Hooked on plants

Fun, educational, even pretty. Are we talking about flesh-eating plants? Tauranga enthusiast Elizabeth Bailey reckons that once you’ve grown one carnivorous plant successfully you’ll be hooked – if not consumed – by this group of specialised plants.

“People buy a Venus flytrap for a child and because the plants are inside at garden centres they keep them inside but the plants die and they never bother with a carnivorous plant again. It’s such a shame.”

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A Sarracenia flower. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Elizabeth started growing carnivorous plants about 10 years ago when she was working in a garden centre and saw one in a bargain bin.

“I took it home and got it going again. Cor Schipper in Rotorua grows his own, including some of his own hybrids and I used to swap some of my orchids for his plants.”

The only requirements most have are full sun and standing in water, preferably rainwater – they don’t need to be fed as they catch their own nourishment. Most also don’t mind the cold, although Nepenthes which come from the tropics, prefer winter cover.

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Sarracenias. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Sarracenias are attractive tube-like plants native to the swamps of the eastern United States and these form the bulk of Elizabeth’s collection.

“Sarracenias will die back in winter so cut them back hard. Some will put up winter growth, which is like a strappy leaf and not carnivorous. These strappy leaves die back at the end of winter and as the new pitchers appear the plants come into flower. And the flowers are really lovely.”

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The flower of a Pinguicula. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Different plants catch their insects in different ways:

  • Sarracenia produce nectar around their mouths to attract insects while the hoods misdirect the insects into the tubes lined with downward-facing hairs that make it impossible to climb out. The bottom of the tube contains digestive acid.
  • Pinguicula (butterwort) have leaves coated with a sticky substance to trap insects. The leaf rolls up to digest the prey.
  • Nepenthes produce nectar as an attractant. They hold water in the pitcher to drown their prey, as well as digestive acids.
  • Drosera (sundew) have shimmering droplets of water on fine “tentacles” to attract insects. When one is caught in the glue other tentacles move to secure it. On some types the leaves roll up around the prey.
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A sundew or Drosera. Photo: Sandra Simpson

New Zealand has native carnivorous plants (move the slider to the right to see the link) – seven sundews (about half of the family are native to Australia) and two Utricularia (bladderworts), which suck in insects that touch trigger hairs on the “bladders”.

This article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

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