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An Introduction to Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants are one of the worlds plant oddities, their ability to attract, capture and digest a range of prey have made these unique and absurd looking plants a fascination amongst growers for centuries. These plants have become increasingly popular in recent years as they are increasingly featured in books and especially on online platforms such as websites, forums, videos, and even social media which has driven a larger audience to be interested in such a hobby over recent years.

Due to their popularity a number of common carnivorous plant genera and species are now found in most garden centers, hardware stores and even supermarkets. They are often sold as a short lived novelty items due to the lack of knowledge surrounding their care and sold as houseplants. Unfortunately many carnivorous plants don’t even make it out the store due to improper care by the store, if they’ve even received care at all. It is widely seen for them to be shriveled and dry amongst cacti or in a plastic cube with restricted air flow and little to no light.

From working in a garden center myself which sells these plants, this is one of my biggest pet peeves seeing so many plants be thrown out along with the amount of people who will come along and trigger every trap of a venus flytrap. From growing these plants myself for several years I have listened to many people regard these plants as ‘pointless’ or even something ‘for children’ because they are viewed as toys rather than the plants they actually are.

It is often a shock to people when they realise how hardy these plants are, especially species which can tolerate extremes of heat and cold. Carnivorous plants are found worldwide, in every continent expect Antarctica and with many now in cultivation there is a carnivorous plant that will suit everyone and whatever growing space they may have from the indoors to the outside!

The evolutionary significance of carnivory in plants is due to stresses induced by nutrient-deficiencies and the surrounding environment, thus allowing plants to gain nutrients via entrapment methods and giving them a competitive advantage. In order for a plant to be labelled as a true carnivorous plant it must have modified leaves in order to absorb nutrients from capture prey for the purpose of growth and reproduction.

There are several genera of carnivorous plants and each has a different modified trap to capture prey in the most efficient way based on their location. From the mucilage covered Drosera to the inactive storage pitchers of Sarracenia each plant is different making them truly fascinating!

Best Plants To Start With:

Getting your first carnivorous plant for many is a very exciting experience but in some case can be nerving especially if you have heard many stories and contradictions on how to grow them. Below I will detail the best carnivorous plants to start with.

Dionaea muscipula (Venus flytrap):

The first and most famous of all the carnivorous plants is the Venus flytrap, this carnivorous plant is the most common plant to be purchased by newbies. The venus flytrap is a striking and interesting plant which fascinates individuals of all ages with their vibrant coloured traps. The traps secrete a sweet nectar along the inner base of the teeth that rim the traps. Insects are lured to this, they then must touch two trigger hairs or one hair twice in 20 seconds to spring the trap. An electrical current runs through the trap causing it to snap shut in less than a second!

The flytrap is a monotypic genus with having only one species Dionaea muscipula yet there are now many cultivars which have been cultivated by growers within the hobby. The flytrap is a herbaceous perennial native to south-eastern North Carolina in which they are often found in open, sunny and wet locations where summers are often hot and winters are chilly with occasional frosts.

If conditions are met then the flytrap is a easy to care for plant, they can happily be kept outdoors, in bog gardens or in an unheated greenhouse or similar if you live in a temperate/ warm temperate climate. These are the best conditions in which you will likely see the most colour from your traps.

These plants require a cold dormancy period where they require a period where the temperature drops below 10C, often in winter, between the Halloween and Valentines day is often when dormancy takes place.

These plants can be kept indoors on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights but is advised they are placed in a cooler spot for their winter dormancy.

Drosera (Sundews):

Drosera roseana

Sundews by far have to be my favourite genera of carnivorous plant due to their absolutely stunning leaves covered in dew ‘mucilage’ which sparkles in the sun!

Sub-tropical species of sundew are absolutely perfect to beginners, for example Drosera capensis, Drosera spatulata and Drosera aliciae are by far some of the easiest sundews to keep and can survive in a range of conditions

Sarracenia (North-American pitcher plant):

Sarracenia are beautiful carnivorous plants and in my opinion the most rewarding, especially when grown from seed!

They have unusual and showy flowers in spring just before a mass of stunning pitchers form just after. There are 8 species of Sarracenia, most found in the south-east of the United States. Today, with the aid of hybridization there are hundreds of striking Sarracenia which come in an abundance of sizes, shapes and colours!

Sarracenia have inactive pitfall traps which they use to store insects. The inner wall of the trap is slippery, making it impossible for prey to escape.

Similar to the flytrap, they require a dormancy period where they will die back to a rhizome in winter and often produce phyllodia (non-carnivorous leaves) which are formed so that the plant can photosynthesize during the winter months.

Nepenthes (Tropical pitcher plant):

Nepenthes x 'Gaya'

Nepenthes, the tropical pitcher plant, also known as monkey jars are a popular carnivorous plant amongst growers. They are often purchased by beginners due to their unusual and interesting 'jugs' at the end of non-carnivorous leaves which are vibrant in colour.

They are very well-known amongst carnivorous plants due to appearances on nature documentaries as well as being featured in tropical houses in well known garden locations. Large species of Nepenthes have been known to capture prey as large as rats, birds and reptiles!

As their name describes these plants prefer a warmer, tropical environment and work well as houseplants. They are usually split between highland and lowland species. Many collectors typically grow them under grow lights or grow houses, yet there are several species which will do well hanging by indirect lit windows.

Pinguicula (Butterworts):

Pinguicula are delicate yet beautiful plants which are almost succulent like with their fleshy leaves which form a rosette. The Latin of Pinguicula often translates as 'little greasy one' due to their buttery texture on the leaf surface which is used to capture and digest insects. They often capture small insects such as fruit flies and gnats.

There are several species of Pinguicula and often fall into one of three categories:

Pinguicula 'Yucca do'

Mexican, Temperate and Warm Temperate.

Mexican Pinguicula are perfect for beginners to the hobby as they can be grown inside on a bright windowsill, they have a shallow root system and therefore are able to be grown in terrariums, on volcanic rocks or in shallow dishes and bowls.

Pinguicula grandiflora

Temperate species such as Pinguicula grandiflora (pictured left) are also good for beginners who wish to make an outside bog barrel. These plants are very hardy and survive harsh winters by forming a hibernacula (resting bud).

Utricularia (Bladderworts):

Utricularia bisquimata

Utricularia make up one of the largest genus of carnivorous plants but very much underrated. There is 3 main types, being terrestrial, aquatic and epiphytic.

They produce a beautiful display of flowers which come in a range of colours and sizes. When not in flower they will appear as leaf like appendages on the surface of the soil.

They are known as bladderworts due to an abundance of tiny 'bladders' on underground stems which are used to capture and digest small insects within the soil and water below.

Terrestrial bladderworts such as the Utricularia bisquimata above are super easy to care for, perfect for windowsills or in unheated greenhouses year round!

And there we have it, a whole selection of amazing and unusual carnivorous plants in which to start with! I hope you have found this introduction helpful and if you are yet to get your first carnivorous plant then I hope this has encouraged you in some way to start. This hobby is so rewarding and also very addictive!

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