In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2002
Regional Report

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187

Venus flytraps, a face only a mother could love.

Fare Thee Well, Dear Friends!

I know this will sound stupid, but I'm sitting in my office weeping into my keyboard because some darn fool stole my Venus flytraps. I adored them, and now they are gone.

These adorable little plants did everything but talk back to me. All through the summer, they caught everything from yellowjackets to beetles to those big mosquito eaters. I would stop for my morning visit and see the leaves shaking furiously, accompanied by ghastly buzzing. The little plants held onto their prey like grim death. There were even some volunteer sundews that grew in the same pots with the flytraps and they were absolute murder on the ant population. The little executioners captured everything except spiders, which, I have a feeling, were too smart to fall for their lures. I have never had plants that gave me so much pleasure, and now they're with somebody who doesn't know how to care for them.

It's not like they looked great or anything. They were well into their dormant period so some of the leaves were black and withered, the saucer was green and scummy and the leaves that were left each held the remnants of a grisly meal. Why would anybody steal something like that?

Here's a little background on carnivorous plants, and Venus flytraps in particular, in case you want to try growing them yourself.

What Are Carnivorous Plants?

Carnivorous plants live in environments where nutrients aren't readily available, so they have evolved ingenious ways to trap insects and then digest the bodies as a source of nitrogen. There are three basic types of carnivorous plants: the flytraps, which have hinged leaves that actually enclose and trap an insect; pitcher plants, which have water-filled funnels instead of conventional leaves; and sticky-leaved plants such as the sundews, which attract and capture insects with a sticky sap, then digest them. The Venus flytrap is probably the best know of the carnivores.

Growing Indoors

Carnivorous plants are not at all difficult to grow indoors, as long as you have a "buggy" spot for them to live. A sun porch window where doors open and close frequently to let in insects is perfect. They need as much sun and heat as you can provide and a resting period during the winter months. In their native creek beds near Wilmington, North Carolina, the Venus flytrap has all the heat and humidity anybody could stand during the summer months, and freezing temperatures in the winter. Mimic these conditions and you will have success with your own carnivores.

Use the Right Growing Medium

The growing medium should to be kept damp to wet all year long. It should be made up of 1 part peat moss mixed with 1 part sand or fine gravel. You don't need to worry about transplanting for the first year or so.

Water is Critical

Most carnivorous plants are native to streams where the water is very pure. Therefore, they should be watered with either distilled water or rainwater for best results. Don't wash pots with soap or detergent, because these may adhere to the glass. I kept my plants in a plastic saucer that I kept about one third filled with water from my freshwater aquarium. The container became a bit scummy looking, but the plants seemed to thrive. If you don't have an aquarium, catch and store rainwater in clean glass containers that have been allowed to air dry for several days, or purchase bottled spring water.

Watering the plants from the bottom, always keeping some water standing in the saucer. The plants will tolerate deeper water, so if you'll be traveling, just fill the saucer and they should be OK for a week or so. The water in the saucer should provide ample humidity as it evaporates.

Feeding

Although it is tempting, don't overfeed your carnivores. An occasional dead fly or spider dropped onto the leaves will suffice, but I always let my little plants work for their supper, and they did just fine. And one more thing, please don't trick them into closing on a pencil or finger. It wastes precious energy and the oils from your hands will damage delicate leaves.

For more information on carnivorous plants, contact California Carnivores, phone number 707-838-1630,or visit their web site; www.californiacarnivores.com.

And please, if you happen to see my flytraps lurking around a rubbish heap, tell them to come on home.


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