A nerdfest about 5 carnivorous plants — including one you can grow today!

March 1 2012 |
Source: midwestliving.com via CindyOrris on Pinterest
Source: midwestliving.com via CindyOrris on Pinterest

My attraction to carnivorous plants lies in the traps and tricks they use to snag insects and small vertebrates. Many carnivorous plants live in poor substrates and have to find their nourishment elsewhere. So over the eons, the plants which have been most able to nourish themselves — I like to think of it as "filling their planty bellies" — passed along their adaptations to their progeny. When you look at one of these babies, you're looking at the result of millions of years of plant survival and specialization.

Plus, they're totally creepy. They lead me down an imaginary path to a future where plants have adapted to luring humans into their maws…

Any of these plants would be a great addition to your cabinet of curiosities — if you can keep them alive!

Source: en.wikipedia.org via muffin on Pinterest
Source: en.wikipedia.org via muffin on Pinterest

The cobra lily — with genuses native to Northwest US, India, and Asia — produces a sweet smell which lures insects under its flippy leaf. Inside the flower are a series of false exits, so trapped insects find it hard to escape!

Source: imgfave.com via Corinne on Pinterest
Source: imgfave.com via Corinne on Pinterest

Ahh, the classic Venus fly trap. Did you know it takes about 10 days for a pod to digest its prey?

Image courtesy Wikipedia.

It's not nice to taunt them, though — using up their snap-shut energy on a false signal can be dangerous to the plant.

Sundews are AMAZING!

Source: en.wikipedia.org via Offbeat Home on Pinterest
Source: en.wikipedia.org via Offbeat Home on Pinterest
Sundews have active adhesive traps. Their prey is also attracted with the aid of optical signals. Using stalked mucilaginous glands covering its leaf surface, the plant captures insects. In fact, to catch the victim, all species of sundew are capable of moving their tentacles toward the blade center. –Wikiepedia
butterworts © by Just chaos, used under Creative Commons license.

Butterwort's sticky leaves are its insect trap! I love the words 'butter' and 'wort'.

butterworts © by Just chaos, used under Creative Commons license.

And finally, you want to grow one? Paxton Gate likes Nepenthes alata, the Hanging Pitcher Plant.

Source: paxtongate.com via Offbeat Home on Pinterest
Source: paxtongate.com via Offbeat Home on Pinterest
Recreate their natural habitat in a greenhouse or in place in a sunny bathroom! Nepenthes enjoy as much light as you can give them from bright diffused to direct sun. Also moisture is key. The soil should never dry out completely and misting is often helpful if you do not already have a humid environment. They will reward you with an abundance of greenish-red pitchers.

I hear they're not terribly difficult!

I've also found detailed information on growing pitcher plants and other carnivorous flora at rdrop.com, if your interest is piqued. Twitter recommends Seattle's Indoor Sun Shoppe for sourcing.

(Thanks to Libby Bulloff for your help!)

What's your favorite highly-specialized plant? Let me know so I can keep collecting them on Pinterest.

  1. Some of these sound like an awesome alternative to fly paper. Thanks! Was anyone else thinking "Feed me, Seymour" throughout this post?

    9 agree
    • I was actually going down the classic Doctor Who road! I can think of three stories offhand that feature carnivorous plants.

      2 agree
    • I was just thinking how I might want to set up a few of these near my composting to keep the fruit flies away. Are fruit flies even large enough to trigger the traps?

      • If not, you could choose something with a more passive trap, like the sticky butterwort. Or a pitcher plant. Now I want some for my compost bin, toooooo!

      • You're going to want a sundew for fruit flies. I keep one in my window and it's disgusting how many get stuck to it!

  2. Apparently it's a bad idea to feed them gravy. As a kid my mum had a venus fly trap and she used to feed it little bits of meat from her dinner in addition to whatever it could catch. One day she happened to give it a bit with gravy on and the way she tells it the plant pretty much curled up and died right away.

    3 agree
  3. So, since they are in the house, do you introduce insects to them? Or am I just being REALLY optimistic about how insect free my house already is?

    • I'm not sure! I mean, they do ATTRACT insects — at least most of them have some sort of odor or nectar insects go for. I know I've got little gnats (from other houseplants) that a little plant would eat up.

