For many gardeners, the first plant they were given to grow and care for as a child was a Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula). This fun plant is carnivorous and 'catches' flies, much to the amusement of anyone lucky enough to see it in action. Native to North and South Carolina, Venus fly trap is named after the Roman goddess of love, Venus, due to its beautiful white flowers. The species name of muscipula (Latin for 'mousetrap') is thought to refer to the plant's resemblance to a mouse trap.
The catching parts, or 'traps' of a Venus fly trap are actually modified leaves, consisting of two, flat toothed leaves connected by a hinge. Inside the trap is nectar, which lures insects to their death – once the insect has made contact with one of the hairs within the trap it closes, trapping its prey inside. Once closed, enzymes within the trap digest the insect, which can take up to 10 days. When digestion is complete, the trap reopens.
Most Venus fly traps are grown as house plants, where their insect trapping actions can be observed up close. Many people, particularly children, push their finger into the traps or try to force them shut to see them in action – while this is tempting and completely harmless to you, this does waste the plant's energy and should be avoided.
How to grow a Venus fly trap
Grow your Venus fly trap in moist, peat-free ericaceous compost, in bright direct sunlight. Water with rainwater and feed fortnightly with live flies, including mosquitoes and gnats. Remove any developing flowers, which can divert energy from the plant.
Where to grow Venus fly trap
Grow your Venus fly trap on a sunny windowsill where it will get plenty of bright, direct sunlight. In summer you can move it outside, but make sure you bring it in again in autumn.
How to plant Venus fly trap
Venus fly traps grow naturally in bogs with wet, acidic, nutrient-poor soil. You can easily mimic these conditions indoors with an acidic, moisture retentive compost. It's widely thought that peat-based composts are necessary for growing Venus fly traps but, due to advancements in peat-free composts, this is no longer true – indeed there are some peat-free mixes designed specifically for growing carnivorous plants. Alternatively, use spent peat-free ericaceous compost, which has fewer nutrients than fresh compost and would otherwise be thrown away.
How to care for Venus fly trap
Venus fly trap is an acidic-loving plant, so water with rainwater, as this has a lower pH than tap water.
Venus fly traps do not need fertilising. Instead, feed fortnightly with live insects. Simply catch an insect such as a fly and then gently lower it into one of the traps, using tweezers. As soon as the fly comes into contact with the fine hairs in the trap, the trap will close. Do not force the trap shut – this can harm the plant.
In autumn, when hours of daylight reduce, your Venus fly trap will lose its leaves and enter dormancy. Many people assume their plant has died and throw it away at this point, when actually it is still alive, just dormant. To ensure it comes out of dormancy in spring, keep your Venus fly trap in the coolest room in the house and reduce watering, so the compost becomes drier than usual but doesn't dry out completely. Then move it back to its lighter, warmer spot in spring and resume watering to ensure the compost remains moist. New leaves will grow and you will be able to resume feeding when they open.
More like this
How to propagate Venus fly trap
Propagate by division in spring. Look for offshoots that develop from the base of the plant, and remove these with a sharp knife, taking care to ensure they have a good clump of roots still attached. Then pot them up into fresh acidic peat-free compost, ensuring they stay moist until established.
Pests and diseases
Venus fly trap is rarely troubled by pests, although aphids and fungus gnats occasionally turn up. You can gently remove aphids using tweezers. For fungus gnats, use sticky traps or buy a sundew plant, which is also carnivorous and will quickly eat them up.
Advice on buying Venus fly trap
- Venus fly traps are readily available from garden centres online
- Be aware that most will be grown in peat-based compost – look for a specialist peat-free supplier to avoid buying peat
- Always check for signs of pests and damage on arrival