By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Growing carnivorous plants is a fun project for the family. Carnivorous plant habitats are primarily temperate to warm, moist and nutrient-deficient. This is why all types of carnivorous plants must supplement their nutrient intake with insects, or even small animals and amphibians. Gather some information on what are carnivorous plants’ needs and get started on raising an interesting form of life.
The vast array of forms in the carnivorous plant family is far too numerous to detail entirely in a list of carnivorous plants, and their predatory methods range the limits of imagination. Their reputation as man eaters is entirely false but some carnivorous plants can catch small mammals and amphibians, such as frogs. The smallest of the group are just an inch (2.5 cm.) high and the largest may get 50 feet (15 m.) long with 12-inch (30 cm.) traps.
Sarracenia is a genus of carnivorous plants known to most gardeners as pitcher plants. They are native to North America and may be found growing wild in boggy, warm areas. There are also pitcher plants in the genera Nepenthesand Darlingtonia. Sundews belong in the genus Droseriathat are the type with sticky hairy pads. The Venus flytrap is also a member of the sundew genus.
Carnivorous plants grow where soils are low in nitrogen, which is a crucial nutrient for plant vegetative growth. In fact, these plants have evolved various methods for capturing and digesting insects to supplement their nitrogen content.
There are around 200 different types of carnivorous plants with various methods of trapping their necessary food. A complete list of carnivorous plants would include those that drown, mechanically trap or catch their prey with gluey substance.
Carnivorous plants come in many shapes and sizes. Their most defining forms are the methods they employ to catch their prey. Many simply drown the insects in a funnel or vase-shaped organ that has liquid at the bottom, such as with pitcher plants.
Others actually have a sensitive motion activated trap. These may be claw shaped, hinged, toothy or leaf like. The snap mechanism is triggered by the insect’s movements and closes quickly on the prey. The Venus flytrap is a prime example of this mechanism.
Sundews have sticky pads on leaf-like extensions. These are gluey and have a digestive enzyme in the shimmering beads of liquid.
Bladderworts are underwater plants that use bloated, hollow leaf tissue with a small opening at one end, to suck in prey and digest them within.
The most commonly available carnivorous plants for the home gardener are primarily bog plants. They require high humidity and consistent moisture. Carnivorous plants require acidic soils, which are easily provided with sphagnum peat moss in the potting medium. Carnivorous plants do well in a terrarium environment, which helps conserve moisture.
They also like bright sunlight, which may come from a window or artificially provided. Carnivorous plant habitats are moderate to warm in temperature. Daytime temperatures around 70-75 F. (21-24 C.), with nighttime temperatures no less than 55 F. (13 C.), provide ideal growing conditions.
In addition, you’ll need to provide insects for the plants or feed them a on-quarter dilution of fish fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.
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Carnivorous plants are plants that are able to gain many of their nutrients from trapping and breaking down insects or other small animals. This is unlike all other plants who are dependent on a combination of sunlight and nutrients in the soil.
There are over 450 different species of carnivorous plants and they can be found on every continent aside from Antarctica.
Where are Carnivorous Plants Found Today? In particular, carnivorous plants are most common in North America, southeastern Asia and Australia. As they live in areas where other plants might not find enough nutrients, they will often be found in some unusual places.
They often grow in damp environments, with some species being completely aquatic, such in peat-moss bogs in North America, as well as on rocky cliffs or in moist sand. In these areas, carnivorous plants have the advantage due to the added nutrients from catching prey.
Many carnivorous plants might not look like you would expect, and to the casual observer, it is not always obvious that a plant may be a carnivorous plant.
For example, Butterworts are common with 80 species worldwide, but many have small pitchers that appear to be apart of the flower on first glance.
Therefore it is important to do your research on what types of carnivorous plants are indigenous to your area and what they look like. Then you will be able to spot them in many more areas than expected.
What's a plant to do when it finds itself in a "wet desert"? Most species can't survive, but some botanical wonders—the carnivorous plants—have found ways to get the nutrients they need. They trap insects and dissolve them the liquefied victims provide carnivorous plants with the vital nutrients that are missing from the soil—nutrients that power flower, seed, and offshoot production. For a carnivorous plant, roots merely draw in water and keep it anchored in place.
The most common prey for carnivorous plants are small insects such as gnats, flies, bees, moths, beetles, and ants. And the ways in which these unlucky creatures ended up as a meal are marvels of adaptation. There are a number of enticements in carnivorous plants’ bag of bug-grabbing tricks. To draw them close enough to catch, the plants entice their victims with bright colors and a variety of scents. With smells, though, beauty is in the nose of the beholder. Some carnivorous plants emit sweet, flowery scents others can smell like carcasses or even cat urine.
