After studying the cycle growth behavior of Dionaea Muscipula, as well as consulting with expert growers, I am finding inaccuracies in some parts of the growth theory regarding dormancy periods, trap size and plant coloration. As a result, I have written this small thesis attempting to clear some of the misconceptions concerning this growing cycle.
In this thesis, as you will soon find out, I describe some parts of the theory with an almost tedious nature, but if you like to know the most about this plant, I am hoping that you will be able to find such a manner of explanation interesting and informative.
One time, when I was a kid at school, I was shown for the first time a large magazine type of book about carnivorous plants. The book showed many interesting plants, but the one that mostly got my attention was the Venus Flytrap. I did not know exactly what the plant ate or how it did it, but the shape of it gave me a very good feeling of curiosity and amazement, for I had never seen anything quite like it!
Later on, when I grew up, I saw one for $3.00 at a Kmart store, and I was amazed! I could not believe that this plant was being sold where I lived, and, furthermore, I could not believe that such an amazing plant could possibly be sold for three miserable dollars!!
So I bought one. It later died, but I was determent to know its growing behavior, so that the next time I got one, I could be able to grow one. So, I checked out some books. Some of them stated that it was dangerous to fertilize; some stated that it was not such a big deal. To make the long story short, I killed over seven Venus Flytraps; one of them, a giant I bought at a Builder's Square store, with traps as large as an inch an a half, which I found to be quite rare.
I feel so incredibly dumb when I kill things, especially when they are rare things; so after hard determination, I found the time to know how to grow a Venus Flytrap (instructions of how to grow one at the end of the thesis). Since I wanted to know for sure how this was done, I read a lot about them and wrote to many expert growers until, finally, without realizing it, I learned a lot more about this plant than I ever expected.
The advance understanding of these plants, have made me realize the many rumors and inaccuracies concerning their growing behavior:
All of the theories that I have read, so far, have stated that the dormancy period of the Venus Flytrap is activated by light and temperature conditions; however, I have a couple of Venus Flytraps which did not get fully affected by the light of the sun or
the temperature during this winter (mostly 65°F-50°F). These plants were growing fast and large all throughout the winter months. However, on April, these two plants began to enter into their dormancy period.
These plants I bought, where probably subjected to dormancy until the late summer, to be sold during the winter months. I know that the dormancy period can, indeed, be forced by giving the plant a cold temperature of about 40°F. Perhaps the light and the temperature which these two plants received during the winter, might have trigger another dormancy period; but because of their biological timing rhythm, which tells them they recently came out of dormancy, it took a few months for this dormancy period to activate again.
Also, If the biological cycles of the plants have been scrambled by the manner in which they where grown, it will take about a year, for the growing cycles to be well formed so that they can be well recognized.
Although the VFT's cycle behaves mostly in this manner, they are those very few VFTs who's cycles can be controled by heat, cold, and light.
Also, transplantation can also confuse the growing cycle of the VFT.
The theory states, that the traps of the VFT grow the largest during the summer months; however, I have one plant that went into a very short dormancy period, and it is now growing its largest traps on hart shaped short spring leaves. It is my belief that the growing genetic differences of this plant are so many, that a statement claiming when the traps are the largest can not be stated as a true factor of the cycle growth theory.
Although, during the fall, near their dormancy period, the new traps which are deployed in all of the VFTs, which I have observed, are significantly smaller than in any other stage of the cycle. However, even in this cycle stage some plants, especially when their cycles are confused, tend to deploy large traps.
Since mostly all of the Venus Flytraps sold in stores are sold with their summer leaves, when people buy them, the plants are just about to deploy their fall leaves, which might make the plant seem as if it was dying or getting weak, which makes many people loose their interest for the plants, giving them less attention which may lead to their death.
Besides being affected by light and humidity, trap size also seems to be affected by the way in which the root system is growing. It appears to be, that if the root system on one side of the plant is not growing well, the leafs taking nourishment from that side of the root system will grow smaller traps.
There are many things that could affect the root system. From the damage cause by small creatures which may feed on it, to not having enough oxygen and organic nutrients. For example: a potted plant growing in old sphagnum moss or peat moss, although it may have a lot of organic nutrients to feed on, as time goes by, it might suffer from a lack of oxygen, for gravity, as well as the braking down of the sphagnum or peat, begins to cause the collapse of the media, compressing it and taking away the pockets where oxygen may be, causing the plant's root system to grow a bit weak in certain parts of the soil.
