The Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, is a carnivorous plant. The insectivorous, or insect-eating carnivorous plants, include six orders, nine families, and 595 species. Due to people’s fascination with this plant over the years, it has landed on the endangered species list. It is United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardy in zones 5 to 8 but originates in North and South Carolina.
The Venus flytrap is a herbaceous perennial that grows about 1 foot in height. It prefers full sun to part shade in wet boggy areas. It is native only to the coast of North and South Carolina, in a radius approximately 100 miles around the town of Wilmington. The plant does bloom from May through June. The flytrap is probably the best known carnivorous plant in the United States.
The plant itself is small and grows in a rosette manner, or whorl or circular pattern. The leaf stems can be heart shaped and flat to the ground or thin and upright. The “trap” is actually the leaf. As with most plants, the leaf consists of a petiole, or leaf stalk, and a blade. The blade is the “trap” part that is supported by the petiole. The flytrap also produces white flowers. The buds open first followed gradually by the flowers at the base. Each plant can generate between one to 15 flowers.
Function of Flytrap
Traditionally, plants obtain their nutrients and gases from the soil and air around them. Instead, carnivorous plants obtain these things from eating insects. The Venus flytrap is designed uniquely for this purpose. The leaves have lobes on each side of the “trap.” They have short firm hairs called trigger or sensitive hairs on the lobes that snap shut when touched, trapping whatever goes inside. The trap can shut in less than a second. It won’t shut completely at first in order to let very small insects out that aren’t big enough for a good meal. If the trap shuts on something other than an insect, like a stone or nut, the trap will stay shut for about 12 hours and then spit out whatever non-food item was trapped.
When the trap closes for food, the cilia, or finger-like projections, keep the insect inside. Once the trap is closed, the plant secretes juices, much like human digestive juices, to dissolve the soft parts of the insect. After the soft parts have been digested, in about five to 12 days, the trap opens and the bones are either washed away or blown away by the wind. The trap reopens depending on the size of the insect, the age of the flytrap, the air temperature and the number of times the trap has gone through this process.
The Venus flytrap has seasonal “traps.” In spring the traps have “wings” on the petioles and are green in color. These traps last until the flowers form on the plant. The summer traps are narrow and without the “wings.” The sun turns them a maroon color. This color can act as an attractant for insects to visit the flytrap. In fall, there is no distinct trap features like in the spring and summer. The winter traps are the smallest and can be damaged by frost, which can kill the plant.
The Venus flytrap has been growing in nature for nearly 200 years. It wasn’t until 1760 that the Governor, Arthur Dobbs, discovered them in a forest in North Carolina. He named it “Fly Trap.” It wasn’t until 1875 that Charles Darwin became interested in the plant due to its rapid and forceful movement to trap its prey.