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Venus Flytrap Care

Dionaea muscipula or the Venus flytrap, an indigenous subtropical species of carnivorous plants from the east coast wetlands of the US. It is related to the sundew and the waterwheel plants belonging to the Droseraceae family. While it is commonly cultivated, the population of this plant is rapidly declining in its native habitat and is currently under review by the US Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered Species Act.

It is commonly named after the Roman goddess of love, although Native American tribes called it “tippitywichit”, as noted by John Ellis, an English botanist, who named it scientifically “Dionaea muscipula“ in 1768. It was first documented in a letter by Arthur Dobbs, a North Carolina governor, to Peter Collinson, an English botanist in 1759. 

This is a relatively small plant that grows in a rosette of 4-7 leaves rising from a short bulb-like stem. Individual stems reach around 1-4 inches high, depending on seasonal growth while longer leaves with stronger traps usually form after the plant flowers. Plants with more than 7 leaves are usually formed by colonies dividing underneath the ground.

This plant is part of a group of plants such as the Telegraph plant, Mimosa pudica, bladderworts, and sundews that are noted for rapid movement. The leaf is separated into two different regions – a photosynthesis-capable petiole that is flat and heart-shaped and two hinged terminal lobes that form the trap. The surface of the lobes contains red pigments and the edges excrete viscous mucilage. 

The lobes snap shut when tripped by prey coming into contact with either of the three trichomes on the surface of the lobes, being able to distinguish live prey and non-living stimuli such as raindrops – two hairs have to be touched twice within 20 seconds or one hair rapidly touched to trigger both lobes of the trap to snap shut.

The lobe edges have stiff hair-like growth or cilia that engage together, preventing the escape of large prey while allowing small prey to escape, apparently because the plant would not benefit from the meager offering that can be got from digesting them. 

The trap usually reopens in 12 hours if the prey escapes. The trap tightens around the prey and starts digesting it rapidly when the prey stimulates the plant by moving in the trap. Digestion usually takes around ten days, reducing the prey into a husk of chitin, the trap reopening, and is ready to trap unsuspecting insects again. The speed of the trap closing varies according to the humidity, light, the prey, and its growing conditions, a good indicator of a plant’s overall health. 

The plant also produces a flower on a 6-inch long stem, pollinated by various insects such as bees and beetles. Unless you want to harvest seed, the flower stalk must be cut off as flowering is exhausting and the plant uses a lot of energy. The plant will be more vigorous if flowering is prevented.

These full-sun plants are usually found growing in environments of less than 10% canopy cover and low in nitrogen and phosphorus such as swamps and damp savannahs and rely on insect prey to provide the nitrogen it needs for forming protein that it can’t get from the soil it grows in. 

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Sunlight

It prefers to grow in the full sun of 6+ hours for vigorous growth. If this isn’t possible, it must be provided with at least 4 hours of direct light and for the remainder of the day with bright indirect light. The plant won’t be as sturdy or vibrant, but it will maintain good health.

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Water

The pot should be standing in water without allowing the soil to completely dry out. If it is grown in a pond or around a fountain, the water level should not be higher than half of the pot. The crown of the plant shouldn’t be drowned or submerged. It requires water that is free from chemicals and minerals. So distilled water or rainwater is best.

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Humidity

This plant is not as dependent on high humidity as other carnivorous plants, a level above 50% is sufficient for it. A light misting might be required if it lives in an arid environment.

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Temperature

This plant tolerates heat very well since it comes from a place with temperatures over 90°F in summer, although the soil temperature is abated by water seepage in its natural habitat.

When growing this plant in pots, soil temperature has to be monitored to prevent the roots from overheating in temperatures of over 100°F. 

In winter, growth will slow down and eventually stop. The leaves might become brown along the edges and the traps might stop working. This is normal behavior as these plants need a dormant period around 3-4 months and temperatures below 50°F.

Even during this dormant period, the plant still needs to sit in smaller amounts of water to stop the soil from drying. Plants that don’t go through this period of dormancy will become weak and die after a little while.

However, these plants are very vulnerable to damage when temperatures fall below 20°F or in a combination of low temperature and wind. Both of these conditions can cause severe frost burn. 

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Soil

The plant needs soil with good drainage and aeration capacity that is free from any sort of nutrients. A soil mixture of equal parts of moss and perlite is best. Using potting soil or compost, including fertilizer will kill the plant.

