top of page

Dionaea muscipula

Dionaea 'Akai Ryu'.jpg

Range: Coastal North and South Carolina, near Wilmington

The quintessential carnivorous plant, often called the Venus Flytrap, Catch-Fly, and many other monikers, these oddities are native to the open grass savannahs and bogs of the Carolina coast particularly around the Green Swamp region, however naturalized populations have also taken hold in northern Florida and New Jersey. These plants can reach up to 20 cm across (though more typically between 10-14 cm in diameter), with each leaf reaching up to 10 cm in length and bearing a long petiole that varies between narrow and held semi-erect (often in summer leaves) to broad and semi-triangular and typically lying flat against the ground (spring and fall). The lamina are up to 6 cm long on large forms and connected to the petiole by a short stalk, the lamina itself is divided into two halves each roughly the shape of a half moon, and edged in numerous thin rigid filaments capable of interlocking when the trap closes. On each lobe are 1-6 trigger hairs used to trigger electrical differentials in the cells of the trap, causing rapid turgor pressure changes that make cells swell to snap the trap shut. Color can be anywhere from all green, barely tinted in the trap interior, banded edges, to even solid blackish purple throughout the plant. Flowers arise on stalks up to 30 cm or more tall, and cluster in groups of up to 20. Each flower has normally 5 elongate teardrop shaped petals, and is white or barely edged in pink. Seed pods are flattened and when mature blacken to release numerous shiny teardrop shaped seeds.

Cultivation: grow in a 1:1 peat/perlite or sand soil (higher sand/drainage content may be beneficial), kept very moist but preferably not waterlogged and semi-humid, with temps of 60-95°F in summer (may prefer partial shade during extremely hot weather). Deep pots are beneficial for maintaining moisture but not wet conditions near the crown. In winter, allow the pot to dry to just damp, and place in a cold area for at least 3 months or until the return of spring. Sow seeds on soil surface (they do not require stratification), and grow in full sun.

Lifespan and reproduction: perennial. Reproduces through seed and division, and can be grown through leaf pullings or flower stalk cuttings.

Dionaea 'Scarlet Bristle'.jpg

The Venus Flytrap is a plant steeped in amusing history, and the classic first plant that comes to mind when most people hear the term "carnivorous plant." Though a bit of a frustrating species for me (as I have yet to dial in exactly what these plants want in my conditions, mostly due to the same mistakes many beginners make when they receive their first), flytraps are generally an easy beginner's plant for most people, and rampant in tissue culture and mass market nurseries.

First discovered sometime in the 16th to 17th century, this plant has a rather twisted origin to its name. The epithet Dionaea muscipula literally translates as "Dione's Mousetrap," Dione being one of many names for the goddess Aphrodite or Venus, and mousetrap referring to "an organ capable of capturing unwary mammals" (as taken I believe from Barthlott et al.'s Curious World of Carnivorous Plants). Though some sources claim the description to herald to the odd beauty of the plant and its ability to capture animals for food, the true origin is worse. Old-times horticulturalists and botanists (and even some today, don't mistake that) were rather perverted people, poking fun at the fact that they thought the traps looked remarkably similar to a certain portion of the female anatomy, going so far as to even devise euphemisms entirely their own for this plant (In a letter about a former North Carolina governor Arthur Dobbs who played a hand in the publicity of this species, after marrying his very young wife Justina Davis: "It is in vain to write to him for seeds or plants of the Tipitiwitchet, for he has one of his own to play with"). Thus the flytrap owes its Latin moniker to perverted minds.

Flytraps are rather restricted in their range in the wild naturally, often roughly determined to occur within an approximately 100 mile radius of the town of Wilmington, North Carolina, and quickly being reduced in range as their habitat is drained and converted to roads and developments. A favorite of collectors for obvious reasons, this plant is also heavily poached, and now carries a very hefty fine if one is caught digging up wild plants or smuggling them out of the state. Luckily though, this species is quite firmly in cultivation, with dozens upon dozens of different cultivated varieties out there. Forms ranging from solid green ('Justina Davis', a cultivar nodding to the plant's history) to nearly black ('FTS Maroon Monster') exist, as well as a myriad of odd mutations in shape, such as 'Dentate Traps,' 'Wacky Traps', 'Mirror', 'Korean Melody Shark', and many others. Unfortunately many of these cultivars, particularly the headache-inducing number of red forms, are nearly identical to each other and require knowledge of the particular clone one has, so mislabels are rampant and many plants are passed off as something they are not. Some cultivars truly are instantly recognizable when grown in good conditions, but it is grower beware otherwise as the number of described varieties continues to grow.

Added notes: under certain conditions, D. muscipula may not necessarily be a strictly temperate plant. This is not recommended for beginners to try, but plants that are kept under suitably bright conditions and long daylengths may be kept perpetually in active growth if metabolic needs are met, ie. if they are kept very well and regularly fed so that they can maintain the nutrient levels needed to grow continuously. I have personally maintained plants indoors without dormant periods for nearly 3 years.

It has also been brought to my attention (though again a technique not recommended for beginners) by Jack Withers (pers. comm.) that if a suitably cold location is not possible for inducing and maintaining a dormant period, flytraps may be able to be put into a dormancy that fulfills their needs by rapidly subjecting them to total darkness. Lack of any possible photosynthetic activity may trigger a shutdown of metabolic processes similar to natural dormancies, though it should be noted that warm, damp, dark conditions may be particularly attractive to fungal pathogens and this technique requires more investigation before recommending widely.

bottom of page