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Carnivorous Plants: Preying for nutrients

Mar 4th, 2016 | Category: Growing

by Mary Vermillion

Judging by the displays at this year’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show, carnivorous plants could be the next big thing. If so, the exotic perennials can count Garden Spot Nursery’s Antoni Stevens among their early admirers. The Bellingham gardener describes growing carnivorous plants as “an amazing opportunity to participate in one of nature’s most exquisite shows.”

Over the past few years, Stevens has been building his knowledge of the plants. “I really want to raise awareness of carnis,” he said. “They are the smartest plants ever and are an amazing expression of the spirit of the garden.”

Scarlet Belle plant. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Scarlet Belle plant. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Step one is to shatter the plants’ disagreeable reputation. “Carnis are really easier to grow than you think,” Stevens said. “People think they are so rare and exotic that they can’t do it” but that’s not the case.  In fact, the plants are far from picky.

In their native settings, carnivorous plants grow in marginal conditions, often in boggy areas. Thanks to a neat little trick of evolution that modified their leaves to traps, carnivorous plants have learned to make the most of a bad situation. Fine hairs along the plants’ deceptively beautiful traps are strategically placed to react when an insect – lured by the color and tempting pheromones – unwisely wanders inside. Once they have their prey, the plants’ digestive juices dissolve the bugs not for protein but for the nutrients that build light-harvesting enzymes. Put simply, the insects help the plants to grow by feeding their abilities to tap energy from the sun.

While the best known is the Venus fly trap, a wide range of carnivorous plants in intriguing forms thrive in the home garden. The plants start around $20 with rare, collectible carnivores priced as high as $100. They can be grown inside in pots or hanging baskets near sunny windows or in terrariums with UV lights. In the kitchen, Drosera capensis – its leaves reminiscent of a coral anemone – is a natural pest solution during gnat and fruit fly season. Outside, carnivorous plants prefer boggy areas with a bit of sun. The striking funnel shape of a pitcher plant’s red, white, green or yellow leaves make it an interesting addition to water gardens.

The plants grow in a mix of peat moss, perlite or sand with sphagnum moss as a base. Healthy plants with lots of prey to eat won’t need fertilizer. If food is scarce, add a fertilizer appropriate to carnivorous plants. Water and mist the plants with pure, low-mineral water.

Stevens said he’s just “reached the tip of the iceberg” in his understanding of carnivorous plants. He’s intrigued to learn more so he can share his knowledge with local gardeners. “Carnivorous plants offer lots of questions and answers at the same time,” Stevens said. “Death and life. Eating an insect while creating new life. They are more than a plant. They teach us to dream. To think of possibilities.”

Introduction to Carnivorous Plants

Learn carnivorous plant origins and general care and maintenance from the window sill to backyard bogs during “An Introduction to Carnivorous Plants with Antoni Stevens” on Saturday, March 12 at Garden Spot Nursery. Stevens said this will be “carni 101.” The free class starts at 9 a.m. Registration is required. Call (360) 676-5480. The nursery is located at 900 Alabama St. in Bellingham.

 

Published in the March 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

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