The Venus Fly Trap plant (Dionaea muscipula) is a carnivorous plant native to the United States.
In the western US, you will find them in sandy areas. On the east coast, you find these exotic plants in the savannas and swampy areas of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Because the soil of their natural habitats is typically lacking in nutrients, flytraps obtain their nutrition elsewhere – they eat bugs.
While you might assume keeping one of these fascinating plants would be complicated, nothing could be further from the truth.
In this article, we will share Venus flytrap care, growing and feeding along with dispelling some old misconceptions conspired to give the plant an undeserved diva reputation. Read on to learn more.
How Many Species Of Venus Flytraps Are There?
The Venus Fly Trap comes in only one species – Dionaea muscipula.
However, you can find growers who list dozens of selected cultivars carrying names like:
- Justina Davis
- Akai Ryu
- Slack’s Giant
- South West Giant
- Fused Tooth
All graded out due to their different sizes, color (burgundy), and mutations often from tissue culture mishaps. The most popular cultivars are all-green and all-red forms. But there is only one species.
What Do Venus Flytraps Eat?
When first encountering and learning about Venus Fly Trap care, most people are fascinated but the fact they eat bugs.
But how does this carnivorous plant eat an insect?
These carnivorous plants are equipped with large heads or traps which are basically a pair of hinged leaves with a toothy edge. The leaves secrete a sticky nectar that contains volatile organic compounds to attract insects. [source]
When an insect such as a ladybug, fly or spider wanders in to enjoy the nectar, the pair of leaves snaps shut trapping the hapless creature.
This snapping shut doesn’t happen instantaneously. Inside the trap are trigger hairs.
When a bug touches one hair, it signals the trap to get ready. When it touches a second hair, the trap snaps shut.
As the bug struggles, the trap tightens and the plant releases a protein-digesting enzyme.
The movement of the insect triggers the digestive process, so it is very important that Venus flytraps receive live food and not dead bugs or bits of meat.
How To Care For A Venus Fly Trap
What “Soil” Does The Flytrap Grow In?
What no potting soil! Because these plants get all of their nutrients from the bugs they consume, they have no need of nutrients in the soil.
Indeed, they are not capable of absorbing nutrition through their roots. In their natural habitat, these plants like full sun and acidic soil very low or completely lacking in nutrients. [source]
Excellent drainage is also an absolute. The idea that these plants need to stand in water is a misconception.
The best substrate for them is made up of ingredients that provide no nourishment and helps keep the tap root only very slightly damp. Combinations of perlite, sand and or long-fibered sphagnum moss are acceptable.
Combinations of perlite, sand and or long-fibered sphagnum moss are acceptable.
Many enthusiasts prefer the long-fibered sphagnum moss alone as the very best choice.
It differs from regular sphagnum moss in that it offers far better drainage and aeration.
Some enthusiasts have also tried using coco coir or coconut husk; however, evidence indicates that this sets up conditions for salt burn, so it is best to stick with long fibered sphagnum moss.
Temperature & Hardiness
They like a hot growing season with winter weather cold enough for a restful dormant period.
They can grow outdoors in USDA zones 8-10 and prefer temperatures in the 60-degree range.
Other areas are either too hot or too cold for successful outdoor growth year-round.
Lighting: How Much and What Kind
It was once thought that these plants liked only indirect lighting, but we now know this is not true.
If properly transitioned to an outdoor setting, flytraps can and love direct sunlight.
The key is transitioning your “hothouse” plant gradually to a healthy, natural outdoor setting.
If you are going to keep the plant indoors, choose a sunny window and/or use artificial lights.
When growing artificial lights venus flytrap plants be positioned between four and seven inches from the top of the plant.
Watering & Container Choice
Although we once believed that it was a good idea to keep these plants entirely indoors in a terrarium, we now know that this is unwise.
A terrarium setting has no drainage and tends to become too boggy. This may cause problems with mold and also with mineral buildup, which can kill your plant.
In most areas, you cannot plant your Venus fly trap directly into the ground because the soil (no matter how poor) would be too rich.
These plants should be kept in plastic, glazed ceramic or glass pots with ample drainage holes.
Terracotta should not be used as it will kill these plants due to the mineral content in the clay. Metals should also be avoided.
It is good to keep humidity levels high around your plant, so containers should be set on a pebble tray with water surrounding the pebbles but not touching the bottom of the container.
As the water evaporates, it will provide the plant with humidity.
The potting medium should be kept only very lightly moist at all times.
Water with rainwater (collected with a rain barrel), reverse osmosis (RO) water or distilled water. Tap water contains too many minerals and chemicals and will kill your plant.
Do Venus Fly Traps Flower?
These plants very seldom flower, and the flowers are unremarkable.
They appear in May or June as a cluster of small white flowers atop a tall, slim 12-inch stalk. They are not scented.
Many experienced flytrap growers simply cut the flowers off as soon as they appear in order to help the plant conserve energy.
If you decide to keep the flowers, snip them off promptly when they have finished blooming.
Leaves and Foliage
With the right care and when the plant is receiving the right amount of light, the flytrap will have a healthy, pinkish interior.
