Grow Your Own Little Monster: Venus Flytrap


“Dear K,

I am interested in growing a venus fly trap. Can I grow them outside? How do I do it? I want to scare the neighbors. I live in wi.

Thanks, J”

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Dear J.,
Thank you for your question regarding cultivation of the Venus Flytrap in Wisconsin. Included in this post is information on the background, care instructions, and reproduction of the species.

The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is one of the most well known species of carnivorous plants. Like other plants, Venus Flytraps gather nutrients from gases in the air and nutrients in the soil. However, they live in poor soil and are healthier if they acquire nutrients from insects. Carnivorous plants live all over the world; however, Venus Flytraps live only in select boggy areas in North and South Carolina. Because of people’s fascination with these plants, many have been collected from their native habitat and they became endangered. Venus’ Flytraps today are grown in greenhouses.

Prey is lured in by a sweet smelling nectar that is found on the insides face of the trap lobes. These lobes are modified leaves — they are open wide and on them are short, stiff hairs called trigger or sensitive hairs. When anything touches these hairs enough to bend them, the two lobes of the leaves snap shut trapping whatever is inside. The trap will shut in less than a second. The trap doesn’t close all of the way at first. It is thought that it stays open for a few seconds in order to allow very small insects to escape because they wouldn’t provide enough food for the energy that is needed to digest it. If the object isn’t food (i.e.  a stone or a small acorn) the trap will reopen in about twelve hours and ‘spit’ it out.

When the trap closes over food, the modified leaf cilia (the large tooth-like projections) keep larger insects inside. (Fold your hands together lacing your fingers to see what the trap looks like. Your fingers are the cilia.) In a few minutes the trap will shut tightly and form an air-tight seal in order to keep the digestive fluids inside and bacteria out.

The trap constricts tightly around the insect and secretes digestive enzymes (much like those in your stomach) and antiseptic fluids to kill any bacteria or fungi that may be present on the insect. 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 exoskeleton is lightweight and blows away in the wind or is washed off 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.

As for how to take care of your plant, the Venus Flytrap is one of the easiest carnivorous plants to grow. If you wish to grow one or more, they have only a few requirements such as wet roots, high humidity, full sunlight, and poor, acidic soil.  If it is shipped to you as a bulb or rhizome, plant it root side down so that the top of the bulb is even with the 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.

You can also grow Venus Flytrap from seed.  To start with, you are once again going to want to have a sphagnum moss and sand medium.  From what I have found, there is a bit of a trick to getting these to grow easily: when you buy sphagnum moss, reserve the ‘dust’ in the bottom (by dust, I mean all the broken little pieces).  After you have mixed and filled your container sprinkle a thin layer of this dust on top of the medium.  Wet it down with rain water or distilled water.  To plant the seeds, you are going to want to plant them on ‘top’ of your medium — and this is where your ‘dust’ becomes important…

Venus Flytraps can be up in as little as 14 days or they can be up in 1-2 months.  The duration of germination depends on the age of the seed.  If the seed is fresh (i.e. it was harvested within the last few weeks), it will germinate quickly.  This response occurs because when fresh seed falls out in its native habitat — the bog —  it drops into a moist environment.  That seed either needs to grow or else it will rot/become dinner to a rodent/die.

But let’s say it’s a dry year in the bog.  The seed can ‘sense’ a drier environment and will hormonally induce dormancy.  Seeds will take longer to germinate because dormancy must be first broken by sensing a tolerably wet environment and then going through the actual process of sprouting.

Having that ‘dust’ layer is important for anchoring and drying.  When the fine sprout and hair roots emerge, this give the seedling an easy media to anchor into initial.  As the plant grows, it will root into the medium below.  As for drying out… remember how we planted the seed on top of the media?  By having the thin layer, you can place the seed in it.  Think of it as placing a egg (your seed) into a nest (the dust).  The seed isn’t covered, but is tucked into a secure environment that will help to maintain moisture levels and nurture it through its first days.

While germinating, you are going to want to keep the medium moist.  I have used a mist bottle to spray the surface while germinating so that it is wet but I haven’t blown the seed out of the ground by having too hard of a spray/stream.    You can also water from below.  If your house is very dry, you can also cover the plants by using a makeshift ‘greenhouse’.  Find a plastic bag that will fit over the top of the pot (I’ve often used a sandwich bag).  With a scissors, cut a couple small slits in the bag.  Place the top of the bag over the top of your container and rubberband it in place (if your container has a rim on it, this works perfect!)  Your container should look like it is wearing a very interesting hat.

Once the plants begin to grow, the amount of water needed lowers a bit and they require more air (as this mimics the bog in the summer, which tends to dry out a bit).

The seeds normally germinate in summer, so a temperature of 80-85 degrees is required at all times.
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. Do your plant a favor and do NOT feed it hamburger! Fat from the meat is too complex to be digested and there are different types of bacteria and fungi that are not cleansed by the antiseptic fluids. Your plant will die.

If an insect is too large it will stick out of the trap. This allows bacteria and molds on the insect to thrive. Eventually the trap turns black, rots and falls off. If using dead bugs, move them around gently to simulate a live bug or the trap will not close completely and the insect will become moldy and cause contamination to the plant.

After your plant matures, it may produce flowers on a tall stalk far above the leaves. It has to be high above the leaves so insects pollinating the flowers do not get trapped in the leaves. Each flower produces very tiny seeds. They are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Plant the seeds right away or store them in the refrigerator. If you pinch the flowers off, the leaves will grow more vigorously since growing flowers takes a lot of energy from the plant.

The Venus’ Flytrap also reproduces via its rhizome. It never has more than seven leaves. If your plant has more then seven leaves, it has already split off another plant from the mother plant. You may want to try pulling a leaf off and replanting it. Eventually, this leaf will die off and a tiny, tiny new plant will emerge

While this plant is unable to grow outside your home in Wisconsin, I do have other suggestions that you may find would work better for I hope this. With some modifications to your property, it may be possible to grow pitcher plants, sundews, and bladderworts.  While they may not scare the neighbors, it will undoubtedly make you the talk of the neighborhood!  However, I think you may also find success with Mimosa pudica (sensitive plant). This plant has the ability to ‘die’ and ‘rise from the dead’.

Thanks for reading, J., and keep your questions coming!

 

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© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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11 thoughts on “Grow Your Own Little Monster: Venus Flytrap

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  8. Do you write these posts yourself, or do you outsource them?
    They’re rather excellent and I’d like to see some of your
    other stuff. Do you have any other blogs or websites which I can
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    • Yes, I write these myself. I have a MS in horticulture and agroecology and the questions posted here are ones that come up through my job or from friends, family, and aquintances.

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