One group of plants that seems to fascinate people, particularly children is carnivorous plants. The one we think of first is the Venus fly trap, which is actually native to North Carolina. Its range is small and encompasses a small area near the coast along the border of North and South Carolina.
Venus fly traps are difficult to grow. They are also protected, so don’t try to find them and dig one up when you’re in the Wilmington area. There’s a thriving black market business, and getting caught in the middle could be costly.
People have a misconception that because these plants are only seen growing in pots they must be tropical. This obviously isn’t true. Winter temperatures in that locale can dip below 20 degrees.
Venus fly traps must endure a cool period during the year. The key here is that they must be allowed to go dormant during this time. They shouldn’t be fertilized or fed with insects. It’s winter to them.
Plants also require fairly high light levels to thrive. Native specimens live in a naturally humid environment but they adapt well when humidity levels are lower. Many people try to grow them in terrariums with other plants and don’t allow them the dormant period they require. The fly traps inevitably perish.
These curious insectivores should reside in a place with good light for a long duration. Plants respond well to an outside environment, at least for most of the year. Around here there may be times they should be moved inside. However, one should choose an area that would not encourage growth.
One problem many people have is that when Venus fly traps are first bought they already are on a downward spiral. Likely they have been subjected to insufficient light and improper watering. These plants like lots of light, but if you place them directly from a dim to a sunny location without conditioning them they will sunburn and die. Increase sun exposure gradually.
Proper watering with rainwater or distilled water is best. Most tap water around here is too hard and plants struggle. In their natural habitat fly traps grow in boggy areas. That might make you think they require lots of water. They don’t.
Soil should be well drained but kept moist. Plants should never be wet. This is especially true in winter when they’re dormant. Watering into a tray like many do for African violets is probably the best method. Never allow water to remain in the tray very long during winter.
Above all, don’t over fertilize them. Venus fly traps require infertile soil to thrive. Don’t use commercial potting mixes with fertilizer in them. A mixture of peat moss and very coarse sand or perlite is good. I like sand because it is heavier so pots are less likely knocked over. Sand also won’t float to the top of the pot after a rain.
Venus fly traps can be difficult mostly because their requirements are different than most of our plants. They’re really cool though.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps,k12.nc.us).