How Much Light Do Carnivorous Plants Need? – Part 2

/How Much Light Do Carnivorous Plants Need? – Part 2

How Much Light Do Carnivorous Plants Need? – Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about what type of light carnivorous plants need, but what about how much light they need? In the context of helping us make better decisions for our grow setups, this question is really three questions:

  1. How is light quantified for plants?
  2. How much light do different types of carnivorous plant need?
  3. Which bulb/fixture will produce enough light for my carnivorous plant?

Let’s start with the first question by laying out some definitions. Don’t worry about actual numbers yet, we’ll get to those. Just focus on the concepts for now.

 

Understanding light quantity

Photon – A photon is a single particle of light and therefore the smallest unit of measuring it (Source). Plants absorb photon energy to conduct photosynthesis. Since plants use photons rather than brightness (lumens and lux), our goal from here on out is to quantify all measurements of light in terms of photons. This will include conversions from lumens, lux, and watts.

Photons

Micromole (abbreviated μm or μMole) – Since photons are so small, recording an actual photon count when measuring plant lighting would result in astronomical numbers. To help simplify things, we refer to them in micromoles of photons instead, or just micromoles (μm or μMole). 1 μMole consists of 602 QUADRILLION photons (Source).

Photosynthetic Photon Flux (abbreviated PPF or µMol/S) – PPF is the number of µMoles produced by a light source per second within the PAR range of 400-700 nanometers (Source). Think of this like the shower setting on a garden hose. If you squeeze the handle for 1 second, a certain number of water drops will spray out. The PPF is somewhat helpful to know, but nobody turns on a grow light for only 1 second and since light spreads out the farther it gets from the source (becomes dimmer), it doesn’t tell us anything about how many µMoles are actually hitting our plants. Hmm, sounds like we still need more information.

Note: Sometimes light manufacturers will provide the PPF of a grow light but there can be some inconsistencies of how it is measured.

Photosynthetic Photon Flux

Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (abbreviated PPFD or µMol/M2 S) – PPFD is the number of µMoles produced by a light source per second over a square meter within the PAR range of 400-700 nanometers (Source). This is the same as PPF but now we’re adding in an area over which the PPF is spread out, or the density of the photons in a given area. This is the idea behind the Inverse Square Law.  Again, think of this like the shower setting on a garden hose only now you’ve marked out a square meter on the floor. After squeezing for one second, how many drops of water fall within the square meter?

Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD)

Knowing the PPFD is very helpful because not only does it tell us how many photons are hitting a given area, but it also means there’s a distance associated with it. Now we’re getting somewhere! Still though, nobody turns on a grow light for only one second and that’s where Moles/Day comes in.

Moles/DayThe number of µMol/M2 S (PPFD) produced over a 24 hour period. It is the daily accumulation of photons over a square meter. Time to pull out the garden hose again. Now, instead of squeezing the handle for one second, keep squeezing it for several hours over a square meter bucket (better have good drainage because that’s a lot of water). The longer you squeeze, the more water drops will collect in the bucket. It could also be said the higher the water pressure (the stronger the light), the faster the bucket will fill up.

Quite a few µMoles can be produced in a 24 hour period, so to make it a more manageable number, we convert it to Moles/Day. There are 1 million µMoles in a Mole.

Knowing the Moles/Day a light produces is the ultimate goal because then we can compare it with the known needs of certain types of carnivorous plants. See where we’re going with this?

Moles/Day (a.k.a. the ball pit)

Moles/Day (a.k.a. the ball pit)

 

The Moles/Day needed by carnivorous plants

To determine the Moles/Day needed by different types of carnivorous plants, we referred to data in this document from Purdue University for plants with similar light requirements. The Moles/Day required by a plant is known as its Daily Light Integral (DLI). The table provides an overall breakdown by genus but the numbers can vary somewhat from one species to the next.

Daily Light Integral (DLI) for Carnivorous Plants

Note: Toward the end of June on a clear day in the United States, the sun emits 40-60 Moles/Day depending on the exact location. These numbers fall in winter as the days become shorter.

