Forget about the impending fall and spice up your summer with some of nature’s wildest botanical incarnations. Carnivorous plants may be a little… unusual, but they are easier to grow than they look!
American Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp.)
Popular in bog gardens and pondside plantings, most pitcher plants are not hardy in our area. As a potted plant on the patio however, they are efficient bug-killing machines, taking care of wasps, flies, and other pests that threaten to sabotage your barbecue or evening glass of wine. By the end of the season, you will often find that the decorative tube-shaped leaves are filled to the top with winged critters! Simply place your pitcher plant in a sunny spot in a decorative saucer or bowl, and keep an inch of rainwater in the saucer at all times. Do not fertilize your pitcher plant or water it with tap water. It won’t mind if it gets flooded occasionally during a storm.
Pitcher plants can be overwintered indoors by placing them in a cool room, such as the basement, after the fall frosts force them into dormancy. Simply trim the dead foliage back and keep the soil barely moist during the winter. The plants will start into growth in February or March and can be placed in a sunny window, sitting in an inch of distilled water, until it is safe to put them back outside. Pitcher plants produce unusual and quite pretty flowers in the spring and early summer, sometimes on and off until late summer.
Smaller varieties of pitcher plants (such as S. purpurea ssp. venosa and the gorgeous new ‘Carolina Yellow Jacket’) can be grown in a terrarium as well, but will still need to be stored in a cool place over winter.
Tropical Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes spp.)
The tropical Asian relatives of the American pitcher plants are also sometimes called “monkey cups”, because the pitchers of some species can be seen being drunk from by monkeys in nature! These are actually a vine, which attach themselves to trees and shrubs and produce a pitcher from the end of each tendril. These are grown indoors year-round; the highland types (which are the ones we sell at Greenland) are adaptable to windowsill culture. Although adaptable, they do best with higher humidity, and prefer brighter light levels (but not full sun). A shaded west or south window, or conditions ideal for many Dendrobium and Cattleya orchids, are ideal. When first brought home, the pitchers will often brown off and new ones may abort for a while, as the plant adjusts to the new climate. However, keep the potting mix moist at all times with distilled or rainwater, and eventually the plant will start to form new pitchers. Pitcher color will be more intense in brighter light. Nepenthes can be fertilized a few times per year by placing a single slow-release pellet into a few of the pitchers. They should not be fertilized at the roots.
Most Nepenthes grow into fairly large plants, and because of their climbing or rambling habit, are best grown in hanging baskets, or on a pedestal. Smaller species such as N. sanguinea might be good candidates for terrariums.
Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)
The most popular and well-known of the carnivorous plants. We are offering two rare and very choice cultivars: ‘Red Dragon’, which exhibits intense purple-red coloration on the entire plant in full sunlight, and ‘B-52’, which has the largest traps of all flytrap cultivars (over 2” across on mature plants), and will develop beautiful cherry-red coloration on the inside of the traps in full sunlight. For best results, grow these under a dome (terrariums are excellent) in very bright light to full sun. They are best stored damp in the refrigerator for winter dormancy. Like with all carnivores, use distilled or rainwater only and do not fertilize.
Butterwort (Pinguicula spp.)
The butterworts are popular plants for controlling fungus gnats in the home. The leaf surface of these plants is covered with a sticky substance, which makes them like natural sticky traps. Flying insects will land on the leaves and will be digested by the plant. They also produce beautiful flowers, which are usually a lavender-purple color and look somewhat like African violets. These are easy to grow; just keep the soil moist and use only distilled or rainwater. They are adaptable to household humidity but grow best under a dome. Light-wise, they prefer very bright light to full sun.