The world may best know this carnivorous plant as the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), but it also carries the less romantic, rather boring common name of meadow clams. The plant is able to "consume" flies and other small insects. The Venus flytrap grows well in containers or bogs and wet sandy areas of outdoor gardens in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 6 through 9. As its natural habitat is destroyed by human development, the plant is becoming more threatened, and may soon be regarded as endangered in the wild.
Venus flytrap is native only to the coastal plains of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina. It grows in the area's acidic, nutrient-poor sands and bogs in sunny openings within the forest.
The Venus flytrap grows 6 to 18 inches tall and about 6 to 8 inches wide. The plant bears hinged, rounded, two-lobed leaves with stiff spines on their edges, and three or four movement-sensitive hairs in the middle of each leaf lobe. Alluring nectar droplets rest in the center of the leaf trap. When a small live insect or arachnid touches the hairs, the lobes snap shut, capturing the critter. In the spring, upright stems bear white five-petaled flowers.
Venus flytrap plants naturally inhabit nutritionally poor peat and sand-based soils. In order to obtain nutrient supplies of potassium, nitrogen and calcium to sustain new leaf growth and flowering, the clam-like leaves capture insects. Once it's captured in the leaf, enzymes digest the insect or spider into a liquid that is absorbed back through the leaf tissue. When it is dried, the leaf "trap" again opens and allows the carcass to drop to the soil. The leaf's closing response is temperature-dependent, and is regulated so that two rapid, successive touches of the leaf will not close it, according to the International Carnivorous Plant Society.
Each leaf trap can catch and digest a prey insect two to four times during its lifetime, according to Floridata. The traps have a limited number of false alarms, often caused by prodding fingers of curious humans. After about 10 false closures, leaves will no longer respond. New leaf traps are produced all summer as the Venus flytrap grows.
In fall and winter, the Venus flytrap's leaves typically lie prostrate, with both live and aborted, old leaf traps on their tips. In winter, the cold weather and sunlight cause the leaves to turn yellow and red in color. In spring and summer, when new leaves are produced and flowering occurs, the rosette tends to be held upright with lusher green coloration.
Venus flytraps are not tropical plants and do not make good houseplants unless they are exposed to a required winter chilling season. In the right conditions, the plants can live for upwards of 20 years. Grow the Venus flytrap in a soil that is equal parts sand and peat. Water with either distilled water or rainwater, not well or municipal water than contains salts and chlorine additives. Provide the plant at least four to six hours of direct sunlight daily. In summer, it prospers in high humidity and temperatures between 70° and 80° Fahrenheit; in winter it needs at least two months of temps between 25° and 40° F. Do not fertilize the plants, but supply live flies, spiders or other small moving insects for the traps.