Choose a country to see content specific to your location

Skip to main content

Cultivating carnivores

CandideZA
Published on November 20th 2020
16
A close up of a flower
Carnivorous plants are perhaps some of the most bizarre and interesting plants in the world, turning the conventional animal-eats-plant logic completely upside down.
Carnivorous plants are flowering plants that have specially modified leaves designed to capture, kill and digest animals. There are more than 600 species of carnivorous plants distributed over several plant families, all with a variety of trapping mechanisms.
A close up of a flower
The majority of carnivorous plants naturally occur in swamps, bogs and other areas where nutrients, especially nitrogen, are often in short supply. Carnivorous plants have therefore adapted to these nutrient-poor environments by supplementing their diet with a little taste of animal protein. These plants, depending on the species, catch and digest insects, crustaceans, other water or soil-dwelling invertebrates, and even amphibians, rats, mice and other small vertebrates.
A plant in a garden
If you're keen to explore the weird and wonderful world of carnivorous plants keep reading to learn about their ingenious trapping mechanisms, carnivores you can grow, grow and care advice, and where to buy these beauties.

How to get caught by a carnivore

There are numerous trapping mechanisms carnivorous plants use to trap and digest their prey, and all equally fascinating.
Pitfall trap
The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia) is an example of a pitfall trap. The Pitcher plant has a long tube-shaped leaf with a lid that prevents rainwater from falling into the tube. An insect is lured into the trap by the sweet nectary scents and lands on the nectar collar, a very slippery surface. The insect is unable to get a grip on the rim of the pitcher plant and hydroplanes to eventually fall down the tube into digestive fluid waiting at the bottom.
A green plant in a garden
Pitcher plant (Sarracenia)
Suction trap
This mechanism is unique to bladderworts (Utricularia) and involves actively sucking small organisms into a bladder shaped leaf thorough a hinged door with trigger hairs, using a partial vacuum.
Flypaper trap
These traps can be active or passive and require a sticky substance called mucilage. Insects and other vertebrates get stuck to the mucilage that is produced directly on the leaf surface, like in the case of butterworts, or sticky tentacles, like in the case of sundews (Drosera).
A close up of a plant
Sundew (Drosera)
Lobster-pot trap
An example of the lobster-trap can be seen in corkscrew (Genlisea) plants. Small soil-dwelling organisms enter the roots of the corkscrew plant through a tiny slit and find themselves in a twister tubular channel lined with hairs facing one way, preventing the organism from escape. The organism is guided into a chamber with digestion enzymes and low oxygen levels.
Snap trap
The most popular and well-known carnivorous plant, the Venus flytrap (Dionaea), use the snap trap mechanism to catch and digest its prey. When hairs on the leaf-surface are triggered by the rapid movement of an animal, the hinged leaves will snap shut to ensnare the animal to digest it in due time.
A close up of a plant
Venus flytrap (Dionaea)

Carnivores you can grow

There is a wonderful diversity of carnivorous plants and once you get bitten by the carnivorous bug, it’s hard to resist expanding your collection one species at a time.
1. Tropical Pitcher plants or Monkey cups (Nepenthes)

Pitcher Plant

Nepenthes spp.

2. Sundew (Drosera)
3. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
4. Butterworts (Pinguicula)
5. Bladderworts (Utricularia)
6. Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia californica)

General grow and care guide

Anyone can grow carnivorous plants. They are also perfect for getting your kids interested in growing their green thumbs.
A banana tree with green leaves
Tropical pitcher plan (Nepenthes ampullaria)
Always remind yourself of the natural growing environment of these plants when considering water, light, soil and nutrient requirements.
Different species have different care requirements so be sure to read up about your specific plant and its needs before jumping right in. Below are some general guidelines to get you growing.
Soil
Carnivorous plants need growing media low in minerals, and light and airy in texture. Do not use compost, normal potting soil, coco peat or palm peat as these mediums are high in minerals. These plants augment their nutrient needs by catching prey and therefore do not need artificial fertilisers, this might actually kill your plant.
A close up of a flower garden
Sundew (Drosera spp.)
Light
Light requirements differ depending on the species, but generally, carnivorous plants enjoy dappled shade outside or bright indirect light if grown indoors. A sheltered windowsill is more than perfect. They also grow well in terrariums with artificial light.
Water
Carnivorous plants grow in boggy, swampy areas in conditions that are constantly damp so keep your plant in a tray filled with water so the plants have constant access to water. Do allow the tray to dry slightly between waterings, without allowing the growing media to dry out completely. Ideally, water with distilled or rainwater. Keep growing media damp, not wet, during the plant’s dormant season.
A close up of a plant
Tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes spp.)
Protect your plants from frost, harsh afternoon sun and damaging winds.

Where to buy carnivorous plants

carnivorous plant

Pan's Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous plants have fascinated the world since Charles Darwin's discovery of them in 1875, as they have specifically adapted to grow in places where the soil is poor in nutrients (especially nitrogen). Their ability to attract and trap prey, produce digestive enzymes and absorb the available nutrients make them entirely unique in the plant world. Some species are large enough to digest small mammals, yet despite this ghoulish reputation, these plants are very easy to grow and a delight to behold. Pan's Carnivores is the leading expert in the cultivation of carnivorous plants in South Africa. We stock a full range including: Venus Flytraps, Tropical Pitcher Plants, Trumpet Pitcher Plants and Sundews. Pan's Carnivores sells directly to the public through our website and e-commerce store. We also sell and ship plants to wholesalers, distributors and retailers directly from our Cape Town nursery. We welcome your questions, queries and comments and would love to assist you in getting started with your first flesh-eating plant!

A vase of flowers on a plant

Jozi Carnivores

Jozi Carnivores is a dedicated carnivorous plant business selling a wide range of carnivorous plants including Sundews, Pitcher plants, Trumpet plants and Venus flytraps. It is a business with a strong child orientation as kids love carnivorous plants. We have keen little gardeners abandoning their iPads and TV's and begging to help with the planting and care of these beautiful, unusual and very dangerous plants. Our marketing objectives are - to expose people to the wide variety of carnivorous plants that are available (some of which are endemic to the Western Cape) - teach people how to look after their carnivorous plants so they survive for years - and most importantly to get children back into the garden.

A variety of fresh vegetables on a cutting board

Seeds for Africa

We are Africa's largest and most diverse online plant seed range, shipped worldwide.

A green plant in a garden

Cultivo Carnivores

Cultivo is a family-run, internet-based plant nursery, specialising in carnivorous plants and managed from our residence in Centurion, Pretoria. Our online store features over 700 tantalising products related to the carnivorous plant world. You will find a mouthwatering variety of live carnivorous plants, an extensive range of fresh, carnivorous plant seeds as well as growing media and related growing supplies. Cultivo specialises in all things carnivorous. With our product selection, we believe that there is something for everyone at Cultivo - whether you are a novice grower who just got bitten by the carni-bug or an experienced grower looking to expand your existing collection by adding that rare cultivar, we trust that you will find something that catches your eye

Share your carnivores on Candide using the hashtag #CarnivorousPlant

Related articles

A close up of a flower
18

Featured Business | Jozi Carnivores

Jozi Carnivores has come from humble beginnings. Self-taught carnivorous fan Renee went from having her daughter's pet plant...
CandideZA
Venus fly traps
14

Community Tips | 14

Here are some of our favourite tips recently posted by the community. To dig into this green-wisdom, tap on the posts to view...
CandideZA