21 Sep

How To Feed Carnivorous Plants

Sundew

The easiest and most obvious way to feed carnivorous plants is to let them do what they’re designed for and that’s to catch bugs! But what if your carnivorous plants are indoors and don’t have a chance to take part in the bug buffet outside or you don’t have time to collect bugs for them? In this article, we’ll cover some alternative food sources along with how to feed carnivorous plants so they don’t miss out on important nutrients.

 

Alternative food sources

 

Fish Flakes & Crushed Pellets

Fish flakes or crushed pellets are a great alternative to bugs for carnivorous plants. They contain several nutrients that can be easily absorbed by the plant. We have used both TetraFin Goldfish Flakes and TetraFin Floating Pellets (crushed) with good success.

 

 

Bloodworms

Freeze dried Bloodworms are another good food source for carnivorous plants and they may even boost disease resistance. Bloodworms contain a polymer called chitin in their exoskeletons; a polymer also found in the cell walls of fungi. Carnivorous plants (along with most plants) have the ability to detect chitin fragments from fungal infections, triggering a defense mechanism that protects the plant. The extra chitin in bloodworms helps activate the plants defenses without introducing actual fungus. This immunity can be important for helping prevent infections in vulnerable plants like Mexican Pinguicula (Butterworts) which are prone to browning heart disease.

 

 

Fertilizer

Fertilizers like Maxsea and Oscomote are another option for carnivorous plants, but use them sparingly. Sarracenia and Heliamphora both appreciate small amounts of fertilizer in their soil or pitchers and often Nepenthes can benefit from pitcher-fed fertilizer. If you notice pitcher or leaf burn, this is a sign the fertilizer is too strong and needs to be diluted further.

Pitcher Plant with Food

Fertilizer in a Nepenthes pitcher

The ICPS has some good information on using fertilizer for Heliamphora and Sarracenia.

The Carnivore Girl also has a great article that explores fertilizer for carnivorous plants in more depth.

 

Carnivorous plants and meat

Despite the name, carnivorous plants rarely eat meat. (Except for some Nepenthes which have been known to snack on rodents). Meat doesn’t contain many of the nutrients carnivorous plants need and it will invite harmful bacteria to start growing, so it’s usually best to stick with one of the food sources mentioned above.

 

How do I feed my carnivorous plant?

Feeding depends on the type of carnivorous plant in question:

Butterworts

Butterworts do a pretty good job of catching food on their own. If they seem to be having trouble though, sprinkle some fish food or bloodworms on a sticky leaf or two every 2-3 weeks. Try to keep food away from the sensitive crown though to minimize bacteria and mold growth.

Some Butterworts will enter a state of dormancy during certain times of the year. They will stop producing sticky leaves and the plant will usually shrink in size. There’s no need to feed Butterworts during this time.

Pinguicula with FoodButterwort with fish flake food
Dormant Pinguicula gypsicolaDormant Butterwort

 

Pitcher Plants

Pitcher Plants are probably the easiest carnivorous plants to feed. During their active growing season, drop bugs, fish food, or fertilizer pellets in a few of the pitchers every 2-3 weeks. If the pitchers are dry, squirt water in them with a pipette or eyedropper after feeding, otherwise they won’t be able to absorb the nutrients. If you move plants after the pitchers are full, do so carefully. Partially digested food from a spilled pitcher smells atrocious.

Feeding Pitcher Plant with Pipette

Adding water to a young Sarracenia pitcher

 

Sundews

Sundews can be one of the more difficult carnivorous plants to feed. If they aren’t catching bugs on their own, feed a few of the dewy leaves dry fish food or bloodworms every 2-3 weeks. If you’re in a hurry, store the food in an old spice shaker and give it a few shakes over the plant occasionally. Just be careful not to pour too much out or get food near the crown of the plant.

Bloodworms

Mmm do I taste a hint of Bloodworms in this spaghetti?

If you’d like a more targeted approach, use a pair of pointed tweezers to stick food on the tentacles. After feeding, most sundews curl their leaves around prey within about 20 minutes. If a sundew doesn’t have dew on its tentacles, this could be a sign that it’s stressed. Only feed it after the dew returns.

Feeding Sundew with TweezersTweezer feeding D. capensis a bloodworm
Sundew Curled Around FoodLeaf curl after about 20 minutes

 

Venus Flytraps

Venus Flytraps are some of the most fun carnivorous plants to feed! Using tweezers, gently brush a bug, damp fish food, or bloodworms against the hairs inside one of the traps. The trap will snap shut after a couple of strokes, getting a mouthful of food. The amount of food you give each trap depends on the size of the trap. Generally, the size of the food should be about 1/4 of the size of the trap.

Feeding Venus Flytrap with Tweezers

Tweezer feeding a Venus Flytrap fish flakes

For food that isn’t fed live, gently massage the trap after it has snapped shut. This mimics a bug moving inside and stimulates the trap to seal more tightly and produce extra digestive enzymes. Learn more about this amazing process here. Feed a few traps every 2-3 weeks during the plant’s active growing season.

