Growing Hardy Carnivorous Plants

By: Mike Darcy

 

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This fanciful pot of pitcher plants shows the fun you can have with carnivorous plants!

When I was in high school, I bought a Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipulabecause carnivorous plants always intrigued me.  It survived a mere few weeks and died.  Then when I was in college, I tried again with the same results.  Perhaps it was living in hot, dry southern Arizona that did the last plant in, but it was my last attempt to grow Venus fly trap for several years.

Upon moving to Oregon in the late ’60’s, I began gardening in earnest with my focus primarily on a huge diversity of perennials and shrubs.  It was as though I could not stop buying plants, and with every trip to a garden center, I came home with new ones.  But there were no carnivorous plants in the mix. Not yet.

Then on a visit to Southern Oregon and a stop at Darlingtonia State Natural Site, my interest in carnivorous plants was renewed.  Here were cobra lilies, (Darlingtonia californica) growing in the wild.  It was more delightful than I could have imagined.

Carnivorous Plants for the Garden

Craig, Pitcher Plant, Man

Cobra lily pitchers are unique and look like scary monsters when figurines are included.

As my gardening intensified, I began to visit other local gardens and one in particular had beds of carnivorous plants. I will never forget it. There were cobra lilies, pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) and Venus fly traps, all growing out in the open with no protection from the elements.  And, they were beautiful plants in an array of colors.

I was particularly taken with the colors of the pitcher plants with their pitchers in shades of red, chartreuse, maroon, brown and many had intricate veining colors.  I knew then that I had to have some of these in my garden! Since that time, I have cultivated several containers of these marvelous plants and find them surprisingly easy to grow.

 

 

Carnivorous Plant Cultivation

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A beautiful pot of Sarracenia!

Hardy carnivorous plants naturally grow in bogs and other wetlands where soil-nutrient resources are scarce. That’s why they resort to catching insects to get their “vitamins”. So, it should come as no surprise that certain growing conditions must be met to have success growing these plants. Thankfully, these conditions are not difficult to achieve.

Here are some tips from a Sarracenia gardener, which I have implemented with good success.  (This method is also suitable for growing all manner of hardy carnivorous plants.) Select a location in the sun and dig a pit about 18-inches deep and as wide as you want the bed.  Then cover the pit with a pond liner and make small slits in the bottom of the liner to allow slow drainage.  Sarracenias like soil to be consistently moist but not saturated.  Then add a mixture of 2/3 Black Gold® Peat Moss and 1/3 Black Gold® Pumice. This has proved to be an ideal mix for plants planted both in the ground and slow-draining containers.

A note of caution: do not use a potting mix with fertilizer. These plants do not need or like mix with added fertilizer. They get their nutrients from the insects they capture.  In the case of Sarracenia, insects are attracted to a combination of scent and “drugged” edible deposits along the pitchers that make them fall inside where they are unable to escape due to the presence of slippery hairs that push them downward. Once they fall to the bottom of the pitchers, they drown in secretions and are absorbed by the plant.

Fun to Grow!

Venus fly traps can be challenging to grow for the uneducated gardener.

Venus fly traps can be challenging to grow without the cultivation basics.

Carnivorous plants are a superb way to get children involved in horticulture.  I have learned that my grandchildren delight in showing visitors the trapped insects in the pitchers of Sarracenia or the jaws of a Venus flytrap.

Each year I seem to expand my Sarracenia and Darlingtonia collection by adding new cultivars with different colors.  My plants thrive in a large container, in full sun and are left outside in the winter with no damage.  In the last few years, I have noticed more gardeners using carnivorous plants, and their availability at local garden centers has steadily increased.  Try some Sarracenia in your garden containers this year, you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

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The ornamental pitchers of the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) are as pretty as its flowers. (image by Oliver Pouzin)

About Mike Darcy


Mike lives and gardens in a suburb of Portland, Oregon where he has resided since 1969. He grew in up Tucson, Arizona where he worked at a small retail nursery during his high school and college years. He received his formal education at the University of Arizona where he was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree in Horticulture, and though he values his formal education, he values his field-experience more. It is hard to beat the ‘hands on’ experience of actually gardening, visiting gardens, and sharing information with other gardeners. Mike has been involved with gardening communications throughout his adult life. In addition to garden writing, he has done television gardening shows in Portland, and for over 30 years he hosted a Saturday radio talk show in Portland. Now he writes, speaks, gardens and continues to share his love of gardening. To be connected to the gardening industry is a bonus in life for Mike. He has found gardeners to be among the friendliest and most caring, generous people. Consequently, many of his friends he has met through gardening.

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