Try This at Home: Grow Your Own Carnivorous Plants

Fun homeschool project! Grow your own carnivorous plants as nature stufy

A Venus flytrap is the quintessential kid’s plant. What child (or adult) isn’t fascinated by touching that little trap and watching it snap shut? Sometimes these plants provide a child with his first attempt at taking care of a plant, and they make a great way of bringing a little bit of nature indoors. 

In the wild, those little traps are essential for helping the Venus flytrap catch
prey, usually flies or other small insects, because the prey makes up for a lack of nutrients not found in the soil where these plants live. All carnivorous plants have adapted to living in areas with poor soil by having a mechanism to trap prey. They usually grow in boggy areas or wetlands with very acidic soil that is low in nitrogen and other nutrients. 

Did you know that there are over 670 species of carnivorous plants in the world, and in the United States, they are found in every state? (Venus flytraps are native to the Carolinas.) They also live on every continent except for Antarctica. 

Believe it or not, Venus fly- traps are not the only carnivorous plant you can grow at home, and grouping them together make a beautiful and fascinating collection. You can probably find a Venus flytrap in the garden section of your local big chain hardware store, but you’ll have to visit specialty shops, order online, or inquire at your local botanical garden for most other species. If you want to make sure your Venus flytrap has been well-taken care of, you might want to buy it from one of these alternative sources as well. 

Next time you are in the market for some interesting plants, try out one of these: 

Pitcher plants are tall with leaves that look like tubes, though some of the species are hanging plants and look a little more like pouches. The beautiful colors on the top of the leaves lure insects by looking like flowers, and they also produce a sweet- smelling nectar on the rim of the “pitcher,” which slightly intoxicates the insect. As the insect travels down the tube, it’s impossible for them to climb back up because of the tiny downward pointing hairs. At the bottom of the pitcher plant is a pool of digestive enzymes and the end of the road for the unsuspecting insect. 

Sundews trap insects like flypaper. There are over 500 species of sundew in the world. Their leaves look like fingers with tiny red spikes on them. At the end of each spike is a sticky mucus, and if an insect lands on it, it gets stuck. Then the leaf will wrap itself around the insect and devour it. 

Butterworts are common in North American bogs. The common butter- wort has purple flowers with leaves that form at the base in the shape of a rosette. Like the sundew, its leaves have a sticky secretion that insects will stick to. After getting stuck, the leaves will curl up around the insect, and digestive juices will suck the flesh. As in all carnivorous plants, you can find the exoskeletons of its prey after the leaves open back up. 

Bladderworts make a great addition to garden ponds because they produce pretty, yellow flowers. There are over 200 kinds of bladderworts, and most live in the water. Their trap looks like a tiny balloon. When a small creature, such as a mosquito larvae, brushes up against the sensitive hairs on the open- ing of this balloon-like sack, it opens up, and whoosh, like a vacuum cleaner, it sucks up its prey. 

You can grow most carnivorous plants in sphagnum moss or peat moss that has no added fertilizer. Remember to never fertilize these plants. They are adapted to living in poor soil. 


Shelli’s tips for growing carnivorous plants

  • Water your plants with either distilled water or rainwater. Carnivorous plants are sensitive, and chemicals in tap water could kill them. 
  • If growing indoors, place them in a window with bright, indirect light. Read your instructions to see how moist you should keep the moss. you can keep them partially covered to retain the moisture, but they do need some fresh air to survive. 
  • Depending on your climate, you might be able to grow them outside. They make great container plants, and they also do well in garden ponds. 
  • Venus flytraps kept indoors only need to be fed once a month. Don’t try to feed them any other food besides insects, preferably live ones. even though it’s fun to touch the trap and make it close with your finger, be careful not to do that too much. each trap can only be open and closed about four times before it dies. 
  • For more information about carnivorous plants and how to grow them, you may enjoy looking at the International Carnivorous Plant society website
  • A trustworthy online resource for buying carnivorous plants is Run by a husband and wife team since 1992, the owners can answer your questions and have detailed growing instructions on their website. 

This essay was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life.