5 Bug-Eating Plants, Up Close

Look out, insects! These carnivorous plants mean business.

  • The pitcher plant produces flower-like modified leaves that capture insects for feeding; each \"pitcher\" is tubular in shape with a flat cap hovering over the top rim.

  • When a pitcher plant trap reaches full size and is open, bugs start coming to the sweet nectar that's secreted around the rim of the pitcher. The insect enters the pitcher and sucks on the nectar, going deeper into the trap. Most insects can't fly straight up, and there are numerous backward-facing hairs and a very slick surface inside the pitcher. This creates a one-way, dead-end trip for the insect.
    Pitcher plants need bright light. Grow them outdoors in full sun to partial shade. If you live in a colder climate and overwinter them indoors, provide high-intensity fluorescent lights. In addition, pitcher plants are adapted to flooded savannah regions. They like wet feet, so make sure they're well-watered. When growing them in pots, let them sit in water-filled trays so they'll remain wet all the time.

  • The threadlike tendrils of the sundew (center) snares insects with its sticky tips resembling tiny water droplets. Sundews grow best in acidic, boggy soils and bright light.

  • The Venus flytrap is probably the most well-known of the carnivorous plants. Its trap consists of two flaps connected together at a \"hinge,\" with hairs covering the rim of each flap. These hairs are touch-sensitive and cause the trap to close rapidly and tightly at any disturbance. An insect that is drawn to the trap's sugary secretions accidentally touches the hairs, and the trap closes tightly around it. The insect is unable to get out of the trap.
    Venus flytraps can also be quite challenging to grow in cultivation due to their specific requirements: They prefer acidic, boggy soils and bright light. They also need to go through a winter dormancy period to maintain vigor year after year. Avoid watering plants with tap water since they prefer natural rainfall and therefore don't handle the salts in tap water very well.

  • Butterwort has sticky leaves that trap small insects. Its glistening leaves attract unsuspecting, water-thirsty insects that land on the sticky leaves and get stuck, then are slowly digested by the plant. Butterworts grow best in wet, boggy soils and partial shade.

  • The Cobra lily (Darlingtonia) has modified leaves similar to the pitcher plant, except each leaf has a curled tip that resembles the head of a cobra.
    Cousins to the pitcher plant, cobra lilies are challenging to grow in cultivation, because they prefer acidic, boggy soils and bright light.

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