by Alison V.S.
Hi everyone! I'd like to start by telling you that I'm not a professional carnivorous plant person-- I'm just a graphic designer that happens to have a major interest in the topic, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to explore more here with Jen at Unique Plant Boutique.
Here's a shout-out to the folks who have been asking about this blog post. Y'all know who you are. Thank you so much for being so excited about it! I offered to write this post, as it's a favorite topic of mine, so let's get into it!
About the Plant
One of the most surprising facts about this plant is that, despite its tropical (or, rather, out of this world) appearance, it's actually native (aka endemic) to a very small region that encompasses parts of North and South Carolina. According to NC State University in this article, that region is "within a 75-mile radius around Wilmington, North Carolina". (But DO NOT, seriously, DO NOT go there trying to find one in the wild. They're endangered, and it's a felony to poach them in North Carolina. Don't mess with them, and don't disclose the location if you happen to know where some wild ones live.) Apparently, they've also been naturalized in some locations too.
Aaaaanyway, they're mainly grown in greenhouses now, and can be found on the market in a way that doesn't involve poaching (we're working on propagating them in the shop; it's our first time, and we haven't a clue how to do it, but we're figuring it out. We're also looking into fridge dormancy, but more on that later).
Venus Flytraps have the scientific name Dionaea Muscipula, and, fun fact, both of its names come from the same Goddess archetype-- Venus, the Roman Goddess of love, beauty, and victory, and the Greek Aphrodite (aka Dionaea, or daughter of Dione). Muscipula roughly translates to "mousetrap/flytrap".
It was also, at one time, called a titipiwitshik, although it's unclear whether this was a reference to the traps looking vaguely like a body part ("tippet-de-witchet" was something people actually would call lady parts back then, I guess), or a Native American word combining the terms "they" and "which wind around/which involve", or, according to another translation, "with leaves that revolve in the wind".
Oh, by the way... they grow flowers! Most are capable of pollinating themselves to produce shiny black seeds that will grow into baby fly traps. I'll talk more about that in the propagation section.
Here's a little diagram:
There are a lot of sources of information out there that describe how a Venus Flytrap should be cared for.
Some sources recommend that you only grow these plants outdoors, but I've only kept them indoors in terrariums and special containers-- sometimes under grow lights, and sometimes by a window. Squirrels, birds, and raccoons may think of them as a delicious treat if you leave them outdoors.
Some care sheets that we've received from other growers indicate that the best place for these plants is within four feet of a window.
One of the most important things that I can say about growing this plant is that you should pay attention to what it needs, monitor how your specific plant reacts to its growing conditions, and make adjustments accordingly.
IMPORTANT RULES OF THUMB FOR TAKING CARE OF THESE PLANTS:
1) Venus Flytraps are used to acidic soil that does not contain many nutrients. It's important that they aren't exposed to excessive minerals from the soil, watering sources, and other additives. Do not use regular soil. Do not use tap water or bottled water with added minerals. Do not use fertilizer.
In their natural environment, the soil is deficient in minerals. This is why this plant adapted to be carnivorous. It doesn't know how to properly get its nutrients from soil and will easily be poisoned and die if you don't follow these rules.
2) Don't trigger the traps!!! This uses a LOT of energy, and each trap can only open and close a few times in its life. Traps will also be triggered to close if the plant gets too hot or is near an open flame.
One of the reasons these plants are endangered in the wild is because they depend on periodic forest fires/underbrush burning, which kills off nearby competitors. This reaction, closing its traps near an open flame, can help these plants survive the fires. As these fires can be dangerous for humans, many of them are not allowed to continue to the point where they could benefit the habitat for Venus Flytraps. If you're into the science behind how this mechanism works, this scientific analysis should be interesting.
3) These plants do NOT require bugs to survive. In fact, overfeeding can kill your plant! Bugs that are too large may cause your traps to turn black in the attempt to digest them. While it's perfectly fine to feed a healthy, established plant once a week or so (only feeding one or two bugs to it, and not letting all of the traps close), and will help your plant grow faster, remember that your plant only has a certain amount of energy. Exhausted plants will quickly die. Avoid feeding plants that you've just moved until they appear to be doing well in their new location.
Traps close because of "trigger hairs", which, when hit 2-3 times in rapid succession, will signal the plant to close the trap. Because many things could potentially trigger a trap in the wild that are not edible (falling leaves, an animal passing by), the plant won't start trying to digest a catch unless the hairs are triggered a few more times by a captured bug. More about that here.
So, how do you keep this dang thing alive?
We use a mix of perlite, peat moss, and sphagnum moss. Some sources recommend using other mixtures, including mixtures with silica sand. Don't go off the grid here or try to get creative with your potting mixture.