A small spot of fungus on the new forming leaf or a small insect feeding on the nutrients of the small forming trap, can also affect its size, as well as prevent it from growing at all.
By my observations, there is also a reason to believe that the side of the bulb that is, on some occasions, thicker, which is the side where most of the leaves are growing, is the side which may sometimes get more nourishment to grow the largest traps. The reason why the plant sometimes grows more leaves on one side than on the other, is because the bulb of the plant tends to go through a cycle where it migrates deeper into the grown. The most successful and quicker manner that the plant can drill deeper into the ground is by creating one growing point where the plant grows deeper. By growing on one side only more deeper than the one before, the Venus Flytrap pushes itself into the ground like a drill, achieving a downward bulb indentation growth, which, at the same time, makes the plant deploy most of its leaf growth at the opposite direction of its growing motion.
I have not studied this process long enough, but I would assume that the plant does this during the late summer to protect itself from the low winter temperatures, and during the dry seasons to protect itself from the dry environment and what ever else comes with it.
Because of this factor, the Venus Flytrap is not always a rosette growing plant.
However, sometimes a VFT can place itself in the soil in a certain manner that it actually becomes a rosette plant. Such growing pattern may be started by the leaves themselves, growing in a random manner which end up making a nicely formed rosette shape. Such shape then may prevent the bottom of the new growing leaves from coming out towards one side of the bulb, thereby preventing such new growth from leaving the center area of the bulb.
This rosette growing pattern of the plant may stay for a long time, but only if the soil and the live moss, where the bulb is growing in, prevents the bulb of the plant from growing towards a certain direction, breaking the rosette growth.
In certain cases, such a lack of growing space may also slow down the plant's growth, making the plant deploy larger traps by sending the nutrients, which could not be able to accumulate in the pressured bulb, to the leaves themselves. But, because of this same factor, if the plant is fed too much, the bulb may cluster, sending out new leaves from many of its sides.
Furthermore, such pressure to the bulb sometimes may also, in time, prevent the new rosetted growth from coming out at all, causing the plant to cluster more intensively.
Only half the numbers of plants that I have had established in such growing condition have ever clustered. A Royal Red VFT which I have growing in a tight condition, caused by live moss growing around the plant, as well as tight soil around the bulb, has been growing as a rosette plant for about a year now without clustering or any other growing problems.
Personally, I prefer the plant to grow as it pleases, in a lose mixture of sphagnum moss.
Another misconception, is that the plant always grows red when in strong light. This is only so in some biological stages of the growing cycle. In most plants, there are some biological stages where the plant losses almost all of the red, even in full sun. I have a Red Dragon growing in full sun, that when it came out of dormancy, its growth was more green than red. This lack of reddish color happens mostly during the spring time; however, there are some Venus Flytraps during this season which may have a lot of red in their traps.
This reddish color can also be affected by the PH of the soil. If the soil can not keep its acidity, because of alkaline influences introduced to the soil by ornamental rocks or the water itself, the red colored trap plants may loose their nice reddish color.
When the plant gets too much nourishment from the insects that it catches, it also looses a lot of the red on its new growth. When the growth of the plant slows down by the lack of nourishment, then it begins to deploy redder traps in full sun, if the weather is cool.
I believe that there are a combination of factors which makes the plant become red when not fed. The first one is, that because the growth of the plant slows down, the plant no longer deploys as many traps as before, and it needs to maintain the few traps that it has alive for a longer period of time. In order to do so, it must build color on the traps and leaves to better protect them from the sun light, just the way we build color on our skin when we get sunburn.
The second one is, I believe that this sunburn process also has served the plant as an evolutionary step for further adaptation, for this sunburn has evolved, in some plants, as a means to acquire a more attractive color in the traps which the plant uses to attract more insects.
Certain nutrients taken from the soil also build up in the leaves during any slow growth, and so the plant often tends to look more robust than when fed.
