Carnivorous Plants - Venus Fly Trap, Pitcher Plant & Plant Care
Carnivorous plants are simply plants that obtain – in part or whole – the nutrients they require by way of ensnaring then digesting insects.
There are five carnivorous plant families that have evolved in a way that allows them to attract and trap various species of insects - though there are now around 630 variations that grow natively around the world.
Snap Traps: they use a swift leaf closing mechanism.
Flypaper Traps: these produce a sticky substance on the leaf surface.
Pitfall Traps: use a tubular type leaf with a small amount of digestive enzyme in the base.
Lobster Pot Traps: small chamber-like leaves – that are difficult to exit therefore encourages the prey forwards
Bladder Traps: suck prey in by way of using a bladder
Generally you can buy carnivorous plants - or seeds – at either specialist plant stores or at some of the regular garden/house plant stockists. Most if not all will also include information regarding carnivorous plant care and there are in fact several carnivorous plant society groups that you can join or access for information.
Venus Fly Trap
Venus Fly Trap In Action
Venus Fly Trap - Dionaea muscipula
The most commonly known of the carnivorous plants is the Venus Fly Trap. This species is almost extinct within its native environment. They initially attract their prey via a syrupy, sweet smelling nectar. On the leaf surface there are sensitive trigger hairs that – once they’ve been triggered – close, thus ensnaring its victim.
It then releases digestive enzymes that break down the unfortunate insect and several days later it re-opens the leaf once again.
Plant Care: The Venus Fly Trap is easy to grow and should be kept in brightly lit conditions. Moisture is important as they fare best in a humid environment. Better watered with either collected rainwater or distilled water – they are sensitive to chemicals.
Active growing season is May to September.
Fly Trap Links
- Fly Trap Plants USA
Sellers of Fly Trap plants as well as providers of related supplies. A good all-round online ordering and purchasing site. Also includes the more regular terrarium plants as well as miscellaneous exotic plants like orchids.
Waterwheel Plant - Aldrovanda Vesiculosa
Lesser known than the Venus Fly Trap - the Waterwheel Plant is nevertheless an impressive carnivorous plant in its own right. It is similar to the Venus, in that is has trigger hairs on its leaf surface – though it’s found underwater.
It resembles a wheel in shape – hence the name – and the leaf closes around the prey once it’s stepped upon the trigger hairs. Again, digestive enzymes are then released and the prey is slowly consumed.
Plant Care: Not an easy carnivorous plant to keep and better for the hobbyist. They need to be submerged in water in order to survive – for e.g. a tank that also includes a filter to prevent the collection of algae.
They need light as well as CO2 injection. They do, however, multiply rapidly if kept in the right conditions.
Sundew Plant - Drosera
There’s roughly 130 different species of the Sundew. However they are all rather attractive in terms of aesthetics and remain as deadly to insects as other carnivorous plants. They are indigenous all over the globe and all use a sticky substance to trap insects.
The Sundew plants tend to have tentacle like protuberances on the head – this is the part of the plant that traps insects.
Plant Care: A relatively easy carnivorous plant to care for. They should be kept in bright light or filtered direct light. They need to have humid conditions and as with all carnivorous plants – they require careful watering.
Again, distilled or rain water is best. They die off during winter but still need a little water. They are especially suitable in a terranium environment.
Carnivorous Plant Society
- International Carnivorous Plant Society
Based in the USA but has a collection of experts, professionals and hobbyists from around the globe. Plenty of info: FAQ's, plant care, conservation programs, plant index, seed banks, photos and much more.
Butterwort Plant - Pinguicula primuliflora
This plant is similar to the Sundew, in that it uses a similar secretion to trap insects prior to digesting them. There are about 80 species of Butterwort and they tend towards fleshy leaves with long stemmed flowers that grow above and away from the ‘paper trap’ part of the plant. They can be found in Europe, South America, Central America and Asia.
Plant Care: Considered another fairly easy carnivorous plant to keep. Moist conditions, careful watering (distilled/rain water) and a fair amount of sunlight – though not direct. They are relatively tolerant regarding temperature changes though nothing too drastic.
They do have a dormant growth period – as with their carnivorous cousins. Another plant capable of living in a terrarium environment but they fare better when the terrarium remains unsealed.
N: American Pitcher Plant
North American Pitcher Plant - Sarracenia
Generally, pitfall trap plants have slender, tubular leaves. The insect enters at the top and is attracted by an almost irresistible nectar. Once inside – the insect is trapped by the downward pointing hairs and the plant has claimed another victim.
The North American Pitcher plant is beautiful in terms of colour and considered as relatively easy to cultivate and care for.
