What We Talk About When We Talk About Carnivorous Plants

Photo by Ryan Benoit

“Feed me, Seymour,” the line goes, originally uttered by the neediest plant in history. Little Shop of Horrors gave us (both!) mega nightmares as kids. If only we’d known that someday we would grow to enable our own crop of bloodthirsty carnivores.

We brought them home to add a little bit of menace to the garden, Venus flytraps and sundews that included a many-tentacled octopus plant. We planted them in mossy, boggy, DIY terraniums. (Terrania? Anyway, an excellent way to recycle the vases that come with flower deliveries.)

Dionaea muscipula with shoots.

Drosera capensis in our DIY vase terrarium.

Sarracenia oreophila

A much needed trimming

Using stunned houseflies, we conducted gross-out demos for our friends. Two friends, our lovely Laju and Maria, upped the ante when they gave C a Nepenthes x ventrata pitcher plant for her birthday that year. They entered the party carrying the plant that towered another four feet in the air; the nepenthes had had its own seat in the cab on the way over.

“Ryan’s going to give birth to himself when he see this,” C said.

And you know what? He did!

Since then, RB built a wonderfully industrial container and trellis for the newest member of our carnivorous family.  Our newly adopted Bornean specimen  was our first venture into tropical pitchers.  Highland, rather than lowland, variaties prefer our garden (unlike RB’s preference in Scotch).  Its tendrils are so spring-loaded you can practically watch the vine climb:

We water our nepenthes with distilled water and during its first years with us, we religiously misted its leaves with the same water. After some trial and error, we’ve learned that it’s very temperamental about the amount of sun it receives; it needs bright light but can also burn easily, so we’ve enlisted the nearby ficus to provide a little sun filtration.

Alas, our Nepenthes x ventrata hasn’t produced pitchers in over a year, and we’ve been adjusting its light exposure in hopes of making it happier. But at the height of its trapping heyday, the plant was so good at luring flies, ants and wasps to the slippery edges of its pitchers (by way of its nectar) that spiders like to weave webs near the containers in hopes of siphoning off some of the prey.

A few months ago, we added a second pitcher plant, a larger-pitchered cousin by the name of N. ventricosa, below. (In the wild, the largest nepenthes double as rat traps. The BBC has more; cue Sir Attenborough…) If you want to take home a savage beauty for yourself, California Carnivores, based up in Sebastopol, will get you going. We’ve even noticed robust nepenthes for sale at Home Depot.

Right now, between the shifting sunlight and our soon-to-be-reformed delinquency in taking care of them, the nepenthes are running low on pitchers and are drained of their normally vibrant green-and-red ombré. On a good day, though, they’re man-eaters.

  • Adam

    I can never find a nepenthes at lowes or home depot. And they are very picky about light and humidity. My Nepenthes Miranda is a year and half old and is taking its time to produce its first pitcher.