Carnivorous plants are the celebrities of the plant world. While fiddle leaf figs and peace lillies are presented in magazines and websites as this season’s hottest interior trend, carnivorous plants remain somewhat of a mystery. A plant that survives mostly by trapping and consuming insects and other arhropods, carnivorous plants are paid a certain amount of respect, and are never treated like a fleeting trend. In fact, the legend of carnivorous plants has been immortalized in the cult classic 1986 American rock musical comedy horror film, Little Shop of Horrors.
1. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
The Venus flytrap is one of the most well-known carnivorous plants and it eats mostly insects and arachnids. A small plant with around four to seven leaves that grow from a short stem, it’s the pair of terminal lobes that are hinged at the midrib that form the trap. According to Listverse, the plant is so advanced it can tell the difference between live and non-living stimulus, and the lobes can snap shut in 0.1 seconds. While there is only one species of Venus Flytrap, there are many varieties.
2. Monkey cups (Nepenthes)
The monkey cup plant is found is tropical areas such as Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia. The carnivorous plant is known as a monkey cup because monkeys have been seen drinking water from them in rainforests, as monkey cup vines produce a leaf called a pitcher, which, according to Hungry Plants, can sometimes be big enough to hold more than a litre of water. Their cups passively collect and digest prey.
3. Sundew (Drosera)
There are around 200 species of Sundew, and they all vary wildly in shape, size and growing requirements. Most are covered in tentacles which have glue-covered tips, and Carnivorous Plants UK reports these tentacles can move, helping the Sundew to quickly suffocate and digest insects which have become stuck.
4. Butterworts (Pinguicula)
Butterworts, or flypaper traps, can be active or passive and rely on sticky mucilage directly on the leaf surface to capture prey. Butterworts are also known for their showy, orchid-like flowers in yellow, pink, purple or white blooms. These carnivorous plants love to eat gnats and are usually found in the US.
5. Bladderworts (Utricularia)
Named after it’s tiny bladders, the Bladderwort is a type of carnivorous plant that lives in open water and traps insects in a bladder that is like a suction bulb. According to the Botanical Society of America, tiny hair-like feelers at the opening of the bladder know when insects, such as fleas, land on the plant, which causes the flattened bladder to suddenly inflate, sucking in water, eating the animal and closing a trap door after it.
6. Lobster-pot plants (Darlingtonia californica)
Named after the pots fisherman use to capture lobsters, the lobster pot is a carnivorous plant that catches prey when it enters the plant’s trap, which looks like a lobster pot. The prey is then unable to find its way out, and overlapping hairs within the plants’ trap force prey to only go down the leaf to where they are digested.
7. Catapulting flypaper trap (Drosera glanduligera)
This carnivorous plant species possesses both flypaper (such as the Butterworts) and snap-trapping (like the Venus fly trap) abilities. Endemic to Australia, this carnivorous plant catches its prey with sticky outer tentacles. When the prey puts pressure on these tentacles, plant cells break underneath it and send the object catapulting towards the center of the plant, where it’s eaten.
How to care for carnivorous plants
Carnivorous plants love a swampy environment filled with moss and moisture, and will not grow in commercial potting mix or soil that contains fertlisers. The ideal environment for a carnivorous plant is sphagnum moss, but that can be hard to find. Peat moss is a good alternative, as is coconut fibre that is milled and ground and has similar structural properties. Many carnivorous plants are more suitable to outdoor cultivation, although some will survive indoors.
Flower Power garden centre suggests using an ultraviolent light for indoor carnivorous plants, and making your indoor garden in a glass terrarium or fishtank. Leave your plants in their pots and sit them in the terrarium so that the bottoms of the pots are in water and the plant itself is above the water line. You can then disguise the pots by filling in with sphagnum moss or peat.
The advantage of a terrarium is that the plants can create a microclimate of their own, where heat, light and moisture is regulated. If your carnivorous plants aren’t getting enough insects to satisfy their needs, a monthly feeding with foliar spray at one-tenth strength will do the trick.
Want to see some carnivorous plants for yourself?
Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens have come up with the goods with the latest exhibition: Plants with Bite. Launched on October 1, 2018, and just in time for Halloween, Plants with Bite is located in the garden’s Calyx building and features 25,000 carnivorous plants. The free exhibition runs until February 28, 2019, and is made up Venus flytraps.
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