The Venus flytrap is the most mysterious and notorious of house plants. These carnivorous plants were made famous (or infamous) in the cult classic movie “Little Shop of Horrors” and have been intriguing curious kids for decades ever since.
Carnivorous plants derive their nutrients from trapped insects because they grow in areas where the soil is very nutrient-poor. Native to Asia, Australia, and North America, these fascinating plants have evolved to move quite rapidly in order to snag their meals. There are currently about 500-700 living varieties of carnivorous plants that have been recognized and catalogued.
The Venus flytrap is native to the wetlands of the Carolinas in the United States. North Carolina colonial governor Arthur Dobbs coined the name “fly trap” in 1760 after observing the remarkable spring-like trapping action of the plant. Actually, flying insects make up only about five percent of their diet. The remainder is made up of crawling insects that supply needed nitrogen and phosphorus to the plant.
Despite the tremendous growth of Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors”, Venus flytraps generally grow to only five inches in size. They certainly don’t eat people – it is a myth that the plant will try to digest human fingers. And it remains to be seen if any Venus flytraps can really talk.
Because these plants are accustomed to growing in poor conditions, they are rather easy to care for as house plants. With ample sunlight and water, the flytrap can go up to a month without “eating”. If grown outdoors, there will be a sufficient number of insects for them to snack on. Indoor plants will have to be provided with the occasional meal. Don’t worry if you’re a little squeamish – Venus flytraps will be satisfied with dead insects.
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Venus flytraps have been observed to have a life span of up to twenty years. During this time they will have countless traps, as each mechanism can only be triggered a few times before it dies and is replaced by a new set of trapping leaves. The method by which the trap is activated is still being studied and is only partially understood by botanists.
The Venus flytrap is a discerning diner – it does not eat the insects that pollinate its flowers. When it is mature, the plant produces delicate white blossoms in the spring. If you are keeping it as a potted plant, cutting back the flower allows the flytrap to put more energy into long-term growth.
Carnivorous plants make wonderful gifts for children who are intrigued by nature and science. Flytraps are a great introduction to botany and biology for kids who always wonder what makes things work. A house plant may also be a precursor to a pet, teaching children the responsibility of caring for a living creature.
Watch “Little House of Horrors” with your kids and introduce them to the cool idea of carnivorous plants. Then present them with their own Venus flytrap and watch as inquisitive minds learn about the wonderful world of science.