Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, is a pet and garden columnist and grows mostly edibles on his one acre homestead, with a couple dozen carnivorous plants to keep it interesting. Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more about gardening.

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The Voracious Garden
by Kenny Coogan       #Misc   #Natives   #Unusual

Left: Sarracenia ‘Lovebug’ is a fun compact hybrid for your backyard bog garden. Top Right: Drosera spatulata, the spoon-leaved sundew, naturally occurs throughout Southeast Asia, eastern Australia, and New Zealand. Bottom Right: This Mexican butterwort is great at catching small insects like fruit flies and gnats.


When my parents told me that I had fulfilled my quota of pets, I decided to sneak in one or two carnivorous plants. They seem similar to having pets, but since they are actually plants my parents wouldn’t be able to say anything about bringing home more pets. Carnivorous plants have interested me since grade school. After college, in New York, I started a carnivorous plant club. Members still meet monthly to share stories, tips, and most importantly plants.

In Florida, we have between 25 and 30 native species. Genera such as Drosera, Pinguicula, Sarracenia, Utricularia can be found here. Most are found in wetlands and bogs of North Florida and the panhandle.

With over 630 species found globally, it’s easy to find one that will grow for you. For the past four years, I have cared for around 50-60 individual plants in Central Florida. Although I mention how to keep some on windowsills, I have had success keeping them outdoors year-round.
 

Top Left: Drosera binata, forked sundew, is a large, perennial sundew native to Australia and New Zealand and looks great in a hanging basket, if kept damp. Bottom Left: After 4-10 days the food is digested and the trap is ready to passively hunt again. After opening and closing around three times, the trap blackens and new growth can be seen from the base. Right: This Sarracenia leucophylla is going to have lunch on the spider that erroneously ventured inside.


If a nursery was going to sell a carnivorous plant, they usually sell Nepenthes, a large pitcher species from Asia. This article is going to focus on the other groups of carnivorous plants. Although they are smaller, they are equally unique and beautiful. Many of my plants have been purchased online or at plant shows around the state.

Carnivorous plants are photosynthesizing plants that flower. The plants lure and capture prey, digest the prey and benefit from the nutrients. They obtain nutrients from the bugs and energy from the sun.

Three simple rules for caring for carnivorous plants are counterintuitive. You’ll want to flood them, not fertilize nor feed them. When you waterlog these mostly bog-based plants you will want to use reverse osmosis, distilled, or rainwater. They do best without any fertilizers or chemicals, which includes the minerals from terracotta pots. And lastly, don’t set off their traps for fun and don’t force them to eat. Despite popular belief, they do eat on their own in the wild. There is no horticulturist out there in the bog with a toothpick and bits of insects feeding them.

 

Left: Pinguicula primuliflora, known as the southern butterwort or primrose butterwort, is native to the southeastern U.S. Top Right: S.‘Scarlet Belle’ pitchers can grow up to 16 inches and does best in full sun. Bottom Right: With 2-4 tiny trigger hairs on each lobe, Venus Flytraps use electrical signals to catch their prey.


Venus Flytraps are the flagship species of carnivorous plants. They first became popular around 250 years ago, when the governor of North Carolina identified and wrote about them calling them, “Flytrap Sensitive”. With 2-4 tiny trigger hairs on each lobe, these plants use electrical signals to catch their prey. Once the trigger hairs are touched twice (within 20 seconds), the lobes close, catching their prey. After 4-10 days the food is digested and that particular trap is ready to passively hunt again. Today there are over 31 cultivars of flytraps. There are solid green ones and others are solid red. My favorite is the classic, original green on the outside and pink on the inside.

Sundews remind me of tiny octopi. Their trapping method involves flypaper like traps, which slowly curl around the prey after the catch. There are nearly 200 species around the world. They are classified as rosetted, temperate, tuberous, woolly, forked leaf or pygmy. The cape sundew (D. capensis) comes in three cultivars and is from South Africa. It is a great beginner sundew.

Butterworts are carnivorous, but many gardeners grow them for their flowers. They also have sticky leaves, which help catch some insects such as fruit flies, gnats, and houseflies.

