If you’ve ever seen the cult-classic Little Shop of Horrors, you might have a hard time shaking off the feeling that venus flytrap plants are out to get you while you sleep. But it’s time to ditch those images of creepy, singing, human-swallowed alien plants for good, because carnivorous plants make a beautiful, interesting, and fun addition to your houseplant collection.
What are carnivorous plants?
You know that all plants make their own food through photosynthesis, so you might be wondering why some plants have adapted to take in proteins at all—mainly insects, but the occasional small frog and mammal.
Carnivorous plants are found in swampy environments around the world. Bogs are high in water and low in nutrients (which tend to leach out of the soil), so these plants evolved to make up for the lack of soil nutrients (especially nitrogen) by catching their own dinner.
Carnivorous plants lure their prey into their leaf traps with sweet-smelling nectar, bright colors, and tiny leaf hairs. Once caught, they break down the meat with their digestive enzymes and extract the nutrients.
Care tips for carnivorous plants
Caring for carnivorous plants is a little different than caring for your other houseplants. Because of their unique natural habitat, they require some special considerations. Here’s what you need to know before adopting one.
Carnivorous potting soil
Because carnivorous plants are bog dwellers by nature, they prefer consistently moist, well-drained soils. For best chance of success, plant your carnivorous plant in a 50/50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and coarse sand.
Note: Almost all sphagnum peat moss sold in the United States is sourced from peat bogs in Canada. It forms when the moss decomposes under the bog surface over several millennia without the presence of air.
It is great at retaining water and is acidic in nature, which carnivorous plants prefer. Unfortunately, it’s also a non-renewable resource because it forms so slowly and the degradation releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. So it’s best to use it sparingly and only on plants that need it.
Water carnivorous plants
Place the pot in a saucer filled with water to keep the roots from drying out (this is really important!). Water carnivorous plants only with distilled water or rainwater; Tap and spring water contain many minerals that your little carnivore won’t appreciate. Most carnivorous plants also do well in terrariums because they like high humidity.
sun and temperature
Bright sun is best, so keep carnivorous plants in a south-facing window. If you have a balcony or patio, growing outdoors is also an option. Do your best to protect them from drafts and the hot, dry air of heater vents in cooler weather (dedicated plant parents should consider shutting off the vent if it’s blowing directly on the plant).
All of the plants mentioned below (with the exception of some sundew varieties) go dormant in winter, so keep them somewhere cooler and away from bright light from November to mid-February.
Feed your carnivorous plant
Now for the fun part. If you’re growing your carnivorous plant indoors and your apartment isn’t full of insects – and we hope it isn’t! – she might need some help catching her meals. You can certainly feed it flies or any other insect you happen to squash, but if you’re short, grab a jar of mosquito larvae from the pet store (they’re sold as fish food). As a rule, do not feed your plant more than one insect per week.