Unlike most plants' leaves, the leaves of the Venus Flytrap plant tend to look different in the different stages of the plant's growing cycle. Sometimes the leaves are long and slim, mostly during the summer; sometimes the leaves are wide, hart shaped and short, mostly during the spring; and sometimes the leafs are about half as long as the summer ones but a bit hart shaped at the top, mostly during the fall, before going dormant.
However, within cultivars, because of genetics, sometimes these cycles can be very difficult to spot. During the spring, some of these Venus Flytraps might deploy leaves that look a lot like the fall leaves while growing fairly fast. I have some Flytraps which are growing what appears to be their fall leaves, but, strangely, are not showing signs of dormancy at all (This could also be that these plants were put into dormancy during another stage of their growing cycle). Some, not even grow their long summer leaves; instead, they deploy a short rosette of thin like leaves and large traps.
However, the spring leaves, in all of the Venus Flytraps I have seen, appear to be the widest; and no matter which plant or cultivar, the dormancy period of the Venus Flytrap can mostly be recognized by the slow growing stage of the plant, as well as the total inactivity of the healthy traps when activated or a significant reduction of their closing speed.
In plants of the wild, It appears that the plants deploy their wide hart shaped leaves during that time of the year where the sun is not quite overhead. Since the leaves of any plant are just like solar panels which grab energy, by making the leaves wide
during this time, the plant can take more energy from less light. Then, during the summer, when the sun is at its strongest position, the plant can deploy its long slim leaves in order to stand out from the grass and be seen by insects. However, even in
the wild, there appears to be many subspecies of Venus Flytraps. This is probably due to the different environmental changes of the area.
Although fertilizing a VFT can be harmful to the plant, the plant can, indeed, be fertilized with an average orchid fertilizer, using the full strength formulation. However, and this is very important, the fertilizing must be done very carefully by placing a q-tip inside the container with the fertilizer-water mix, taking it out, and making sure that it does not drips. The q-tip must be wet but not so wet that it will make drops fall out of it when placed in a vertical downward position.
Once that is done, you can begin to fertilize the foliage by rubbing the q-tip on the top parts of the leaves (rubbing on three leaves would be enough), preferably, the underside of them. Such action will feed the plant for about a month without harming the roots, if done properly.
This is also a great idea for making a weak growing VFT come back strong, especially one without active traps. As long as the fertilizer does not trickles down to the bulb and the roots of the plant, the plant will be safe. This is why the q-tip needs to
be the least wet possible.
Some theories provide distorted information about minerals being bad for the Venus Flytrap. This is not all together right since the Venus Flytrap, in the wild, grows in mineral soil. The VFT may not like certain minerals, but the one which the VFT may not like the most is "salt". I have never done an experiment to find out if this is true, but I have seen the areas where VFTs sometimes grow, and the fish that live there, I know for a fact, like brackish water.
So natural salts may or may not be bad for the growth of VFTs.
However, the water that the VFT likes, must be clean of pollutants, for the same mineral sand they live on, is the same one which filters out the water, making it very clean.
The mineral soil in which the Venus Flytrap grows in, since it is silver sand, it is very poor in nitrogen. This is why fertilizers can also be dangerous for the root system, for the plant's roots are used to a very low nitrogen environment.
Many VFT growers suggest using coarsed sand such as silica sand as a soil mixture. By checking the PH of soil mixtures, I have recently become aware that silica sand, as well as many other sands that are sold for horticulture purposes, are not acidic but highly alkaline, and when mixed with peat moss can make the soil quite alkaline.
By making such a mixture the plant may suffer the following symptoms: growing too green, not flowering, growing weak and small, growing traps which tend to die when feed, growing very slowly, dyeing when feed too much, plant stops growing and roots die.
Even when VFTs grow in silver sand, which is the soil they grow in the wild, such soil is still a bit alkaline by nature. The reason why VFTs grow in silver sand and the sand is acidic is not due to the sand itself but to the highly acidic PH of the water caused by the peat moss and other factors which dominate the PH of the environment.
Since in a pot, this environment is not possible, in order to maintain the soil mixture to the most acidic levels so that the plant can grow healthy and colorful, the medium for the plant should be only peat moss. A good peat moss also has a bit of bark in it which provides the plant with more than enough air for the root system to grow.
