The Venus fly trap or Venus' flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is one of the most famous of the carnivorous plants. It's so popular that, because of poaching, this plant is an endangered species in the wild. The Venus fly trap is considered carnivorous because it gets most of its nutrients by trapping and digesting insects, rather than from the soil like other plants. Its Latin name comes from "Dionaea," which is another name for the Roman goddess of love, and "muscipula" which means mousetrap. There are currently 25 cultivars of Dionaea registered with the International Carnivorous Plant Society.
On January 2, 1760, the colonial governor of North Carolina, Arthur Dobbs, walked through the forest and stumbled across a group of plants he had never seen before. As he observed them, he noticed the leaves seemed to be catching flies, beetles and other insects. Later, in his diary, he described them: "The greatest wonder of the vegetable kingdom is a very curious unknown species."
According to the International Carnivorous Plant Society, scientists in the mid-1700s thought the plant's shape resembled part of a woman's body. So, the scientists named it after both the Roman and Greek goddesses of love. In Homer's Illiad, Dionaea or Dione was the mother of Aphrodite, the Roman goddess of love, and the name became synonymous with her. Venus is the Greek goddess of love.
The infamous "traps" of the plant are actually specialized leaves. On each leaf, there are about six small trigger hairs. If two or more hairs are touched at once or if one hair is touched more than once, the trap closes. The longer hairs that rim the leaf prevent the insect from escaping. A trap can capture up to three insects before it turns black and falls off. If a trap closes without its prey, it will reopen within a few hours.
Venus fly traps are native to a very small region of United States. They are only found in the states of North Carolina and South Carolina and only within a 60-mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina. It likes to grow in bogs, swamps and wet savannas, where the soil is poor in nutrients.
Although the plant's name is most often written as "Venus fly trap," this is grammatically incorrect. Since it is named after the goddess Venus, it should be "Venus' fly trap." Writing it without the apostrophe suggests that it means that the plant is from Venus.
The Venus fly trap was described by Darwin in 1875 as "one of the most wonderful plants in the world." Darwin was intrigued by the plant and spent a great deal of time studying it along with other carnivorous plants.