Growing Carnivorous Plants
Expert Peter D'Amato takes a deeper look into different types of carnivorous plants.
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"Growing carnivorous plants is more like having a pet, rather than a houseplant," says expert Peter D'Amato of California Carnivores. "They're so animalistic. I think that's why people get attached to them."
According to D'Amato, "carnivorous plants are plants that have adapted to lure, catch, kill and eat insects and other animal life for nutrients."
In the wild, most carnivorous plants grow in wet bogs or swamps where slow-moving water carries nutrients away from the roots. To survive, they've adapted to "catching" their food source.
Insects are attracted to the intoxicating nectar of American pitcher plants. According to D'Amato, sometimes insects get so "drunk" on the nectar, you can actually pet them. The insides of the leaves are smooth and waxy so bugs can crawl in, but they can't crawl out.
D'Amato performs an autopsy on the leaf of an American pitcher plant. Inside are several insects, including houseflies, bees and earwigs. However, what is seen is mostly insect exoskeletons. Everything else has been liquefied by acids and enzymes the plant produces, then absorbed through the leaf.
One of the more well-known carnivorous plants, Venus fly trap, has trigger hairs inside each leaf that detect prey. A bug that touches two hairs within 20 seconds of each other is toast. As it snaps shut, the cells on the outside of the leaf instantly elongate, creating a cozy convex prison. After digestion, the "trap" will turn black, and it can be trimmed out. New leaves continually grow to replace the old, dying ones.
Sundews have hundreds of tentacles on each leaf. These tentacles are topped with a gluey substance that sparkles like dew. Thirsty insects get super-glued in place as the tentacles wrap around the bug and suck the juices out. After about one week, the only thing left is critter litter!
Butterworts have flypaper-like leaves. Fleas and gnats get stuck right on top of the leaves and are digested right where they land.
Carnivorous plants can be grown all over the country. They even grow around the Great Lakes and are also found in Canada. Most of them are located in southeastern United States.
Here are some tips on growing your own carnivorous plants. Most love wet soil, so two containers are often better than one--take a plant in a small-sized container and place it inside a larger vessel that holds water.
Glazed, ceramic and plastic pots work well. "One thing you definitely want to avoid are unglazed terra-cotta pots. They absorb too many salts. Water evaporates too quickly from them, and they also develop a lot of algae slime that's very difficult to wash off," says D'Amato.
Carnivorous plants should not be transplanted often. Wait until they're bulging at the seams before transplanting to a larger pot.
Peat moss, perlite and sphagnum moss make an excellent potting mix. "The purpose of using these soils is that they are very low in nutrients. Carnivorous plants catch their minerals. They don't need rich, houseplant soils or additional fertilizers."
Pre-soak the sphagnum moss and perlite in purified water to keep the dust down while mixing. Then mix together one part perlite, one part peat moss and purified water.
Prior to putting the potting mix into the container, place a handful of sphagnum moss at the base of the pot and pack firmly. You need to do this because you don't want the peat and perlite to run out through the drainage holes of the container. Then place the peat and perlite mix, and pack it to the top rim of the pot. Now you're ready to transplant.
When completed, set the plant on a humid, sunny patio. Make sure to keep the water bowl filled with about an inch of water.
Carnivorous plants need to go dormant in the winter. "You may need to move them to a garage windowsill or a colder room of the house for the winter if the weather is too cold to keep the plants outdoors."
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