Monthly Outdoor DLI ranges for the United States

Image Source: Measuring Daily Light Integral in a Greenhouse by Ariana P. Torres and Roberto G. Lopez

 

What about Lumens and Lux?

As with Kelvin and CRI, the problem with using lumens and lux to measure light is that they are based on human perception. Humans perceive light in the yellow/green part of the spectrum as brightest. However, light in the blue and red ranges appears much dimmer. This means that while a bulb with a high lumen or lux value may appear intense, it could actually have very little usable light for plants. It all depends on the Spectral Distribution Curve (SDC) of the bulb. Lumens and lux can provide some useful information though and are still widely used, so we’ll take a look at them here and how to convert them to PPF and PPFD later on.

Plant Response vs. Human Perception

Lumen (lm, a.k.a luminous flux, or just flux) – A measurement of the brightness of a light as perceived by the human eye in a given angle or beam. Lumens are also known as foot-candles when they are measured within a given area and distance. The brightness of a candle 1 foot away from the source within a 1 square foot area (1 foot-candle) is equal to 1 lumen (Source).

Lux (lx) – Lux is the same idea as foot-candles but uses the metric system instead. It is the brightness of a light as perceived by the human eye that falls on a 1 square meter object 1 meter away. 1 lumen spread over 1 square meter equals 1 lux. The same 1 lumen spread over 1 square foot (foot-candle) equals a little over 10 lux because the same amount of light is concentrated in a smaller area (Source). Again, this brings us back around to the Inverse Square Law.

 

Lumens and Foot-candles vs. Lux

If you remember from earlier, PPFD also measures light in a square meters at a given distance. This makes lux which measures brightness our closest equivalent to PPFD which measures photons.

 

Now let’s start applying all this with some numbers

Let’s say we want to grow some Venus Flytraps which have an optimal DLI of 14-16+ Moles/Day. First, we need to hunt down a potential grow light and then make some calculations based on the data provided by the manufacturer.

Great! Most of the work is already done for you. If the manufacturer provides the PPFD, it’s important they also provide four things to help interpret the number:

  1. The distance from the light the PPFD measurement was taken (sets of PPFD measurements at varying distances is better).
  2. PPFD measurements at various points across the illumination footprint to show average intensity, hotspots, and limitations.
  3. The PPFD measurements in context of a Spectral Distribution Curve. A light with a broad-spectrum curve will have a more accurate PPFD than a light with narrow ranges of color. You can read more about why this is the case here.

PPFD Hotspots

PPFD footprint of a VIPARSPECTRA PAR700 LED Grow Light at a 24″ height with intensity hotspots

PPFD at varying distances

PPFD measurements of the King Plus 1200w LED Grow Light at given distances with intensity hotspots

 

After evaluating the PPFD values, all that needs calculated is how long the light must be on (Moles/Day) at a given distance to meet the DLI of our carnivorous plant. Here’s the equation and calculator to do that.

Even after buying a light, it’s a good idea to test the PPFD for your particular setup rather than relying solely on the manufacturer’s claim. A quantum PAR meter can help.

If the manufacturer only provides lumens, we’ll need to calculate the overall area the bulb or fixture will light up at a given height. Then, convert the lumens into lux and PPFD before finally calculating the Moles/Day. To do this we need to know a few things:

  • The brightness of the light at its source (total lumens).
  • The type of light such as an incandescent or fluorescent bulb.
  • The angle the light is focused from the fixture (usually achieved with some type of reflector).
  • Our potential or preferred light height.
  • The length of the light fixture (if applicable).

Note: The following section breaks down each step with a separate equation and calculator. If you’d rather do everything at once, use this calculator instead.

 

Step 1Figure out the area lit by using the height of the light and angle of the reflector or beam.

 

Step 2Divide the total lumens by the calculated surface area to get the Lux.

