Carnivorous plants

All of the carnivorous plants I have grown love moist soil. Which is true of wild carnivorous plants in the wild. None have yet been found in arid areas. The flytraps, pitcher plants and sundews are all bog plants. Those I grow pots of clay with peat moss and soil. I put the clay pots in a saucer of water that I keep filled.

Do not fertilize carnivorous plants. In the wild they grow in bogs with poor dirt. The nutrients they need they get from the bugs they catch. When I have rain water available I use that to water them, otherwise I use tap water. Bottled water can be anything from anywhere, it’s just basically someone else’s tap water. Distilled water is totally lacking in anything.

My newest collections of carnivorous plants are planted in clear glass containers with tops. They are planted in sphagnum moss instead of dirt. They are thriving. Being bog or rain forest plants these plants all love humidity.

You can plant your carnivorous plants in sphagnum moss, peat moss, or a sand/dirt/peat mixture. Just be sure to avoid any potting soil at the nursery that has fertilizer as most of them now do.

I put the larger hanging Nepenthes outside in the summer under heavy shade and in the bathroom in the winter. It will not tolerate temperatures under 60’F. Most of the bog growing ones don’t mind an occasional frost or two.

The largest source of problems with carnivorous plants are caused by a lack of sufficient light. These plants love the sunshine and just can’t seem to get enough. If your plants are not doing well, try more light first.

The earliest known mention of carnivorous plants is in herb books of Europe in the late middle ages. Roger Bacon has several drawings of sundews in his yet to be deciphered ‘Voynic Code’ of the mid 1200s. At the time these plants were not known to be carnivorous.

The flytrap was the first plant discovered to be carnivorous by John Ellis. John Ellis named the fly trap ‘Dionaea muscipula’ ( Dionaea for the goddess Diana and muscipula means mousetrap ). The botanical world was amazed and a detailed paper by Ellis was sent far and wide throughout the community. Linnaeus, the father of biology, would not accept that a plant could be carnivorous, referring to Ellis’ work as ‘an offense against God’. So there the studies ended until Darwin’s time.

Darwin’s work with carnivorous plants began with sundews. Soon Joseph Hooker, then director of Kew Botanical Gardens, joined Darwin’s studies and they expanded them to cover other carnivorous plants. Darwin’s 400 page report in 1875 is still considered one of the main works on carnivorous plants. (Project Gutenberg has Darwin’s report available for free download )

Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon’s wife Josephine were both avid collectors of carnivorous plants.

Carnivorous plants attract prey, trap prey, and eat the prey by releasing enzymes that dissolve the prey. They then take the nutrients back up for use.

There are many plants that attract and trap the prey but only eat it with the help of a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. These are considered pre-carnivorous plants. Two bromeliads Brocchinia reducta and Catopsis bertermoniana in in this group. Even though they trap insects neither releases enzymes to dissolve the prey. Instead bacteria does that work for them. Also one of the tillandosioideaes, Catopsis Grisebach is considered to be pre-carnivorous. This plant grows on trees to which it attaches itself with roots. The leaves form an upright funnel in which it traps insects. Like the bromeliads it lacks its own enzymes to dissolve the insects.

Some plants, like Giant Dutchman’s Pipe, trap prey and release the prey after they have used the insect to spread pollen.

The plants attract prey by looking like flowers using colors including many ultra violet wavelengths which many insects can see. Some use scent often in the form of a sticky liquid.

Most of the carnivorous plants trap prey by letting the insect into the eating area but not out. A few like flytraps and sundews move and surround the insects. Some just use adhesives.

The enzymes used to breakdown the prey into dinner by the plants most commonly includes: Aamylase, chitinase, esterase, lipase, peroxidase, phosphatase, protease, and ribonuclease. Not all plants use all of the enzymes.

More Info:
Energetics and the evolution of carnivorous plants
International Carnivorous Plant Society
Carnivorous Plants, from Wayne’s World

If you want to see some truly amazing home grown carnivorous plants be sure to check out Varun’s photostream on flickr