In 1576, the first North American pitcher plant (S. minor) was discovered in Florida. In 1887, 311 years later, it was identified as a plant that eats bugs! There are between 8 and 11 species of Sarracenia, with a lot of subspecies and hybrid – some naturally occurring. They are perennial and take five to eight years to reach maturity. Some grow to a few inches, while others can have pitchers that reach three feet tall. They flower in the spring, before their pitchers open up, as it wouldn’t have been advantageous to eat their pollinators. At the end of the fall, when the plants are slowing down and the pitchers are drying up, it is great fun to vertically slice the pitchers open to see the season’s catch.

 

Top Left: A couple of dozen baby Sarracenia ‘Judith Hindle’, a hybrid that people love for its uniform shape and tall sturdy red leaves as it matures. Bottom Left: S. purpurea subsp. purpurea is so nice, they named it twice! Right: Sarracenia leucophylla frequently grows with other species of Sarracenia and creates naturally occurring hybrids. This variety is ‘Tarnok’. 


 

Butterworts
(Pinguicula sp.)

Soil: Warm climate butterworts: 1-part sand, 1-part peat; Temperate species: 2-parts peat, 1-part sand, 1-part perlite
Pots: Plastic or glazed ceramic with drainage holes
Water: Place a dish underneath the container to keep soil wet year-round. Leaves benefit from frequent overhead watering.
Light: Full sun to very bright light, but make sure they don’t cook in the heat of the summer
Climate: Species range from temperate, warm temperate, and tropical regions
Windowsills: Some temperate species are unsuitable as houseplants, but some warm–temperate butterworts make good candidates for windowsills
Dormancy: Temperate butterworts require chilly to frosty winters while they hibernate, warm-temperate species usually survive light winter frost
Transplanting: Roots should not be disturbed during active growth. Transplant and divide in late winter
Propagation: Division, seed


Venus Flytrap
(Dionaea muscipula)

Soil: 1-part sand, 1-part peat
Pots: Plastic or glazed ceramic, 4-5 inch diameter for 1 mature plant
Water: Place dish underneath container to keep soil damp or wet year-round, a low water table is preferred.
Light: Full or part sun
Climate: Warm–temperate, can be placed in refrigerator/basement for winter dormancy
Windowsills: Does well on a sunny windowsills, should be kept cooler in winter for a dormancy period
Fertilizer: Does best without it
Transplanting: Does very well when transplanted into a fresh substrate every 1-2 years, best when done in late winter
Propagation: Division, leaf cuttings, seed, tissue culture


Sundews
(Drosera sp.)

Soil: 1-part sand, 1-part peat or slightly sandier
Pots: Plastic or glazed ceramic
Water: Some are required to be waterlogged, while others are required to be dried out in the summer for dormancy. Most species sold in Florida grow well year-round in wet conditions.
Light: Part sun in Florida, very few species tolerate full shade
Climate: Found worldwide, most commonly sold are tropical
Windowsills: Does well on a sunny, humid windowsill
Fertilizer: Does best without it


North American Pitcher Plants
(Sarracenia sp.)

Soil: Does well in 1-part sand, 1-part peat, or 2-parts peat, 1-part perlite and 1-part sand
Pots: Plastic or glazed ceramic. They can be drained or undrained (I usually keep them on the wetter side), 4-5 inch diameter pots for young plants, 6-8 inch diameter or larger for mature plants
Water: Place a dish underneath container to keep soil damp or wet year round
Light: Full sun to mostly sunny
Climate: All but one are warm temperate, S. purpurea subsp. purpurea requires cold temperate climate and can handle an extended deep freeze.
Windowsills: Does well on a very sunny windowsill, should be kept cooler in winter for a dormancy period
Dormancy: All require 3-4 months of winter dormancy, with reduced temperatures and photoperiods
Transplanting: Can be divided and transplanted every 3-5 years
Propagation: Division, seed, tissue culture

 

 

A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Ryan McGhee.

 

Posted: 06/28/17   RSS | Print

 

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