Carnivorous Plants: How They Eat, Where They Live, and Growing Your Own

One of our favorite things about working with plants is getting to discover all the fascinating varieties growing throughout our world. Over the years, we’ve come across some pretty unique stuff—but few things capture our attention like the wonderful weirdness of carnivorous plants.

While they still use photosynthesis like their green brothers and sisters, carnivorous plants supplement their diets with meat to get the nutrition they need. Most eat insects, but some larger ones actually eat animals including mice, birds, and fish. Luckily, the majority of the nearly 600 species of carnivorous plants are fairly small—and contrary to some famous Hollywood films, none of them eat humans!

So how do carnivorous plants trap food?

The first step is attracting a meal. Carnivorous plants do this mostly through colors, nectars, and scents—but some even glow in the dark to get their prey’s attention. Once the potential meal is intrigued, they spring their trap. They do this using one of five methods, including:

  • Snap traps: Leaves open and snap closed around unsuspecting prey.
  • Pitfall traps: A pitcher-shaped leaf traps food that falls inside.
  • Lobster-pot traps: The plant has openings allowing prey to enter, then traps it with bristles or hairs.
  • Flypaper traps: A sticky substance is secreted to capture small insects on leaves.
  • Bladder traps: A bladder pulls the meal inside the plant and traps it with water.

Once a carnivorous plant has captured its food, it typically digests it with enzymes over the course of a few days. But some varieties like pitcher plants, also use bacteria to break down the mealwhich helps the plant absorb more nutrients. Either way, carnivorous plants don’t actually chew food; they simply trap it to be digested later.

Where do these things grow?

Some carnivorous plants are easy to find in certain parts of the world, but others can be extremely rare. While they come in all different shapes and sizes, they do share some common traits, including liking very hot, humid, and wet environments. This makes them well suited to live in the world’s rain forests, especially in South America and Asia. But many live in more temperate areas, including the Venus flytrap, which is native to both North and South Carolina.

Unlike most plants, carnivorous plants typically do well in nutrient-poor soil, which is why they supplement their diet with meat. This makes areas near bogs a perfect location for them, as competition from other plants is low because of poor soil quality. While this is typical, one notable exception is sundew plants, which grow in bright, arid fields and trap insects with sticky residue.  

 How do I grow my own?

Carnivorous plants are notoriously fickle. Since many varieties are difficult or nearly impossible to raise outside their natural habitats, we recommend starting with a Venus flytrap, which is inexpensive and can be found at most lawn and garden stores. Luckily, they’re easy to care for as an indoor plant if you follow these helpful tips:

  • Make sure the soil/growing medium you’re using is low in nutrients and has good drainage.
  • Even though it’s tempting, don’t touch the “mouth” of the plant to trigger the trap. This can damage it.
  • Grow the plant in a small terrarium, as this allows you to feed it living flies. Keep in mind Venus flytraps won’t eat a dead fly.
  • Only feed your plant small flies once every couple of weeks. Don’t use any other food.
  • Give the plant ample sunlight, and keep soil moist.

Carnivorous plants are just another reason we find the world of plants so interesting. It’s amazing how they’ve adapted to capture prey, and we can’t wait to see what kinds of new carnivorous plants horticulturalists will discover next!

If you’re looking for more information on carnivorous plants, we suggest checking out California Carnivores, the nation’s biggest carnivorous plant nursery. And if you need any help with designing and building your landscape, turf care, or flowers and trees, we’d love to help. Let’s talk!  

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