Its leaves are sturdy and compact. Pale, spindly plants are suffering from lack of light.
How Do You Feed A Venus Flytrap?
If you keep your plant outdoors it will catch its own prey for food, and you won’t need to worry about it.
If you keep it indoors, you will need to catch or purchase small insects or spiders for it to eat occasionally.
Luckily, you don’t need to do this very often.
NOTE: DO NOT FERTILIZER with a plant food.
One insect a month will feed the entire plant, even if it has many traps. Feed live bugs small enough for the trap to close completely to contain the bug securely.
In this video you’ll see a keeper feeding “all 18” of his plant’s traps at once.
This is not a good idea, but the video does show good technique.
Notice how the keeper touches each individual trap first to stimulate it and then introduces the fly to be almost instantaneously snapped up.
The plant featured in the video has an amazing number of traps.
A healthy plant getting the right amount of sunshine and water and enough bugs to eat will stand about 6-8 inches high with about half a dozen plump traps with pink, red or burgundy interiors and healthy green outer surfaces.
Allow Your Flytrap To Go Dormant In Winter
Remember these plants are not tropical. You should not keep them in a warm, humid setting year round as this will cause them to burn out and die.
They need a rest period of at least ten weeks in the winter when the leaves die back and the plant displays only a small, green rosette at soil level.
You will know your plant is ready to hibernate when its traps close and it stops eating.
During this time, keep your plant in a setting between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should not allow the plant to freeze, just move it to a very cool, well-lighted, unheated setting and leave it alone from the early days of winter until the first days of spring.
It will die back to just a compact rosette. Trim off stems as they die back.
When the days begin to warm up, you can repot, gradually moving the plant to a warmer setting and begin light watering.
Don’t feed it until the weather warms up enough for bugs to naturally be out and about.
8 Top Tips To Help Your Flytrap Thrive
#1 – Double check to be sure the peat or sphagnum moss you use as a substrate does not contain any fertilizer.
Remember the plant can and should receive all its nutrients from the bugs it consumes.
#2 – Repot periodically and gradually. As your plant grows bigger move it into only slightly bigger pots.
Change all the substrate when you do. An annual repotting following dormancy is a good idea.
After a period of rest, your plant will come back more robust and taller than it was the previous year.
#3 – Water lightly and regularly with distilled, reverse osmosis or rainwater.
These plants do need lots of water, but they should never stand in water.
#4 – Provide the right amount of sunlight. Traps need a minimum of four hours of sunlight daily.
Young plants or those recently purchased should be kept in bright, indirect sunlight and gradually transitioned to direct sunlight outdoors.
If you are keeping your plant on a windowsill or a terrarium, you may need to provide a bit of shade because the glass can intensify the rays of the sun.
This can damage even a mature, seasoned plant.
#5 – Feed sparingly. It’s fun to watch your flytrap eat, but don’t feed it more than once a week.
Then only feed one insect, not multiple insects. Your plant should be fine with a monthly feeding.
#6 – Avoid excessive handling. It’s alright to lightly touch the trap to let it know you are about to give it a fly but don’t poke it to make it snap shut.
This is damaging to the plant and rather mean-spirited.
#7 – Feed the right size insect. Insects that are too big prevent the trap from completely shutting.
This can let bacteria in during the digestive process when the plant is vulnerable.
It can introduce disease to your plant and cause infection and death.
#8 – Prune back dead stems and traps. During the natural growth process, traps will wear out and turn brown.
When this happens, trim them off as this helps prevent decay from spreading through the plant.
How To Propagate Venus Flytraps
You can purchase seeds online, but you must be careful to find a reputable seller.
Once you have obtained some high-quality seeds, it is not difficult to germinate these plants.
Some growers begin germination on a damp sponge or paper towel laid in a shallow pan of water and kept under a sheet of glass or layer of plastic.
This helps keep warmth and humidity stable and protects they tiny plants from fungal or bacterial infection.
When the seedlings are large enough, you can move them to individual pots with damp, coarse peat moss or long fiber sphagnum moss.
Growing Venus Flytraps From Seed
Where Can You Purchase A Venus Flytrap?
These days you can find some simple, old-fashioned varieties at garden centers and even in the grocery store from time-to-time.
These are nice sorts to start out with, but you should be aware that there are lots of interesting varieties available today.
Look online or at specialty garden shops for newer varieties such as Akai Ryu, which features very large, deep maroon traps.
Enjoy This Surprisingly Easy Care Exotic Carnivorous Plant
It was once thought that these plants were short-lived and difficult to grow and care for.
This is true if you treat them as tropical plants because that sort of care is all wrong for Venus flytraps.
If you keep your plant as the hardy perennial it is and provide it with plenty of warmth, fresh air and sunshine during the growing months and a period of 2 or 3 months’ cool dormancy in the winter, it will be a happy plant.
Remember that these fascinating plants get all of their nourishment from the bugs they eat.
Be sure to keep your plant in an appropriate, non-nutritive substrate and never give it any fertilizer!
When you follow these simple instructions, you can enjoy your Venus flytrap for many years.