Carnivorous Plants Are Beautiful… and Ruthless!

Posted on Aug 13, 2015

Yes, carnivorous plants feast on creepy, crawly bug. Some species move on their own. But don’t get too squeamish. It can’t be denied: Carnivorous plants are drop dead gorgeous. And, with the right conditions, make an absolutely stunning addition to your garden.

Sarracenia Pitcher Plants - Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and growing habits. Many are bog plants, thriving in places with standing water, or very wet soil. Why do they eat bugs rather than just enjoying photosynthesis and humus like their plant bretherin? Their carnivorous mechanisms are actually a genetic adaptation to allow them to live in places with nutrient-deficient soil. What they can’t find in the earth, they make up for in flies. There are over 630 species of known carnivores growing all over the world – some of them, Darlingtonia or “Cobra plant” for instance, even grow in Oregon!

We have our own little carnivorous bog in the nursery, and marvel in watching these exotic gems take care of the bugs. Some of our favorite species, pictured below, are Pitcher Plants, Sundew and, of course, Venus Flytraps.

How Do Carnivorous Plants Work?

How do they trap bugs? Carnivorous Plants can be active or passive, depending on the species. Here are the 5 main mechanisms that carnivorous plants use to get their extra protein:

  • Pitfall traps – large pitcher-like structures (like on the Sarracenia, below) where bugs go in but can’t get out.
  • Flypaper traps – sticky surfaces that catch flies just like fly-paper you get in the store.
  • Snap traps – Everyone’s familiar with the famed Venus Flytrap, yes? Think locking jaws.
  • Bladder traps – Suck in bugs with an internal vacuum. Seriously. Nature finds a way!
  • Lobster-pot traps – Force bugs down the pipes with inward-pointing hairs.
    • How To Grow Carnivorous Plants

      Here are a few tips on how to keep carnivorous plants alive, in or outdoors at your home.

      1) Keep them wet. Most commercially available carnivores are bog plants, after all. If growing in a pot, place this in a dish where you can allow 1/4 inch (or more) of standing water at all times. Water the dish when it becomes low rather than drenching the plant itself. The soil will absorb all that it needs

      2) Lots of light. These guys need 5 hours of direct sun per day to thrive. That’s tough to do in Portland even in summer, so you might want to move your carnivores outside for summer.

      3) Mineral-free water and soil. Remember – these guys are adapted to nutrient-deficient conditions. Too many minerals will harm your plant. Use distilled water and clean soil with lots of peat and sand.

      4) Let them go dormant. Many species are used to a winter dormancy period, and some even survive a freeze. Check your zone and the hardiness of the species to see what it needs during wintertime. Generally, reduce temperature, light and moisture for 3-6 months. Don’t be scared if they defoliate – come springtime, they’ll grow back stronger.

      5) Don’t feed them. In most circumstances, your plant should be able to forage plenty of bugs all by itself.

      Carnivorous Plant Porn

      These plants are just so photogenic, we couldn’t help but share a few glamour shots. Hope you enjoy!

      Do you have your own carnivorous plants? Share your experience in the comments!


  1. Margaret
    August 21, 2015

    Everyone who has ever seen my brilliant Sarracenia wants one. I’ve had it about 10 years, and it really does survive outside in Oregon’s winters, even in the harshest freezing conditions we occasionally get. And it is drop dead gorgeous. The stalks’ colors vary depending on the time of year, emerging white with red veins, or brilliant red or brilliant magenta with wine-colored veins. I keep it in a pot inside of a larger pot without a drain hole, and keep it full of water so it is always completely immersed up to the base of the soil.

    I’ve saved the best part for last. That plant eats an amazing amount of bugs, and bugs of all sizes. When a stalk dies and turns crispy brown, I snip it out and with scissors, carefully snip open the stalk the long way (it’s like a straw), revealing a black sparkly ‘sand’ of bug parts: wings, legs, bits of shell… Sometimes I can identify carpenter ants, mosquitoes, and gnats, but never a bee (thank goodness). This is a lovely plant even without the novelty of being carnivorous, but its voracious appetite for bugs makes it a star.

    • Jesse
      August 21, 2015

      Wow! This sounds like quite the specimen. Thanks for sharing! Glad you’ve had so much success with your Sarracenia. We’d love to see a picture at some point.

      Be well,
      Jesse – Pistils Nursery


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