Everything you need to know about the Venus Flytrap. 

by Ray Ong

THE INSPIRATION

Behind the imaginary man-eating plants in the movies which are spectacular carnivorous traps that catch live moving animals is actually a very small plant incapable of ingesting humans. This is the Venus flytrap. It grows in the bogs or swamps of North Carolina in the Southeastern area of the USA, and can live in very poor soils. It gets most of its nutrients from the insects it catches.

The modified flytrap leaf.

THE TRAP

The leaf of the plant carries a trap at each tip. This has sensitive trigger hairs that signal to the plant when it is touched and cause it to close quickly. The eyelash-like extensions (cilia) ensure that insects caught thus do not slip through when the trap is sprung.

The sweet scented leaves attract insects. When an insect alights on the trap and touches the trigger hairs, it causes the jaw-like hinged leaf extension to snap shut. It only takes 1/30th of a second for the leaves to close in full sun. Under low light and low temperatures, the reaction time is slower.

The flytrap leaf dies after catching insects 3 to 4 times. If a trap is triggered but there is no insect inside, the leaves will re-open the next day to spit out the inert object that triggered it to close.

HOW TO GROW A VENUS FLYTRAP

The Venus Flytrap is one of the easiest carnivorous plants to grow. There are a few requirements that have to be satisfied to ensure its survival and growth. The plant needs high humidity levels, bright light, and acid soil. Where it comes from, it grows on sand with low nutrients on wet fields or swamps under direct sun.

This explains why Venus flytraps are kept in terrariums (aquariums) and sold in sundae cups. Wrapping the roots in sphagnum moss will satisfy the acidity requirements. Regular feeding with small insects like ants or flies will keep it healthy. Watering with distilled or rain water benefits the plant.

Always trim brown or black leaves to avoid diseases. Do not tease the traps. They can open and close only a limited number of times (3-4 times).

PROPAGATION

After your plant matures, it may produce flowers on tall stalks way above the leaves (this is to ensure the pollinators are not eaten). The flowers will produce small black seeds, which need to be sown in a wet medium. Seeds germinate readily. If the flowers are not needed, trim these off because they take too much energy from the plant.

The plant produces rhizomes and suckers. It also produces a maximum of 7 leaves. If you get more leaves, the plant has branched out below and the shoot may be replanted after detaching the growing shoot (without roots) from the mother plant.

Leaf cuttings may also be planted after detaching the traps. By the time the leaves turn brown or black, the plantlets should be growing under with their individual baby traps.

PESTS

In the tropics, there are not too many insects that will attack the Dionaea since the growing conditions are too humid. Occasionally, thrips and mites attack the traps and the lamina. Just cut off all the leaves and re-plant what is left in a new set of medium. You get new growth in 2 to 3 weeks.

More Venus flytraps are killed by fertilizer application than by pests.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2017 issue.