Item #: 3060
Zones: 5a to 9b
Height: 12" tall
Culture: Sun to Part Sun
Origin: United States Hybrid
Pot Size: 3.5" pot (24 fl. oz/0.7 L) ?
Carnivorous plants are the celebrities of the plant world. While fiddle leaf figs and peace lillies are presented in magazines and websites as this season’s hottest interior trend, carnivorous plants remain somewhat of a mystery.
A plant that survives mostly by trapping and consuming insects and other arhropods, carnivorous plants are paid a certain amount of respect, and are never treated like a fleeting trend. In fact, the legend of carnivorous plants has been immortalized in the cult classic 1986 American rock musical comedy horror film, Little Shop of Horrors.
The monkey cup plant is found is tropical areas such as Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia. The carnivorous plant is known as a monkey cup because monkeys have been seen drinking water from them in rainforests, as monkey cup vines produce a leaf called a pitcher, which, according to Hungry Plants, can sometimes be big enough to hold more than a litre of water. Their cups passively collect and digest prey.
There are around 200 species of Sundew, and they all vary wildly in shape, size and growing requirements. Most are covered in tentacles which have glue-covered tips, and Carnivorous Plants UK reports these tentacles can move, helping the Sundew to quickly suffocate and digest insects which have become stuck.
The Venus flytrap is one of the most well-known carnivorous plants and it eats mostly insects and arachnids. A small plant with around four to seven leaves that grow from a short stem, it’s the pair of terminal lobes that are hinged at the midrib that form the trap. According to Listverse, the plant is so advanced it can tell the difference between live and non-living stimulus, and the lobes can snap shut in 0.1 seconds. While there is only one species of Venus Flytrap, there are many varieties.
Butterworts, or flypaper traps, can be active or passive and rely on sticky mucilage directly on the leaf surface to capture prey. Butterworts are also known for their showy, orchid-like flowers in yellow, pink, purple or white blooms. These carnivorous plants love to eat gnats and are usually found in the US.
Named after it’s tiny bladders, the Bladderwort is a type of carnivorous plant that lives in open water and traps insects in a bladder that is like a suction bulb. According to the Botanical Society of America, tiny hair-like feelers at the opening of the bladder know when insects, such as fleas, land on the plant, which causes the flattened bladder to suddenly inflate, sucking in water, eating the animal and closing a trap door after it.
Named after the pots fisherman use to capture lobsters, the lobster pot is a carnivorous plant that catches prey when it enters the plant’s trap, which looks like a lobster pot. The prey is then unable to find its way out, and overlapping hairs within the plants’ trap force prey to only go down the leaf to where they are digested.
This carnivorous plant species possesses both flypaper (such as the Butterworts) and snap-trapping (like the Venus fly trap) abilities. Endemic to Australia, this carnivorous plant catches its prey with sticky outer tentacles. When the prey puts pressure on these tentacles, plant cells break underneath it and send the object catapulting towards the center of the plant, where it’s eaten.
Carnivorous plants love a swampy environment filled with moss and moisture, and will not grow in commercial potting mix or soil that contains fertlisers. The ideal environment for a carnivorous plant is sphagnum moss, but that can be hard to find. Peat moss is a good alternative, as is coconut fibre that is milled and ground and has similar structural properties. Many carnivorous plants are more suitable to outdoor cultivation, although some will survive indoors.
Flower Power garden centre suggests using an ultraviolent light for indoor carnivorous plants, and making your indoor garden in a glass terrarium or fishtank.
Leave your plants in their pots and sit them in the terrarium so that the bottoms of the pots are in water and the plant itself is above the water line. You can then disguise the pots by filling in with sphagnum moss or peat.
The advantage of a terrarium is that the plants can create a microclimate of their own, where heat, light and moisture is regulated.
If your carnivorous plants aren’t getting enough insects to satisfy their needs, a monthly feeding with foliar spray at one-tenth strength will do the trick.
PetFlyTrap.com's Commitment to Carnivorous Plant Cultivation and Conservation
A well-known quote from Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum in 1968 does a pretty good job of summarizing our philosophy about carnivorous plant cultivation and conservation:
"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught"
Here at PetFlyTrap.com, we have spent literally decades learning about, researching, and studying these miraculous plants, and the diverse habitats in which they are found. And the work continues every day. To try and broaden the ways in which growers grow their plants, we experiment with different and unique growing methods on a regular basis. We have traveled extensively to see and study these plants in the wild. Sarracenia throughout the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast Nepenthes in the wilds of central Sulawesi (Indonesia) quaking bogs in the Alps and the northeastern U.S. Cobra plants (Darlingtonia) in Oregon and sundews (Drosera) and butterworts (Pinguicula) throughout! We believe it is through this study and appreciation of the natural habitats that these different plants occupy that you understand the best ways to mimic those habitats in cultivation. This in turn makes happier, healthier plants!
