This article is intended to bring to light the basic points of caring for carnivorous plants of several varieties. It includes soil mixture recommendations, as well as watering, climate, and feeding information.
For many, the most interesting form of vegetation is understandably that which feeds itself. The realm of carnivorous plants is absolutely fascinating, and may be considerably deeper than the average reader chooses to realize. The term carnivore, at once alluring and deceiving, indicates that the plant naturally occurs in low-nutrient conditions, and thus is forced to consume that which is in the edible vicinity. Much to the layman’s surprise, there exists a wide variety of carnivorous plants, many more than simply the Venus Flytrap and the pitcher plant. These two are most common, however, and thusly warrant the most detailed consideration. There are ten prominent types I wish to address, and for which I would like to discuss proper care. Regardless of the type of plant, it is important to simulate its wildlife habitat to the best of human ability, which will greatly ensure the quality and health of its development.
I first bring to attention the Sarracenia, or North American pitcher plant. It is best to plant this type of flora in equal parts moss peat, silver sand, and perlite. The pitcher plant will thrive in this base, and will need division and repotting roughly every couple years, ideally in the springtime. The more peat, the more acidic the mixture, which will only ensure the plant’s color retention and contentment. As the pitcher plant can be found largely amongst peat bogs and marshes, it is healthy for the houseplant to rest in a tray holding a half inch of water. The traveling owner may saturate the tray to keep the plant healthy over a period of inattention, which actually may simulate the periodic flooding of the aforementioned bogs and marshes. The pitcher plant is relatively self-sustaining, and needs a good bit of sunlight, ideally four or five hours per day. As the pitcher plant enters a dormant phase during the winter, it is important to allow for occasional, fungus-fighting airflow, though too much warmth will bring the plant out of dormancy too soon. Dead growth should typically be removed in the fall.
The Dionaea, or Venus Flytrap, can be cultivated very similarly to the Sarracenia above, though conditions need not be quite so soggy. A little less perlite in the soil will help the matter, as well. Division and repotting may be necessary on a yearly basis, in the spring, which helps maintain a vigorous state of growth. The Flytrap grows well on a normal windowsill, though a cooler place should be arranged for the dormant winter – without this hibernation of a sort, the Flytrap is ultimately guaranteed to die. Throughout the growing season, it is necessary to prune old, blackened leaves so as to avoid fungus and mold. Fantastic to watch, the average leaf is able to catch and digest about three meals before dying, and ten unsuccessful openings and closings before exhaustion causes death. This energy exerting aspect of the Flytrap is important, as it should discourage a caring owner from triggering the traps for entertainment sake. It takes about a weak for the Flytrap leaf to digest its meal and open to reveal its stripped carcass, though too large a feast will cause digestive exhaustion and untimely death. The Venus Flytrap will flower extensively in the spring, though they are not very pretty and considerably weaken the plant. Thus, it is best to remove the flowers upon appearance.
The Drosera, or Sundew, is most commonly cultivated in a temperate climate. Though they are found naturally in a wide array of conditions, the most practical human-assisted growth can be accomplished with the temperate species. They may be grown in a similar setup to that of the Flytrap, complete with less perlite than peat and sand. If for some particular reason you wish to grow other types of Drosera, or find yourself generally fascinated, a book along the lines of “The Savage Garden,” by Peter D’Amato may provide you with more explicit and extensive cultivation procedures.
Like the Drosera, the temperate Pinguicula is the only practical species to raise in a home. They may be planted similarly to what has already been discussed, again with a little less perlite. This is not much of an exciting species, and there is little more I wish to note for it. Refer to “The Savage Garden” for further guidance.
We now come to the Utricularia, which fortunately has an interesting spin. An aquatic carnivore, the Utricularia still requires generally sunny conditions. These plants will literally live for years, as one end of the stem will grow while the other dies and detaches. The Utricularia’s number one enemy is algae, which is a tricky growth to avoid. A particularly lot of peat will help ensure the acidity of the water, as will tannic acid from – believe it or not – basic teabags. This acidity will help fend off algae, though no Utricularia is totally safe. If you should find one overrun with algae, a quick rinse and a temporary freshwater stay will do much to revive the specimen.
The terrestrial bladderwort is a very unique carnivore, as it will generally form clumpy colonies of smaller plants that overflow with beautiful, delicate flowers. Grown ideally in a mixture of equal parts peat and sand, the terrestrial bladderwort should have some quantity of water in its tray at all times. Requiring a flexible amount of sunlight, from three to eight hours daily, the terrestrial bladderwort is an ideal windowsill carnivore, and many require no period of winter dormancy.
The Heliamphora is ideally cultivated in a heated terrarium, set in a mixture of three parts perlite to one part moss peat, and a light coating of sphagnum moss. These plants will grow throughout the year, though should be kept on an attentively timed heat cycle, reaching ideally seventy and absolutely no more than ninety degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and then allowed to cool to roughly sixty degrees Fahrenheit overnight. The Heliamphora will suffer root rot if permanently moist, and so the water dish should be allowed to completely dry up before being replenished. Found only atop South American mountains, a daily misting of the Heliamphora will do it great justice.
There are two distinct categories of Nepenthes, the highland and lowland varieties. About seventy percent in existence are of the Highland variety, and require rather warm days followed by noticeably cooler nights. Daytime temperatures should average about seventy degrees Fahrenheit, while nighttime temperatures should not drop below sixty. The lowland variety requires about ten degrees warmer a climate, with no nighttime depreciation. Both varieties enjoy extreme humidity at all times, and it is the most important growth factor. Both varieties should grow in similar soil to that of the Heliamphora, but with less perlite and more vermiculite, and should also be allowed to dry before their water dishes are replenished. The Nepenthes plants have no guaranteed winter dormancy, though certain strains may be more or less noticeably tolerant.
The Darlingtonia is often found near streams in mountainous regions of California and Oregon, and so bears a resistance against the cold. While high temperatures are not a problem for the Darlingtonia, it is imperative that its roots remain cool at all times. The Darlingtonia may be planted in the same soil mixture as the Heliamphora, though its owner need not be concerned about allowing the water supply to run down before it is supplemented. Refrigerated water may be dripped upon the plant twice daily, particularly on warmer days. This ensures that the roots remain cool. Though these plants do go dormant in the winter, this period is not nearly as intense as it is for any of the aforementioned species of carnivorous plant.
Lastly, for now, we come to the Cephalotus, which can be grown on a windowsill that receives two or three hours of sunlight each day. There is no set winter dormancy period, though growth may temporarily cease. These carnivores grow rather deep roots, and so a deep planter is key. Sitting in equal parts peat moss and perlite, the Cephalotus may sit in a very shallow bit of water at all times, perhaps an eighth or a quarter of an inch. This plant is fun to cultivate because it produces enormous flowering spikes. Though the flowers themselves are unspectacular, the spikes may still reach lengths of several feet. Like the other carnivores, however, these flowers greatly weaken the plant, and it is advised that they be removed soon after they appear.
And so ends our venture into the curious world of carnivorous plants, pets for those who may not care for animals. This compilation is by no means exhaustive, and the enthused reader may want to consult further, more detailed literature before deciding on a variety to choose and/or a method of cultivation. The experience with any is rewarding, however, and these plants may provide their owner with considerably more entertainment than he or she would have previously assumed.