Newest Review: ... as this will increase the humidity levels - VFTs need a high humidity atmosphere. The seedlings should be kept indoors on a warm s... more
Help! My houseplant's a meat eater
Venus Fly Trap
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Venus Fly Trap
Advantages: Eats flies.
Disadvantages: Fussy needs
I consider myself to be fairly green fingered, but with Venus Fly Traps I'm definitely brown thumbed. Over time, I've killed more VFTs than DDT killed Scottish Ospreys. It takes about a year for me to forget how bad I am at sustaining them, so when I get the houseplant bug every Easter on a trip to a garden centre, I more often than not end up buying another.
It's a shame I kill them off, they are a fascinating plant and listed as vulnerable too - their only natural native habitat is a few swamps in North Carolina, although there are some that have spread to a handful of swamps in Florida. They are a carnivorous plant - they digest insects to get their nutrients as the soil they live in is nutrient poor so over time have evolved to feed in this way to ensure their survival. They trap an insect inside two hinged leaves, which then secrete enzymes that "eat" the insect and sustain the plant.
GROWING YOUR OWN
To grow from seed, you need to get the conditions right first. Don't be tempted to use the finest Jon Innes seedling compost, you will freak the plant out and it won't grow. For the "soil", just use sphagnum moss, grit and sand, remember, it thrives in nutrient poor soil as it will be getting it's nutrients from the insects that it catches. Place the seeds on the top of this mixture then keep moist. For best results, try covering the pot with Clingfilm as this will increase the humidity levels - VFTs need a high humidity atmosphere. The seedlings should be kept indoors on a warm sunny windowsill as the places in America where they grow naturally are quite warm. For this reason, a good time of year to grow from seed in this way would be from late spring onwards. The seeds should germinate within 3 weeks, then they can be uncovered and allowed to grow bigger. In time, gently prick out the seedlings when they are big enough to handle and re-pot in the same sand, grit and moss mix.
Perhaps most importantly, never use tap water to water the VFTs. This is the main reason I have always killed them off. They should only ever have rain water or distilled water to drink. This makes them a slightly fussy plant to look after, but to be honest we are never short of rain water in the UK and it's not too difficult to leave a bucket outside to collect some.
Another reason why these plants don't live long (when impatient plonkers like me get their hands on them) is that it's tempting to get a cocktail stick and rub the little hairs on the pads of the open leaves to make the trap close. Don't do it! When the trap closes, it uses a large amount of energy and if the plant hasn't trapped a juicy fly to feed on the eventually it will die. Instead, let nature take the lead and the plant will catch the flies that annoyingly buzz in front of your tv screen for you. If you don't have many flies or moths in your house, then you can feed the plant dead ones, you will just need to tickle the sensor hairs on the leaf pads to activate the trap. When the plant has digested the insect, you may be left with some tiny bits of the insect that the plant wasn't able to digest - I spray these off with rain water in a bottle.
They can be put outside over the warmer months (I have recently refused to call the current time of year summer, too much rain and not enough sun) but won't survive a British winter so I bring mine indoors. To recap, they need humidity, warmth, very poor soil and lots of light.
PESTS AND DISEASES
The good thing about VFTs and pests is that the plant eats them, so there's not much of a worry there! Greenflies may be an issue as they are too small to trigger the trap, but apparently if you submerge the plant in water for two or three days this will sort that out and de-louse your plant of greenflies. Due to the humid conditions that VFTs require, fungus can be an issue, but a sprayed solution (mixed with rain water of course!) of copper sulphate should sort this out. If you have a VFT and it starts to throw up a flower spike, snip this off before it flowers as flowering will weaken the plant and it will most probably die after the flowers themselves die off.
The cheapest place I've found for seeds is a website called www.littleshopofhorrors.co.uk , which sells a seed kit for £2.50. Other suppliers include Thompson and Morgan (11 seeds for £4.99) and Mandrake House Herbs (5 seeds for £2.99). Actual plants from garden centres vary in price, but expect to pay at least £3 for a small plant with two or three trap heads on it.
Commonly available varieties include: Green Dragon (the trap stays green even when exposed to bright light), Red Dragon (the trap is red coloured), Clumping Cultivar (forms a ground hugging rosette of tightly packed trap heads) and Sawtooth (these have small triangular jagged teeth as opposed to the classic long interlocking spikes that most people think of when they picture a VFT).
These plants are fascinating to look at, they look like something from prehistoric times with their sharp pointy "teeth" and are a poke in the eye to the 'peace lily and rubber plant' brigade of conventional house plants. Not only do you get an interesting plant to watch in action, but there's a bit of free pest control throw into the mix too. However, due to their quite specific care requirements, I can't bring myself to award the full amount of stars as they're not the sort of plant that is pretty much bomb proof and can be left unloved for years - I know we get a lot of rain in summer with which to feed the VFTs, but we can have dry winters where rain water is hard to come by. So, for it's fussiness, I would recommend a VFT to someone who is prepared to put a bit of effort into looking after it and award it four stars. Thanks for reading.
Summary: An interesting plant with some peculiar needs