When I was a kid, I thought a Venus flytrap really did come from Venus. It looked like an alien with its gaping jaws and spiky fringed "green teeth". Although, when an insect landed on that enticing pink center and the trap closed with lightning speed… well now, that was exciting! No matter the age, we all experience a certain adrenaline rush when an insect is trapped by a Venus flytrap, or any other carnivorous plant (yes there's multiple).
Dionaea muscipula or Venus flytrap is a North American perennial that is native to the coastal boggy areas of North Carolina. It was first discovered in 1759 in Brunswick County, North Carolina after amateur botanist, Governor Arthur Dobbs stumbled upon it. It was the first insect eating plant to have been discovered. Taxonomist had never seen a plant that deliberately trapped and killed an insect for consumption / nutrition. It wasn't long until this 'bug eating plant' was being shared with botanist and taxonomist around the world.
Dionaea muscipula has hinged, rounded, 2-lobed leaves with stiff marginal spines and three to five sensitive trigger hairs in the center of each trap lobe. These hairs and the sweet nectar flytraps produce are important during the plant trapping and digestion process. It is a genus of one species, but over time multiple different varieties have been selected and introduced.
Although there are millions of Venus flytraps in containers and in gardens thanks to tissue culture, there are less than 40,000 individual Venus flytrap plants left in the wild due to development and plant poachers. In North Carolina, poaching of Venus flytraps is a felony. We hope you will support ethical production and buy Venus flytraps only from folks like us who sell nursery-propagated plants.
Their natural habitat…
You can find Venus flytraps growing in moist, acidic soils in full sun. They can survive winter outdoors in US hardiness zones 5 through 9. While Venus flytraps can be grown as a house plant in bright light, they must have a cold winter dormancy to survive long term.
To successfully cultivate your Venus flytrap, you should mimic its native Carolina swamp habitat. You can do so by providing hot, humid air and acidic, nutrient-poor, but consistently moist (not wet) soils. We recommend a blend of one-third sand and two-thirds sphagnum peat moss. It provides good drainage and moisture retention, whether it be in the ground or in a container. It is best not to add lime to the soil and to never fertilize the plant! It is far too easy to over fertilize your plant and cause a nitrogen burn on your flytrap and possibly kill it.
Let them thrive…
Venus flytraps do best in bright light but can live in partial shade. Your Venus flytrap is not getting enough sun exposure if the plant has long, spindly leaves. If this is happening, you should move your plant to a sunnier environment as soon as possible.
It is also key to keep the environment humid and moist because it helps the traps produce more of their prey-attracting nectar. If your plant is not making any traps it is likely due to low humidity or lack of water. Constant soil moisture is essential, but don't let these carnivorous plants stand in water constantly. They are by no means aquatic plants, so be sure to use a container with drainage if you are not growing them in the ground.
Additionally, good air circulation is very important, so grow them in an area that will receive natural or artificial air movement. When watering, use only rain or distilled water because tap water may be too alkaline or may contain too many chemicals minerals that can damage the plant.
What do these plants eat? Venus flytraps generally eat flies or other small insects because the bugs are attracted to the sweet nectar that Dionaea's produce. Once the insect touches the hairs inside the trap the hinge mechanism is triggered and will close and trap it. The prey must be alive when caught because the insect must move around inside the trap in order for the plant to consume and digest it.
Even though the Venus flytrap is carnivorous, it can go for long periods, a month or two, without eating insects. When grown in the right environment it should be receiving enough nutrients to survive without eating insects. One should never feed Venus flytraps meat because animal flesh has much more fat in it than insects do and will cause the flytrap to rot and die.
Sleeping for the winter…
Last, but not least, Venus flytraps need a period of cold winter dormancy. Venus flytraps evolved into temperate perennials, meaning they adapted to the cool winters in their natural habitat in order survive. If growing as a houseplant, keep the plant at 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit until the arrival of the spring equinox. At this point you can begin to increase the light and warmth.
Where to buy Venus flytraps....
Green fly traps are from Venus. Red fly traps are from Mars! Dionaea muscipula 'Akai Ryu' is a spectacular and vigorous 1997 introduction from the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It is the result of years of line-breeding by carnivorous plant guru Ron Gagliardo. Dionaea 'Akai Ryu', which means "red dragon", has bright red stems ending in carmine-red traps. This is truly a stunning conversation piece when grown either in a container garden or a bog garden. When you purchase it from Plant Delights Nursery royalties from each sale go to the endangered species conservation program at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Dionaea 'King Henry', from Don Elkins, is the largest Venus flytrap cultivar we've ever seen. This vigorous flytrap clone, named after the equally huge King Henry VIII, reaches 6" tall with huge (for a flytrap) 1.5" long traps. It is yellow on the exterior, with a contrasting reddish orange interior pad. As with all Venus flytraps, moist peat moss is a perfect growing media and remember, they must have a cold period in winter to survive.
Did you pick one? Or maybe, one of each! You can buy one of the infamous bug eating plants online right now. Here at Plant Delights Nursery, we ship worldwide and have over 1,300 unique, rare, and native plants. Grow your carnivorous garden with us.
Osgf. (2017, August 25). John Ellis and the Venus Flytrap. Oak Spring Garden Foundation. https://www.osgf.org/blog/venusflytrap
Brickell, C., & Cathey, H.M. (2004). Dionaea. In The American Horticultural society A-Z Encyclopedia of garden plants (pp. 369-369). DK Pub.