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===About Venus Flytraps ===
Venus flytraps, or dionaea muscipula, belong to a group of plants that are carnivorous. They're probably the best known but I don't actually believe they're the easiest to grow - I've had more success with pinguicula, sometimes called Mr. Mosquito, which attracts those awful little fungus gnats or sciarid flies, and sarracenia or pitcher plants. I grow them because I don't like flies, but neither am I very keen on using fly sprays with their strong chemicals. Venus flytraps will catch flies as big as bluebottles and sometimes even wasps , as will sarracenias. I find them invaluable on my kitchen windowsill in summer and autumn particularly.
It can be quite difficult to keep some houseplants going over the winter, and for me this latest one has been no exception. One casualty was my Venus flytrap plant, which had been doing well until February, or so it seemed, but then suddenly seemed to give up the ghost and rotted off. I thought at first it was going through a period of dormancy, but it became obvious it had died. I did want to replace it but found none available locally. Maybe it was too early in the season. Then, one day when I was in my local Yorkshire Trading Company store, I noticed a few packs of these 'grow your own' kits for sale with bright red '£1' stickers, indicating this was a significantly reduced price. I confess I didn't take a lot of notice of the full price; I fancied having a crack at growing them and figured that I had little to lose at that price and I do like a little experiment! So, on a complete whim, I bought one.
The pack consisted of a card with vivid pictures of the plant and cultivation instructions, with a plastic bubble that held a mini plant pot. On opening it up I could see that this held a small disk of compact coir compost [how's that for alliteration!] There was a small plastic envelope that held about 6 seeds, and a little bag that contained vermiculite. I read the instructions, which told me to soak the compost disk in water until it was saturated - I believe it gave a measured quantity but to be honest I've discarded the card several weeks ago, so this is from memory. The plant pot then had to be filled with the moistened compost, the vermiculite went on next as a top layer, then the seeds needed to be spaced out on the surface. The idea behind this was that the seeds needed light to assist germination, so they wouldn't be covered. There didn't seem to be anything particularly difficult about any of that - I do quite a bit of seed planting. The small bag was then to be used to insulate the pot, almost like a mini cloche. I read that I needed to keep it at a warm temperature until germination took place, about 15 degrees C, and any watering should be done from beneath rather than on the surface. This was when I began to have misgivings. Beneath all of the clear, simple instructions was a disclaimer that said success in germination was not guaranteed if ideal conditions were not met. I suppose that could be said of anything we grow from seed, but the fact that it was stated so boldly made me think that the producers didn't really believe that buyers would succeed. I also learned that germination could take between 4-6 weeks, but that seemed a reasonable length of time.
So, having followed the instructions to the letter - the English one, that is, as they were also given in a range of other languages - I thought about how best to provide the consistent temperature that was apparently crucial. As a keen gardener I have a heated propagator that can be thermostatically controlled, with trays set on a base layer of moistened sharp sand, so this seemed ideal. I set the temperature as required - not a problem as I didn't have anything else in there at that point in early March, due to the extremely cold weather which would make growing plants on quite difficult. In they went, and I waited .. and waited ...
Sadly here we are at the end of May and I'm still waiting. To be honest I don't think they're going to grow now. On Monday we went to a garden centre, and on seeing some thriving Venus Fly Traps I decided to cut my losses and just buy one. At £3.99 it didn't break the bank, either.
I've decided I need to improve my skills in keeping these plants alive over winter if I'm going to continue growing them. I've done quite a bit of reading up on how to do this and feel better equipped to do so now. But maybe that's for another review. However the main website I looked at, which was from a nursery that specialises in carnivorous plants and sells its own Venus Flytrap seed kits, seemed to indicate that seed actually need a period of stratification to aid germination. Effectively this means placing them in a fridge or similar conditions for a few weeks before sowing. So I suspect that the instructions given with this pack were not accurate. I wish I'd read this when I opened the pack. As it also said that it took 2 - 3 years to grow a plant to maturity from seed, I think I did the right thing in buying myself a new plant!
I feel I can only give this pack a 1 star rating. Admittedly I didn't take the whole exercise very seriously and, had a seedling grown, that would have been a bonus for me. On the other hand, I think a lot of people might buy these kits for their children. It's quite possible that you would have greater success if you did - but don't hold your breath! You might be better buying a kit from a nursery like the one I looked up, whose seed kits were about £5 with specialist compost and comprehensive instructions. Or buy a mature plant - they're often available in Homebase, for example.
