Venus' flytrapBotanical name: Dionaea...

PLANT NOTEBOOK

December 28, 1991|By Amalie Adler Ascher

Venus' flytrap

Botanical name: Dionaea muscipula

Pronunciation: dee-on-EE-a

Family: Droseraceae (Sundew)

Origin: North and South Carolina coastal plains

Class: Herb/House plant

Display period: Year-round

Height: 2 to 8 inches

Environment: Bright light

Seeking a way to rid our Florida room of the gnats that occasionally enter, I hit on the idea of trying a Venus' flytrap. I was averse to using pesticides indoors, the electric bug zapper is not made, I discovered, to catch insects flitting in midair and, although the yellow sticky tapes I stuck in one potted plant did land quite a few of them, the bugs continued to plague me.

Even if a carnivorous plant failed me, too, it would be fun to grow one, I reasoned, and moreover, I was curious to see how the thing worked. When I found a flytrap in a garden center, I eagerly brought it home.

After chasing numerous gnats around the room, I finally caught one and fed it to my new purchase. My touch instantly triggered the leaves to fold, capturing the gnat inside. Ordinarily, a plant is supposed to catch its own food, but I was too impatient to wait for that to happen.

To learn more about flytraps, I began reading James and Patricia Pietropaolo's "Carnivorous Plants of the World," (Timber Press; $29.95.) The book says the plant attracts prey by emitting a sweet odor. When stimulated by finger, an electric current, hot water or certain chemicals, hairs on the leaf pads cause the traps to close.

Glands on the inner surface of the trap secrete enzymes that digest the prey.

Pot a Venus' flytrap in equal parts of sphagnum peat moss and sand. Keep the mix moist but not waterlogged. During the growing season, a plant needs relatively high humidity and warm temperatures. However, during its three- to five-month rest period, it likes conditions cooler and drier.

If no insects are present to sustain a flytrap while it's in active growth, you can substitute specks of lean ground beef or powdered milk. Or you can apply a fertilizer such as Rapid Gro diluted at 8 times the recommended rate when you water.

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