The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: About...

A: Ahh, SUPERthrive!

Let me tell you about this stuff. Long ago, the mere mention of it would turn my face red and make my eyes roll. Why? Because this product of mysterious derivation is being sold in garden stores without a single factual claim of what it can do. Instead, the bottle is covered with ungrammatical, hyperbolic, bizarre yet inexplicable claims about how fabulous the stuff is.

But what is it? What does it do? Does it improve rooting success? Does it decrease transplant shock? Does it increase growth rates? Does it stimulate growth? Who knows!? Look at the bottle with its wild promises and you may understand why. This little bottle makes big promises, but you can't figure out what any of them are.

According to its label, it is so beneficial for every kind of plant that the user would be astounded by the mysterious compound's effects.

Particularly galling to me was that people started to use the stuff, possibly seduced by the labelling (which I have to admit is really fabulous in a quaint way), and decided that they liked it.

Many SUPERthrive users have told me that by using this product, their plants grow bigger each year. Well so do mine, and I don't use it!

I have been interested in hearing about genuine tests of Superthrive on carnivorous plants. But no one has published trials of any kind showing that it does diddly on carnivorous plants! Despite an open request for tests since 1995, no one who uses this product "successfully" has ever told me about a true test---i.e. two populations of the same clone of a plant, one treated with Superthrive and the other not.

This annoys the scientist in me.

A few years ago my lovely wife and I decided to test the efficacy of SUPERthrive upon Nepenthes. We started by posting a query on the carnivorous plant listserve, found how horticulturists used the stuff on carnivores, and designed some experiments to test it.

We conducted three tests:

  1. A onetime soil-drench with SUPERthrive was performed on freshly made cuttings at the time of planting. The concentration of SUPERthrive we used was 1.9 ml/liter of water, which approximately corresponds to "one capful per liter", as prescribed by users.
  2. Fresh cuttings were soaked for 45-60 minutes in a SUPERthrive solution of 1 ml/liter water, and were then potted.
  3. Established plants were sprayed, once per week, with a 0.2 ml/liter solution of SUPERthrive. Plants were grown in these conditions for six months.

After six months of tests we could not detect any significant effect from SUPERthrive--nothing useful of any kind! Interestingly, despite the fact that we used SUPERthrive just as some horticulturists recommended, other horticulturists criticized our study, saying that we used it wrong!

Well, our challenge still stands--I am waiting for anyone to conduct a scientific test, with statistical merit, proving SUPERthrive is of value in growing carnivorous plants. Our tests have come up empty. Anyone? Anyone?

If you would be interested in exploring SUPERthrive further with genuine tests, but would need help with the experimental design or the analysis statistics, please contact me! But remember, it takes a lot of work to do this kind of project properly. You cannot simply apply SUPERthrive to a few plants---you need a statistically significant sample, so a minor mishap like a marauding slug doesn't mess up your whole experiment! You also need a separate sample that is treated completely identically as the SUPERthrive group, but which did not have SUPERthrive applied. In the experiments we did, we used 184 Nepenthes plants---it was a big experiment.

I've opened the bottle and sniffed it. I think there are a large amounts of B-vitamins in it. It smells like vegemite or marmite, but it does not even taste as good. (Yes, I have tried all three. Incidentally, I have noticed no "personal benefits" from the SUPERthrive, heh heh.).

There is no contesting that the labels on the packaging are great. All the hyperbolic graphics on this page are directly from SUPERthrive labelling. To see the complete cardboard panoply that came with a mere 60 ml (2 ounce) bottle, click the thumbnail images of them (to the right) and enjoy! Even more amazing, the advertising madness going into the design of the big, 1-gallon bottles are truly astonishing to behold.

With time, my vitriol has tempered. After all, master horticulturists like Peter D'Amato uses SUPERthrive. Even cynics like John Brittnacher use it. So maybe there's something to it. But I've never seemed to need it.

For your interest, here are some testimonials (or at least instructions on how to use it) that were sent to me upon request. They are slightly edited for clarity.

Hi Barry,

What's my method for using SUPERthrive? It depends on the phase of the moon :-)

When I repot an established Nepenthes, or pot up a rooted cutting, I hit the potting media with a rather concentrated solution. "Concentrated" means two teaspoons of Superthrive per gallon of water, approximately.

For normal watering I used to use a couple of drops per gallon, but I don't do this routinely anymore. I became lazy, especially since I didn't see anything miraculous occur that I could definitely attribute to SUPERthrive.

(Name omitted)

The plants I use it on...:
Heliamphora ionasi, H. nutans, H. heterodoxa, H. minor, Heliamphora hybrids; Nepenthes rajah, N. veitchii, N. rafflesiana, N. alata, Nepenthes hybrids; a big palm in my house, a sickly camellia, a coral bark maple I just planted, and water lilies.

Dosage or dilution instructions...
10-12 drops per gallon of distilled water.

Frequency of application...
Every 2 months for CP.

Other comments...
I don't believe the N. rajah I have would have pitchers without superthrive. Now it produces a pitcher on every leaf. Other Nepenthes respond favorably as well, for example I revived a slightly frost burned N. rafflesiana with the stuff last year. I also got an impressive burst of growth out of a stressed camellia bush that I am 100% certain occurred after an application of superthrive. I use it on any new plant that looks stressed, although I don't usually apply it regularly to anything other than CP.

Hi Barry,

I use one drop per gallon of water at every other watering. My Nepenthes alata began pitchering about a month after I started using Superthrive (~6 months after I purchased the plant), but perhaps it just took that long to adjust to the conditions in my living room. I've also started using superthrive on my orchids and seem to be seeing more initiation of multiple pseudobulbs. For instance, a Brassia verrucosa that produced a single new pseudobulb each year for the past four years has three new growths this year. I haven't done any controlled experiments, though, so the difference could be explained by some other change in culture or plant maturity.

Hi Barry,

I've sporadically used SUPERthrive at the following dilutions:
1 drop/gallon for standard watering
10 drops/gallon at transplant

Page citations: D'Amato, P. 2009; Rice, B.A. 2006a; Rice, B.A., and Salvia, E.M. 2009; personal observation, reader contributions.

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Revised: 2018
©Barry Rice, 2018