Massaging Venus Flytrap

Massaging a trap to stimulate digestion

 

Now who’s hungry?

This article gave a brief overview of what and how to feed carnivorous plants. Hopefully you found it useful but please check out some of the linked resources for more specifics. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave questions and comments below, we’d like to hear from you!

20 Jul

Carnivorous Plants of Ohio

Sarracenia purpurea - Brown's Lake Bog Preserve

One sad part of living in Southwestern Ohio (besides the weather) is the region’s distinct lack of carnivorous plants. We envy folks fortunate to have native species growing practically in their back yards, or within a short drive.

One day we headed north to hike at John Bryan State Park.  Inside the visitor center, there was map of all the state parks in Ohio hanging on the wall, several of which had the word “Bog” in the title. Bogs in Ohio?! This was worth checking out.

 

Turns out, Ohio does have bogs

In fact, Ohio used to have a ton of bogs, many of which were part of The Great Black Swamp until it was drained to make room for farmland. Today only a few bogs remain, spread throughout the middle and northern parts of the state. Not every bog has carnivorous plants, but to our excitement some of them do! Ohio’s bogs are home to several species of carnivorous plants including Sarracenia purpurea, Drosera rotundifolia, Drosera intermedia, and a few types of Utricularia.

 

Cedar Bog err… Fen

The first stop on our expedition took us to Cedar Bog on the east side of Dayton. Cedar Bog is the largest fen in Ohio.

Cedar Bog

Why the state decided to call a fen a bog is a bit confusing.

What’s the difference between a fen and a bog?

In short, bogs are closed systems and typically very acidic. They get most, if not all, of their water from rainfall.  Fens on the other hand, tend to have a neutral or alkaline pH and get their water from surface and underground sources.  As a sign in the visitor’s center bathroom so nicely put it…”Fens flush, bogs clog.”

Cedar “Bog” has a boardwalk that allows visitors to explore the area while minimizing damage to the environment.  From our research, we knew that D. rotundifolia and a species of bladderwort were in the area…but didn’t know where exactly to look. We moved slowly, but eventually transitioned from the  wooded area into a grassland with plenty of sun. A little green flash in the sea of brown caught our eye, it was Drosera rotundifolia!

Drosera rotundifolia - Cedar Bog

Drosera rotundifolia next to the boardwalk in Cedar Bog

Drosera rotundifolia - Cedar Bog
Drosera rotundifolia - Cedar Bog
Drosera rotundifolia Flower - Cedar BogD. rotundifolia Flower
Drosera rotundifolia - Cedar BogChowing down on a bug

Soon, we were seeing the little guys everywhere and even found a patch of sphagnum moss growing nearby. A group of college students wandered by and asked what we were looking at. We explained we were looking for carnivorous plants and had found some!  With a lifeless tone, one of the students said, “Oh yea, I heard those types of plants were out here” and walked away without even looking. The lack of enthusiasm nearly crushed us. Despite soulless college students though, we enjoyed the rest of our time in the fen before pressing on to the next stop.

 

Brown’s Lake Bog Preserve

Brown’s Lake Bog Preserve is an actual bog near Wooster, Ohio. It’s unique in that it is a kettle bog. Kettles are large holes left by receding glaciers. Kettle bogs form when the hole fills with rainwater and then becomes acidic from decomposing plant matter.

Brown's Lake Bog PreserveWe made it to the bog in the early evening and were the only ones there. After walking a short ways through the woods on a rickety boardwalk, we arrived at the kettle portion of the bog which was mostly covered in a mat of Sphagnum Moss and ferns.

Brown's Lake Bog Preserve

It didn’t take long to find what we came for. Dozens of Sarracenia purpurea were poking out of the moss near the boardwalk!

Sarracenia purpurea - Brown's Lake Bog Preserve

A Sarracenia purpurea clump on a mound of Sphagnum Moss

Sarracenia purpurea - Brown's Lake Bog Preserve
Sarracenia purpurea - Brown's Lake Bog Preserve

Some grew as individual plants and others clumped together in mounds of Sphagnum Moss. Most were bright green, but several had beautiful purple and red veining. Once again, we were blown away that these plants grow in the wild right here Ohio.

 

A note on conservation

The fens and bogs of Ohio are beautiful and each is unique. We’re glad there are still a few to visit, but most of these fragile systems are extremely small and threatened.  Some suffer from natural processes like forest encroachment and others are affected by agricultural runoff which changes the water chemistry. If you’d like to help preserve these unique places and the amazing carnivorous plants living within them, please see The Nature Conservancy for more information.

13 Feb

Sundews of Fraser Island, Australia

Fraser Island White Flower Sundew (Lake McKenzie)

Kurtis and I (Elizabeth) had the opportunity to visit Fraser Island off the coast of Australia a few weeks ago, what an amazing place! Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world. It’s covered with a wide variety of ecosystems including rainforest, fresh water lakes, swamps, and sandblows.

Fraser Island Map

It’s also home to Drosera spatulata ‘Fraser Island’, a.k.a. the Fraser Island Spoon-Leaf Sundew.  Read More