Carnivorous plants have long fascinated people both young and old. There is a wide diversity of meat-eating plants in nature, varying greatly in appearance and in the way they consume animals.
The Venus Fly Trap is probably the most well-known carnivorous plant. Venus Fly Traps are fast-acting plants to watch when the leaves snap shut when a fly happens upon them. Venus Fly Traps can claim the U.S. as their native home, indigenous to the Carolinas.
Other carnivorous plants include Pitcher Plants and Sticky Traps (including Sundews). Carnivorous plants are generally found in swampy areas with soils deprived of nutrients. Small insects and other critters provide necessary nutrients that are lacking in the soil.
Although pretty on the outside, the interior of a pitcher plant is quite sinister for visiting bugs. Once lured into a cup (pitcher) by sweet-smelling nectars and flashy colors, the insect is greeted with downward-pointing hairs. Insects are captured by slipping and falling off the hairs and into liquid in the bottom of the pitcher. They die by drowning in this liquid. Acids and enzymes then break down the insect into a soup, which is used by the plant for nutrition.
Some pitcher plants are remarkably ornate, including the Trumpet Pitcher because of its long, trumpet-like, tubular pitcher found from in the Southeast. These pitchers can get quite tall, up to three to four feet in height. These beautiful pitchers lure their prey with attractive bright colors and nectar trails attract insects, similar to the way a flower attracts insects.
Perhaps the carnivorous plant with the biggest appetite are Tropical Pitchers–Nepenthes–native to Southeast Asia. These pitchers hang off vines. Some are so large and heavy that they actually rest on the ground and have been known to digest animals as large as a rat. Other animals that have fallen victim to these large pitchers include mice, lizards, and small birds.
Nepenthes has become a very popular indoor plant in recent years, often featured in hanging basket containers and sold at many garden centers and even big box stores. In fact, many gardeners may not even know it’s a carnivorous plant as it seems to be popular more for its aesthetic features and ideal growth habit for hanging baskets with its tendrils and cups hanging.
Carnivorous plant care
Carnivorous plants can be purchased at most garden centers and even online. An advantage to purchasing at a garden center is being able to see in person the size of the plants you are purchasing – some carnivorous plants are sold in very small sizes and pots. Their online photos may make them appear larger than what you can expect to receive.
Most carnivorous plants benefit from bright indirect light or even some direct sunlight. They generally prefer acidic soils high in peat and/or sphagnum moss. Most need to be watered with distilled water with little or no fertilizer. Terrariums are often excellent for carnivorous plants as they provide higher humidity which is desirable.