 

Step 3Convert Lux to PPFD. This is tricky since lux measures brightness as perceived by the human eye rather than actual photons. Without fully evaluating the Spectral Distribution Curve (SDC) of a particular light, a direct method of conversion isn’t possible. However, certain types of lights tend to have similar SDCs so we can use this to help us estimate for the rest. The conversion factors used here are based off values provided by Apogee Instruments, Environmental Growth Chambers, and Sylvania.

 

Step 4Convert the PPFD to Moles/Day. If we multiply the PPFD by the number of seconds the light will be on per day and then convert that number to Moles, we will have the Moles/Day produced by the light.

 

Step 5Do the resulting Moles/Day come close to the DLI needs of our carnivorous plant? If they do, then job well done! If the Moles/Day are too high or too low, try making some adjustments to get closer to the target DLI.

 

Also remember, these calculations give the average PPFD and Moles/Day across the entire area defined by the beam or reflector angle. Real world values will be higher towards the center of the space and lower towards the edges. The calculations also assume no light escapes outside the defined area due to inefficient reflectors. Think of this as an estimate of the PPFD and total Moles/Day to help get you in the ballpark. Then once the space is set up, test the numbers with a quantum PAR meter and make further adjustments.

Please note: We are talking about consumed watts which are provided for most standard bulbs. We are not talking about PAR watts (a.k.a irradiance or W/m2) which is yet another way for measuring lighting. We have found manufacturers provide PAR watts less frequently than the other measurements already discussed or if they do, it is alongside PPFD outputs. Therefore, PAR watts will not be covered in this article. However, if you need the conversions, they can be found here.

If the only detail a manufacturer provides is a wattage rating, we highly recommend looking at other grow light options. Determining whether a light is suitable based on watts alone is the least reliable of the methods outlined here. This is because the estimate is based on consumed energy rather than emitted energy. Furthermore, this efficiency can vary a great deal depending on the hardware, bulb type and Spectral Distribution Curve.

Nonetheless, we’ll lay out one possibility for estimating the amount of light produced, but take it with a grain of salt. To start, let’s look at a couple more terms:

Watt (W) – Energy itself is measured in joules (J). A watt is a joule of energy over the course of 1 second (Source).

The number of watts a light consumes will always be more than the number of watts converted to light. This is because some of the energy will be turned into heat and lost to inefficiencies of the bulb/fixture. Certain types of technology convert watts to light more efficiently than others. For example, LEDs can use fewer watts than incandescent bulbs while producing more light. The rate at which a bulb converts wattage to usable light for plants (photons in the PAR range) is called it’s Photosynthetic Photon Efficacy.

Photosynthetic Photon Efficacy (PPE) – The number of µMols within the PAR range of 400-700 nm a light produces per watt of energy consumed (Source). This essentially provides us with the PPF.

Ok, back to the calculations. If a manufacture only provides watts, multiply the total wattage by the known PPE of similar types of lights to get a rough idea of the PPF. Then, calculate the overall area the bulb or fixture will cover at a given height and beam angle. After this, divide the PPF by the coverage area before converting it to PPFD and Moles/Day. To summarize, here are the things needed:

  • The energy consumed by the fixture (total actual wattage).
  • The angle the light is focused from the fixture (usually achieved with some type of reflector).
  • The potential or preferred light height.
  • The length of the light fixture (if applicable).

Note: The following section breaks down each step with a separate equation and calculator. If you’d rather do everything at once, use this calculator instead.

 

Step 1Estimate the number of µMols produces by multiplying the total wattage with the PPE of similar lights. The conversions used for this can be found here and here along with how they were measured and which specific lights were used in the tests.

 

Step 2Figure out the area lit by using the height of the light and angle of the reflector or beam.

 

Step 3Divide the total PPF by the calculated surface area to get the PPFD.

 

Step 4Convert the PPFD to Moles/Day. If we multiply the PPFD by the number of seconds it will be on per day and then convert that number to Moles, we will have the Moles/Day produced by the light.