If you live in Florida, then, you can be able to go to the back yard and pick up some silver sand, wash it very good, and use it in the mixture of peat. This is the only sand that I have seen that does not affects the PH of the soil in a significant manner, for it is the sand that VFTs naturally grow in.
Perlite, even though it is a bit alkaline, can be mixed, half and half, with peat moss, and the peat moss will dominate the soil's PH so that it will stay acidic.
Knowing how many genetic variations this plant has in the wild, as well as the location where the plant lives, makes me think that it is possible this plant might have a nature of mutating fast. If this is so, this might be the reason why it has evolve in ways that other plants have fail to do.
When an animal or plant tends to mutate fast, the different genetic strands in a small population vary largely; and, therefore, the adaptations caused by natural selection happen rapidly. The more significant that the genetic mutation might be within a group of beings, the bigger the evolutionary steps which such organisms can take through natural selection.
This actions within cause and effect also create fast extinctions to most of the individuals with genetic mutations that do not fit within the environment or can not compete with the new generation.
Furthermore, besides creating a fast evolutionary pattern, this fast adaptation factor also tends to leave very few living ancestors behind as well as fossil, which could explain the mayor gap of missing links that the Venus Flytrap possesses.
Until now, it is to belief that the Venus Flytrap evolved from one of the carnivorous plant families we know today as Droseras (Sundews); but genetically speaking, Droseras are farther away from Venus Flytraps than small tree monkeys are from humans.
This plant gives us an idea of what imperfection and perfection is. This plant due to its possible ability to be genetically prone to mutations, has actually helped the plant evolved and survive. If, however, the plant would have grown almost perfectly, with almost the same qualities from one generation to the next, the plant would have not been able to have survived in the confusing transitional environment where it lives.
Thriving towards perfection, is relative to the environment one is in. A being that may not look perfect, may be closer to being perfect than any other being, relative to the environment where it is living; and a being that is almost perfect in one
environment, might be quite handicapped and imperfect in another.
Who could have thought that a plant, without eyes, brains or legs, could become a true predator. Within cause and effect, this plant is a part of the universal deities of creative forces, for only the strong, intelligent or/and agile can have the chances to escape its deadly tests, thereby, affecting the future evolution of many tiny creatures, opening doorways for new species to be born.
I sometimes wonder how many insects have been created through the testing processes of this plant.
By watching these plants for many months and asking expert growers about the cycles of the plant, I have been able to acquire a better understanding of the plant, than I ever got from books. Other scientist studying the Venus Flytrap should care to mention
all of the factors which govern the way that these plants grow, in order to understand the specie more fully.
There are a few more scientific questions which answers I have been trying to find. The answers to the following questions are a part of such research.
Why has this plant not evolved larger size traps?
I have been studying one of the largest VFT of all when it comes to traps. It is called the Red Purple VFT, and I am finding that the traps are so large that after it has digested an insect, the plant's manner of synchronizing the trap back to a normal none distorted form, is far more difficult than on the plants which have average size traps.
The trap also tends to grow so large during the synchronization process, that it weakens and distorts its closing mechanism. This factor, tends to prevent the trap from being used many times over, making the active lifespan of the trap shorter than an average size trap.
Although a plant with this type of genetic trait could survive in the wild, it would not be as successful as the other plants with average size traps. This may also be the reason why the Venus Flytrap has not evolved to a giant form.
Another disadvantage which large traps have is that the larger the traps get, the weaker they become at holding a pray inside. Since the trap reopens by growing the inner side of the traps more than the outer side, if the trap grows thicker to become stronger, then, it would lose its flexibility, and therefore, it would also lose the ability to close fast, for the thicker the trap becomes, the more difficult it would be for the inside layer of the trap to affect the outside layer, as well as the outside layer affecting the inside.
It is not to say that the Venus Flytrap could not, through mutations, find a way to correct all of these problems and grow gigantic in size, but it is the amount of chances against something like this happening which probably has kept the plant small.
One last disadvantage which could be found in large traps may be the fact that when large traps close, they leave a lot of space inside; so, many insects can have the time, before they are pressed to death, to drill a hole through the trap and escape.
Why one trap per each leaf?
Perhaps the plant's ability to catch insects with one trap on each leaf is more than enough.
