Grow A Venus Fly Trap: How To Care For A Venus Fly Trap
Carnivorous plants are fun to grow and fascinating to watch and learn about. The Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) is a moisture loving plant that grows near marshes and bogs. The plants have been overharvested in their native habitat and are becoming rare. Native to only a few areas in North and South Carolina, Venus fly traps grow in nitrogen depleted soils. This is why they trap insects, which provide them with the necessary nitrogen. Venus fly trap care is relatively easy and makes a great family project.
How to Care for a Venus Fly Trap
The Venus fly trap needs slightly acidic moist soils. Grow a Venus fly trap in a peat moss and sand mixture, which will provide mild acidity and help hold water without keeping soils too soggy. The plant needs at least 60 percent humidity and day time temperatures of 70 to 75 F. (22-24 C.). Nighttime temperatures should not go below 55 F. (13 C.). The Venus fly trap
is sensitive to chemicals and heavy mineral contents, so a distilled or bottled water is best. Keep water off the foliage by soaking the plant for an hour in a dish of water to moisten the soil.
In order to make Venus fly trap care easier, make it a terrarium. An old aquarium makes a good housing for the plant if you cover it. This encourages humidity and moisture retention and you can allow insects to fly around inside for the plant to catch. Line the inside with TWO parts sphagnum moss and one part sand. The Venus fly trap can then be placed in an east- or west-facing window with high indirect lighting.
Venus fly trap is a rosette form with four to six leaves that are hinged and able to close. They are tinged a rosy pink on the edges and secrete an attractive nectar. The edges of the leaves have numerous fine sensitive cilia. When an insect touches the cilia the leaf closes and traps the insect. Special digestive juices disintegrate the insect and the plant feeds on the insects bodily fluid.
Caring for a venus fly trap must ensure that it is exposed to areas where it can capture insects. Learn how to care for a Venus fly trap to help this disappearing species continue.
What to Feed a Venus Fly Trap Plant
The fly trap lives up to its name by using its clasping leaves to trap insects. Its diet is not only confined to flies and it will eat creeping insects such as ants, too. When you are caring for a Venus fly trap indoors, you need to assist them by capturing insects. Use tweezers and place the insect on an open leaf pad and tickle the little hairs on the edge until it closes. Some people try to water with beef bouillon or another protein but this can cause mold to form and is not recommended.
Venus flytraps can’t hurt you, even if you leave your fingers in there for a long time. But what if you were a particularly creative mafioso who needed to dispose of a body? Is there a particular circumstance in which they could digest human flesh? Well, the answer is…
Barry Rice runs the website The Carnivorous Plant FAQ and is the author of several books about carnivorous plant cultivation. Like most of us, he’s looked at the bloodthirsty little things, looked at his own fingers, and wondered.
In the real world, flytraps are actually in a great deal of danger from humans. Even the humans who don’t uproot them, trample them, or trigger them enough times that the plants fatally expend their energy can accidentally poison flytraps by giving them tap water or starving them of sunlight.
Even insects mostly win the battle against insectivorous plants. An insect is much more likely to chew through the plant than be caught in its trap. The wrong kinds of insects — like spiders and some ants — can kill a flytrap if they are trapped and eaten. But still — they’re plants, but they eat flesh. Under the right conditions, would they eat ours?
Rice came down with a case of athlete’s foot, which caused him to lose chunks of skin. Toe skin in hand, he decided to try a little experiment. He fed the trap the skin and triggered it to close. Flytraps stay shut for about a week to digest insects, their major source of nitrogen. It took a while for this trap to open up again.
Rice admits in his report on the experiment that he didn’t expect the plant to have digested the skin — he doubted that its fairly weak digestive enzymes would be able to break the proteins down. To his surprise, the scrap of skin was almost gone, and what was left was a partially digested goo. The plant lived, although it was from then on given a diet of wholesome insects. So it seems — under very specialized circumstances — a venus flytrap might eat a person, if they were cut up and fed to it a gram or two of skin at a time.
Like other plants, Venus Fly Traps gather nutrients from gases in the air and nutrients in the soil. However, they live in poor soil and are healthier if they get nutrients from insects. Carnivorous plants live all over the world but the Venus Fly Trap is native to select boggy areas in North and South Carolina. Because of people’s fascination with these plants, they collected many of them and they became endangered. Today, Fly Traps are grown in greenhouses.
