Growing a Venus Fly-Trap

Venus Fly Trap vs. Small Frog

The Venus Fly-Trap is not an Exotic Plant

I got our venus fly-trap for my 10-year-old son.  I was on my last run out to the East coast.  He has been riding in the truck with me since he was 5 and we homeschool.  It's not easy to work 70 hours (or more) a week and still homeschool.  And it's not very often that I can do anything extra for my son's education. 

We delivered a load of Christmas trees to a nursery in New Jersey and I noticed the venus fly-trap as I was walking through their greenhouse. 

It was November. 

It gets cold in November in various parts of the US.  We had 3000 miles to drive to get home and I was worried about the weather getting too cold for our new "pet".  Along the way home we made some side trips down south to the Carolinas and then through Colorado, and finally got stuck in a blizzard in Idaho where the truck broke down.  It was -8f outside and I was sure our "exotic" plant was a gonner.

What I didn't know then was that venus fly-traps are not actually exotic plants at all. 

Native Habitat of the Venus Fly-Trap

Venus fly-traps are native to North and South Carolina.  They can be found in boggy areas near the coast.  They grow best in high humidity (over 50%) an are very hardy plants.

Venus fly-traps evolved into carnivorous plants because of the poor soil that they grow in.  They cannot get nitrogen or phosphorus from the soil, so they learned to eat bugs in order to survive a hostile environment.

A typical venus fly-trap will eat about 30% ants, 33% spiders, 10% flies, and a handful of other beetles and an occasional grasshopper.

I would have guessed, and even had a nursery employee tell me, that Venus fly-traps require a warm place year-round.  That's not actually the case.  They prefer 70-90F in the summer, but need a cooler phase during the winter when they can go dormant.  50F is a good temperature through the winter months.  Some growers will take the plants out of their pots, wrap them in plastic and keep them in the refrigerator!

The Anatomy & Physiology of the Venus Fly-Trap

A Venus Fly-Trap has a bulb and can be divided like other bulb plants in the spring.  These hardy plants can die out almost completely and come back as long as the bulb is still healthy.

The main part of the plant is a long flat leaf with a pod at the end.  The pods lie near the ground and are open, waiting for insects to come along.  They secrete a sweet sticky substance that attracts the bugs to their pods. 

Each pod has three hair triggers inside.  If a bug touches two in succession, or one twice in a row then the pod will be triggered to close.  Very small bugs can escape from the pod, but larger bugs are trapped by cilia at the edge of the pod.  Depending on the variety of Venus Fly-Trap you have the cilia may look like teeth or like eyelashes.  This keeps larger bugs from escaping.

The bugs do struggle to get out however and that causes the pod to close even tighter forming a little "stomach" where digestive juices can go to work turning the unfortunate bug into lunch.

It takes 5-10 days to digest the bug, and then the pod will re-open with just the husk of the insect inside.

In the spring, healthy and mature plants will grow flowers.  The flowers are white and will produce seeds.

A Venus Fly-Trap grown from a seed will take about 7 years to become mature.  The first year it will produce tiny pods about 1-2mm in size.  A mature plant will produce pods up to about one inch. 

Even the mature plants are not very big.  They usually grow to about 2 inches tall.  A bulb will produce around 7 pods.  Larger plants will develop more bulbs and so you may get more than 7 pods.  Under the ground though, you will have bulbs developing that could produce new Venus Fly-Traps at a more mature stage, making it a much easier way to cultivate the Venus Fly-Trap than from seeds.

Keeping Your Venus Fly-Trap Happy & Healthy

It's more likely that you will kill your Venus Fly-Trap with kindness than with neglect. They are hardy plants that evolved to survive in a very harsh environment.

One thing you need to be careful of is fertilizer.  In nature, Venus Fly-Traps evolved in very poor soil.  Using fertilizer or plant food on your Venus Fly-Trap is almost sure to kill it.

You don't want to over-feed your plant either.  It's tempting to want to see your plant in action, but one inscect will keep your Venus Fly-Trap happy for a month or two.  These little plants are not big eaters! At most, one bug a week is probably all your plant can handle.  If you have even a few bugs in your house, it's likely that they will feed your Venus Fly-Trap without any help from you.

If you do want to feed your Venus Fly-Trap, then make sure to use insects.  You can get crickets from a pet food store.  Keep the serving size to about 1/3 the size of the pods if you do this.  You will probably have to cut up the crickets.

Other meat, like hamburger or hot dogs will kill your plant.  It is the fat in these meats that is deadly, although the chemical preservatives are probably not too good for your Venus Fly-Trap either!

Another challenge for Venus Fly-Trap owners is humidity.  These plants are getting more rare in the wild and only live in very humid areas.  If you are trying to grow a Venus Fly-Trap in a drier climate.  (Or in a humid climate indoors with heat or air conditioning drying out your air) then you might want to consider getting a terrarium.

A terrarium will give your plant the humidity it needs.  Just be sure to take the lid off now and then and let some bugs in! (Or start chopping those crickets...)

To prepare your terrarium (or other pot) for a Venus Fly-Trap start with a layer of peralite or sand, then mix peat or sphagnum moss with perlite (60% to 40%) and a layer of sphagnum moss at the top.  Poke a hole in the mossy layer for your Venus Fly-Trap. 

Keep the soil constantly damp.  A pan of water under an open pot can also help maintain a higher humidity for your Venus Fly-Trap.  The bottom of the pot should be just touching the water, but not completely submerged.  (The instructions with my plant were unclear.  After 2 months of being submerged in the water, my plant is growing a flower stalk.  I'm going to guess that it's better to err on the side of too much water with these than too little.)

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