Plant Care: Careful watering – as with all carnivorous plants – and they prefer a few hours per day of good sunlight; though will thrive ok in a shadowed area. They can and do grow in boggy conditions though they prefer an ideal temperature of between 60 to 80º.
They become dormant during winter months and old or dead leaves need cutting from the plant. A plant that can be easily repotted in the spring but this must be undertaken before new growth fully restarts.
Tropical Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plants - Where To Buy Them
- US Based Online Site
US based and containing infromation, a whole range of cranivorous plants, plus guides on how to care for Pitchers and other meat-eating plant species. Also available to buy are various additional tools and accessories
Tropical Pitcher Plant - Nepenthes Miranda
The Tropical Pitcher – or Monkey Cup – plant grows in Australia and Southeast Asia. Natively it hangs from trees and has many similarities with the American Pitcher. Again it initially attracts insects by way of a pungent smell - that then soon find themselves trapped in the bottom of the tubular leaves.
The digestive enzymes used by this species will break down an insect within a matter of hours.
Plant Care: They require more care than the American Pitcher and are best kept in a manner similar to that of orchids. Best grown in a green house and within a hanging basket type environment.
Bright light – though not direct and use distilled water or collected rain water. Use ceramic or plastic pots – minerals from clay pots can kill the plant. Require a minimum temperature of around 60º and regular misting.
Cobra Lily Traps Fly
Cobra Lily - Darlingtonia Californica
Similar in appearance to the Pitcher genus – though Lobster Trap plants use the hood that grows above the tubular leaves to stun or unbalance the insects as they try to exit. Once the insect hits the hood they fall into the base of the leaves – and are digested in due course.
Native to America they can be found in boggy areas and have a semi transparent appearance due to the spots that grow on the hood of the plant and towards the top of the leaves.
Plant Care: Grow well on patios and terraces though direct sunlight can ‘over heat’ them. Remove indoors if you suffer a sever temperature drop during winter months. Require a good supply of water – that should always be cold.
The roots of this particular carnivorous plant must be kept at a constantly low temperature.
Parrot Pitcher Plant
Parrot Pitcher Plant - Sarracenia Psittacina
Despite the name – this is a Lobster Trap plant. It differs from the pitcher in that its trapping mechanism works like other Sarracenia (Lobster Traps) species. Its name is due to the fact that the top of the plant resembles the head of a parrot and it uses mainly colour to attract insects.
It’s generally quite a small carnivorous plant and its tubular leaves are horizontal, as opposed to upright like the Cobra Lily.
Plant Care: Again these plants grow well outdoors. Better potted as opposed to ground planted. During winter months the Parrot Pitchers’ growth rate will slow down and it will eventually become dormant – as is typical of many carnivorous plants.
Its leaf edges will discolour, though this is normal. It also requires its roots to be kept damp so as to prevent the soil – and roots – from dehydrating.
- Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants
Another (UK) online site related to plant buying and care. This particular link takes you directly to a fair amount of information regarding the different Bladderwort (Utricularia) genus - as well basic cultivatiion advice.
9. Bladderwort Plant – Utricularia Sandersonii
There are many Utricularia variations and this information relates to one of the easiest to cultivate and grow – the Utricularia Sandersonii. Unlike many of the carnivorous plant genus none of the Utricularia species appear to have easy to remember names. There’s roughly 230 species of this variety and they are found widely dispersed across the globe.
They can be either aquatic, epiphytic or terrestrial. They all have ‘bladder’ type traps that are pressurised and contain a trap-door mechanism.
This species will do especially well placed within a greenhouse or conservatory. They don’t necessarily require a high temperature but do need a lot of water – as with other similar plants.
They develop beautiful but small lavender coloured flowers all year round and are happy with being flooded from time to time.
Although this guide isn’t comprehensive, the intention was to offer basic information and a taster regarding the many varieties of carnivorous plants available – as well as trying to provide a plant care guide particular to each listed species. There is a wealth of information on the internet and the links provided should help the prospective buyer on choosing which plant/s to buy and also how to cultivate and care for them correctly.
On a final note – important information that is relevant to most if not all carnivorous plants:
Always use distilled or rain water – these plants are highly sensitive to chemicals and many people make the mistake of watering them from the tap.
Never use fertiliser – they simply do not require it.
Don’t over-handle your plant – due to their nature they are very sensitive and too much handling can cause them to die.
Don’t be tempted to feed your plant with insects – let nature take its course.
Prepare the pot well – the recommended potting blend is roughly 40% perlite and 60% moss – preferably spagnum moss
Avoid using clay pots – plastic or ceramic glazed pots are best.
Copyright © AJ Thompson - 06/04/09. All Rights Reserved.