To share the knowledge we have gained and help others develop the same appreciation for carnivorous plants and their habitats, and for growing carnivorous plants, we routinely conduct educational lectures for anyone who wants to listen. the general public, school groups, scout groups, garden groups, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, the International Carnivorous Plant Society, and our customers too! We allow customers on an appointment only basis so that we are able to interact one-on-one with each and every customer who visits our nursery. Many of our customers are first-time carnivorous plant enthusiasts, and we want them to be successful with their plants, and to have a rewarding experience in the process.
The PetFlyTrap greenhouse
In our opinion, the ultimate goal of helping people to appreciate carnivorous plants is not to gain more customers (although we do appreciate that aspect!) rather, it is to help people have a better appreciation for carnivorous plant habitat, the extremely fragile nature of their habitat, and the issues that are causing their ranges to decline. Of course, the biggest issue facing ALL flora and fauna worldwide is habitat destruction. While most people may think of habitat destruction as a new business or housing subdivision here in the U.S., it is just as much of a problem in Indonesia and other tropical areas, where the habitat is being destroyed to make room for more palm and/or cacao plantations, or subsistence farming, for example.
Because habitat destruction appears to have no end, we feel that other alternatives need to be realized. Ex situ conservation, or conservation of something OUTSIDE of its normal habitat, is a common occurrence in the animal kingdom. Zoos keep records of the animals under their care, and a global network allows for zoos to transfer animals between facilities for breeding purposes, and to diversify the genetics of each zoo's animals. The same is done for rare and endangered plants through the Center for Plant Conservation. While there is no such specific organization yet, we welcome the idea of a national (or even worldwide) database of institutions who are dedicated to creating a similar mechanism for the conservation of carnivorous plants.
In the meantime, PetFlyTrap.com supports or has supported a number of non-profit conservation initiatives, either financially or through in-kind donations of materials and/or labor. We are regular donors and volunteers at the Watson Rare Native Plants Preserve (WRNPP) in Warren, Texas, - a cornucopia of native Big Thicket flowering plant, and one of the few places where you can see all four major types of carnivorous plants that are native to Texas in their natural environment. We have just recently assisted WRNPP with the replacement of 120 feet of boardwalk ($2000 cash donation, plus volunteer work), and the donation of a gas-powered post driver to facilitate the project.
Work crew and volunteers help to replace the (VERY) old boardwalk at the Watson Rare Native Plants Preserve
There is still plenty to do! The old boardwalk is not even two feet wide at some points, and is well over 30 years old. Contact the WRNPP or us here at PetFlyTrap if you are interested in helping/donating!
We also routinely donate to The Mercer Society, a non-profit support organization for Mercer Botanic Gardens in Humble, Texas, as well as other local, national, and international level non-profit groups such as the North American Sarracenia Conservancy and the International Carnivorous Plant Society, among others. We proudly sponsor and help to maintain an educational raised-bog carnivorous plant exhibit at the Houston Zoological Gardens, near the Texas Wetlands section of the zoo. Stop by and take a look sometime. you might just catch us there, doing an impromptu 'keeper talk'!
Our raised-bed carnivorous plant exhibit at the Houston Zoo, and some specimens set up for an educational talk at the Zoo.
But the work is more personal as well, and can include both cultivation AND conservation at the same time. We are working with a number of projects at our facility that have the potential for immense conservation value. We are currently working with legally-collected location-specific seeds of Nepenthes madagascariensis, a Tropical Pitcher Plant that is endemic to Madagascar. The seeds have been placed into sterile vessels (tissue culture), and when grown out will represent individual seed-grown clones of a unique location halfway around the globe, which we will share with other conservation groups and private growers. Similar work is underway with a number of location-specific groups of North American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia). While the project is in its infancy, we are hopeful that increased availability of these mass-produced plants will help to reduce the threats to native populations from over-collecting (where collecting may be legal) and/or poaching (where collecting is against the law). While poaching here in the U.S. is enforced with severe penalties (each Venus Flytrap poached from the wild is a separate felony offense!), many other countries either don't have the resources to have the same level of enforcement, or choose to turn a blind eye to the problem. The key in our opinion is to make these wonderful plants so easily available that taking them from the wild is no longer of any value. It may be a long way off, but we will continue to support initiatives to cultivate and conserve these wonderful plants, which rival the beauty of the most spectacular orchids in our opinion.
Of course, please feel free to contact us via e-mail at [email protected] or 281-433-3290 if you have any specific questions. Learn. understand. love. conserve. We're happy to assist you with resources or ideas that can help you find your own ways to help!