Fanged Foliage: How to Grow & Care for Venus Flytraps

In 2005, Venus Flytraps became the state carnivorous plant of North Carolina. These fascinating plants that eat exploring insects are hardy perennials native to the coastal plains of North and South Carolina.

The poor soils and acidic bogs fed by underground streams in these two states make them perfect hosts for the Flytraps. Interestingly, 36 of the native North American carnivorous plant species grow in North Carolina, and 25 of them in South Carolina.

Venus Flytraps in the wild are so rare that eco-tourists make pilgrimages to the Carolinas to see them on bog walks, tours, and in carnivorous plant gardens.

But only look, don’t touch! They are a protected species in those states, and it is a felony to poach them.

What Do They Look Like?

venus flytrap plant

Venus Flytrap plants grow in a basal rosette of 6 to 8 flat, light green, leaf-like stems topped with inch-long, hinged traps. The traps, which are modified leaves, are light green with red insides and edged with interlocking bristles to enclose a trapped insect. On the inside surface of the traps, there are six tiny hairs called trichomes or trigger hairs that activate the traps.

The rosettes grow 4” to 6” high and up to 8” wide. In late spring, the plant sends up a foot-tall stalk with small, 5-petalled, white flowers that self-pollinate.

Venus Flytraps grow differently shaped leaves (stems and traps) throughout the year. The leaves grow low to the ground with heart-shaped stems in the early spring and fall and upright with slender stems in the summer.

Why Do They Trap Insects?

 dionaea muscipula with trapped fly

Venus Flytraps make their food by photosynthesis, that needs light, water, and carbon dioxide, which are all readily available. But for the photosynthetic process to run, the plant also needs nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and micronutrients that are not available where it grows wild.

So Venus Flytraps evolved to find a different way to get those essential minerals. In the acidic, boggy soils of the Carolina coastal plains, carnivorous plants can only get these important nutrients from the insects, spiders, and other small critters they catch.

How Do They Trap Insects?

 dionaea muscipula

Venus Flytraps are the only carnivorous plants in North America that use active “snap traps” to catch their prey. Here’s how they work:

The inside surface of the traps produces sweet-smelling nectar that attracts unsuspecting bugs. If one lands on a wide-open trap and touches a trigger hair (trichome) twice within a few seconds, the trap snaps shut, closing the insect inside.

As the insect struggles and touches more trigger hairs, the trap shuts completely, and the stiff bristles on the edges of the traps ensure that the insect can’t escape. Enzymes are pumped into the trap that first digests the bug’s exoskeleton and then absorbs the soft, nitrogen-rich innards.

This is a fascinating, though creepy, process to watch, making them fun houseplants and interesting biology examples in schools. So, although they are a protected species in the wild, Flytraps are cultivated and widely sold in specialty plant stores and online.

Care & Feeding of Venus Flytraps

 dionaea muscipula plant

Venus Flytraps have the reputation of being difficult to grow, but with plenty of light, water, and proper nutrition, they should thrive indoors.

Light

Like other carnivorous plants, Flytraps need lots of direct sunlight. Four hours of direct sunshine with the rest of the day in bright, indirect light from an unobstructed west- or south-facing window will be fine for your plant.

If those exposures aren’t available in your home, you can supplement the available light with artificial plant bulbs. You can also grow your Flytraps in pots outdoors, where they will get maximum sunlight.

Lack of enough sun is the most frequent reason that Venus Flytraps die indoors (often within a month!), so don’t skimp on the amount of light you provide.

Temperature and Humidity

Venus Flytraps are adaptable to a wide range of temperatures. They are cold-hardy and can handle frost. Still, they can also live happily in temperatures of 90 degrees F and above, with low humidity, like in their native Carolina habitat.

So, average household temperatures and humidity will be fine for these plants.

Dormancy

As light and temperatures drop in the fall, the plant will stop growing, and the traps will stop working. This is a normal part of the plant’s life cycle as it prepares for 3-4 months of dormancy during the late fall and winter (November through February).

Set the plant in a cold area of the house, like a window in the garage, unheated greenhouse, or shed, and keep the soil moist. Some stems and traps will begin to turn black and die when temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

New growth will start again in March as the temperatures rise and the plant wakes up from dormancy. Clip all the previous year’s stems and traps off to prepare for new ones to grow.

