Frequently Asked Questions
People have a lot of questions about carnivorous plants! We hardly blame them – carnivores are fascinating, and people very quickly want to learn more. Below is a list of common questions people have about carnivorous plants in general, or about their specific order.
What does it mean that my plant is dormant?
Temperate carnivorous plants often go dormant in the winter. During this period new growth slows or stops, and the plant sheds most or all of its leaves. It may form a resting bud, called a hibernaculum, or it may just die back to its rhizome. Plants with a winter dormancy include American pitcher plants (Sarracenia), flytraps (Dionaea), some sundews (Drosera) and some butterworts (Pinguicula). For temperate plants nothing much needs to be done during dormancy. They should still be kept wet and as sunny as possible. Plants with a winter dormancy can often survive a light frost. During a hard freeze it might be best to bring dormant plants inside to a chilly windowsill.
Plants that are dormant or going dormant can look like they're dead or dying. Usually this isn't true! Check for a hibernaculum, or look at the rhizome. As long as the rhizome or hibernaculum is firm, with no mushy spots or discoloration, your plant should come back in spring time.
Certain tropical and subtropical carnivorous plants have a dry dormancy. During this period it's important to reduce watering to avoid rot, sometimes by keeping the plant dry altogether. Plants with a dry dormancy are relatively rare in cultivation, and are considered more advanced.
Please see this article for more information on winter dormancy.
Do I need to feed my plants bugs? How often?
In short, no. For carnivorous plants, bugs are fertilizer, and they don't need very much of it. Plants grown outdoors in a sunny location will catch huge numbers of bugs all on their own. Indoor plants will still catch a surprising amount.
Feeding is the last step in keeping a carnivorous plant healthy. They require very bright light, and lots of low-mineral water to grow. Once they're growing happily in those conditions, food can help them grow a bit larger and more quickly. If you'd like to give your plant a boost, you can feed them swatted flies, dried mealworms, or other sorts of actual bugs, or you can give them a light foliar mist of fertilizer. However, most people will never need to feed their plants for them to be healthy in the long term.
Can I feed my plant meat/cheese/protein bars/etc.?
As above, carnivorous plants are very good at catching what food they need to be healthy. If you would like to feed your plants, stick with bugs that you've captured or swatted, or with foods (like betta fish food or freeze-dried meal worms) that is nutritionally similar to bugs. Most human foods like hamburger and so on is made of things the plants can't digest, so it will usually end up rotting.
Can carnivorous plants hurt people?
Only financially! Carnivorous plants are adapted to capture and digest bugs, and a) people are much larger and stronger than bugs, and b) we're make of different sorts of protein. As a result, we're in no danger from our plants.
Are carnivorous plants toxic to children, dogs/cats, or other pets?
As far as we know, none of the plants we sell have any demonstrated toxicity to people or pets if consumed.
What is the largest carnivorous plant?
In terms of plants that are cultivated by people there are several contenders. Nepenthes bicalcarata has a huge biomass when mature, and is probably the largest cultivated carnivorous plant. Several Nepenthes species can form vines (technically called lianas) that can reach 30+ feet in length. The largest traps are also on Nepenthes, either on Nepenthes rajah, Nepenthes attenboroughii, or Nepenthes palawanensis. There are also huge traps on Nepenthes truncata.
How many types of carnivorous plants are there in the world?
There are around 600 species of carnivorous plant, and a couple hundred more that are semi-carnivorous. Collectors and horticulturalists have also produced thousands of hybrids, cultivars, and select clones of different carnivorous plants.
Where are carnivorous plants found?
Carnivorous plants are found on every continent except Antarctica, from equatorial jungles to arctic tundra, from low-lying bogs on the Gulf Coast of the US to limestone cliffs high in the mountains of Borneo. In general, carnivorous plant habitats have a lot of water, a lot of sunlight, and not much in the way of nutrients. Bogs and cloud forests are the most common habitats, but they also occur along river beds and in alpine meadows.
Help! My flytrap/sundew/pitcher plant was dead/dying when I removed it from the box!
The life cycle of many carnivorous plants involves constantly growing new leaves as old leaves are shed. The shedding of old leaves often takes the form of the leaf drying out, shriveling up, turning black or brown, and then withering away. For certain plants, like flytraps and American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) there is a strong seasonal component to this process. Many leaves are lost as the plant enter dormancy, and then return in spring. For tropical plants, like Nepenthes and many sundews, the process is constant, but certain events can cause the loss of several leaves or traps at once.
The shipping process causes many plants to shed one or more leaves as the plant is suddenly unpotted, put into a box, then re-potted in a totally new environment. Part of the reason leaves get shed is that a plant needs a different sort of leaf if it's growing in a fairly bright, humid greenhouse as opposed to if it's growing in a darker, cooler, and drier home windowsill. The old leaves die off and are replaced by new ones better suited to the new environment.
All of this is to say, this is completely normal. If you receive a plant that looks like any of the following photos, just pot it up according to the instructions, keep it in a very sunny windowsill (or other suitable growing environment with enough light), and water it according to the instructions, with distilled or rainwater. You can trim the brown/black leaves to make it look much nicer and healthier. After settling in for a week or two, you should see new growth from the crown of the plant. That means it is settling in after being shipped and is getting ready to grow in its new home.