 

Step 5Do the resulting Moles/Day come close to the DLI needs or our carnivorous plant? If they are too high or too low, try making some adjustments to the setup to get closer to the target DLI.

 

As stated previously, using wattage to estimate light availability for plants is less than ideal for many reasons. It may get you headed in the right general direction, but considering another grow light that gives more information or testing the numbers with a quantum PAR meter once the light is set up is advisable.

 

Some other considerations

Bulb life and degradation

Consider the life of a bulb and the rate it degrades before investing in a grow light. Replacement costs can add up quickly if a bulb has a short life span. A bulb that degrades quickly and no longer produces light efficiently can impact a plant’s DLI needs too. Here are some resources available on this subject for various types of bulbs:

 

Heat managementHeat Management

Heat from a light may be good or bad depending on the plant and should be taken into account when designing a grow space. Drosera from the Petiolaris Complex like lots of heat. Heliamphora and Darlingtonia on the other hand need cool conditions.

Lights typically run hotter or cooler depending on the type of technology. Incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat while LEDs produce less. Many fluorescent lights tend to be somewhere in the middle. In addition to the type of light, other factors including ballast placement, heat sinks, and reflector design can influence the rate of heat dissipation.

 

Reflectors

Grow light reflectors are important for several reasons. The main one being that they help redirect light down onto plants from the sides and back of a bulb. They also help spread light as evenly as possible across the footprint of the grow space.

Reflector can have either a specular (smooth) finish or diffuse (hammered) finish.  Specular reflectors may be more efficient at reflecting light into the grow space. However, they can create uneven hotspots in the footprint. In contrast, diffuse reflectors spread light more evenly but may bounce a portion of it away from the plants. To reduce light being wasted outside of the grow space, additional reflective materials such as Mylar can be positioned vertically around the perimeter.

Specular vs. Diffuse Reflectors

 

Next steps

We know this is a lot to take in. We’ve not only covered how light is quantified for plants and how much light certain types of carnivorous plants need, but also talked about three different ways of converting light measurements. Sometimes the same information said in a different way can help make complex ideas easier to understand. Farmer Tyler’s article on supplemental lighting for plants covers many of these same topics, as does this article from Inda-Gro and this post by edman007 on FlytrapCare Forums.

And finally, let’s look at some grow lights currently available on the market along with specifics about the quality and quantity of light they produce: Part 3 – Which Grow Lights Are Best?

 

7 Comments

  1. IRVIN October 31, 2019 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    HEY, IM FROM MEXICO AND I FOUND THIS SO AMAZING, ITS DIFFICULT SOMETIMES TO FOUND HELPFUL INFORMATION, AND THIS GIVE ME A LOT OF KNOWLEDGE TO APPLY.

    • curiousplant November 1, 2019 at 11:03 am - Reply

      Hi Irvin, glad you found it helpful! Thanks : )

      ~ Elizabeth

  2. Jonathan Moy de Vitry October 30, 2019 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Wonderful breakdown!

    • curiousplant October 31, 2019 at 9:40 am - Reply

      Thank you, I’m glad you found it helpful!

      ~ Elizabeth

  3. Rafal June 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    Hello,

    I would like to ask you how to calculate DLI when I use LED COB 50w full spectrum and light source has 25×25 mm?

    Thank you in advance.

    Greetings,
    Rafal

    • curiousplant June 27, 2019 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Rafal,

      The most reliable way to calculate the DLI for this light would be to contact the manufacturer and see if they have any PPF or PPFD readings available. After gathering these numbers, you should be able to plug them into the calculators here to determine the DLI. If the readings aren’t available, your next best option would be to take your own readings with a PAR meter. Buying a good PAR meter can be expensive but some aquarium stores have them available to borrow or rent. You can also try estimating the DLI using the wattage calculators but this will probably give you the least reliable numbers given the reasons mentioned in the article. I hope this helps!

      Thank you,
      Elizabeth

      • Rafal July 4, 2019 at 2:44 pm - Reply

        Your reply is helpful a lot, thank you.

        Rafal

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