Growing Carnivorous Plants

May 5th, 2011 by

Got an insect problem? Start a collection of carnivorous plants and get ready to watch the action. Invite your friends and neighbors—these “carnival” plants will put on a show. Seriously, and joking aside, these are very interesting plants, indeed. As their name suggests, they are meat-eating plants—insects, that is. You don’t need to fertilize them; they get all of their nutrients from the bodies of the small insects they catch and digest—mosquitoes, flies—even spiders and small frogs. Carnivorous plants come in a wide variety of shapes and colors and make attractive houseplants. The three most popular—and easiest to obtain—are the pitcher plant, Venus fly trap, and the sundew plant.

Pitcher Plants These carnivorous plants live in swamps and bogs in poor soil that contains few nutrients. Pitcher plants (Nepethenes) get their nitrogen and nutrients from a variety of insects—including spiders—that happen to come their way and stop for a visit. They have folded, or rolled up leaves, shaped like a water pitcher, known as “pitfall traps.” Their beautiful colors promises nectar to the insect, and he stops by for a sip. Unfortunately for the visitor, the inside surface of the pitcher plant’s leaves have hairs that point to the bottom of the tube, and the insect slides into the bottom of the “pitcher.” The plant then uses its digestive juices—or bacteria—to break down the insect and digest it.

Growing Carnivorous Plants

Sundews Sundews (Drosera) are perhaps the most beautiful of the carnivorous plants, and they are available in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Many look like exploding fireworks, with gel-covered tentacles that beckon to insects to come have a taste. The insect is then stuck to the gel-like substance, and the plant can eat it at its leisure. Sundew is an apt name for the plant—the plant looks like it is covered with morning dew; it glistens in the sun all day long. These traps are known as “flypaper traps.”

Carnivorous Plants - Sundew Plant

Venus Fly Traps Perhaps the most brutal-looking of all the carnivorous plants, the Venus fly trap is literally that—a trap that snaps shut when an insect lights on the plant. Small hairs on the leaves trigger the snapping action in response to a stimulus made by an insect, spider or small animal. The leaves—“trap”—then remains closed until the insect is totally eaten.

Carnivorous Plants - Venus Fly Trap

Caring for Carnivorous Plants Most carnivorous plants live in swampy, damp areas, so it’s important to try to duplicate this habitat. One of the most important requirements is proper water. Their environment must constantly remain humid. This can be achieved by placing the potted plants in large saucers or trays that are filled with water to about one-third of the way up the pot. Don’t water them from the top of the pot; let them absorb their water from the bottom. And it’s critical that you don’t use bottled water or tap water that has minerals (or salts) added. They will ultimately kill the plant. Instead, use distilled water, or better, gather rain water, which is the purest and best for them. They also require good air circulation and good light exposure. They will thrive in warm temperatures. A potting soil with no fertilizer added works fine—just be sure to keep it damp at all times. Damp—not wet. Photographs courtesy of