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©Verbena May 2013
I'm a bit of a freak, in the sense that I have a morbid fascination with meat eating plants. It started a few years ago when on a whim I bought a grow your own venus fly trap. Until recently, despite looking, I had only seen them available on Amazon. Whilst I have nothing against Amazon I am wary of buying plants from them as you don't really know what you're getting, so when I saw this in Hawkins Bazaar I couldn't say no!
It comes in a fairly small box (6cm x 6cm) with a top that consists of four corners that fold over in star like effect. These are printed with the fly traps themselves so I assume the design of this is supposed to represent these.
Out The Box
In the box you get a terracotta pot that only just fits inside the box so I would assume that this is also 6x6 at its widest point (although I have never bothered to measure this), a compost disk (more on this later), what appears to be a miniature sandwich bag full of seeds and the instructions. Besides the compost disk, these are all pretty much self-explanatory but if you do get stuck at any point the instructions are very thorough and explain everything. They are printed in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
To plant the seeds you simply soak the compost tablet in 30ml of warm water. The amount doesn't need to be exact if you have no way of measuring but its better to start with too little then too much, its easy to tell when you've added enough as the tablet breaks down into normal compost.
After this you simply sprinkle the seeds on top of the compost and press them down. The whole thing needs to be placed into a saucer of water and then covered with a plastic bag before being placed in a warm and bright position but out of direct sunlight. It's important that the seeds are only watered from the saucer and never from the top of the plant itself.
The Sciency Bit
Most the information following is taken from www.botany.org
The venus fly traps consist of a number of traps designed to catch and allow the plant to digest the animal. When these plants are grown in your own home they don't actually need to eat animals as just like any other plant they can get all their nutrients from the sun and soil; however in the wild they grow in poor soil conditions and so they need the extra nutrients provided by animals in order to stay as healthy as possible.
The plant attracts the flies by secreting a nectar which the fly is drawn to, inside each trap are small hairs. When the fly lands in the leaf these hairs are disturbed and so the plant shuts the trap. The traps shut surprisingly quickly to ensure the fly doesnt have time to escape.
Once the trap is completely shut the seal produced is airtight, this ensures both that bacteria stays out and that the fly can't escape. The plant then secretes disgestive fluids which dissolve the fly allowing it to be absorbed by the plant. Although the majority of the fly will be absorbed the exoskeleton won't be. In the wild the rain and wind will wash these away, in your own home you can either remove these yourselves or leave them, they won't hurt the plant if left and won't reactivate the trap or prevent another fly activating it.
I have a tendency to kill plants and since these came with a warning that exotic plants can be hard to grow I wasn't really expecting anything to grow. However, as I said before I have a morbid fascination with these plants and so I was going to give it a go anyway!
I planted the seeds as directed and covered them with a shower cap - it was the closest thing I could get to a clear plastic bag! It does say that the seeds will take 4-6 weeks to grow so I wasn't really expecting anything to happen for a while but after a week a moss like plant seemed to grow on the surface of the soil. I left this as I assumed it was a natural reaction to the humidity inside the bag, after around two weeks little air bubbles began appearing within the water which confirmed that the plants were still alive and were growing - a good start.
After just over 4 weeks had passed I noticed small seedlings had started to grow and so I removed the showercap. It took several months for the traps to grow and when they did they slowly unfolded from what at first appeared to be leaves. The traps themselves are pinkish, not the red I expected although this may be because the plants weren't as healthy as they could have been. Healthy plants are supposed to grow small white flowers in the spring, my first one never did this the second is still at the seedling stage so hopefully l'll have more luck with this one!
The first plant I grew did attract and kill quite a few flies before it died, I personally preferred to remove the skeletons of flies it had killed as they werent particularly attractive left there! I'm not really sure what killed it, I suspect it was the cold winter weather as they grow in hot, humid conditions so this is something to be aware of if you're interested in one.
Price, Availability And Recommendation
As I said, I bought mine from Hawkins Bazaar for £4.99 but they are available cheaper online and if you don't want the hassle of growing from seed an Amazon seller does sell adult plants.
I've had great fun with mine and if (or rather when!) it dies I will be buying another on that basis I am recommending it to adults that are interested in these kinds of plants or most children. However, I do appreciate that this won't appeal to everyone and therefore isn't something that everyone will enjoy. However, it's going to get 5 out of 5 from me.