The carnivorous Venus fly trap is surely one of the world's most unusual-looking plants. But 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."
- Botanical Name: Dionaea muscipula
- Common Name: Venus fly trap
- Plant Type: Herbaceous plant with a perennial life cycle
- Mature Size: 6 to 12 inches tall by 6 to 9 inches wide
- Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil Type: Poor, sandy soil kept constantly wet
- Soil pH: Acidic
- Bloom Time: May to June
- Flower Color: White
- Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
- Native Area: The Carolinas
The "trap" of a Venus fly trap is actually a modified leaf; a plant can have as many as eight of them. 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.
How to Grow Venus Fly Trap as a Houseplant
Since a Venus fly trap is grown to be observed up-close, rather than to add beauty to a yard, it is most often grown as a houseplant in a container, 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 need different conditions.
Where the plant grows in the wild cues us in on what those conditions are. Wild Venus fly traps are found in bogs. The bog environment is usually a sunny one with wet, acidic, nutrient-poor soil. This tells you that, as a houseplant, Venus fly trap will need:
- A soil that is more acidic than that in which many houseplants grow (the peat moss that you will be including in your soil mix will be enough to acidify the soil)
- To be watered more than most houseplants
- To be left alone in terms of fertilizing, since applying fertilizer will be counterproductive
Because Venus fly trap is a carnivore, care for it also differs from care for other houseplants in that you will be feeding it (preferably live) flies, mosquitoes, and gnats to nourish it (in addition to whatever it may catch on its own). Grasping the insect with tweezers, gently insert it into the trap in such a way that a piece of it makes contact with a trigger hair inside the trap. Keep a journal so that you can note which traps you feed and when, because a trap has a set number of times during its life that it can open and close.
Venus fly trap goes through a period of dormancy beginning in fall when sunlight levels decrease. It will lose its leaves and appear to die, but it actually lives on underground through its rhizomes. This is normal, and you should not try to make up for the reduction of daylight hours by giving the plant artificial light. Cut back on the amount of water you give the plant during this time.
Place your pot in a location where it will receive 12 hours of direct sunlight daily.
Mix horticultural sand with an equal amount of peat moss. Fill your pot with this mixture.
It is better to water Venus fly trap with rainwater than tap water. Set up a rain barrel outdoors to collect the rainwater.
Do not fertilize. Venus fly trap performs best in soil low in nutrients.
Meaning of the Names
Both the genus name (Dionaea) and the first part of the common name refer to the Roman goddess of love. The of this name is thought to be the plant's resemblance to a woman's genitals. 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.
Allaying Safety Concerns
Venus fly trap is not toxic, either to people or to pets. It is perfectly safe to grow around kids, as 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.