Carnivorous plants

Carnivorous Plants: August 2019 Houseplant of the Month

Freakish to look at, unusual shapes and a good story: carnivorous plants attract spiders and insects with their colorful and bizarre appearance. They then catch and digest these creatures to obtain their nutrients. The best known carnivorous plants are the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia), sundew (Drosera) and tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes).

Their hunting techniques differ from plant to plant. The Venus flytrap uses trap leaves that slam shut incredibly quickly. With sundew the prey gets stuck to the tentacles on its leaves. The ingenious trumpet pitcher’s leaves are pitcher-shaped and insects are trapped in them. The tropical pitcher plant also uses pitchers that hang from the ends of its leaves.


In the wild carnivorous plants grow in fairly damp regions with nitrogen-poor soil such as swamps. The tropical pitcher plant does that in Southeast Asia, the Venus flytrap and the trumpet pitcher come from North America while various species of sundew grow on all the continents apart from Antarctica.

What to look for when buying carnivorous plants?

Consider using magnifying lenses to show off the subtle traits of the smaller carnivorous plants. Photo:

• For each species, the color, the length of the pitcher (Nepenthes) or trumpet (Sarracenia) and the number of leaves (sundew and Venus flytrap) can be factors in your choice.
• The plant’s growing mix must be sufficiently damp at purchase time.
• Avoid plants with drying or yellowing leaves.
• Their need for high humidity and light means that they should not spend a long time at the point of sale.

Range and Assortment

Carnivorous plants are often sold in mixed trays. Photo:

The tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes) is usually sold on its own, while Venus flytrap (Dionaea), sundew (Drosera) and trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia) are often offered in mixed trays, often in mini-greenhouses.

Tropical Pitcher Plant
(Nepenthes spp.)

Tropical pitcher plant. Photo:

This bizarre feature plant’s pitchers range in length from an inch or so (a few centimeters) to up to more than 1 foot (30 cm). They are actually modified leaf tips that develop when the plant gets enough light. Insects find nectar on the lid above the pitcher and creep around into the pitcher in search of more. Just beneath the edge of the pitcher they do find more nectar, but directly below it is a waxy surface. They slip on this and so fall into the pitcher. The insects’ struggles activate the glands in the pitcher which then release a strong acid. In the space of two days, this acid digests the insects. Only the insect’s casing remains. The plant grows on trees as a climber or epiphyte.

Venus Flytrap
(Dionaea muscipula)

Venus flytrap. Photo:

Venus flytrap is the most spectacular of the carnivorous plants. The leaves of this carnivore consist of two parts that can slam shut. Contact by an insect or small spider triggers the closing mechanism. However, the plant is not easily fooled. To be sure that the prey is present and not just a fallen leaf or a raindrop, they must touch two trigger hairs on the leaf or a single hair twice in rapid succession. The leaves won’t react to a single touch.

(Drosera spp.)

Sundew. Photo:

Sundew forms perfect rosettes on the ground. Its leaves come in various forms, but are always equipped with red tentacles with a glistening drop of sticky mucilage at the tip that glitters in the sunlight. This gives the plant its common name: sundew. Small insects and others get stuck on the mucilage and are then pushed by the active but slow-moving tentacles towards the leaf surface, where they are digested.

Trumpet Pitcher
(Sarracenia spp.)

Trumpet pitcher. Photo:

The trumpet pitcher is very effective at catching insects. The plant lures the creatures with nectar and they then tumble into the pitchers where they are digested. 

Care Tips 

• Most carnivorous plants like full sun.
• Simulate a swamp environment: the plants like acidic damp potting soil.
• High humidity is a must. In many homes, they’ll need to be grown in terrariums.
• Carnivorous plants prefer rainwater, distilled or soft tap water. Don’t water them with hard tap water (and most municipal water sources are hard), too rich in minerals for their taste.
• They don’t need any fertilizer—they catch their own meals.
• Remove dead or brown leaves and pitchers to prevent fungi.
• Repot them in the spring every other year.
• Don’t give carnivorous plants any meat; this can cause the traps to rot. However, they’ll gladly accept the occasional fly or mosquito.
• In many species, the plant’s traps will wither in winter. Don’t worry—they’ll reappear in the spring!
• The Venus flytrap needs to go entirely dormant in the winter. Keep it cold but not freezing and cut back on watering.

Display Tips

Grouping carnivorous plants together brings out their interest. Photo:

Small carnivorous plants do well in open or closed terrariums or in a large low bowl that can be set up as a mini swamp, meeting their growing needs.

The specimens look best in their own cachepots, but can provide interesting tableaux when grouped together. 

Nepenthes is a real soloist that is best grown as a hanging plant to show off its spectacular pitchers. 

The plants’ primeval look contrast nicely with modern geometric cachepots. However, for a more natural display, you dress a table with bark, stones and water plants and create your own little carnivorous plant environment.

Carnivorous plants: no, they won’t bite you, but they will fascinate you!

Text adapted from a press release by
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “Carnivorous Plants: August 2019 Houseplant of the Month

  1. There should be carnivorous plants that can live out in the landscape to eat rats, skunks and raccoon.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: