Stranger than fiction

Published 12:00pm 3 February 2022

Stranger than fiction
Words by Kylie Knight

THEY look like they are straight out of a sci-fi movie and from another, but Venus flytraps are in fact one of Earth’s most clever plants.

The experts at Bunnings have put together a guide for growing these carnivorous plants which are experts in evolution.

Most have evolved to survive in situations where soil holds little or no nutrition, making their own food by catching and decomposing small insects.

Venus flytraps are perhaps one of the most fascinating of the carnivorous plants, and they are surprisingly easy to grow.

They are very low-growing herbaceous perennials. That means the plants die back in winter and have unusual leaves.

The leaves have two distinct sections – the horizontal leaf and the upright trap on the end. The plant will also produce leaves of different forms at different times of the year, so do not be surprised to see your plant go through a range of changes as it grows.

The leaves shoot from an underground bulb-like structure. As the weather becomes cooler, the leaves shrivel up and turn black. Many people think they have killed their flytrap at this stage, but it is just going into its winter dormancy and will reshoot in spring.

The trap is an ingenious mechanism. Tiny hairs trigger the trap to close when an insect brushes against them, trapping the insect inside. The insect is then dissolved by digestive juices emitted by the trap, reducing it to liquid fertiliser.

To trigger the trap, two hairs need to be touched within 20 seconds of each other. Then, when the trap closes, the hairs need to be triggered five more times for the digestive cycle to start.

Stranger than fiction
PHOTO| Courtesy of Bunnings. Venus flytraps are collectable plants which are much more than a novelty

How to grow a Venus flytrap

The plant must have at least four hours of direct sun daily to grow and colour well. In very hot conditions, it may need to be watched carefully and given some afternoon sun protection.

If the plant is indoors, position it on a windowsill that receives sun all day.

Your plant must be kept moist, not wet. It will need to have a cool period during its winter dormancy. Do not water your flytrap from the top – stand it in a small saucer of water instead.

If you are not growing the plant for seed, cut flower stems off as soon as they appear. The plant uses a lot of energy to flower, meaning the traps will be smaller.

As tempting as it may be, do not trigger the traps for fun. Closing the trap uses a lot of energy, and each trap can only close 3–5 times.

Do not feed your Venus flytrap with fertiliser. It gets all the nutrition it requires from catching and digesting bugs.

But if your plant is indoors, you may have to manually feed it small insects to keep it healthy.

Re-potting a Venus flytrap

A Venus flytrap usually grows in damp, slightly acid soil. When it comes time to re-pot, experts recommend a variety of complicated DIY blends, but you can just use straight peat moss.

The most important thing is using material that does not contain extra fertilisers, and not adding any as they will kill the plant.

When selecting a pot, go for something that has good depth to allow for downward root development.

Older, healthy plants will produce ‘pup’ plants around their base. Carefully separate the pups when re-potting and place in a suitable mix.

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