The plant will shoot up a flower stalk and bloom in late May or early June. Some gardeners advise cutting off the flower stalk to route more energy to the traps. But if there is enough light, you can allow the flower stalk to stay on the plant.

Soil

The soil for Venus Flytraps must be acidic, low in nutrition, and high in drainage capability. The pot it came in will have appropriate soil, but if you repot, you will need to provide the right kind of new soil.

You can buy commercial carnivorous plant soil, or you can make your own. A mixture of 50% peat moss and 50% perlite is perfect for your plant and is more cost-effective than a commercial blend. You can also add some pumice to the mix for extra drainage if you like.

The peat moss needs to be hydrated first before planting. Put it in a bowl with water and let it sit for half an hour to absorb the water. Pour off the remaining water, mix it with perlite, and you’re ready to plant your Venus Flytrap.

Pot

Venus Flytraps do best in ceramic or plastic pots rather than terracotta to better retain the water in the soil. Choose a pot with a drainage hole so water can be absorbed from the tray underneath the pot up through the hole.

Give your plant plenty of room, too, with a pot that might look too big. Venus Flytrap roots spread, and if you give it enough room, your plant will be able to grow larger.

Water

In the wild, Venus Flytraps live in acidic, boggy soil, constantly washed through by underground streams. So, to mimic these conditions, you will need to supply it with plenty of bottom water from the tray under the pot.

The type of water you provide is also crucial to its health. “Hard” water, or water with a high volume of minerals, will kill or deform your plant in a short time.

Venus Flytraps do best with mineral levels below around 50 ppm. Check with your local water authority to see what the mineral levels are in your area. If they’re close to ±50 ppm, you’re probably all right with tap water.

But if you have 150 to 200+ ppm mineral levels in your water, don’t use tap water for your plant or bottled spring water that still has minerals. Distilled or rainwater are the best alternatives that will keep your plant healthy.

Feeding

As long as you provide the basics of lots of light, the right soil, and plenty of water, insects for your Venus Flytrap are the fertilizer that makes them thrive. If you have your plant outdoors, it will catch enough insects on its own. But if you keep it indoors, it will need to be fed.

You can feed it live flies, spiders, or crickets if you can catch them. But you can also buy freeze-dried mealworms and bloodworms or dried crickets at the pet store that will be as nourishing.

Remember, no people food! Only insects or other bugs that the plant can digest.

If you feed it live critters, they will activate the trigger hairs inside the trap so that it will snap shut and start the enzymes flowing. But if you feed it the freeze-dried or dried bugs, you will have to touch the trigger hairs several times yourself to get the trap to close and start the digestion process.

And only feed Venus Flytraps one bug per plant per week. Too many insects and the traps will die.

Concerns

Dionaea muscipula flytrap plant seed
Going to seed

Venus Flytraps are particular about the amount of light and water they need and the type of soil they grow in. If you can meet their requirements and are aware of their life cycle, you can should be able to grow them successfully.

Several things can cause the traps to die:

Each trap has a life cycle of about a month when it has absorbed an insect and slightly longer if it hasn’t been triggered often. It will die off after that, and new traps will grow from the center of the plant.

In early fall, the plant will start to go into dormancy, triggered by lower light and temperatures. Some traps will die down, but the plant will regrow in the spring after 3-4 months of rest.

Feeding the traps people food like meat or fish will spell trouble. They can’t digest that kind of protein and will rot, causing the traps to turn black and die.

Insufficient light will kill Venus Flytraps within a few weeks. During the spring and summer, they will happily grow outdoors in the sun or in a sunny window indoors that gets at least 4 hours a day of direct sun.

Dry soil will cause the plant to die. Flytraps need plenty of water from a dish under the pot to keep the soil hydrated at all times.

Tap water or water with a high mineral count will also cause the traps to die. Only use water with a low mineral count (±50 ppm) or distilled or rainwater.

Acidic, nutrient-poor soil, like peat moss and perlite, is the healthiest for the plant. Commercial indoor potting mix or garden soil is too high in minerals and will kill the Flytrap.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.