Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Breaking My Venus’s Flytrap Curse…

The patient, ever hungry mouth of a Venus' Flytrap.

Venus’s flytrap (Dionaea muscipula or VFT for short) is without doubt the iconic carnivorous plant and the one most people are familiar with. Unfortunately, most people also have a story that sounds something like “I brought a Venus’s flytrap, but it died”! I, too, have brought – and killed – lots of VFTs in my life. In fact, it was nearly 19 years ago today that I got my first VFT. It lasted about a year before it died. The next pot of them did not even last that long, neither did the next, or the next. No matter what I did – and I had quite a library of books at my disposal for advice – my VFTs died. I did exactly what the books said – full sun, lots of water in summer, drier in winter, peat moss and sand for soil. Winter temperatures should have been alright, as I grew Sarracenia easily. Nonetheless, they died right next to Sarracenia that were thriving, under the same conditions. I tried them in pots, in terrariums, in bog gardens – they all died equally well.

It was like a curse!

Some 15 years after my first VFT, I tried one here in Canberra on a whim, absolutely expecting it to also die. Much to my surprise, it not only survived – it grew beautifully! That same plant is still with me, four years on, and is much, much bigger. I now have a growing collection of thriving VFTs that get bigger and bigger each year. All of them came from Bunnings or some other local nursery.

So why are they growing for me now? The answer is simple: the winters.

VFTs are incredibly picky about cold temperatures – far more so than Sarracenia. In some areas, it is possible to be able to grow Sarracenia beautifully but impossible to grow nice VFTs. Coastal parts of south-eastern Queensland are such places – some (not all) Sarracenia grow well there, but VFTs are impossible – but only if you live right on the coast.  Up higher on the ranges are just fine for both VFTs and all Sarracenia, but the coast itself is those few degrees too warm. This is weird, as VFTs grow only on the coast in their native America. But then, the North Atlantic is known for being somewhat colder than the Pacific Ocean at relative latitudes. Perhaps that has something to do with it?

Looking at the Bureau of Meteorology’s minimum winter temperature maps, I would expect VFTs will grow at their best from around Coffs Harbour southwards. Inland areas that get frost are even better. In fact, the best VFTs I have ever seen are grown by Richard Sullivan in Bathurst, which is quite a frosty (and snowy!) place in winter. Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney are all excellent places to grow VFTs. Perth is probably ok, but I’ve not been there in winter to be 100% sure.

frozen vft

So how cold do VFTs like it in winter? Here’s a plant from my collection in mid winter. The Sphagnum is frozen solid, as is the surface of the water tray. They get frosts like this over and over during the winter and do just fine. Show this photo to people who think that VFTs are tropical plants… The sundews in the adjacent pot are Drosera filiformis ssp. filiformis.

If you are new to growing VFTs and need to get started out with them, one thing I have found that works well for growing VFTs are self-watering type pots. The best are the ones with a cup that can be filled to the brim with water, and that water the pot with a wick or strip of felt. You can often buy these at good nurseries (not Bunnings yet), or you can make your own – try a 100mm pot, a clear jar or container big enough for the bottom 2 cm of the pot to fit inside (the pot should not touch the bottom of the jar – try a jar from some Salsa dip) and a strip of clean rag. All you need to do is keep the jar full of water while the plant is growing new leaves, and keep a few cm of water in the jar when the plant is dormant (usually ANZC day through to Spring). Self waterers work well for very bright windowsills. Once you get the idea, move on to a tray.

Here are my current VFTs…


This is one of the easiest VFTs to find. It is Paradisea Clone 1. It is a really good performer, producing 3-4 cm traps under good conditions. This plant looks quite orange in Bunnings stores; redder plants with similarly sized petioles are Paradisea Clones 14-15.Store sold specimens can be more or a lot less red than this, but is apparently induced by fertilisers. This was my first successful VFT.

Akai Ryu trapsAkai Ryu

Akai ryu, the Red Dragon, was produced by the Atlanta Botanic Gardens as a vigorous and generally nice all-red flytrap. I brought this one as a specialist plant produced by Triffid Park and sold via a third-party wholesaler to Canberra nurseries in 2009. Its traps can get bigger than the ones shown, though – I neglected to go on an earwig hunt (ie. VT food) this year, so trap sizes are generally smaller than they could be.

Bohemian Garnet

This plant is sold by Gotcha! as a boutique all-red VFT. It is very close to the named cultivar ‘Bohemian Garnet’, but what it really is is still a mystery. John Creevey tells me he got it ex Tissue Culture from China. This clone is a lot slower than the other VFTs I have and takes a long time to grow to a good size – I’ve had this plant since January 2008, and this is the biggest it has grown.

Gotcha! Big red traps_trapGotcha! Big red traps

This is the biggest VFT I have so far. It is also a Gotcha! plant that John Creevey selected from seed-grown plants. Those traps are impressive! I will have to get one of Richard Sullivan’s plants this year, as they can get even bigger again. B52 is another large trapped variant, which I also do not have yet.

Big MouthBig Mouth

Big mouth is another big-trapped VFT that can be easily obtained (with patience!) from Bunnings as a Paradisea plant. You can pick it by its relatively short petioles; longer petioles with intensely red traps are Paradisea clones 14-15. It can also get a lot redder than this.

Paradisea Clone 9 trapsParadisea Clone 9

Another Paradisea plant, this is VFT Clone 9. It is distinguished by its excessively long petioles. It is quite a leggy plant and not so strong a performer (only the Bohemian Garnet look-a-like is slower). I got rid of this plant when we moved house in 2013.

Pink venus_trap

And lastly, this is Pink Venus. It is another lovely red plant sold by Triffid Park. Quite a vigorous plant, it splits often and forms clumps. Well worth getting hold of if you can. Gotcha! plants have a selfing of pink venus that is almost pure red – if your nursery gets plants from Gotcha!, ask your nurseryman if he can try and get an all red VFT. That, or check back often and you will eventually score one.