Venus Flytrap Gets Its Due

This DIY primeval bog showcases the Venus flytrap, a perennial plant that has the ability to attract, trap and digest insects.
By: Maureen Gilmer
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The Jurassic garden featuring the T-Rex bog, living fossils, ferns and cave art. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

The Jurassic garden featuring the T-Rex bog, living fossils, ferns and cave art. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

An urban garden legend explains that all carnivorous plants were once hitchhiking extraterrestrials that arrived on the back of a comet. While there is no evidence to support this, the unique ability of these strange plants to attract, trap and digest insects sets them aside from the rest of the vegetable kingdom.

It was just this otherworldly look that led me to include the Venus flytrap in an episode of my DIY-Do It Yourself Network show Weekend Gardening titled "Jurassic Garden."

Venus Flytrap in Brick-Colored Container

Venus Flytrap in Brick-Colored Container

Tiny trigger hairs dot the inside surface of the "clam shell" flytrap. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

Tiny trigger hairs dot the inside surface of the "clam shell" flytrap. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

We created primeval bog in a naturally wet spot on a small slope. To give it a paleo-look, we set a reproduction of a T. rex skull into the soil. The realistic looking artifact came from Skullduggery (www.skullduggery.com), a company that creates authentic looking versions of fossils. It features scaled-down dinosaurs as well as saber-toothed tigers and early hominids. Our goal was to make the skull look as though it had been gradually revealed by erosion, as it would when archeologists discover real fossils.

The skull was surrounded by living mosses and liverworts, two very small, primitive forms of plant life. This bog lay amidst a garden of larger living plants too primitive to have seeds. The horsetails and ferns reproduce by spores. While the Venus flytraps appeared the most prehistoric, they were actually the most advanced plants in the garden. In fact, the Venus flytrap is an ordinary flowering native perennial of the Carolinas!

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Pressed into the earth, the reproduction-fossil skull of ferocious T-Rex appears age-old surrounded by mosses, liverworts and Venus flytraps. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

Pressed into the earth, the reproduction-fossil skull of ferocious T-Rex appears age-old surrounded by mosses, liverworts and Venus flytraps. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

What makes Venus flytraps so amazing are the clamshell-shaped traps edged with fangs that make them appear quite ferocious. It is remarkable how the trap is triggered by flies, ants or spiders. Open traps contain a nectar that lures insects into its clutches. Along the inner surface of the traps are microscopic hairs. Two of these hairs must be touched at the same time or one hair twice in 20 seconds to spring the trap. This mechanism tells the plant that it's prey is a living insect, not a piece of leaf or other debris. Once sprung, the "clam" closes in the blink of an eye. This begins the digestive process, which takes from four to 10 days.

Carnivorous Plants

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Carnivorous Native Pitcher Plant

Pitcher plants, sun dews, Venus flytraps...there are some very interesting "meat-eating" plants which, given the right conditions, can become a fascinating gardening hobby.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Carnivorous Plants on a Sunny Windowsill

A mixture of peat moss and either sand or perlite will help these plants stay moist but not wet. They require full sun and humidity to thrive.

Venus Flytrap

Like other carnivorous plants, Venus flytrap typically slows growth before going  dormant in the fall and winter, but perk back up in the spring—just like in nature. Protect them from hard freezes.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Venus Flytrap

The two lobes of the snap-trap shut in an eyeblink, then slowly tighten around their prey. Because individual traps get worn out after just a few feedings, feed only every few weeks.

Sundew

The "Alice" sundew (Drosera aliciae) is one of the easiest to grow. More sun, more red color.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Cape Sundew

Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis) is one of the easiest sundews to grow, as long as it gets sun and humidity.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Sundew

Sundews come in many shapes and forms. Feed every few weeks with a combination of small insects and finely-crushed fish food pellets or flakes mixed with a little rain water.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Threadleaf Sundew (Drosera filiformis)

Threatleaf Sundew has long, thin tendrils covered with sticky glands that entrap and curl around prey.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Pitcher Plant

Pitcher plants (Serracenia) are native to North America, and grow in full sun in wet, nutrient-poor soils. They have separate flower stems and elongated specialized leaves which trap insects that fall and slip into digestive juices.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Pitcher Plant in Container

This wild pitcher plant (Serracenia) grows so well in a container, it has won a blue ribbon at the Mississippi State Fair flower show—not far from where it naturally roams wild throughout the moist Gulf Coast wetlands.

Photo By: Photo by Felder Rushing

Potful of Carnivorous Plants

Most carnivorous plants grow best in a mixture peat moss and either sharp sand or perlite. They also need hours of direct sun, regular moisture and humidity.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Carnivorous Plant Box

A moderate size box with clear sides and top makes a great container for growing a collection of carnivorous plants

Tropical Pitcher Plant

Tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthese) are often too large for home gardeners, but thrive in bright, humid conditions and an occasional spider, fly, roach or cricket in one of its hanging cups filled with digestive juices.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Nepenthese

To help tropical pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants feed better, try refrigerating crickets, bloodworms (available at pet stores), spiders or flies to slow them down a bit.

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

Venus flytraps make great windowsill plants, provided you give them the kind of humid environment they crave. Most plants are packaged in pots with a plastic cover of some sort to retain humidity. Keep the cover on the plants, particularly if you are in a dry climate. They require at least 50 percent humidity at all times.

An easy solution is to put them in a terrarium or an attractive tabletop greenhouse. Be prepared for the flytraps go dormant over winter; the plants will show this by some browning or shriveled leaves.

Like other garden plants, there are specific varieties of flytraps, thanks to cellular tissue culture propagation in the lab. The variations are chiefly in the toothed edges of the traps and the color. Developed by the Atlanta Botanical Garden, "Red Dragon" features purplish leaves and traps. (You can learn more and buy "traps" at www.venusflytrapfarm.com.)

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A single flytrap will produce many ferocious-looking "clam shells" especially designed to close in an instant to catch insects. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

A single flytrap will produce many ferocious-looking "clam shells" especially designed to close in an instant to catch insects. (SHNS photo by Maureen Gilmer / Do It Yourself)

Perhaps the most rewarding part of creating projects for Weekend Gardening is featuring unusual yet available plants. "Jurassic Garden" will always be among my favorite projects, for within its confines is the entire evolutionary history of the plant kingdom. From primitive mosses to the most complex flower of all, the daisy, there is a whole textbook of learning condensed into the species of this garden.

Whether you are considering a school project or something special for a botanical garden, or you just want to delve into the primitive or exotic, a Jurassic garden is most rewarding. All the dry books and drawings of academia do not add up to the revelations of evolution you'll discover when you pair the skull of T. rex with the tiny, insect-eating Venus flytraps.

(Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of Weekend Gardening on DIY-Do It Yourself Network. E-mail her at mo@moplants.com. For more information, visit : www.moplants.com or www.DIYNetwork.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)

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