Three big tips to get started with carnivorous plants in Buffalo area

butterwort from Ryan McGhee
Butterwort will be the topic of the Feb. 1 meeting of the Western New York Carnivorous Plant Club. Photo from Ryan McGhee.

Carnivorous plants are fascinating because they do something so unusual: They eat animals.

You can grow carnivorous plants in your Buffalo-area home if you pay attention to their needs in three areas: water, minerals and food, said Kenny Coogan of Kenmore. Coogan, along with Ryan McGhee, co-founded the Western New York Carnivorous Plant Club.

The club will meet from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Menne Nursery, 3100 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst. The topic will be the butterwort, which is known for its flowers and looks like a wide-leafed succulent.

The butterwort is a passive predator, Coogan noted. The whole surface of its leaves are sticky. Insects get stuck to the leaves and get digested. What remains of the insect gets carried off by rain or wind.

Mexican butterwort with flower from Ryan McGhee
Mexican butterwort with flower. Photo from Ryan McGhee.

You can buy carnivorous plants early in the spring to mid-summer at garden centers such as Lockwood’s Greenhouses, 4484 Clark St., Hamburg.

Also, club members often trade plants or offer seeds or young plants to people who are getting started, Coogan said.

Here are three big tips to get you started with carnivorous plants:

Water

Carnivorous plants generally come from bog areas and tropical rain forests, so you must make sure you keep them wet.

“They have to be wet all the time,” Coogan said. “They have to be sitting in water.”

Place your carnivorous plant in a plastic container, then place the plastic container in a bowl  or in the lid of a starter plant kit.

Cape sundew in double plastic pot from Ryan McGhee
Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) in double plastic pot. Photo from Ryan McGhee.

For a nicer look, place the plastic container in a glazed ceramic container that doesn’t have holes. Don’t use a terra cotta container because the minerals from the pot might leach into the water and harm the plant.

Use rain water or distilled water. This is important because you must help the carnivorous plant maintain the proper mineral balance. And that brings us to our second tip.

Minerals

Carnivorous plants get all the minerals they need from their prey, Coogan said.

“Limestone and salts are definitely detrimental,” he said.

Introducing extra minerals by using tap water or terra cotta pots could cause an overdose of minerals and harm the plant.

venus fly trap from Ryan McGhee
Venus fly trap capturing a fly. Photo from Ryan McGhee.

You have to start with a mineral-free soil. The usual potting mixture for carnivorous plants is half sphagnum moss and half children’s play sand.

Food

“The trick to feeding carnivorous plants is not to feed them,” Coogan said. “They will catch everything they need.”

Your house might not be full of insects this time of year, but don’t worry. Carnivorous plants slow down and don’t need to eat from November through April.

It’s tempting to try to feed a big lump of hamburger to your carnivorous plants, but Coogan said this is a bad idea for several reasons:

nepenthes catching its own meal - ants from Ryan McGhee
Nepenthes catching its own meal of ants. Photo from Ryan McGhee.
  • These plants have adapted to eat small bugs. If you feed them a large lump of food, you may be giving them too many nutrients too fast.
  • When a plant catches live prey, the prey struggles. The more the prey struggles, the more digestive enzymes the plant produces. If you feed the plant, you are bypassing this necessary step in the digestive process.
  • The Venus flytrap catches its food by closing a lobe shut and trapping its prey. However, each lobe can open and close only three times during the life of the plant. If you introduce a lump of food that is too big for it to digest, or if you tap the lobe with a pencil to see it snap shut, you are wasting those precious opportunities for the plant to nourish itself.

“You don’t want to mess around,” Coogan said.

If it’s very important to you to feed  your carnivorous plant, you could keep your plant in a terrarium, catch live insects and release the insects into the terrarium, Coogan said.

4 Comments on “Three big tips to get started with carnivorous plants in Buffalo area

  1. I’m just learning about carnivorous plants, and I’ve never grown them myself. Kenny Coogan was a font of information!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *