Carnivorous Plants: The Basics
Did you know that there are hundreds of species of carnivorous plants that eat insects and other tiny organisms for nutrition? If you’ve had success with growing orchids you may want to try growing carnivorous plants because their needs are not too significantly different and as a bonus they can help cut down on pests by eating them before they get to your orchid!
If you do decide on growing carnivorous plants, you will want to use a potting medium that is low in nutrients in order to replicate their natural habitat. A popular and commonly used medium includes a combination of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Also, make sure you aren’t overwatering them because they are very susceptible to root rot. In order to ensure that you are giving your plant the best care possible, you will want to check online for the specific care needs of your specific carnivorous plant.
Probably the most well-known carnivorous plant is the Venus Flytrap which is a part of the genus Dionaea. Most Venus Flytraps are fairly small and only reach about six inches in diameter when fully grown.
Despite their name, they not only eat flies but other small insects and even spiders. The Flytrap is able to lure insects to it by oozing nectar across the edge of each leaf. There are small hairs on its inside lobes, and once they are triggered and movement is detected, the trap suddenly snaps shut. These unique-looking plants have snap traps with teeth lining the inside to help keep prey from escaping once the trap closes. When the prey tries to get out of the trap, the trap then closes even tighter. Glands in the lobes then secrete enzymes that break-down it’s prey so that they plant can digest it’s meal. About ten days later, the trap opens to reveal the dried out husk of its last victim.
These plants are well-adapted to attracting insects and feeding themselves, so they don’t need to be fed, particularly if you’re growing outdoors or in a greenhouse where insects are plentiful. Each trap will only close and re-open a few times, so you will want to make sure you don’t trigger the traps too often because they will soon turn black and die.
Pitcher plant is the common name for a large range of carnivorous genera including Sarracenia, Darlingtonia, Nepenthes, Cephalotus, and Heliamphora. They are very unique-looking plants and come in a wide range of colors and even shapes.
Pitcher plants get their name from their rolled-up leaves that form tube-like edges and create a pitcher shape. The plant is able to lure and trap it’s food by producing nectar inside of their pitcher. Once the prey come to get the nectar, they slip and fall into the pitcher and often aren’t able to get out due to a cap covering the opening of the pitcher, intoxicating or anesthetic substances lining the pitcher which weaken the insects, or the slippery inside that contains water that will often eventually drown the worn-out prey.
Depending on where you decide to grow a pitcher plant, it is important to maintain at least a bit of water inside the cup of your own pitcher plant to keep it moist, if the plant won’t be able to collect rainwater naturally. This will help to keep the plant from drying out and will help assist it with its natural ability to trap and digest its prey.
The carnivorous genus Pinguicula, known as the butterwort, uses its sticky leaves to trap and digest its prey. Butterwort plants are very beautiful, fuzzy-looking plants that are rosette-shaped. They come in several shades of green and some even have a yellow or pink color tint to them. Some butterworts even produce blooms that almost look like little orchids.
The leaves of a butterwort releases a musky odor that insects find irresistible. Once the insects land on the leaves, they are usually unable to escape their doom, much like flypaper traps. Once an insect has been trapped on a butterwort leaf, the plant then begins to secrete digestive enzymes and often its leaves will curl up around the insect to keep it from escaping.
As you can see from the pictures above, carnivorous plants can be absolutely beautiful and can make a great and unique addition to your orchid collection!
All my best,
Ryan “The Orchid Guy” :-)
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