Native to the sunny, moist and sandy soils in bogs in the southeastern United States, the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a small plant known to trap and "eat" flies and other small insects. Germinating from seed or sprouting from another plant's rhizome, the flytrap develops leaves, traps and flowers. It dies after several growing seasons or a severe lack of water, nutrients or light.
If exposed to warm temperatures higher 50 degrees Fahrenheit, in a moist acidic soil made up of sandy and humus, the small seed of the Venus flytrap germinates. The seed is no larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen.
Initially, only leaves grow on the seedling as its root penetrates the soil, slowly expanding into a swollen underground stem called a rhizome. On the tips of the first leaves made by the seedling will be the first "traps," two-lobed leaves with a central fold and edges of eyelash-like threads called cilia.
Water is absorbed by the roots and rhizome, as are trace minerals from the soil. The acidic, sandy soil is naturally nutrient poor, and to supplement growth, the traps on the ends of the green leaf stems remain open in an effort to trap insects and other organic debris.
As an alive insect lands on the folded pad of the trap, it snaps shut, trapping the insect. Soon after the trap fully closes, digestive enzymes are secreted from the leaf tissue of the trap to kill and degrade the soft innards of the insect body. The released juices are absorbed by the plant, providing the nutrients that the soil lacks. The exoskeleton of the insect remains, and after the trap again opens, it blows out with a gust of wind.
The traps on the Venus flytrap open and close up to four to six times before ceasing and then dying. As nutrients are gleaned from insects by the various traps on the plant, more leaves are produced--no more than seven--and the rhizome elongates.
Despite being marketed and sold as a terrarium plant, the Venus flytrap is not a tropical plant. In fact, it needs a cool winter dormancy in order to prosper. From late fall to early spring, light intensity must diminish, much like in nature, and the plant must endure a lengthy exposure to temperatures as low as 25 degrees to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once sunlight intensity increases and warmth returns in spring, the Venus flytrap resumes growth, adding new leaves and traps, capturing insects and flowering.
Flowering and Seed Formation
In late spring, a tall flower stem rises well above the leaves and traps. The white flower, with five petals, is pollinated by small bees, none of which are in the vicinity of the leaf traps when they visit the blossom. After the flower wanes, the ovary forms small seeds that ripen, dry and drop to the ground to germinate when conditions are optimal.
Besides seeds, the Venus flytrap reproduces, or expands by producing new young plantlets upon its rhizome. Moreover, leaves that touch the moist sandy soil may also take root and form new plants. Both germinating seeds and plantlet sprouts expand one Venus fly trap into a small clumping colony in ideal growing conditions.
Plants of considerable age will slowly degrade, particularly if its rhizome is large and many small plants have already sprouted, perpetuating the colony. If growing conditions are hostile, including dry soil, lack of a winter chilling dormancy or a lack of nutrients from failed trappings of insects, the plant's leaves will first yellow. If conditions to not improve, foliage progresses to brown or black, slowly dying back to the ground and, eventually, the rhizome.