The carnivorous plants, also known as insectivorous plants, are plant life of predatory bloom which take the nutrients necessary for their correct development by consuming the bodies of small animals and insects.
Either if you just came back from the gardening center with your very first Venus Flytrap, or if you simply are searching for a carnivorous plant easy to seed, then you’re in the right place! In this page, I’ve included the answers to the most common questions, descriptions of the principal “types” of carnivorous plants, easy-to-follow instructions for the cultivation of popular specimens, advices for the water supply and rest, links to essential resources, and my main recommendations for experienced gardeners.
Characteristics of the carnivorous plants
Insectivorous plants share 3 characteristics among themselves that outstand them from other types of plant life:
- Capture and kill preys
- A gastric mechanism to digest the prey
- Specific benefits from the nutrients coming from the prey
What types of carnivorous plants there are?
Venus Flytrap: Without a doubt, the most famous carnivorous plant; the Venus Flytrap is – for many gardeners – an appetizing drug. The speed with which a healthy plant captures an insect is amazing the first time it’s seen. There’s only one specimen of the plant – Dionaea muscipula – but there are dozens of rare and wonderful varieties available.
The Drosera: There almost 200 species of Drosera, they vary greatly in matters of size, shape and growing necessities. They can be encountered in all the continents of Earth except in the Artic; most of them are covered by tentacles with bright-colored ends and covered in glue. This tentacles can move, helping to suffocate the rainwater rapidly and digest the stuck insects.
The Pinguiculas: They can be encountered in all the northern hemisphere, being Mexico and Central America the zones with the greatest concentration. There are around 100 specimens, their leaves normally look green and shiny, growing in a rosette that embraces the ground. They are also known as fly paper traps due to the sticky leaves that they use to capture mosquitoes and fruit flies.
Throwing plants: The throwing, or jar-plants typically present leaves in the shape of tubes or urns. The insects slide on the border of the jar and they fall on the digestive enzymes that are located beneath. There are real 5 diverse classes (or “genres”) of the jar-plant – their common and scientific names being:
- North American jar-plants (Sarracenia) (8 species)
- Tropical jar-plants (Nepenthes) (160 species)
- Occidental Australia jar-plants (Cephalotus) (1 species)
- Sun-Jar Plants (Heliamphora) (20 species)
- Cobra’s Lily (Darlingtonia) (1 specie)
The utricularia: This another genre of carnivorous plant which is very diverse since it counts with 200 species. Found in almost all places on Earth, the plant have organs similar to human bladder in its roots, which are hidden under the water and are the ones they use to capture the insects. The diminutive organisms (like water fleas) are absorbed by the bladder in less than half a second for later being digested. The utricularia is particularly popular because of its flowers, which can be as colored and beautiful as the orchids themselves.
On regular gardening centers, the most probable thing is to find the first two types: Sarracenia and Nepenthers. Don’t forget that there are dozens of other species of carnivorous and semi-carnivorous plants out there, but it’s less probable that you find them as a beginner. They include the noria (Aldrovanda), the rainbow-plant (Byblis), the corkscrew plant (Genlisea), and the red pines (Drosophyllum).
This list is far from being perfect! There are more than 630 species around the world, they are all classified in 5 orders and almost 20 botanic genres. There’s also worth mentioning that they can be found more than 300 protocarnivorous plants, which have the ability to capture insects and even animals inside them.
For finding some new advices over the caring of carnivorous plants, keep reading.
Which carnivorous plants are appropriate for beginning gardeners?
For the ones that are cultivating for barely the first time, I recommend the following species, the easiest to farm:
- Drosera capensis, the Drosera del Cabo: Is one of the prettiest and most fun in the world, this specie if also one of the most adaptable. A big flytrap and a perfect plant for the new cultivators.
- Dionaea muscipula, the Venus Flytrap: It’s not as easy to farm as the del Cabo, but it is just as impressing and gratifying to arise.
- Sarracenia purpurea, the purple jar-plant: This specie is a hybrid, is the most tolerant of all throwing plants in North America. It’s also the smallest of standing species, and their jars in squatting position makes them adequate for their cultivation in the window’s ledge.
How to seed carnivorous plants?
Don’t forget that before you start rooting the seeds, you need to think about certain things:
Make sure to know if the seed that you want to plant are tropical or northern plants. If the seeds belong to subtropical plants you can root them directly in the substratum. But, on the other hand, if the seeds of a northern plant they must remain in 1 or 2 months inside a freezer under a temperature of -10 Celsius degrees and not lower than -2 degrees. This process is known as stratification. During the stratification you can put the seeds inside a plastic or paper envelope, you can even put them inside the fridge once the seeds are already planted.
