The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) lives on a diet of live insects and spiders that have the misfortune to wander into its leafy "mouth." This carnivorous plant seems exotic, but growing a Venus flytrap at home is relatively easy. The plant prefers nutrient-poor soil and doesn't need fertilizer; just make sure you feed it regularly.
The Venus flytrap is one of 600 species of carnivorous plants worldwide. The Venus flytrap, however, is uniquely American, native to the bogs of North and South Carolina. The poor soil quality in its natural habitat means that the Venus flytrap has come to rely on insects for most of its nutrients. The plant is a perennial that grows in the spring and summer, then enters a dormant period in winter. Venus flytraps are hardy and can withstand light frosts.
The Venus flytrap's doubled-lobed leaves snap up insects. When an insect comes into contact with thin trigger hairs inside the leaves, the leaves close and trap the insect inside. Cilia, or spike-like projections on the leaves' edges, close and interlock to form a tight seal. Digestive juices secreted inside the leaves go to work and digest the insect. Depending on the insect's size, the digestion process might take five to 12 days. Once completed, the leaves open again, awaiting another meal.
You can raise your own Venus flytrap. The plants need lots of moisture, full sunlight, high humidity and poor, acidic soil. A potting mix that contains sand and spaghum moss works well. Venus flytraps also do better without fertilizer. If you start your plant from a bulb or a rhizome, make sure to plant it root side down with the bulb or rhizome level with the top of the soil. And don't forget to feed your Venus flytrap. Give it live insects. The Venus flytrap is a light eater; two or three houseflies or similar small insects per month should be enough. A Venus flytrap cannot digest meat or other food.
To stay healthy and thriving, the Venus flytrap requires a three- to five-month dormancy period every year. That rest allows the plant to rebuild its energy reserves. During dormancy, many leaves will turn black and growth slows to a near stop--signs that make some people fear the plant has died. FlyTrapCare.com says that an easy way to nurture your Venus flytrap through dormancy is to place it on a cold windowsill or in an unheated room. Cut back on watering and make sure the plant receives some light. Expect your Venus flytrap to live no more than a few years.
Scientists continue to study how the Venus flytrap knows when to go into action. The plant has no nervous or muscular system. Some scientists think that the Venus flytrap may be sensitive to differences in fluid pressures, perhaps triggered by an electrical stimulus from the leaves themselves, according to Botany.org.