  4. My dad's been growing carnivorous plant since we went to California Carnivores (http://www.californiacarnivores.com/) before a wedding (with an afterparty in a yurt) He has a small stash growing in CT. Sundews are most likely to survive in the Northeast and indoors year round. I've also learned that you have to create a swamp! yay inside swamps!

    1 agrees
  5. Butterworts are actually pretty easy also. They like to be wet, and they tend to thrive in poor/alkaline soils. A lot of people keep them in their greenhouses as a form of pest control.

    1 agrees
    • *puts on old Park Naturalist hat*

      In my experience, most insectivorous plants thrive in poor soils whether acid or alkaline, because the nutrients they get from the insects give them a competitive advantage over other plants.

      Evolutionarily speaking, the complicated systems they employ are a waste of energy in environments where nutrients are plentiful.

    • TBH, I hadn't even thought of these as pest control. But now, I totally am. Keeping my eyes open for butterwort in my nursery. My other plants harbor a small gnat population, so that would be perfect.

  6. Venus fly traps are super cool, but be careful if you decide to buy one. The plants are only native to a relatively small portion of North and South Carolina, and the wild population has been decimated by poaching and habitat loss. Although the flytrap is protected under state law, illegal collection for sale is still a major problem, so do your best to make sure you're buying a cultivated flytrap rather than a wild one.

    • Yes, this. Poaching of carnivorous plants is a HUGE problem, to the point that I will they would just make the trade illegal.

  7. I used to grow Venus Flytraps pretty successfully, and I love the way they look. The only problem I had was, at least in my case, they ATTRACTED way more bugs than they ate. To keep them happy, you have to keep them swampy, and, at least in the dry so-cal weather here, any standing water like that is a MAGNET for gnats and other bugs.

    Oh, and never feed them human food – bugs only. Stuff like beef is WAY to rich for them and can kill them.

  8. Our butterwort is blooming away at the moment. We're hoping to bring the bog container back out into the garden next week.

    1 agrees
  9. I loved this post! What an amazing idea to have as pest control. And those plants are just absolutely stunning!

    I was wondering…if I were to post a picture of a plant I have, could someone on here identify it? My father had it for like 20 years before he gave it to me. He thinks it's a Nepenthese Spatulata but it has never in his history (nor mine) of owning it produced a pitcher or any type of flower or bud. It is completely stumping us! I've tried identifying it by looking at photos online comparing leaves but to no available. Can someone help me?!

  10. They're not practical to grow in a house, but my favourite insectivorous plant is the bladderwort.

    Bladderworts are an aquatic plant that have these bladder shaped leaves. When prey swims nearby and triggers these hairs, the bladder opens and sucks in the surrounding water and the prey.


    Also, the species I am familiar with has pretty yellow flowers.

    I used to work in a park that had a shoreline fen with bladderworts, two species of sundew and pitcher plants. They were cool.

  11. I grow (and blog about) carnivorous plants. They're actually really easy to grow. Most 'types' are tolerant of a variety of conditions, and, certainly, within each genus you can find a 'bullet proof' cultivar or two that will grow under nearly whatever conditions you give it.

  12. I have a Nepenthes tattoo, I love them so much! I've had zero luck keeping them (or pitcher plants) alive, but we just built a huge enclosure for our tropical lizard and I'm thinking it's also the perfect habitat for Nepenthes.

  13. I used to live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we had both Sundews and Pitcher Plants in wetland area. They were both awesome to come across in the wild. The Sundews were so tiny, you had to get down on all fours and look at them with a jeweler's loupe to really see what was going on. Their tiny drops of liquid would sparkle in the sunlight!

  14. The so-called "Cobra Lily" (Darlingtonia californica) occurs naturally only in Oregon and northern California. Insects are trapped not by the plant's flowers, but by its specialized leaves (as is the case with other carnivorous plants). The tropical pitcher plants (genus Nepenthes) grow in southeast Asia, Philippines, India, Australia, and Madagascar. An excellent resource on growing carnivorous plants is The Savage Garden by Peter D'Amato. Mr. D'Amato owns a carnivorous plant nursery, California Carnivores, located in Sebastopol, CA.

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