When the time to root the seeds come, you must have everything set up, from the pot, to the earth, and/or substratum. You can even have a small greenhouse for it to give enough humidity and heat. Remember that the seeds are very little so I recommend you not to open the envelope until the time when you’re gonna plant them and, in case you do open it, you can put a piece of white paper under it, for preventing the seeds to fall to the ground and it to become impossible to find them.
Start to root them
For the seeds to germinate they must be able to expand themselves (for no reason you must submerge them in the substratum) and they must be very wet with distilled water. You must keep them at a temperature around 30 degrees and with a humidity between the 60 and 70%. There are some plants that prefer higher humidity, like the nepenthes, for which is recommended humidity at its 80%. In case of having the possibility to install a focus or bulb of low consume inside your greenhouse, you will have a greater percentage of germination on the seeds, and they will also take less time for blooming. If you realize this process in the correct way and the seed are fresh and of good quality, they will bloom from week 2 to 8 depending on the type of plant.
For beginners, how to take care of carnivorous plants?
The plants adequate for beginners all share the same growing requirements.
As much as possible. The Venus Flytraps, the Cape Sundews and the throwing plants from North America love the direct sunlight. In the United Kingdom, that would mean a window’s ledge to the south or a greenhouse.
Place the pots on a platter filled with 1-2 cm of distilled water or rainwater (read more about water for the carnivorous plants). This are pantanous plants and their ground must remain humid during the phase of growing.
Plastic pots work better, but ceramic, completely dyed pots are also fine, as long and they have lots of draining holes. The 12 cm-long pots are big enough for great adult plants, and the replantation is better done on the spring.
The Venus Flytrap and all the throwing plants require a cold winter lethargy between November and February, meanwhile Cape Sundews can grow during the entire year. For giving the inside plants a lethargy, move them towards a colder place – place them next to a window in your garage, for example. Your plant’s leaves will dark themselves and die, just to be reborn again on spring.
By this time you shall know that spiders, ants, flies and mosquitoes are the insects that most commonly feed the carnivorous plants, though it depends on the species which one is the favorite for each, but as a general rule, any insect can be their food.
Never use regular earth for the pots! A good and steady mixture without peat for the carnivorous plants is the fine mashed cortex (for example, the Melcourt pine), vegan sand without lime and perlite, on a proportion of 2:1:1. The traditionally recommended peat mixture is the one of sphagnum mixed with horticulture sand without lime or perlite, on a proportion of 2:1. Never add fertilizer.
Capture mechanism of the carnivorous plants
The insectivorous plants have developed really smart methods for trapping insects and other small organisms; there are plants that have leaves displayed in the shape of a cup, inside which there is a liquid that contents different digestives enzymes and decomposing microbes. The insects fall easily on this traps and when they are on inside they aren’t capable of escaping anymore and they are digested by the liquid.
Other species have the dissimilar mechanism of snapping the insects that land on the surface of the leaf, imprisoning them at the instant.
There are also plants that produce particular structures, similar to vesicles and known as utriculous, that create traps of pressure and suction. They are activated by the contact of a boneless insect, which is sucked to the inside.
Some of the plants leaves are covered by an extremely adhesive substance, which traps the prey, independently on what surface it stands.
Finally, there are plants that use a mechanism similar to fishing traps. A complex structure with hairs that, while on movement, push the trapped bug deeper and deeper inside the vegetal gastric arrangement, where it would be digested later.
Are carnivorous plants poisonous?
Lots of people ask whether carnivorous plants are poisonous. Definitely, they aren’t. For us.
Despite what their name might suggest, this plants only eat small animals and insects. To the date, there aren’t any recorded cases about human beings developing mortal symptoms upon the contact with a carnivorous plant.
How do carnivorous plants reproduce themselves?
There are only 3 methods through which carnivorous plants can reproduce.
- Through farming
- Through division
- Through some stem of the plant and rooting hormones
Medical uses for the carnivorous plants
The carnivorous or insectivorous plants are used in a variety of popular preparations and meds. In Asia, the so-called liquid of “closed young throwing monkeys” (Nepenthes) is drank for treating incontinence and used for cleaning wounds and reducing anxiety and pain. Its lianas can serve as ropes and their jars are used as common saucepan for boiling rice.
Scandinavians have used pinguicula for jelling the milk for the yogurt and cheese. It has also been informed that they cure infected sores and it’s of popular knowledge around the area that they bring protection against the tricks of witches and fairies.
The Sundew’s (Drosera) extracts are commonly used on cough syrups and expectorants. On Turin, Italy, the Drosera rotundifolia was used in order to create a cordial water named “rosa solis”, o “rosolio”; it was initially introduced as an aphrodisiac and medicine for later becoming a popular drink.