Also, perhaps the plant has not been existing long enough for certain mutations to have taken place successfully. It would take not only the mutations of traps but the mutations which will divide the petriole of the leaf to support each trap. The probability of this happening is very rare, and because of it, I believe, the plant has not being able to evolve in such manner, yet.
Or, on the other side, maybe such a genetic mutation is not as difficult as it may seem. It could just be a possible factor that a leaf with many traps may not be cost effective to the plant's survival.
Because the Venus Flytrap deploys only one trap per leaf, the plant can afford to loose that leaf, for not much nutrients have been use to make such structure.
However, if the plant comes up with leaves which have more than one trap, if for some reason a few of those leaves are lost due to an animal stomping on the plant or an insect passing by and eating some of the leaves, the plant may be loosing a lot of energy which may affect its growing strength.
So, because this plant grows in a nitrogen poor soil, and gets its best nutrients from outside sources, it may, indeed, be a significant factor for the plant to save as much energy when making leaves and traps, just in case a stump now and then may happen.
Furthermore, if each of the leaves would have more than one trap, when one trap would die faster than the others due to further use of it, the plant would have to tell the whole leaf to die to prevent the plant itself from getting sick or let the leaf live with some dead traps and take the chance of letting some fungi growth take a hold on such area.
Therefore, in each case the multi trap leaf would have been a waste of growing energy for a plant which can not afford it.
So, a plant which would develop multi trap leaves may not do so well after all.
When it comes to evolution, lets face it, we sometimes question why do beings look the way they do, behave the way they do, and grow the way they do. But, within natural selection, one fact is for sure: if a being has existed for millions of years is because that look, that behavior, and that growth is what was selected, for relative to such being's environment, the genetic mutations which made such being, were the most successful ones to make.
Sometimes, a being that is perceive as having a design flaw, may just be perfect in design, for such a design flaw may just be the perfect factor which such a being needs to survive, relative to the environment where such a being exists.
Water: Always give the plant clean rain water (Avoid the water that falls from the roof of the house.), distill reverse osmosis water, or distill water. Do not use water which contains salts, such as some distill bottled water and water from softening filters .
Also make sure that the PH of the water is acid. These plants like to grow with an acid content in their water that is from 5.5 to about 6.0. Below or above, plants may not grow well. Plants that are given alkaline water tend to have greener traps, and plants that are given too much acid, in certain conditions, tend to grow too red and stunned.
Many people do not worry about the acidity of the water, for clean water usually has a mild alkaline to neural level of PH which VFTs can tolerate.
However, if the plant is growing in pure peat moss, then the soil itself can be able to turn the water acidic without changing the water's PH.
Soil Mixture: Just peat moss (A good peat moss also contains bark which is very good for drainage) or if you find a sand with a neutral PH which does not contains salts, use a mixture of half sand, half peat moss (Sand will not make your plants grow better, it is just a fancy soil mixture which attempts to copy the wild environment).
If you feel that you will need more drainage than a good peat moss can provide, use perlite up to the amount that you will use sand.
Keep the soil moist at all times, more so during the growing season (spring to summer). Do so by placing a two inch tall saucer at the bottom of the pot (pots can be from 4 to 6 in. large for one plant), then keeping the water level in the saucer to about an inch. You may want to let the level of the water go down a bit before watering again.
Dormancy: During dormancy (explained on the thesis), take the pot out of the saucer, take a none toxic rope that could easily absorb water (a little more than an eight of an inch thick, twelve inches long), wet it, place a part of it into the pot through one of the holes of the pot, then place the other end into a half full glass container which the pot can be placed on. The pot's soil shall take water from the rope and keep the soil moist but at a level which will help the plant go dormant. Check the pot every day for about a week to make sure this is working. If the pot's hole is choking the rope as it goes into the pot, the water that is being taken by the rope may not properly reach the pot's soil. If so, open the hole more by inserting one part of the blade of a medium size scissor into it an rotating it in. Be careful not to hurt the plant's roots.
