September 1, 2011

Carnivorous Plants-
Taking a Bite Out of the Myths

Venus Flytrap
If I mention "carnivorous plants" to almost any gardener I know, the immediate reaction is "Venus Flytrap". As a kid I remember seeing little clear plastic eggs containing a sad little Venus Flytrap inside, sold at florist shops. The instructions were a sure way to kill the plant: feed it bits of hamburger and water it when it was dry. There are a dozen varieties of Venus Flytrap, and I know some expert growers of them. They rarely feed their plants, they keep them outside in bright sunlight, and the plants get daily watering with highly purified water. The plants catch their own food, and thrive when potted in sphagnum moss or moss-sand-perlite mixes in small pots. 

Cape Sundew
Drosea capensis

There are lots of varieties of carnivorous plants ( often abbreviated as CPs to save typing), but in this blog I'll show off some of the more common American varieties, except one of the Sundew varieties (it's African). They really are insectivores, not carnivores. None of them are hazardous to pets or children, so the term "carnivorous" plant is a misnomer. The plants are highly specialized to live in the nutritionally bankrupt moss of swamps, marshes, and littoral areas.

The plants have evolved mechanisms to consume insects to gather extra        nitrogen for their diet. Some have active trapping mechanisms, such as Sundews and Flytraps, most are passive, such as Pitchers and Butterworts.   

Sarracenia psittacina
CP collectors have grown and hybridized some amazing varieties of plants, led by some great growers in the American southeast. The plants are inexpensive, and can be grown very effectively in a large terrarium or greenhouse. Use only distilled, reverse-osmosis, or rainwater as the irrigation source; the plants hate municipal water or high-pH well water.       

The American pitcher plants grow in temperate wet bogs and peat swamps of the Southeast states. Areas of southern Alabama, northwest Florida, and southern Georgia are especially rich in species and varieties. In bright sunlight, many pitcher and sundew species flush bright red, further attracting insects. The insects are trapped by crawling into the brightly colored tubular leaves or becoming ensnarled in the sticky arms of a sundew.

The Butterwort group is both petite and subtle, relying on sticky leaves to gain its food reward. The Sundew group is a petite one, with most plants no larger than a silver dollar but growing in large groups. In early morning sunlight, these plants light up like brilliant, red glycerin patches. The Pitcher plant group can grow from a  few inches to over 3 feet tall, often growing in .

Sarracenia purpurea,
an exceptional dark red variety

Primula Butterwort
Pinguicula primulaeflora

   All of the CPs have attractive flowers, rising high above their foliage, to attract pollinators. These are interesting plants, but with specific needs. They need regular attention if grown in pots, but can be established permanently in bogs or water garden littoral areas. For a collector or someone who wants to try something off the main line of commonly available plants, CPs have a lot to offer, and the various CP society chapters are extremely helpful. As always, Nature has a lot of diversity to offer. Take advantage of it !

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

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