A fly lands. A leaf snaps shut. And the sodden epic of a little plant that does big things has played out again. Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), the carnivorous perennial at the center of this drama, is a petite, surreal beauty native to the coastal bogs and seepage areas of North and South Carolina. Tiny teeth line the leaf margins, and the bright green leaf “traps” are subtly colored inside, from yellow-green to red. Small white flowers ripen to fruits with tiny black seeds. In winter the plant goes dormant, but beware…in spring it will rise to eat again.
Common name: Venus flytrap
Botanical name: Dionaea muscipula
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 6 to 8
Height: 6 to 12 inches
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Acidic, low in nitrogen
• Moisture: Moist
• Mulch: Mulch to help keep soil moist and protect from cold temperatures.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or division.
Pests and diseases
• May be vulnerable to crown rot and leaf spot.
• Venus flytrap has long captured our imagination—so much so that its native stands in North and South Carolina have been decimated by collectors. It’s estimated that a few million of these plants are in cultivation but only a fraction of that number is left in the wild. Do not collect Venus flytrap from the wild.
• Though Venus flytraps are often sold in terrariums, they typically don’t last long indoors. Outside is better for these famously finicky plants, assuming you can replicate their native environment: an acidic, low-nutrient bog in a temperate climate.
• Venus flytrap is not a tropical plant, and it will not survive unless it goes through a period of winter dormancy (temperatures at least down to 40 degrees F). It also needs moderate temperatures in summer—less than 80 degrees F is ideal.
• You can grow Venus flytrap from seed, but the seedlings take three to four years to mature.
• Plant Venus flytrap at the front of your bog garden, where you can observe this diminutive plant closely and protect it from being shaded or crowded out by larger plants.
Dozens of Venus flytrap cultivars are available, including these three favorites.
• ‘Akai Ryu’ (‘Red Dragon’) has deep red leaf traps.
• ‘Low Giant’ has large leaf traps that stay low to the ground.
• ‘Dente’ has shorter, thicker teeth than the species.
All in the family
• D. muscipula is the only species in its genus, and the only carnivorous plant in the Western Hemisphere with its unique “bear trap” leaves.
• Other members of the Droseraceae family include the waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) and sundews (Drosera spp.).
Where to buy
• Carnivorous Plant Nursery, Derwood, MD, 301-519-7505, www.carnivorousplantnursery.com
• Cascade Carnivores, Newcastle, WA, 425-336-1420, www.cascadecarnivores.com
• Sarracenia Northwest, Eagle Creek, OR, 503-630-7522, www.cobraplant.com
(Photo of Dionaea muscipula ‘Akai Ryu’ courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)