Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous PlantsCarnivorous plants are meat eating plants that need the nutrients from their natural growing conditions, like air, water and soil, to live as well as the nutrients from the insects and other bugs that they consume. Carnivorous plants grow naturally in swampy areas around the world where the water that is constantly running over and below the ground washes the nutrients away in the soil. In order to get those missing nutrients, the plants have adapted and learned to eat the meat from the small animals that land on them. Some popular carnivorous plants that you can purchase and grow at home are venus fly traps, and pitcher plants.

VENUS FLY TRAPSDuring the past year we have had so much fun with Carnivorous plants!  Venus Fly Traps have become very popular with kids, so we try to keep these little predators in stock during the growing season.

Venus fly traps are also very popular house plants. Some people buy them to help to control the fly population in their house, but most people buy venus fly traps because they are very cool to watch. Venus flytraps are great conversation starters, too, so lots of people like to put them out in a visible place or in the middle of the table that guests sit around when they come to visit.

It is difficult to simulate the swampy area that venus fly traps thrive in, but venus fly trap care is fairly simple. You need to be sure to keep them watered and well drained. It is a good idea to keep a plate under the plant, not only for the excess water to drain into, but also to hold about an inch of water in order to make it humid around the plant. Venus fly traps like the humidity.

There is no need to feed venus flytraps in most cases. Venus fly traps will find and capture their own food, which helps to keep the flying insects in your house to a minimum. Traps have “trigger hairs”  inside that will snap shut once an insect is detected.  The unsuspecting insect is attracted to the plant’s nectar and will land on the plant.  Little does the insect know that by simply stopping to smell the sweet nectar that he will become lunch for this carnivorous predator.  The Fly Trap literally squeezes the body fluids out of the insect and digests it, opening back up in about 4 days with just a carcass left!

Each tray closes about 4 times, then it turns black and new growth replaces it.  This is the reason you should not stick your finger in the trap-if you want to show your friends how the traps close, catch a fly, moth, cricket, or other small insect and feed your plant!

Care for Venus Fly Traps:

Venus flytrap thrives in poor, acidic soil with good drainage. Avoid planting it in regular potting soil: A blend of one-third sand and two-thirds sphagnum peat moss provides the best drainage and moisture retention. Do not add lime to the soil and never fertilize the plant.

Venus flytraps do best in bright light but can live in partial shade. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight in summer, especially if they live under glass, as plants hit with direct sunlight may get too hot and burn up. When grown inside under artificial lights, keep flytraps 4 to 7 inches away from fluorescent lights.

If your traps don’t show a pink interior or if the plants have long, spindly leaves, they are not getting enough sunlight.

Keep the environment humid and the soil moist but don’t let the plants stand constantly in water. Grow them in a pot with drainage holes. In a terrarium, place gravel below the soil for extra drainage. Good air circulation is also important.

Use rain or distilled water because tap water is often too alkaline or may contain too many added minerals.

What to Feed Venus Flytraps

The name says it all: This plant eats flies (or other small insects). The prey must be alive when caught. Dead flies won’t work; the insect must move around inside the trap or the trap cannot consume and digest it. The insect must be small enough to fit comfortably inside the trap so it can close tightly to keep out bacteria.

If you grow Venus flytraps in a closed terrarium, the easiest feeding method is to release small flies inside the space. Eventually the bugs will be attracted to the trap and be consumed.

Although flytraps are carnivorous, they can go long periods — a month or two — without eating insects. If you grow them outdoors, they will get enough to eat naturally. If they’re indoors, you’ll have to feed them dinner periodically.

Winter Dormancy for Venus Flytraps

Venus flytraps, like many other plants, need a period of winter dormancy when they appear to be dead (the leaves may die back) but are merely resting. Keep the plant 35 to 50 degrees F. Don’t let terrariums freeze; the plants may die and the glass may break. At about the spring equinox, when days start growing longer, begin to increase warmth and light.


PITCHER PLANTSPITCHER PLANTS

Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants able to use their tube-shaped leaves to trap and digest insects. The insects are drawn in by a sweet nectar and visual lures. The inside of the tube is often too slippery for the insect to climb out. When the insects fall into the pool of water on the inside, the insects are digested by enzymes or bacteria. The reason these plants formed this method of seeking nutrition is because their native soils lack minerals or are very acidic, and this method enables the plants to compensate by getting nutrients from insects. It’s possible to grow these fascinating plants at home, just follow the steps.

Place the plant in a sunny location receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight. Ideal temperatures range between 60ºF to 85ºF (15.5ºC to 29.6ºC).

After situating the plant appropriately, fill the cups about 1/2- 3/4 inch full of water to keep the inside moist. During travel, the fluid already present in the cups sometimes falls out, and if the cups dry out, the plant could die.

Provide good drainage soil. A good soil is one composed of a one to one mixture of peat moss and perlite or combine Sphagnum moss, charcoal and orchid bark. The type of soil and the ratios, however, should be researched very carefully for the type of pitcher plant you have. If your pitcher plant doesn’t like the soil, it won’t thrive and will die.

Don’t use potting mix or fertilizers – pitcher plants are primed for poor soil and rich soil will be an overload.
Keep the soil very wet during the growing season, from May through October. A drained pot should sit in 1 inch (2.5 cm) of standing water. Don’t let the plants dry out completely. Make sure the water you use is either rainwater or distilled, with low levels of salts.

Keep the habitat humid. Pitcher plants can tolerate low humidity, but they usually stop making pitchers if the humidity is inadequate. About 35 percent humidity is fine for the plants.

Feed the plant. If the pitcher plants are growing somewhere without access to insects for an extended period of time, you can add a few small insects, such as a fly, or a cockroach, to a mature plant. However, this is usually not needed. Many types benefit from 1/8 teaspoon of Miracid fertilizer per quart of water, but this solution should be added only to the pitchers until they are 3/4 filled.

Maintain the pitcher plant’s well-being. Besides watering, humidity, and feeding, keeping the pitcher plant in good shape requires that you ensure it has room to grow and is protected:

• Clip off all the dead leaves with scissors when the winter dormant period begins. Their dormant period varies by species, but is normally about 3-5 months during the winter. During this time, they should be kept cool and drier than normal.
• Divide and re-pot the plant when the pitcher comes out of dormancy before rapid growth for new plants and begin the cycle over again. Pitcher plants can live for several years if cared for properly.

Warnings

• Don’t use potting garden soil – it will kill the plant.
• Never let the pitcher plant’s soil dry out, even during dormancy keep water in the drain saucer.
• Pitcher plants range in height from 4″ (10 cm) long (parrot pitcher plant) to more than 3′ (1 m) tall (yellow pitcher plant). Be careful to choose a variety that suits your requirements.
• Never fertilize a pitcher plant; the plant gets its nutrients from the bugs it catches. If feeding any insects, keep this to a minimum because too many insects can cause the plant to wither and die.
• Potted pitcher plants can be grown outdoors during the growing season. They go dormant during the winter. Tropical pitcher plants can’t take freezing temperatures.
• Only rain water or distilled water should be used for watering carnivorous plants.