out, wait two weeks before you do this.  Also, don't exceed this amount.  More is not better.

After your plant starts making pitchers down the road a couple months, give it two or three bugs a month if it's not catching anything.  This will be more than adequate for it.

Finally, Nepenthes are not plants for impatient gardeners.  They grow relatively slowly compared to other plants, and progress is measured in months, not days.  You have to give them plenty of time.  In the meantime, take a look at our volume #3 DVD.  It will be of great help to a grower of tropical pitcher plants.  Check it out on our new website August 6th.

Good Growing!

Jeff Dallas
Sarracenia Northwest

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So, my nepenthes does not require high humidity to produce pitchers, that is just a myth?

ANSWER: Hi Brandon,

It's not a complete myth, but it's a huge gray area.  Here's an example.  If you're talking about a true lowland Nepenthes such as N. bicalcurata, N. mirablis, or N. ampullaria, yes, it's true.  These are true tropical rainforest plants that need it hot and humid.  However, many highland and intermediate growers it's not true for at all.  It tends to be species specific.  The plant you have is mass produced because it's an easy grower, and adapts well to houseplant conditions.  Pitcher production is tied directly to the plant's photosynthesis, and somewhat to UV light exposure.  Nepenthes adapt to lower humidity by growing leaves with a waxier cuticle better adapted to low humidity just like other plants.  This is why nurseries have to harden off plants such as vegetables and annuals after being in a greenhouse before they sell them or they'll have problems too.  I've seen cacti burn when they go from a greenhouse to normal sunny conditions without a hardening period.  (See, we're back to gardening again.)

The struggles you're having right now are mostly from too much change, and not enough time for your plant to adapt.  Humidity issues are something you take a look at a couple months down the road if everything else seems good, sun, water, new growth with color, etc..  Extra humidity will only cause you more problems if the plant isn't getting adequate light.  Besides, what's not humid about Massachusetts in the summer? :)

Good Growing!

Jeff Dallas
Sarracenia Northwest

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: How much light is too much light? How many hours of DIRECT sunlight should my nepenthes get?

P.S. What species is the Miranda velvet pitcher plant?

Nepenthes sanguinea
Nepenthes sanguinea  
Hi Brandon,

The amount of sunlight you would give a Sarracenia pitcher plant, or a tomato plant is too much sun for Nepenthes if the plant is outside.  Outside they either need some shadecloth, or something that breaks the light up some such as a tree or shrubs.

Indoor light is an entirely different creature.  Indoors, in a window, Nepenthes such as yours should get 4-6 hours of DIRECT sun.  Glass blocks 80% or more of UV exposure, so plants are much less likely to burn indoors.  Sometimes it can be too hot if you have a sunroom, or two windows from different directions that face Southwest for instance.  If you're seeing discolored patches or yellowing on newer foliage, then back the plant away from the window some.  Indoors heat is often a bigger issue that light intensity.  My experience over the years, however, has been that RARELY is a window too bright indoors for Nepenthes.

Nepenthes x Miranda and Nepenthes x Velvet (AKA N. Gentle) are two different Nepenthes hybrids.  Nepenthes Miranda is N. maxima x N. northiana.  N. Velvet the exact parentage isn't known, but it has be suggested that it is either N. maxima x fusca or N. spathulata x spectablis.  Both plants are mass produced an distrubuted by DeRoose Plants out of the Netherlands and Florida.

Good Growing!

Jeff Dallas
Sarracenia Northwest

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