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.
Little Shop of Horrors Partnership
We’re thrilled to be partnering with the Off-Broadway show, Little Shop of Horrors! We have created this infographic for theater attendees and plant enthusiasts alike to learn about the common prey capture and consumption processes of carnivorous plants, such as the Venus flytrap and butterwort.
You can get a closer look at Seymour’s notes here.
This infographic serves as Seymour’s way to figure out what exactly Audrey II is by referencing facts about the carnivorous plants she is botanically similar to – the Venus flytrap and butterwort according to the original 1960 film.
But as the notes on the infographic indicate, Audrey II’s behavior does not match those of the Venus flytrap and butterwort. In the musical, Audrey II develops a more unusual palate for human blood. The audience quickly discovers that Audrey II is not a plant from Earth at all, but appeared from outer space during a total eclipse.
In real life, our carnivorous plants at NYBG prefer small insects, such as ants and flies. You can explore our gardens to find our collection of carnivorous plants and learn about their behaviors.
Types of Carnivorous Plant Traps
Check out the various styles of traps that carnivorous plants can have!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Almost all carnivorous plants require high humidity. An indoor terrarium or an outdoor bog garden in humid regions will meet this requirement.
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.
Temperature requirements vary with species and some require a distinct cool dormancy period (Dionaea, Sarracenia, some Drosera and Pinguicula.)
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.
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!
Title: Illustrations of North American pitcher plants
Source: Mertz Folio collection
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.
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!
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!
Here's Some Carnivorous Plants You Can Find Around NYBG!
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
White-Topped Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia leucophylla), Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
Sundew (Drosera), Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
Hybrid Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia 'Judith Hindle'), Perennial Garden
Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis), Enid A. Haupt Conservatory
Hybrid Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia x excellens), Native Plant Garden