The leaves of these mysterious plants open wide and on them are short, stiff hairs called trigger hairs. When anything touches these hairs enough to bend them, the two lobes of the leaves snap shut trapping whatever is inside – in less than a second. If the object isn’t food, e.g., a stone, or a nut, the trap will reopen in about twelve hours and ‘spit’ it out. The trap constricts tightly around the insect and secretes digestive juices, much like those in your stomach. It dissolves the soft, inner parts of the insect, but not the tough, outer part called the exoskeleton. At the end of the digestive process, which takes from five to twelve days, the trap reabsorbs the digestive fluid and then reopens. The leftover parts of the insect, the exoskeleton, blow away in the wind or are washed away by rain. The time it takes for the trap to reopen depends on the size of the insect, temperature, the age of the trap, and the number of times it has gone through this process. People still do not understand fully how the trap closes. The Venus’ Flytrap does not have a nervous system or any muscles or tendons. Scientists theorize that it moves from some type of fluid pressure activated by an actual electrical current that runs through each lobe.
The Venus Flytrap is one of the easiest carnivorous plants to grow — with only a few requirements such as, wet roots, high humidity, full sunlight, and poor, acidic soil.A recommended soil mixture is one that contains sphagnum moss and sand. Do not add fertilizer or lime. Your plants will do better if you transplant them into new soil every few years. To provide high humidity, plant it in a terrarium or in a glass container with a small opening. An old aquarium or fish bowl make good containers for this purpose. You need to watch your terrarium in the summer because the temperature inside the glass may get too hot. Two hours in the sun may be sufficient. If your plants wilt, then they need to come out of the sun sooner. Just the opposite is true for winter. If it gets very cold in your area you may need to move your plants away from the window or cover them at night in order to keep them warm and moist. However, it will experience a dormant period in the winter, from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day so it needs fewer hours of daylight and cooler temperatures. If you grow your plant outside, it will get enough insects to eat. If it rains the container may fill up with water but this will not hurt the plants, they can live underwater for months. If you grow your plant inside you will need to feed it insects. A couple of houseflies or small slugs per month is enough during the growing season. source: botany.org
Bring your kids to learn more about these carnivorous plants at our Venus Fly Trap Workshop for Kids on Saturday, August 15 at 11am. learn more >>
Check out more of our favorite plants! OUR PLANTS OF THE WEEK >>
Soil: We offer both individual ingredients and mixes for all your carnivorous plant needs which can be found in our Growing Supplies section. Each species requires it’s own specific blend but most carnivorous plants should be grown in some mix of peat moss, perlite or sand. Never pot them into regular garden or potting soil; this will kill them.
We use professional grade peat moss only. Be careful and do not use Miracle-Gro brand peat and perlite as it has been fortified with fertilizers and will harm carnivorous plants!
We recommend using washed horticultural or play sand.
We use New Zealand long-fibered Sphagnum moss as a base for many of our other plants such as Nepenthes and Heliamphora. Many retail garden centers and nurseries unwittingly sell Oregon green moss as Sphagnum moss. They are not the same, in fact Oregon green moss will kill our plants if it is used.
We use domestic long-fibered sphagnum to line the bottoms of our pots to prevent the peat and perlite from seeping out.
Water: All carnivorous plants should be grown with a pure, low mineral water. If you do have hard water, it is best to use collected rain water, distilled water, reverse osmosis water, or deionized water. The water vending machines at your local grocery store are a good, inexpensive source for pure water. Brita and Pur water filters, however, do not remove enough dissolved salts to make much difference. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are best if below 160 parts per million (PPM). You can purchase an inexpensive TDS meter on Amazon to test your water.
Most carnivorous plants love being in water! They may be watered using the tray method. Simply put your plants, in their pots, into a deep tray and fill it with pure water. This is really the best and easiest way to make sure your plants don’t ever dry out. Exceptions are Nepenthes, Cephalotus, and Drosophyllum.
Fertilizer and Feeding: Carnivorous plants evolved to catch insects to get the fertilizers that are lacking in their soil. There are virtually no nutrients available in their planting media, so carnivores need to eat. Healthy plants that have access to lots of prey probably don’t need any fertilizing, although it would still be beneficial. Most fertilizers are too strong for our plants and may severely damage or even kill them. We have found Max-Sea fertilizer to be the most gentle and effective. We lightly sprinkle all of our carnivores once a month with 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water. MaxSea may be used on all of our plants from seedlings to mature specimens. Apply to the leaves only, do not pour through the soil. Use caution and lower concentrations when fertilizing more finicky South African sundews like Drosera regia, glabripes, and slackii.
Containers: Plastic or glazed ceramic pots are best for all carnivorous plants. Unglazed terracotta pots are very porous and dry the soil out quickly. Also, they may leach salts out into the soil with time. We prefer small plastic pots with holes in the bottom, so that the tray method may be used. You can use undrained containers but be prepared to water frequently.