There are being held investigations about the cancer-preventing qualities of the Venus Flytrap extract. As well, apparently, the extract of Sarracenia works against viral infections and it’s used as an ingredient for the medications treating the pain of the flu.
The carnivorous plants make a valuable contribution to the instruction programs oriented to the value and preservation of our wetlands. I’ve seen plenty of young people appreciate the latters a whole lot more once they realize that this is the house of the Venus Flytrap. At the same time, this plants are also good subjects for studies of plant life evolution, adaptation, propagation and conservation.
Perhaps in the future, the genetic engineers will create common vegetables with carnivorous capacities, which would reduce our dependency of fertilizers and pesticides.
Note: Have in mind that the descriptions of the medicinal uses of the carnivorous plants are included only as a reference and not with the intention of putting them in practice.
Most dangerous carnivorous plants
Even though carnivorous plants aren’t dangerous for humans as they are for insects, they are not beyond being a little more than harmful. For preventing future incidents, let me hang you a list of the most dangerous carnivorous plants.
This plant characterizes itself due to its intern chamber. The jar gives the illusion of holding nectar inside itself so the bugs will eventually fall for such bait. The outsides of this jar-plants are covered with waxed squamae that make the insects slip into the jar whenever they land on the surface; once they are inside the digestive enzymes discompose the prey’s body by absorbing the nutrients from it.
It’s a protocarnivorous plant native from South Africa which produces mucilage, an adhesive substance used for trap the bugs. It is extremely sticky, with a long life-spare and water resistance.
The Dionaea is a carnivorous plant that grows in the East Coast of the USA, between North and South Carolina. This plant is built with a bulb with hair-covered leaves on their internal surfaces. The trap closes as soon as an insect or spider gets in contact with said hair and the digestive enzymes immediately digest the prey for the bulb to open up once again right after the digestion is made.
Also known as bladderworts, they grow on sweet water and wet grounds of all continents, save for the Artic; this plants capture small organisms by their strange organs resembling the human bladder. As soon as the prey gets in contact with the strands on the gate, the trap opens itself and quickly absorbs the organism inside with a whirlpool.
(Read also: Poisonous plants from the dessert)
Also known as California Pitcher Plant or Cobra Lily. The latter was a name came up from the fact that the plant’s tubular leaves resemble a newborn cobra and they are divided as the fangs of a serpent. The specialized structures inside the plant increase the possibilities of the prey to fall into the trap, the plant has nectar glandules inside that trick the bugs for get in. Once they do, the process is the same as with the others: the digestive enzymes perform the appropriate gastric process to take the nutrient from the prey’s body.
This plant is called “Round Leaf Solar Dew” and it can be found in North America, Korea and Japan. This plant’s leaves look like a rosette covered with mucilage, filled with a sugared substance which is their bait for the preys.
Is more popularly known as “rainbow plant” and it generally grows in Occidental Australia. The surface of its leaves is covered with glandular hair and it uses the mucilage substance to attract the prey as well.
It’s one of the most dangerous carnivorous plants on Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Its capture mechanism is similar to the one of the Venus and consists in two lobes that glue themselves together under the water. The trap closes in 10 to 20 nanoseconds as soon as the insects trigger the hairs; Aldrovandas mostly feed themselves with boneless organisms.
(See also: Most efficient medicinal plants)
It’s an Australian plant but it has a very limited distribution around Australia’s south-west. The mechanism is similar to jar-plants. The open gate of the trap has disposition of a set of spikes that allows the prey to get inside and difficults its return by closing the entrance.
This one is native from Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. This species produce the water contained in their applied leaves themselves. The leaves are covered with loose and waxed squamae that reflect ultraviolet light, the latter which attracts most of the insects of all species. Apart from that, their water has an oddly sweet aroma that further attracts the preys for later drowning them on it.
Pathogens and diseases of the carnivorous plants
The carnivorous plants can be easily affected by the Botrytis Cinerea (“gray mold”) a very common disease among plants. It develops itself under high humidity and temperatures, so better avoid these conditions as most as possible.
In case of fungus, it is necessary to use fungicide. For further preventive ends it is advisable to place the plant on a sufficiently airy location.
As ironic as it is, carnivorous plants are susceptible to be attacked by parasites delivered by fleas and squamae insects. The follicular extension affected by the parasites can be retired by hand when it reduces itself by constant doses of isopropyl alcohol. For experts only, there’s also the alternative of using systemic insecticides such as Malathion.
Where can I buy carnivorous plants?
The plants proceeding from specialized greenhouses are way healthier than the ones sold by gardening centers or stores, and the workers of the greenhouse can give you better references for their care.
Should I take away the plastic cupule from my plant?
Many of the carnivorous plants bought on the before mentioned gardening centers come in see-through plastic cupules. Even though the pots can be fine in this condition for a short time, on my experience, the fungus can become a very big problem in a very short time, as well. If your plant is a Venus Flytrap (Dionaea) or a Sarracenia, I would suggest take away the cupule and find a very sunny place for growing.
At the same time, if your plant is a tropical one such as Nepenthes, then is better for you to keep it inside the cupule for the moment; this plants require high levels of humidity for growing up successfully.
Why my tropical throwing plant (Nepenthes Alata) does not grow jars?
There are more than 150 species of tropical plants (known as Nepenthes), though some have some especial requirements, the species that are normally found on gardening centers that greenhouses sell as appropriate for beginners are pretty tolerant to “regular-house conditions”. They like bright light, not as much as Venus Flytraps or Sarracenias, but more so they prefer a partial sun. A sunny window hedge and day-by-day nebulization with a sprayer bottle usually are enough for the Nepenthes to grow properly.
The most common reasons why the tropical jar-plants don’t produce new jars are low humidity and not enough light; the short amounts of light-time during winter can make a tropical throwing plant to reduce its growing. The same way, moving a plant to a new location can be very traumatizing for it during this season. Just water it regularly with distilled water and observe closely the new developing during the following weeks and months.
Where can I find seeds of carnivorous specimens?
Some good options are the greenhouses specialized on carnivorous plants, and there are also the seed banks managed by society and the exchanges made by eco-active groups among social media.
Be careful at the moment of buying carnivorous plants seeds. The current online market is sadly filled with fakes. I suggest you for just to buy from credited sources for avoiding hidden hunting and the unsustainable recollection of wild seeds.
You can also find high-quality seeds on Amazon.
Where can I find purified water?
Purified water is essential for the carnivorous plants’ health. And this is probably the most difficult point for the new breeders.
Most part of the sink’s water and overall bottled water has a huge amount of dissolved minerals and the gradual accumulation of the latter on the earth will make your plants to become sick. You need water with low on total dissolved solids (TDS), like rainwater or distilled water. The TDS is typically calculated on parts per million (ppm), and most of the carnivorous plants require less than 100 ppm (ideally much less) for a healthy development.
So, as a new carnivorous plants breeder, what can you do?
- Gather rainwater: Just put some cups on the outside and pour the water on empty plastic bottles. Once you’re used to it and your collection has grown, you can change to a rain barrel.
- Buy distilled or deionized water: Available per liter on every DIY and garage stores. It may be disposed on parts such as 20 to 50 liters.
- Install an inverse osmosis system: This could be a great inversion, but for big collections will be quickly payed by themselves. Most of the units are designed in order to be installed under the sink, but there are also compact units for aquariums available.
Curious facts about carnivorous plants
This plants are extremely fascinating, mostly because of their way to capture the preys. They are mind-blowing. That’s why I want to share some curious facts to explain the way their methods are applied, along with some more interesting information about this singular vegetable.
Carnivorous plants that make spring traps
This method is known as tweezers, similar to old-fashioned mouse-traps. The plant species that used this mechanism produce a sweet nectar that attracts the preys, the latter just need to touch 2 of the sensorial hairs for the plant to close automatically in 5 seconds or less. The spines on its borders and the tweezers are the ones that keep the prey from escaping and whenever it tries, it incites the secretion of digestive liquids for accelerating the decomposition on the following days. After digesting the insect, the leave dies for giving place to a new one, a process that repeats itself over and over again.
It’s worth mentioning that if only one of the sensorial hairs is stimulated, the plant won’t close itself because it requires for 2 or more hairs to be touched for it to react.
Carnivorous plants with adhesive head of hair
It’s very similar to the ones of the flytraps since it also consists on a sticky substance that glues the insects to its leaves. They mostly are leaves that share a similar height among themselves, with a circular disposition that possess hairs that fabricate a liquid with a honey-like scent. If the insect lands on it, it gets involuntarily glued to the surface at the instant. Next, the plants tentacles close themselves slowly until they crush the prey. This process can be done in some short minutes or extent itself to an hour, it depends on the animal’s size.
Unlike the spring trap plant, the leaf does not die it only remains closed and opens again on several days awaiting for a new victim.
As you can see, the carnivorous plants possess characteristics made them wonderful species! All of them!
I only want to ask you for a favor, for this article to reach to more viewers, please share it among your friends and family, for them to know all the fascinating facts about this plants. Beforehand, thank you very much.