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Repotting

A healthy plant needs repotting every year. If necessary use a larger pot and change the soil – this replenishes soil acidity, increases root aeration, and boosts healthy growth.

Repotting is usually done just before the plant’s dormant period ends during the last month of winter if you want the plant to be robust for the start of its growing period. Usually, the plant can be repotted all year long. 

If you’re changing pots, it’s best to use a tall one to house the long root system as the plant tends to grow rapidly larger when its roots have space to grow. 

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Propagation

This plant has 3 methods of propagation – by division, flower stalk, or leaf cuttings and seeds, although it takes about 4-5 years to attain maturity when grown from seeds. Division involves splitting the plant, each part having part of the root system (peeled off the rhizome) attached and planted in new pots with fresh soil. 

Flower stalk cuttings must be taken before the flower forms or opens. For optimum results, take the cuttings when the stalks are 2-4 inches long. This can then be further cut into smaller pieces, depending on the size of the stalk, usually in 2-inch long segments.

When dividing the flower stalk, cuts should be made at an angle instead of a straight cut – this increases the chances of a successful propagation as a larger area is produced for root growth and water intake. Most plant nurseries or garden centers usually propagate the plant by clonal division as a cost-effective method for large-scale propagation.

Regardless of whatever propagation method is used, these plants will usually live for about 20-30 years if cultivated under the appropriate conditions.

Additional Care

When the plant gradually emerges from its dormancy, cut off all old leaves from the previous year to make space for new growth and flower buds. 

While some people like to feed their plants, it is not at all necessary. This carnivorous plant has adapted to capture insects by itself to provide them with the necessary nutrients and insects are naturally attracted to the plant.

Common Problems

This plant needs mineral- and nutrient-free soil to thrive. Any other soil will kill it. They grow well in soil that contains moss and sand or perlite. Carnivorous soil mix is sold by some companies, but it is easier and cheaper to mix it yourself.

Wrong water sources such as tap water can poison the plant, as it cannot process nutrients. Only use distilled water or rainwater for watering. It’s relatively easy to harvest rainwater by collecting runoff from the drains of your roof. 

This plant grows in plenty of sunlight as it needs a lot of light to grow properly. Some signs of insufficient light are the lack of red color inside the trap and under-developed traps. It will grow weak until it finally dies from being starved of light. If you can’t provide enough natural light (at least 12 hours of direct light), it’s best to use grow lights from fluorescent lights or LEDs. 

The soil must constantly remain damp as the plant will not grow well in dry soil. A water saucer method is ideal for this plant – place the pot in a shallow saucer/plate. After watering, add about an extra inch of water to the plate to ensure the soil is damp, but not saturated.

Sometimes over-watering will make the leaves yellow. In addition, excessive humidity increases the possibility of bacterial and mold growth. Over-watering can also cause root rot by exposing the plant to bacterial or fungal infection and can be fatal for the plant.

Some indications of root rot include a rotting smell and an increase of black leaves. You must act immediately when root rot is identified by rinsing the roots using distilled water and removing affected roots and leaves. Repot the plant by either cleaning the old pot or using a new one and discard the soil. Add fresh new soil and repot the plant.

Once this is done, water it well with distilled water or rainwater and monitor the plant for a few weeks. Always follow the recommended watering guidelines for this plant. 

Always keep feeding the plant with insects and arachnids and never feed it with human food as the plant will try to consume it but fail and kill the leaf. Don’t feed it with bugs that are too big to fit inside the trap as it won’t close. Always feed it bugs that are not more than 1/3 the size of the trap.

Too much feeding will make the plant purposefully wither, traps digesting prey and causes leaves to become black – this won’t affect the plant generally but will affect overall growth when too many leaves are black. It only needs to be fed one bug at a time until the trap reopens in about 3-6 weeks. 

Extreme heat can adversely affect the plant as it shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures over 95°F. The plant will dry out rapidly and can even get burnt. Extreme heat exposure will make the leaves red like a sunburn.

Stress can also affect the plant, causing it to lose leaves. Some causes of stress include improper feeding, constant movement/contact around the plant, and triggering the traps for fun. There should be no moving objects like curtains around it. Avoid triggering or activating the traps as the plant expends large amounts of energy to control the trapping mechanism. 

Pests like aphids and mites, along with fungal infections can affect the plant. Inspect the plant for signs of infestation like deformities, spots, and color changes. Suitable insecticides and fungicides can help eradicate pests and prevent disease. 

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