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August 13, 2019

carnivorous wonders

Venus fly trap with fly caught inside!

by Amanda Rose Newton

Looking for a unique gift? There is perhaps nothing quite as fascinating or unusual as the often-misunderstood carnivorous plant. Found nearly everywhere on Earth (except Antarctica), these plants have managed to survive in areas most other species could not, thanks to their amazing ability to digest living organisms to generate nitrogen needed to support growth.

Carnivorous plants are usually grouped into 3 different categories:

  •  Venous Fly Traps (Dioneaea spp.)
  • Sundews (Drosera spp.)
  •  Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes spp.)
  • Aquatic Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp.)

Venous fly traps are a perennial favorite, not only for their recognizability but also for their ease of care. For many, this is the, “gateway drug” into the exciting world of owning carnivorous plants. Sundews are loved by collectors for their fascinating color spectrum and variety of sizes. Just as spectacular, the pitcher plant can be sold as a single piece or as a whole hanging baskets worth which makes for a interesting conversation piece or gift. If you are having a bit of an issue with house flies and fruit flies, your best bet is the sundew (Drosera spp.). In a study observing feeding behavior among the three common groups, the sticky tentacles of the sundews could not be matched in fly consumption power (Poppinga S, et al 2012).

Sarracenia, Aquatica Pitcher Plants

All carnivorous plants are “bog” plants, meaning they require constant moisture. This can be mimicked at home by ensuring a few inches of water is always present. Our greenhouse experts also recommend watering all carnivorous plants from the bottom to ensure proper saturation. In addition, they require a period of cooler weather to go into dormancy, a trick deployed naturally when food is scarce seasonally. This can also be simulated at home by simply moving the plants to an area out of the sun. Finally, much like orchids, they are much happier out of heavy soil and prefer a lighter medium. 

Still have questions? There are many fascinating books on the subject, The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Peter D’Amato being a personal favorite. We also never get tired of talking about insect eating plants (or any plant for that matter) here at the garden, so feel free to ask us! Once you have those few tricks up your sleeve, you can unlock the mystery of these enchanting plants, not to mention reduce the population of fruit flies in your kitchen. Win-win!

References:

  • D’Amato, P. (1998). The savage garden: Cultivating carnivorous plants. Berkeley, Calif: Ten Speed Press.
  • Poppinga S, Hartmeyer SRH, Seidel R, Masselter T, Hartmeyer I, Speck T (2012) Catapulting Tentacles in a Sticky Carnivorous Plant. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45735. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0045735