Pests & Pesticides: Unfortunately and ironically, carnivorous plants may be afflicted with almost all of the same pests as normal plants. The constant sap sucking of aphids will cause the new leaves of sundews and pitcher plants to twist and contort as they grow. If you have cottony stuff in the growth points of your Sarracenia or at the base of Nepenthes leaves, then you have mealybugs. Sarracenia are a favorite of thrips; their chewing causes silvery patches on the pitchers. Scale look like little waxy scabs that encrust the leaves and stems. Luckily all of these little plant parasites are treatable.
Our plants can be damaged by some pesticides and many are very toxic, but we have a few things that we know are safe for the plants. Before you spray, isolate the infected plants.
Scale may be wiped away with rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or cotton pad. Badly infested leaves may be cut away and thrown in the trash. Then you will have to spray. We recommend “Take Down”; the active ingredients are canola oil and pyrethrin, which comes from a daisy relative. It is totally organic and has almost no odor. Make sure and cover every surface of the infected plant. You will need to treat the plant at least twice, 1 week apart. Continue until they’re all gone. Avoid contact with skin and eyes. Organic does not mean non-toxic.
Non-organic pesticides that are safe for our plants are Seven and Orthene.
Is a Venus Flytrap terrarium a good idea? I’ll give you the short answer: NO.
Still thinking about it? Here’s a longer answer: HELL NO.
Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll explain why.
Issue #1: Humidity
A good example of what NOT to do!
Contrary to popular belief, Venus flytraps do not thrive in environments with high humidity. Some wetness is fine, but we must consider their original habitat and compare it to the environment we want to create in a terrarium. The flytrap’s native environment consists of open, sunny grasslands and wet savannas. In other words, open space with full sunlight and sandy, peaty soils. A glass enclosure is not going to give the flytrap’s root system enough aeration to survive. It will most likely succumb to root rot and die. Even a terrarium with an open top is going to resemble too much of a jungle environment. It will work fine for some tropical carnivores, but not Venus Flytraps, Sarracenia, and other temperate plants.
Issue #2: Drainage
Drainage in a terrarium is actually an issue with most carnivorous plants due to how they evolved. Most carnivores thrive in soil that is very poor in nutrients and minerals. Their nutrients come from their food. Minerals will build in the soil over time, and if not regularly flushed out with water, will eventually burn their roots and kill them. Terrariums most often do not have drainage holes, so there is nowhere for minerals to be flushed out when watered. This leaves ample opportunity for mineral buildup and shortening the lifespan of a Venus flytrap terrarium.
Issue #3: Heat
Remember when kids would burn up ants and other bugs by holding a magnifying glass over them under direct sunlight? The same thing can happen to a Venus flytrap in a terrarium. It’s true flytraps love all the direct sunlight they can get, but the glass or plastic walls of a terrarium is going to amplify that heat to deadly amounts. I remember one summer here in California, we had several days of over 100 F (38+ C) temperatures. The hottest it got was around 110 F (43 C). My traps (always outside) survived, but had some burn damage. In my experience, they can tolerate around 100 F for a short period as long as they’re watered enough. But even if a Venus flytrapterrarium is indoors, the temperature inside it can go way up in direct sunlight.
Issue #4: Dormancy
If you read my post on different types of carnivorous plants, you know that a winter dormancy is essential to a Venus flytrap’s longevity. A terrarium is certainly not going to allow for that. Sure, you can shorten the photo period to simulate a seasonal change, but this is basically a two-part issue with heat. In a terrarium, you cannot lower the temperature enough to trigger a winter dormancy. Ideally, you need temperatures between 50 – 32F (10 – 0 C). This means you would have to abandon the terrarium entirely for about four months out of the year, which defeats the whole purpose of having one.
Issue #5: Different needs from other plants
A non-porous pot with a drainage hole and tray is ideal for flytraps.
This is the issue that culminates the first four issues mentioned. While some carnivores will fare excellently in terrariums, these environments will just not suit the needs of Venus flytraps. Many enthusiastic new growers will want a diverse collection of carnivores all in one location to admire. They’ll put Venus flytraps in a terrarium with butterworts, tropical pitcher plants, and throw in some sundews for good measure. While this will look pretty and exotic for a few weeks or months, all of those plants have very different soil, light, and humidity needs. Throwing them all in one tank will simply not work for the long term.
I hope this post clarified on the reasons why a Venus flytrap terrarium is not the best idea. But don’t worry if you had your heart set on carnivorous plant terrarium! In Peter D’Amato’s The Savage Garden, there is a whole section on terrariums and what types are best for certain plants. I wrote about terrarium-friendly plants briefly in this post. Personally, I’m planning on making a greenhouse-style terrarium for tropical plants as soon as I get a tank and enough space in my house!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any further questions!