If the cold temperatures of your area are mostly from the fifties to the forties, keep the plant outside during winter, away from frost, with the method I just explained; it will do fine. If the temperatures are significantly lower or higher than this, take the plant out of the pot, but only cut the dried leaves, spread some fungicide on the plant (Cinnamon appears to be a good organic fungicide. Spread just a little all over by flickering a brush with cinnamon in it.), wrap the bulb in moist, not wet, sphagnum moss, put it inside a plastic transparent bag, close it, then place it in the fridge (away from the freezer), or a cold place in the house. Chose a spot that will take about 50°F to 40°F, careful with low temperatures. Then check every few weeks to make sure no fungi is growing. Also, if in the fridge, put a note so that whoever wonders looking for food will not think of it as a strange exotic onion.
Personally, I have never had to use fungicides of any type. I find it very rare when a healthy VFT gets fungi. However, wet sphagnum usually causes fungi. This is why it most be wrapped in moist sphagnum.
If you want your plant to grow the healthiest, it is better to leave the plant in the pot that it is growing during dormancy. So, do not disturb its roots by taking it out of the pot. Place the plant in the pot inside a plastic ziplock bag, and then place it in the fridge, taking the same precautions with the soil's moisture.
The reason why this may be better is because the plant does not takes transplanting well, especially in hot climate areas; and although it will grow back when taken from the pot and placed back into one after dormancy, it will spend a lot of time growing back its roots, and this can affect the growing size of the plant.
Sun: Give the plant full sun, about four to six hours is fine. To make the plant gain the best color, however, is better to give full sun light from morning to late afternoon, avoiding the hot, directly overhead afternoon sun in hot climates, and giving full sun from morning all the way to late afternoon in cool climates. And as a tip, keep the plant in a place with few insects; the plant can grow happily without eating for many months. The plant also looks better with the traps open and red, as supposed to closed or opened after a meal, looking distorted and pale.
Furthermore, If you want your plant's traps to get as red as they can be, a trick used by growers is to starve the plant. For this, the plant must be healthy and strong; you keep the plant healthy and strong by ether feeding it or fertilizing it (read fertilizing). Starving the plant will not hurt the plant. As far as we know, this plant can live without eating insects indefinitely (in the right conditions). The only gain that the VFT gets by eating insects is that it gets to grow faster, larger and reproduce more. However, it also looses some of its red when on a full stomach; and in some cases the traps also grow smaller.
When the plants live outside, it is very difficult to keep the plants from eating insects, so that their growth will slow down and the red can come strong. So if, like me, you prefer a terrarium, give the plants very high light, from fluorescent light sources. These provide a lot of light, but not a lot of heat, which can kill your plants. If you are not experience with terrariums, ask experts about it, for many things can go wrong.
When getting a new plant, because you do not know in what conditions it has been growing, for over a period of a month, gradually introduce the plant to the sun. If the plant has red color on the traps, it may be used to the sun already; so start with three hours of morning sun, then, if no leaves burn, increase the sun light by about half an hour. If the plant is all green, start with two ours of sun. Check every day and move further to the sun light every two to three days (as long as the leaves do not get burned), until the plant is fully adjusted.
Very Important: Never forget to water. The roots die fast when dry, and this may make the plant sick from the inside out, which can prevent you from doing much about it if you do not spot the problem.
And last, if you fertilize the plant, do so very mildly. A little bit on one or two of the leaves can supply a lot more nitrogen to the plant than you can imagine (See "Fertilizing" in the thesis section). If your plant eats insects, do not fertilize, for too much nutrients can hurt the plant.
If you would like to find out more about carnivorous plants, check out a book at your local library called "Carnivorous Plants of the World", by James and Patricia Pietropaolo.
If you are interested in Venus Flytrap cultivars, here are a few cultivars which I like the most:
Red Purple (formally known as "Big Mouth" from Atlanta Botanicals, USA) a very large plant with traps that can reach up to one inch and a half in size.
Royal Red (from Australia) A fairly large plant, which is also the most beautiful cultivar I have seen up to date.
The common green one (sold in houseware stores) Many of them have the fastest closing traps.
Red Dragon (from Atlanta, USA) a very red plant during the summer months. It grows fairly large traps and closes them fast as well.
Dingley Giant ("Goday, mate!"... Australia) Grows very large; apparently, to the size of a dinner plate. However, I recently bought a green giant at a Builder Square houseware store that appears to be a little bigger than this one.
(In hot, dry climates, some of the VFT's leaves
may become damage during blooming, for the plant looses
a bit of its strength doing such.)