Plants That Prey

Have you looked closely at the amazing life of carnivorous plants? I came across an incredibly attractive display in large pots at a botanic garden in Vancouver, and out in the open no less. I could no longer discount these plants as of no interest and that day vowed to learn more. I began seeking them out at my local nurseries and then, of course, realised that in Australia we often see these come up seasonally out in our own bushland where they are native.

I soon discovered there are many different types and they have many similarities, but also some differences. There are Sarracenias, bladderworts (Utricularia), Drosera, Nepenthes and Dionaea.

A small Saracenia with red-coloured veins.

I am sure you are all quite familiar with Dionaea, commonly known as Venus fly traps. Who hasn’t been guilty of tapping the sensitive pad and watching it close up? However, did you know that each flower can only open and close a few times before signalling an early death? The glands are designed to trigger when a bug lands on the area and the jaws close, trapping the insect that will be digested over the following weeks.

The Sarracenia is the very attractive American pitcher plant, with its tall, veined foliage decorated in patterns of pinks, reds and greens. The hairs on the inside of the vessel are angled downwards to encourage easy access for insects, but once in, they cannot escape. In a household environment, these plants make a stunning display and look great as a centrepiece.

Bladderworts are very interesting, as their delicate hair roots have a bladder-like structure filled with liquid. This is their undergound water storage system.

Droseras are known as sundews and are probably my favourite. They make great photographic specimens as the reflections are captured in the sticky drops of sweet gel on the ends of the tentacle-like flowers, often with an insect attached. These delicate plants may climb and multiple delicate flowers appear up the stem of a twining vine.

Collectors items on display.

Nepenthes are known as the jug plant. Their floral structures may be as big as a coffee mug and have a lid, some able to hold rodents and frogs that may use them as their homes. These vines can climb to around 20 metres and are the largest of the carnivorous plant. They enjoy a humid climate and will survive in collections housed in a hothouse. Nepenthes make ideal hanging basket specimens.

Australia has it’s own native carnivorous plants, which include the very well know Albany Pitcher Plant (of which the tiny intricate flowers are pictured above). These plants will thrive in impoverished conditions and require an acidic soil with pH as low as 4.


If you are growing carnivorous plants at home, there are a few key points to note:

  • Carnivorous plants do not require any added fertiliser and are very sensitive to minerals.
  • They require six hours of sunlight daily (but not direct sunlight) and they generally do like humidity.
  • Don’t let them dry out; they should be kept moist but not soggy. Good drainage is the key and it is best to use a specially prepared mix and avoid fertiliser. An ideal mix is 70 per cent peat moss and 30 per cent perlite or sand. This allows excellent drainage but also maintains moisture and is very acidic.
  • If your plant is in a pot you can place it on a tray with pebbles and add rainwater or distilled water to the tray. Avoid bore and scheme water as these contain minerals and chemicals that will kill your plants.
Close up of the Albany pitcher plant.

Close up of the Albany pitcher plant.

I hope my growing tips help and that I have opened your eyes to the uncommon world of carnivorous plants that appear all around us. Be warned that they can become quite an obsession, but please do not ask me how I know!

Images: Faye Arcaro 

About the Author – Faye Arcaro
Faye is a passionate gardener who owns a four-acre Perth property, aptly named ‘Botanic Obsession’. She enjoys sharing her knowledge through writing, radio and TV presenting.

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