America's native carnivorous plants have adapted to their lives in nutritionally barren conditions in remarkable ways. They attract, trap and break down insects or other prey, creating nitrogen and other essential compounds. Under serious stress in the wild, these plants have seen more than 95 percent of their natural habitat fall to development, according to "UC Davis Magazine" author Trina Davis. Many of them, however, will transition to home gardens with proper care.
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) may be the poster child of native American carnivorous plants. Indigenous to a coastal plain extending from southeastern North Carolina into eastern South Carolina, Venus flytrap grows in acidic marshlands and wet grasslands. A perennial hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, Venus flytrap has a low clump of spreading, 1- to 5-inch leaves. Each leaf is a hinged trap with bristles and trigger hairs along the outer edges of its upper and lower lobes. When an insect disturbs one of the trigger hairs, the two leaf lobes close around it. After the trapped insect dies, the plant dissolves it in digestive enzymes.
In May and June, Venus flytrap has 12-inch leafless stalks bearing clusters of white, cup-shaped flowers. Where the plant is winter hardy, recommends the Missouri Botanical Garden, grow it in a bog garden with humus-rich, acidic (pH below 7.0), consistently moist soil and a winter mulch. Elsewhere, it's a good container or greenhouse plant. Give it a mixture of sand and peat moss and distilled water or acidic rainwater.
Floating bladderwort (Utricularia inflata) is an aquatic carnivorous plant native to ponds and wet ditches from New England south to Florida and west to Texas. The entire plant, from its flowering stem to a wheel-like base of inflated bladders, is smaller than a dime, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The plant feeds on microscopic aquatic creatures that touch the trigger hairs on its bladder. Disturbed bladders expand around the prey. Digestive enzymes dissolve trapped creatures. Between May and November, floating bladderwort has yellow flowers less than 1/10 inch long.
Northern Pitcher Plant
Northern pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is an eye-catching carnivorous plant named for its pitcher-shaped, reddish-green leaves. The water-collecting leaves have insect-attracting, brightly colored lips. Downward-curving hairs line the leaves' interiors, preventing entering prey from exiting. The insects drown and decay in digestive enzymes and bacteria. Native to sphagnum moss bogs from New England to Alabama and west to Wisconsin, northern pitcher plant produces a single, large, fragrant red or purple flower between May and August. Plants require full sun and moist or wet acidic soil, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.