three Venus Flytrap plants with their traps open

Everything You Want To Know About Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants have captivated the minds of horticulturalists, scientists, and plant lovers worldwide for their ability to lure, catch, and digest prey. While most plants draw their nutrients from the soil, carnivorous plants have evolved over time—due to the nutrient-poor soil they grow in—to use small insects as their source of nourishment.

There are over 600 carnivorous plant species living in temperate and tropical regions around the world. These plants are found in nutrient-poor environments such as swamps, bogs, tropical wet and dry forests, and semi-arid habitats. The most common habitat for these plants is in peat bogs that have low nutrient concentrations and plenty of sunshine and water. These plants absorb the nitrogen they need through the animals they eat as opposed to the soil.

Most carnivorous plants trap, digest, and consume their prey through leaves that are modified to capture moving prey. Other variants of these plants, such as the Triantha, use a flypaper method on their flower stalks. And, most commonly known, the Venus flytrap captures insects that land on its traps and then use digestive enzymes to break down the insect and absorb nutrients from it.

In partnership with Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway, this page serves as a resource to learn all about carnivorous plants, how to care for them at home, and ways in which you can support protecting the species worldwide.

Types of Carnivorous Plant Traps

Check out the various styles of traps that carnivorous plants can have!

five white-topped pitcher plants with their traps open

Pitfall traps are most commonly found in pitcher plants. The leaves fold together and form an enclosed space, with digestives enzymes pooling at the base of the leaves. The pitcher plant will capture the insect that flies near the opening of its leaves. Once trapped in the plant, the insect is digested through its enzymes within the leaves.

a close up image of a Cape sundew with several thin hairs lined with mucus

Carnivorous plants with stalked glands that produce mucilage have flypaper traps. Insects are dissolved and absorbed with the help of the mucliage. Sundews and Butterworts are some examples of carnivorous plants with flypaper traps.

A Venus flytrap with a small insect crawling in its leaves

The Venus Flytrap is a classic example of a snap trap. Once an insect touches the outer hairs and lands on the inner leaves, its hinged leaves close around the insect. Although the Venus flytrap is one of the most famous carnivorous plants, the snap trap is not a common method of plant carnivory. Only two species in the world use this method.

close up image of a bladderwort plant with its bladder-shaped traps along the stem

Suction traps are uniquely shaped like a bladder with a hinged door lined with trigger hairs. The insect enters through the opening of the trap and is digested. Bladderworts are known to have this style of trap.


Image Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

corkscrew plant with long, twisted channels extending outwards

The corkscrew plant has lobster pot traps, which are twisted tubular channels with hairs and glands that trap prey. Plants that have these traps tend to catch very small prey, such as protozoans.


Image Source: Carnivorous Plant Resource

Carnivorous Plant Care 101

  1. Most carnivorous plants prefer bright light, and many, such as Sarracenia spp., are best with direct sunlight. Fluorescent or other LED grow lights can be used for indoor cultivation of many species. A terrarium of smaller carnivorous plants on a windowsill or under lights can make a great set-up.

  2. Almost all carnivorous plants require high humidity. An indoor terrarium or an outdoor bog garden in humid regions will meet this requirement.

  3. Do not use tap water or mineral water on carnivorous plants. Rainwater, reverse osmosis, or distilled water are ideal. Water must be low in dissolved solids. Most carnivorous plants require moist to wet soil in the warmer months and slightly less moisture in winter. Tropical species will require moisture year-round. Species with specialized ecology will vary in moisture and temperature requirements.

  4. Temperature requirements vary with species and some require a distinct cool dormancy period (Dionaea, Sarracenia, some Drosera and Pinguicula.)

  5. Dividing and planting is best done in early spring for many species. Many species resent much root disturbance and care should be taken when repotting. Some species need to be kept evenly moist with no drying. Plants should be potted in relatively large containers to prevent excessive drying of plants. These plants should be placed in saucers of water or irrigated regularly. Water tolerance at the root zone can vary by variety and season.

  6. It is best to avoid fertilizers when growing carnivorous plants. Fertilizers that have high salts can quickly kill many species and the damage is difficult to recover from. Despite popular opinions, carnivorous plants can be fed with fertilizers, but they must be a low concentration and preferably not derived from salts (seaweed/fish emulsion) and only done very sparingly. Any buildup of nutrients in the substrate can be fatal to many varieties. Do not feed any with actual meat, as they are incapable of digesting complex proteins!

Check out these fun facts about Carnivorous Plants!

LuEsther T. Mertz Library

Our Library’s collection has great images, books, and more on all things carnivorous plants!

Illustrations of North American pitcher plants

Title: Illustrations of North American pitcher plants
Source: Mertz Folio collection

Biodiversity Heritage Library

a chart with details about various carnivorous plant parts

This 1942 edition of The Carnivorous Plants by Francis Ernest Lloyd has information about carnivorous plants and detailed, black and white images of plant cells.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

A man using a magnifying glass to look at Elizabite, a carnivorous plant, with four green leaves and a red bud

Before the Little Shop of Horrors came Elizabite by Hans Augusto Rey. Written in 1942, housed in Mertz Juvenile Collection, Elizabite is a classic carnivorous tale about a Venus Flytrap named Elizabite who eats everything on sight and finds herself on an interesting plant adventure.

Visit the Mertz Library to check this book out and more!

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Image of a plant with three traps open that are featured in the publication Weird Plants by Chris Thorogood

Visit the library to read and see Thorogood highlight weird plants and their evolution, plant behaviors, the interrelationships among plants and the interdependencies between plants and animals.

Visit the Mertz Library to check this book out and more!

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