The Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) is surely one of the world's most unusual-looking plants. People grow it not because of what it looks like but because of what it does: It eats flies. This fact makes it one of the most fun plants to grow, especially for children, who may watch it for hours as it "dines."
The "trap" of a Venus fly trap is actually a modified leaf. A plant can have as many as eight of them arising from flat stems (technically part of the leaf) around a basal rosette. Venus fly trap is not the only example of a plant with a modified leaf. Another example is the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea).
This leaf/trap consists of two lip-like lobes united by a hinge. Nectar within the trap is the bait that draws an insect in to its death. Once inside, if the insect makes contact with one of the trigger hairs, the trap is sprung: It closes, shutting up the prey inside. The insect is digested via enzymes within 4 to 10 days. After digestion, the "jaws" reopen.
|Common Name||Venus fly trap, Venus flytrap|
|Botanical Name||Dionaea muscipula|
|Mature Size||6-12 in. tall, 6-9 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil type||Sandy, moist|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Hardiness Zones||5-8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
Venus Fly Trap Care
Since a Venus fly trap is grown to be observed up close, it is most often grown as a potted houseplant, where it will be more convenient for you to study its strange behavior. It is no harder to care for than many other houseplants, but it does require specific conditions.
Caring for this carnivorous plant requires feeding it live flies, mosquitoes, and gnats. Grasp the insect with tweezers and gently insert it into the trap until it contacts a trigger hair inside the trap. It will help to keep a journal to track when you feed because a Venus fly trap has a set number of times during its life that it can open and close.
Pick off the flower when you see the plant coming into bloom in May or June. Flowering leads to seed production, and this whole process will only divert energy away from the plant. Venus fly trap is not grown for its floral beauty, but for the carnivorous display it puts on.
Place your pot in a location where it will receive 12 hours of light daily during the growing season from spring to fall. Aim for at least 4 hours of this to be bright, direct sunlight.
Wild Venus fly traps are found in bogs with wet, acidic, nutrient-poor soil. Mimic that indoors with a peat-based potting mix and good drainage.
It is better to water Venus fly trap with rainwater than tap water. Set up a rain barrel or leave a container outdoors to collect the rainwater. In the absence of rainwater, use distilled water.
Do not fertilize it. Venus fly trap performs best in soil that is low in nutrients. just like its native bog environment.
Types of Venus Fly Trap
Plant developers have produced many cultivars of this unusual plant. Playing up the bizarre nature of the Venus fly trap, the cultivars sport colorful names. These cultivar names are also often highly descriptive, focusing on a particular feature that distinguishes the cultivar from the many others. Examples include:
- Dionaea 'Petite Dragon': One of the smallest Venus fly traps, its traps measure just a half of an inch across.
- Dionaea 'Ginormous': At the other end of the spectrum, this cultivar's traps measure 2.25 inches across.
- Dionaea 'DC All Red': The greatest distinction between one type of Venus fly trap and another is color-based. Most have traps with at least some green in them, and some are all green. Others can have some combination of red, yellow, green, or purple in them. 'DC All Red' is entirely red.
Division is the easiest and most dependable method to propagate Venus fly trap.
- A mature plant will send up offshoots in the early spring. Remove them with a sharp knife or pruners, making sure they include roots.
- Fill pots 4 to 5 inches wide and at least 6 inches deep with fresh peat-based growing medium. Poke a hole in the center of each pot.
- Plant the offshoots in the holes. Water them well and keep the soil evenly moist at all times.
- Place the pot where it will receive indirect light but avoid bright sunlight until the plant begins to develop new roots.
Like some other native species, the wild populations of the Venus fly trap have been drastically reduced due to over-collecting and habitat destruction. This plant should never be wild harvested but instead sourced from nurseries that propagate their own plants.
Potting and Repotting Venus Fly Trap
Venus fly trap requires a soil mix that is more acidic than most houseplant mixes. A combination of soil mix with peat moss, or horticultural sand with an equal amount of peat moss works well as peat moss acidifies the soil. Wood-based materials such as bark, sawdust, or wood fiber are good sustainable alternatives to peat moss because they also have a low pH. Just make sure that the wood hasn't been chemically treated. Coir, a sustainable alternative to peat moss, is not suitable because its pH is close to neutral.
Do not fertilize the plants, since applying fertilizer is counterproductive.
To repot Venus fly trap, follow these detailed instructions.
The plant goes through a period of dormancy beginning in fall when the hours of daylight and sunlight levels decrease. It will lose its leaves and appear to die, but it actually lives on underground through rhizomes. This is normal, and you should not try to make up for the reduction of daylight hours by giving the plant artificial light.
Keep the plant in the coolest room of your home and cut back on the amount of water. Give it just enough water so the soil does not dry out completely. In the early spring when it starts regrowing, resume the regular watering schedule to keep it moist at all times.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
You might not think that a bug-eating plant would be attacked by bug pests, but aphids and fungus gnats do occasionally bother Venus fly trap. These pests are too tiny for the plant to capture and eat. Horticultural oil or insecticidal soap can provide some control for a severe aphid infestation. Apply Bacillus thuringiensis (BTI) as a natural control for fungus gnats.
Can a Venus fly trap hurt humans?
The trap action is not strong enough to harm you even if you accidentally stick your finger inside. But do resist the temptation to stick your finger into the trap, since this saps the plant of energy that should be reserved for catching and eating insects. The plant is non-toxic to pets.
Why is a Venus fly trap called that?
Both the genus name (Dionaea) and the first part of the common name refer to the Roman goddess of love because of the plant's beautiful white flowers. The species name of muscipula (Latin for "mousetrap") is thought to refer to the action of the closing "jaws," which reminds people of a mousetrap being sprung.
Where are Venus fly traps native?
They are only native to North and South Carolina.
Dionaea Muscipula. North Carolina State University Extension.
Sumner, Thomas. Investigating the Venus Flytrap's Speedy Snap. American Institute of Physics, 2012.
Venus Flytrap. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance.