Carnivorous Plants, All you Need to Know About Them – Quick Guide

Translated by Nick R

I know that you, like me, have ever wanted to have a carnivorous plant. They are very exotic to look at, so anyone would be more than willing to have one of these in their home or garden.

Well, below, I’ll tell you all you need to know about these plants. From their general care, classification, potential factors that affect the plant’s development, and even some of the carnivorous plants to sow.

What is a carnivorous plant?

They are a species of plants that besides feeding on the components and substances of the soil, as other plants do, acquire further nutrients from small animals, mostly insects.

This is because these plants live in swamps and nutrient-poor habitats. So they acquire from animals the nitrogen that helps them to survive in these spaces. They use active capture techniques, such as traps to catch prey, and passive capture techniques, with the use of viscous substances or mucilage so that prey sticks to them.    

How do carnivorous plants hunt?

In order to hunt for prey, these plants have the ability to attract, trap and digest animals such as insects, arachnids, crustaceans and small vertebrates. To achieve this, carnivorous plants have a series of adaptations from colors, odors, and nectar, to adaptations in the leaves to turn them into traps.  

Active and passive trapping techniques depend on the shape of the leaf trap according to the type of carnivorous plant. There are three forms:

Pincers or mouthparts:  

This is the best-known type of trap, typical of the Venus flytrap or Dionaea muscipula, by its scientific name. Its capture technique is active and it consists of releasing nectar to attract its prey and trapping it inside. It closes when it feels a minimum of 2 touches so in this way it does not confuse it with a drop of water.

Pitchers:  

This is also a type of active trap typical of plants such as Nepenthes and Sarracenia. Producing a sweet smell at the edges and inside the pitcher attracts the insects inside. However, the walls of the pitcher-shaped leaves are very smooth preventing prey from escaping. At the bottom of this trap, there is a thick liquid in which the prey is eventually digested.

Adhesive:  

These are passive traps typical of Drosera. They secrete mucilage, a viscous substance that helps them to trap prey with the slightest vibration. In this way, if the prey tries to escape, the plant secretes even more of the substance. Some species of carnivorous plants with such traps can constrict (roll up and squeeze) the prey.

In order to digest their prey, carnivorous plants release enzymes that help them gradually break down and digest the animal. Digestion can take more than 2 weeks to complete.

General care of carnivorous plants 

These carnivorous plants require slightly different care than other plants (aromatic, medicinal, edible, among others).

Types of carnivorous plants 

It is important to know the origin of the species of the carnivorous plant that you want. They will need optimal conditions so that they don’t suffer.

Tropical carnivorous plants:  

These are plants that require high humidity and warm climates. Ideal if you live in areas with these characteristics. Otherwise, you can plant them in terrariums suitable for such conditions so that the plants can develop. Some of the species in this group are Nepenthes, Pinguicula and Cephalotus.

Non-tropical carnivores:  

They can be in slightly colder climates, but not frozen. It is preferable to have them because they do not have as many requirements as the tropical ones. Some species in this group go through a period of hibernation that helps them to survive. Some of the non-tropical species are Sarracenia, Dionaea, and Drosera, among others.

Pots 

Plastic pots are more suitable for these plants due to their resistance, however, you can also use porcelain or glass pots (like terrariums). What’s important is that they have holes in the base so that the water can drain and the plant does not drown.

Choose the pot depending on the species, because as you know, some require more humidity than others, and they can even be hanging or have very long roots.

Substrate 

As in their natural habitat, these plants do not require nutrient-rich soil as they acquire them from their prey. Also, they can run the risk of root burn if a common substrate is used due to excess mineral salts.

The substrate you use should provide good drainage, although these plants like humidity, prolonged puddling is not advisable. You can use these:

  • Sphagnum: also called blonde peat, is ideal for carnivorous plants as it is low in nutrients, has an acid pH, is aerated, spongy and retains the water necessary for these plants. You can use it alone or mixed with sand.
  • Sand: you should use it together with the sphagnum, we don’t recommend using it alone. It is important that the type of sand you use is coarse up to 4 mm and mineral salt-free.
  • Perlite: it works perfectly to retain water and you can mix it with sand and sphagnum. This mixture may be considered the best substrate for carnivorous plants.

Light 

These are plants that require a good amount of natural light. Some species require direct sun 3 to 5 hours a day, such as Sarracenia or Dionaea, and others indirect light, such as Nepenthes and Drosera. However, the hours of sun must not be the most powerful of the day because they may get burned.

Temperature 

Since non-tropical carnivorous plants require time to hibernate in winter, it is recommended to keep them at a temperature lower than 5 to 10 °C. But not to extreme frosts.

Regarding tropical carnivorous plants, they should maintain a temperature range similar to that of their natural habitat or at least 20 °C.

Humidity 

As you already know, these plants require a lot of humidity, however, some more than others. Therefore, they can be placed in terrariums that provide similar conditions to the natural habitat of each plant or in areas with climates that provide high humidity.

Watering 

Unlike other plants, carnivorous plants are watered by immersion, also known as the tray technique. It consists of submerging the pot with the plant in a container with water, either a tray or a plate, for 2 to 5 cm.

This process is done for 10 to 15 minutes so that the substrate can absorb the necessary water for the plant. After this time, you should remove the pot and place it in a place where it can drain the excess water.  

In summer, this type of watering can be done every other day and in winter it can be 1 or 2 times a month. However, it may vary depending on the species. You should use water that has settled to prevent the substances it contains from affecting the plants.

Feeding 

As I have already mentioned, they take care of this process as it is their nature. The digestion time varies according to the species. However, if there are not enough insects, you can help the plant by feeding it.

You should look for insects of adequate size to prevent the leaf traps from overexerting themselves. Remember not to overfeed as these plants digest their prey slowly.

When you see the leaf-traps wilt, dry up or die, you should cut them off at the base to make way for new leaves and prevent fungus.

Pests

Carnivorous plants can also be affected by pests such as spider mites, aphids, fungi and mealybugs. To treat them, you can make use of homemade insecticides. They will work wonders.

5 easy to keep at home carnivorous plants

Now that you broadly know how to look after your carnivorous plants, I’ll talk a little deeper about some of them. You’ll be able to have them at home and they’ll provide a wonderful view of the place.

Drosera Capensis Alba

Taken from Pinterest

Also called “Sun Dew” or “Dewdrops”, it is the most popular carnivorous plant of this species as it is easy to grow and very durable.

It’s native to South Africa, and its linear leaves are covered with hairs called trichomes, which produce the mucilage to trap prey.

In other species of sundew, those white hairs can be red or green. The flowers of this species are white and bloom for only 1 day. As they close, they produce a large number of seeds that will serve to reproduce the plant. This sundew can reach 30 cm tall and the flower stalks reach up to 10 cm.   

How does sundew feed?

This plant uses the passive capture technique. It attracts its prey and with the help of mucilage, the prey is trapped and then digested by the plant’s enzymes. When the insect is trapped, the sundew wraps the insect in its leaf, which is known as a constriction. It is a hunting process that lasts a few hours, however, it may take longer to digest the prey.   

Growing sundews

You can sow the sundew seeds in seedbeds with a mixture of blond peat and sand and/or perlite. Apply the mixture to the seedbed, pour in the seeds and then cover with a layer of blonde peat. Water sufficiently so that the seeds can germinate and let them germinate for 2 to 3 weeks.

If you wish you can sow the seeds directly in the pot you choose for your plant. Preferably plastic and with holes for water drainage. Place the pot outdoors in a semi-shade and that’s it. This process is done in spring.  

Sundew Care

  • Watering should be frequent, especially in summer using the immersion method. On colder days or in winter it can be watered 2 or 3 times a week. Rain or still water will suffice.
  • Remember not to fertilize the substrate in which you are going to sow this plant, because it doesn’t need it and it could be harmful.
  • It should receive a good amount of sunlight, either direct sunlight if you have it outside, or indirectly if it is inside. At least 6 hours will suffice.
  • Be careful with pests, although it is uncommon for them to affect it, they are not exempt from suffering from pests such as mealybugs. Use a homemade insecticide to rid the plant of the problem and that’s it.

Nepenthe Alata

Taken from lasplantascarnivoras.com

Also known as “Pitcher Plants”, they are native to Indo-Pacific areas where they live on trees. As they wouldn’t receive enough nutrients due to the location of their natural habitat, they have become carnivorous plants.

Their structure is in the form of a bottle or hanging jar. Their way of feeding is by attracting insects with their nectar so that they fall inside, where they are digested by the plant’s liquids. It uses the active capture technique.  

The Nepenthe Alata has a very particular characteristic which is that it has a lid on the top that closes in very hot weather to prevent the internal liquids from evaporating.  

It tends to be a climbing plant so you should choose a pot that adapts to this condition and place the plant in a suitable area as it can reach heights of up to 4 meters.

It can be grown indoors, in terrariums or luminous places; and outdoors, in semi-shade, but maintaining the temperature conditions that I’ll tell you about next.  

Growing pitcher plants

You can sow this plant by cuttings or seeds. With seeds, you could use seedbeds or directly sow them in the plastic pots you chose.

You should use a blonde peat and perlite substrate previously moistened with rainwater or distilled water. Place them in an area with a temperature of about 15 to 22 °C and after 6 weeks they will germinate.

If you planted them in seedbeds, you can transplant them to a larger pot when they have at least 2 or 3 leaves.

Sowing by cutting is the most commonly used method because of its ease and speed. You must take the cutting from the top of the stem and plant it in another pot with a previously moistened blonde peat and perlite substrate.

You place it in an area with partial shade at a temperature of 15 to 22 °C. When the plant is young, it should not receive direct sunlight because it may get burned.

You can repot the Nepenthe Alata if the roots have taken up the whole pot or if they come out through the drainage holes.

Pitcher plants Care

  • It doesn’t tolerate cold temperatures below 10 to 5 °C very well. If it is lower than that, the plant should be protected.
  • Watering should be frequent because it doesn’t withstand drought. You can use the immersion irrigation method or spraying. Besides, in summer, water it 3 to 4 times a week and in winter, 2 times a week.
  • You must not use any type of fertilizer. Remember that these plants acquire nutrients from the insects they hunt.
  • It’s resistant to pests; however, it can be affected by mealybugs in summer. You should be aware of this and use homemade insecticides if necessary.  

Pinguicula Tina

Taken from Pinteres

They are very striking plants because of the fleshy consistency of their leaves, similar to succulents, covered with sticky hairs that release mucilage to trap prey. They can be found in the North, Central and South American hemispheres.

They comprise about 80 species of pinguicula and range in size from 2 to 30 cm in height. Their flowers are decorative and can be pink, violet, white or blue. They are large in size and appear in large numbers.

Growing Pinguicula Tina plants

Its growth can be done by seeds, which as you know can be sown in seedbeds or directly in pots. By cuttings, just as it is done with Nepenthes, except that you must cut the cuttings a little closer to the stem.

You should use a substrate of blond peat, perlite and coarse sand. This is the ideal substrate for all carnivorous plants. Locate the plants outdoors in semi-shade and temperatures between 20 to 25 °C.

In winter it is recommended to keep the plants at temperatures of 5 to 10 °C (41 to 50 °F). At this time the plant stops growing and shrinks a little.

Pinguicula Tina Care 

  • You should not use fertilizers as it doesn’t need them.
  • Watering is recommended using the immersion method. In summer it can be 4 to 5 times per week and in winter 2 to 3 times per week. It is suggested to use rainwater always.
  • It could suffer from pests such as fungi, so avoid excessive waterlogging and use a home fungicide to combat them.
  • Adequate humidity for these plants is 50%, however, some species may require a little more.

Sarracenia purpurea

Taken from Pinterest

It’s one of the most common species of carnivores that you can have at home. It is native to North America, it doesn’t grow more than 20 cm, it resists the cold better than the other carnivores and the color of its traps is really striking.

Also, it’s one of the most recommended species to grow as it is very easy to do it. In spring and summer, they can blossom purple flowers that emerge from a stem about 30 cm high. You can keep this plant outdoors and in semi-shade and with a minimum of 3 to 4 hours of direct sun.

The shape of the leaf trap is like a jar and it contains hairs inside so that the prey cannot escape and a substance to digest it. As you know, enzymes and acids are responsible for the digestion process.

Growing Sarracenia purpurea plants 

You can grow this plant from seed and with the help of a seedbed. Remember to use blonde peat and perlite. You must keep the substrate moist and outdoors in the seedbed at a temperature of 20 °C. The plants will germinate in 3 to 4 weeks.

Another way to grow these plants is by dividing rhizomes. These are the subway stems of the plant. You must remove the plant from the pot, wash the roots thoroughly with rainwater and with a knife or clean scissors cut the rhizome.

In another pot, plant this rhizome with a substrate for carnivorous plants. You can do this in spring or autumn. You should leave an uncovered part, so it does not rot and receives the lighting it needs to grow. 

You should keep these plants at temperatures of 20 to 35 °C in summer and 10 °C in winter. In this last period, the Sarracenia takes a rest, like a hibernation, because in this way it survives.

It’s necessary to repot every 2 to 3 years as the roots can take up a lot of space.

Sarracenia purpurea Care 

  • Do not use any type of fertilizer.
  • Watering should be frequent and by the immersion method with rainwater. In summer, watering is more frequent and in winter, more spaced. You can leave the tray with water under the plant and when the water dries, you can add more.
  • It can suffer from fungus so do not overwater, especially in cold weather.
  • You don’t need to feed them.     

Dionaea Muscipula

Taken from Pinterest

Commonly called “Venus flytrap”. Thanks to their attractiveness are one of the most commonly purchased and grown carnivorous plants. The shape of its leaf-trap is similar to a mouth and it is very fast at catching its prey. The capture technique of this plant is active.

It’s found in North American swamps in the state of Carolina. The leaves of this plant emerge at ground level from the rhizome. These trap-leaves consist of numerous teeth at the tip and hairs on the inside. It does not usually grow more than 3 cm high as it grows horizontally, where it can reach up to 10 cm.  

How does a Venus flytrap feed? 

To attract insects, they release a sweet nectar and, besides, they use their reddish color inside. When they catch their prey, they close if the insect touches one or two hairs inside twice at an interval of 20 seconds.

This works so that the plant doesn’t close by another stimulus such as wind or water. Each time it closes, it loses energy for hunting. As it closes, it releases its digestive acids, i.e. enzymes, to absorb the insect’s soft plants and the nutrients it needs.

At the end of this process, after 1 or 2 weeks, the Venus flytrap reopens with the remains of the insect. You can help clean it so that it can hunt other prey without problems.

Growing Venus flytraps 

You can sow seeds in a seedbed. You should use blond peat and perlite; you know that this is the ideal substrate for carnivorous plants. This substrate must be humid and in semi-shade, the plants will germinate in approximately 10 days.

It’s recommended to do this process in spring or summer. When the plants are a little bigger, you can transplant them to a plastic pot with the same substrate. These transplants should be done a maximum of 2 times during their life.

You’ll notice that it needs a repotting if the roots start to grow out of the pot or if it produces too many leaves and has no chance of continuing to grow. You should do the same in spring or summer.

The ideal temperature for this plant is between 30 and 35 °C (86 and 95 °F). However, it requires slightly lower temperatures, above 10 °C, in order to hibernate.

Venus flytrap Care 

  • It’s not necessary to use fertilizer for this plant.
  • You can place it outdoors so that it receives direct sunlight, about 4 hours; or indoors where it gets good illumination.
  • Watering is continuous and with the immersion technique, using rain or distilled water. During the summer you can water it every other day and in winter you should reduce watering.
  • It could suffer from pests such as fungi and aphids. So don’t overwater, especially in winter, and use homemade insecticides to kill these annoying pests.
  • You don’t need to feed it unless there are no insects in the environment.
  • Avoid touching leaf-traps to not harm the plant.

We’ve come to the end of this blog about carnivorous plants you can have at home or in the garden. There is a great variety of them so you can choose the one you want. The important thing is to keep in mind the general and specific recommendations for each type.

Although the care is a little different from the other plants we are used to, it is not very complicated. This is why you will be able to keep your carnivorous plants without problems; they are a fantastic option to decorate your environment. Go get them!  

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