Learn how to grow the stunning carnivorous Venus flytrap in your garden, writes Stephanie Choo.
EVERY plant species is placed in a genus. A genus is a group of one or more similar species. Dionaea is a monotypic genus as it has only one species that is muscipula (carnivorous plant). The plant not only has a unique system that feeds on insects but is also stunning to look at. It’s small wonder that this plant is so fascinating.
Smallish and slow-growing, Dionaea muscipula is native to the coastal plain areas in southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina of the United States. The herbaceous perennial tolerates mild winters and occurs in wet savannahs and bogs, in poor acidic, sandy and peaty soils.
In the plant world, Dionaea muscipula, commonly called Venus flytrap is related to Sundews (Drosera spp.) and the Waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa). They are members of all the three genera that are included in the flowering plant family, Droseraceae. Aldrovanda, like Dionea, has only one extant species. Drosera consists of at least 194 species.
Species of Droseraceae are carnivorous plants that use traps to catch their prey. The Venus flytrap even has marginal spines or cilia (teeth-like) along the edges of its clamshell-like trap that are borne at the end of a flat-stalked leaf and formed by a pair of modified leaves that snap shut.
The trap attracts, captures, digests and absorbs nutrients to supplement the plant’s diet with extra nitrogen to grow healthily.
The inner surfaces of the leaves are coated with sweet-smelling nectar to lure insects into the trap. The moment an insect brushes against the trigger hairs, the trap will quickly enclose the insect to its doom.
The more the insect struggles, the tighter the trap is held. Long cilia interlock to prevent larger insects from escaping. Once the trap closes, it cannot be opened.
The trap will slowly digest the insect. The digestion takes about seven to 10 days, depending on the insect’s size. Once the insect has been digested, the trap will re-open to trap food again.
It is this trapping mechanism that gives the low-growing rosette plant its name. The genus name Dionaea refers to the Greek goddess Aphrodite (daughter of Dione) whom the Romans called Venus. Muscipula is Latin for mousetrap. The mechanism was developed over time as the plant was not able to get enough nutrients from the air and nutrient-depleted boggy soil.
HOW TO GROW
The Venus flytraps that are available to gardeners are typicals and cultivars. Reaching up to a maximum size of 15cm tall and wide, some have larger traps, some with brighter red traps and some with strangely shaped traps. They can be propagated by division, leaf cuttings and seeds. Their delicate five-petal flowers are usually white.
Grow Venus flytrap in sphagnum moss in small pots with drainage holes. Place the pot in a wider tray filled with water about 3cm deep. This keeps the growing medium moist at all times, helps raise humidity level in the surrounding air and holds water that drains out from the pot after watering.
Place the plant in a bright, sheltered place with good air circulation and lots of indirect sunlight. With enough sunlight and regular watering, the plant can just survive on its own by trapping insects in the environment. Do not apply fertiliser.
Occasionally, feed the plant with an insect not bigger than the trap, and at most, one per week. The insect has to be alive as it has to move around inside the trap in order to be digested. Overfeeding can cause the trap to shrink and the plant to weaken. Each trap can only be triggered several times before it withers.
Venus flytrap needs a winter dormant period. Without fulfilling this need, the plant will die off gradually. Advanced gardeners put its rhizomes in a cool environment or the refrigerator for an artificial dormancy. It is, however, a difficult task to do. Skipping it can be an option. Just enjoy the plant while it is actively growing.