We use a roughly measured 1:1 mix of perlite and peat moss, topped with some sphagnum moss. If you ask in the shop, we can provide you with soil that we're confident will be safe for your plant.
This is a subject that I could probably debate for a while. While most sources recommend that you keep your plants in a plastic container with drainage holes, I've had the most success in glass terrariums. Some sources suggest avoiding glass containers and terrariums, and some folks are very specific about the types of containers that are acceptable.
Many sources suggest that you should certainly not use unglazed ceramic or terracotta due to the possibility of certain minerals or chemicals leaking into the soil and potentially changing the pH balance. Since glass is fairly non-reactive and I've had nothing but success with it, I'm going to continue using it!
Whatever container you choose, it should have good airflow and allow for a fairly deep amount of soil. Flytraps can be trained to live in both humid and dry conditions, but shouldn't be sitting in water on the regular like some other plants (tune in later for a post about Pitcher Plants). The plant should be repotted yearly to help avoid soil compression, fungus, and mold growth.
Use distilled water or rainwater ONLY. As explained above, using any other kind of water can cause mineral toxicity to kill your plants. Keep soil moist, but not so wet that pools of water appear on the surface of the soil. Don't let the soil dry out fully.
Misting is not required, but can be helpful if you're transitioning a new plant that is acclimated to humidity to a dry air environment. Once acclimated, misting is unnecessary.
If you're a beginner growing indoors, try to keep your plant in the 70-80 F range. For most folks, this should be easy if your plant is kept near a window that gets appropriate sunlight in a room that's a comfortable human temperature.
Things get a little different if you're going to allow your plant to enter dormancy-- but we'll talk about that in a bit.
Be aware of how the sun is affecting your plant! During its growth season (not dormancy-- again, there are some special conditions there), your plant should get 8-12 hours of sunlight, but should not be in a place where the direct heat will cause the temperature-sensitive traps to close.
For my plants, I've had the most success placing them by a large south-facing window that receives indirect sunlight.
There's a great little chart here that can help you diagnose issues with your plant, including leaves turning yellow (which can be a sign of overwatering).
Leaves turning black doesn't necessarily indicate an issue with the plant! It's natural for many of the traps to die off when they've reached the ends of their lifespans. It's actually normal for nearly all of the leaves to die off once a year if the plant is entering dormancy!
If a plant that isn't super well-established starts to create flowers, it can use so much energy that it kills the plant. Some sources suggest trimming flower stalks as soon as they appear unless you're planning to propagate the plant. Check out the propagation section for more information.
I'm writing this in October, which means we're about to enter our first dormancy season at the plant shop! While overwintering plants (keeping them in the growth period year-round) is possible, it can cause additional stress to this sensitive plant to not allow it to save its energy for a few months.
Dormancy entails reduced light exposure, lowered temperatures, and allowing your plant to look dead between December and the spring. Remember-- these little guys and gals are native to North America, and they experience winter in the wild. They adapted to survive through these seasons and regrow in the spring when the sun, warmth, and bugs become abundant.
We're looking into fridge dormancy for our traps this season, but it can also be easily done by placing your plant outdoors if you have a space for it. During dormancy, plants only need about 4 hours of light, and should be kept watered and below 45 F without being allowed to freeze. Energy is stored in the rhizome of the plant, which will allow it to regrow nicely in the spring!
(I'll provide a more complete dormancy tutorial once we've successfully gotten our plants into their winter home.)
A pic from my personal flytrap propagation experiment.
There are a few different ways to propagate these guys, including the above pictured method, which is a simple leaf-pulling attempt.
This should ideally be done in the spring, when plants are about to enter their growing season, so I'm not sure how well our winter attempts will go. Pullings should only be taken from healthy, non-flowering plants. Even under the best conditions, a maximum of about a 75% success rate is to be expected.
Plants can also be propagated from parts of the flower stem, or allowed to flower and create seeds. While most Flytrap flowers are capable of self-pollination, it's best for them to be cross-pollinated with another trap for genetic diversity and a reduced chance of mutations. Seeds start to reduce in viability after 100 days and should be planted as soon as possible. Plants grown from seed don't reach maturity for a few years.
Here is a guide that covers all types of propagation and can help you decide whether to allow your plants to flower or not.
(I'll cover this more in-depth in a future post)
https://venusflytrapworld.com/ <- Lots of great articles about growing and caring for VFTs
https://www.flytrapcare.com/ <- Basic care information and forums
https://www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/care/grow-venus-flytrap/ <- Lists varieties
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_flytrap <- General information
Book your event today!
Interested in learning more and planting your own trap? Let us know that you're into carnivorous plants, and we'll plan a hands-on event. We can help you get one ready for dormancy during spooky season, or help you and your guests establish plant homes in the spring. Either way, you'll leave with the confidence that you can take care of this unique beauty.
Visit our booking page for more information about reserving our plant bar.