Growing Carnivorous Plants Growing Carnivorous Plants

When you think carnivorous plant, an image of the Venus flytrap probably comes to mind. But in reality, there are several varieties of carnivorous plants. Many of them, like the Venus flytrap, are native to North America. While carnivorous are the probably most interesting plants, they are also some of the hardest-to-grow plants. Only those with the greenest thumbs should attempt it. However, under proper conditions these plants can be attractive additions to your home garden. It is possible to grow them outdoors during certain parts of the year depending on your climate. Here are some of the basic conditions that most carnivorous plants require.

Soil: Carnivorous plants have sensitive roots and should never be fertilized or planted in fertilized soil. They like acidic soils. Sphagnum peat moss is a good choice with a silica sand or medium grade orchid bark mixed in. Add distilled water to dry sphagnum moss and mix thoroughly until it absorbs the water and turns black. Do not use white, beach or sandbox sand. These are high in salts and calcium, which will kill carnivorous plants.

Humidity: Carnivorous plants need lots humidity - at least fifty to ninety percent. In most areas, this can only be provided in greenhouses and terrariums. When misting plants, make sure you use distilled or rain water. Water with high minerals or salts will kill carnivorous plants.

Light: Carnivorous plants require lots of bright light, preferably on a windowsill that faces the south. In terrariums, cool white fluorescent bulbs should be used, as incandescent bulbs will produce too much heat.

Temperature: Just to be contrary, while carnivorous plants need bright light and high humidity, they will not tolerate extreme heat. They should be kept in temperatures between 60 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keeping in mind these basic guidelines, here is some more information about eight of the more commonly available species of carnivorous plants.

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

Venus Flytraps are one of the most well known carnivorous plants. Amazingly, these plants only grow naturally in a small area in North and South Carolina. Flytraps grow best in a 4 inch plastic pot using a 50-50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and silica sand. Most flytraps are sold in pots that are too small and contain the wrong soil.

Flytraps need lots of light, preferably in a window with a southern exposure. Plants that aren't getting enough light will be weak and the traps will not form correctly. They prefer temperatures ranging from 80 to 95ºF and a humidity level that is at least fifty percent. Their soil should be kept damp, but not soaking wet. It is a good idea to place a saucer or small bowl under the pot with about an inch of water in it. This will raise the humidity around the plant and ensure the soil stays moist.

Flytraps are prone to pests such as aphids and spider mites. Check any deformed leaves closely and treat with Orthene or Isotox according to the directions if any pests are found.

Flytraps that are kept in terrariums should "feed" your flytrap one or two flies or small crickets a month. Do not feed them hamburger. It will cause the traps to rot and might kill the plant. Also, avoid making the traps close with your finger. This drains the plant of energy and could kill it. Don't worry if your plant loses a trap. Traps are just leaves and will periodically die.

Venus flytraps need to go dormant for about three months during the winter. When a Venus flytrap enters its dormant period, all the tall big growth will die leaving only a few small leaves even just its bulb and root system. During this time, they should be kept in a basement, garage or unheated porch as long as you keep them between 40 ºF to 55 ºF. They do not require light during this time. Be careful not to keep your flytrap too wet during its dormancy or it will rot. You may want to treat it with a fungicide to protect it.

Sundew (Drosera)

Sundews are basically living pieces of flypaper. Their tentacle-like leaves secrete a tiny sticky droplet that is capable of catching insects to stick to them. Most sundews grow well in sphagnum peat moss mixed with a little sand. Adding a little charcoal will help remove salts from the soil. All sundews are prone to aphids and should be treated with Orthene or Isotox when this occurs. This treatment will cause the plants to loose their sticky dew, but it will return if the plant is kept in humid enough conditions. Soil should be kept constant damp and never be allowed to dry out. Using the tray watering method (placing pot into a tray that contains about an inch of water) works well. Temperatures should be kept between 70°F to 95°F and humidity levels should be kept in between 50 to 95 percent.

There are many different species of sundews - some tropical and some temperate. Only some temperate species of sundew will require a dormant season. During the fall, these species will lose their summer foliage and develop small rosette leaves that look like small peas. Dormancy temperatures should be kept between 35°F to 45°F. They should be kept moist, but not be sitting in water. Keeping them in the refrigerator during this time works well.

Butterwort (Pinguicula)

Butterworts are probably the plainest carnivorous plant. They have yellow-green or purplish leaves that are covered with a greasy liquid almost like butter (hence their name). Their leaves curl into a cup when an insect - usually a gnat - is trapped. They grow well in a 50/50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and silica sand. Butterworts will tolerate full sun, but don't seem to need it. Most grow better in at least partial shade. They prefer temperatures between 65°F to 95°F with humidity levels between50 to 90 percent. Their soil should be kept moist. It is a good idea to keep their pots sitting in a tray of water at all times. They will go dormant in the winter. During this time, they will grow smaller non-carnivorous leaves. Dormancy temperatures should be between 35°F to 45°F.

North American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia)

There are many varieties of pitcher plants. Some varieties of the North American pitcher plants include yellow, hooded, parrot, purple, and red. They should not be confused with tropical pitcher plants or Australian pitcher plants, which require different growing conditions.

These plants grow best in large pots filled with a 50/50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and silica sand. Their soil should be kept damp - use the tray method by sitting their pots in a small tray of water. Keep them in full sun with temperatures between 70°F to 100°F and humidity levels about 50 percent or higher.

Sarracenia do require a dormancy period in the winter. During this time, it is best to remove any dead or dying pitchers and place them in temperatures between 35°F to 45°F. As with all carnivorous plants, sarracenia should be kept moist but not damp during their dormancy period.

Winter temperatures should be between 35°F to 45°F. You may want to treat them with a fungicide, such as Benomyl, to keep it from developing any fungal growth.

Australian Pitcher Plant (Cephalotus Follicularis)

Australian pitcher plants have two types of leaves: its carnivorous pitcher leaf and another leaf that is flat and non-carnivorous. These plants usually grow to be about two inches high and vary in color from green to dark red depending on how much light they receive. These plants do not require a dormancy period but are still very difficult to grow.

They will grow well in lower light and should be kept out of direct sunlight. South-facing windows are best. Soil should be a 50/50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and silica sand. They like lots of humidity, and their soil should be kept moist by placing the pot in a tray of water. Temperatures should be kept between 55°F to 78°F.

Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia Californica)

Cobra lilies are closely related to sarracenias and live in the mountains of northern California and Oregon. For that reason, they prefer cooler temperatures than most other carnivorous plant species. They like bright, but not direct, sunlight and should be planted in pure, living sphagnum peat moss. Keeping their soil moist is important. They should also have cold water flushed through their pots at least once a week in the winter and almost daily in the summer. Temperatures for the cobra lily should range between 70°F and 80°F. Cobra lilies can grow up too 4 feet high in nature and will require large containers at least as tall as the plant.

South American Sun Pitchers (Heliamphora)

South American sun pitchers grow on top of mountains in Venezuela and Brazil where it is very rainy and humid. They should be kept in temperatures around 55°F to 75°F, but they will tolerate temperatures as high as 90°F. They like bright light, but direct sunlight will scorch the leaves. The plants will turn reddish when they are receiving the right amount of light. The soil can be grown either in a mixture of equal cypress mulch, perlite, Canadian peat moss, and live sphagnum moss or in a mixture of live sphagnum moss with a small amount of perlite. They require lots of humidity - at least 80 percent - and should be watered using the tray system mentioned earlier. These plants are very delicate and special care is needed when repotting them. If growing them inside a terrarium, you will need to feed them. Flake fish food or small crickets work well for this. Only feed the older pitchers. It is also good to remove any dead material from the plant; otherwise, fungus could develop. They do not need a dormant period.

Bladderwort (Utricularia)

Bladderworts come in two varieties: aquatic and terrestrial. The terrestrial species is much easier to grow than the aquatic version. Aquatic species need full sun with temperatures ranging from 60°F to 90°F. The water will need to be cleaned and filtered regularly. They will do better if you had a peat "tea" solution to their water. This can be made by boiling sphagnum peat moss in boiling distilled or rainwater for about five minutes. Let water cool to room temperature before adding. The aquatic version feeds primarily on water fleas and mosquito larvae found in the water and do well in outdoor fishponds. Terrestrial species need full sun to partial shade with temperatures ranging from 60°F to 90°F. Grow them in sphagnum peat moss watered using a deep tray system. Keep their soil constantly wet with humidity levels at least seventy percent, if not more.

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