Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

No Hamburger for the Venus Flytrap

20150122The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant equipped with small traps that catch insects and is commonly sold as a houseplant. A popular myth suggests that since the insects it normally feeds on are rare indoors, it would wise to feed it little bits of hamburger to replace the missing prey. But don’t! Hamburger is too rich in fat and will give the plant the vegetal equivalent of indigestion, possibly leading to its death. You can feed it with a fly or other small insect you’ve caught, or not at all, but not with meat… nor with fertilizer, which is toxic to the Venus flytrap as it is with most carnivorous plants. Even if your Venus flytrap never receives “food” in its life, it can still grow very well and survive for many months.

Although the Venus flytrap is widely sold as a houseplant, it is in fact poorly suited to indoor growing. Here’s how to get the best results:

After purchase, remove the plastic terrarium that covers it; it served to keep the plant in good condition during transport, but is not useful for the plant’s long-term survival. Since the Venus flytrap will not tolerate the calcium present in commercial potting mixes and in tap water, grow it in sphagnum moss (the medium it usually grows in when purchased) and water only with rainwater or distilled water. Keep the pot in a saucer filled with water at all times, because you’re trying to recreate the conditions equivalent to those of the North and South Carolina swamps where it originally grew. It needs maximum sunlight (it can also grow under a fluorescent lamp) and high air humidity. In winter, the plant goes dormant and usually loses much of its foliage. It must then be given a cold location that is free of lasting frost.

Or if you live in a warm temperate climate (about USDA zones 8 or 9, or protected spots in zone 7), create your own rainfall watered sphagnum bog outdoors and grow it there year round.

My suggestion as a laidback houseplant gardener? Consider the Venus flytrap a temporary plant. Give it the best possible conditions and encourage local children to come and bring it small insects to eat (children, being naturally sadistic, will adore the experience!) But don’t cry when it finally dies: it was simply not designed to live forever in a home environment.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “No Hamburger for the Venus Flytrap

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