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Drought-tolerant carnivorous plants don’t exi— meet the dewy pine, Drosophyllum lusitanicum

Every summer, mosquitos descend on our yards in both San Diego and LA. Butane-powered repellents actually work somewhat and those tall incense sticks…well, they smell good but efficacy isn’t proven.

What about carnivorous plants? That’s the obvious question to ask. After all, we grow tropical pitcher plants, Venus flytraps…we even built a sexy condo for our sundews and Sarracenia hybrids. (Something we just learned: Sarracenia purpurea was used by natives as a smallpox treatment centuries ago.)

But the snag with popular carnivorous plants is the standing water. The carnivorous plants we’ve historically grown require lots of water — rain, distilled or reverse osmosis. That’s right, no spring water, no tap. The drainage we hound all our #plantparent friends about? Not this time. The boggier the better, baby.

Some carnivorous plants need up to two inches of water standing in a tray. See where I’m going with this? In our attempt to recreate the boggy conditions that many common carnivores have evolved to thrive in, we could end up inadvertently opening up our own backyard nursery for millions of lido bb…mosquitos. Plus, we have to be waterwise in our drought-prone regions.

So on a lark, I googled “drought-tolerant carnivorous plants.” Didn’t really expect to find anything. But then I found…

The dewy pine.

By Sylvain Bezy — own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

The answer to our itchy prayers. Dewy pine, or Drosophyllum lusitanicum, isn’t found in bogs. It’s actually native to the Mediterranean climates of Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Read: dry and sunny summers and mild rainy winters. And it’s a powerhouse in the bug-catching department. California Carnivores sums it up well:

These stunning plants emit a strange honey smell to draw in prey and, when grown outdoors, are always encrusted with the black carcasses of foolish insects. They produce lovely yellow flowers.

I needed this plant on my patio. Problem was, they’re extremely hard to buy. When I searched in early 2021, California Carnivores was sold out of dewy pines (these particular carnivorous plants are for sale only a few weeks out of the year on the site) and on Etsy and eBay there were just a smattering of seeds.

But then in May of 2021, California Carnivores announced on its Instagram that Drosophyllum lusitanicum would be back in stock the next day at 9 AM PT. I set an alarm and hit add to cart with the gleeful panic of a Black Friday doorbuster.

It arrived meticulously packaged. Here’s something I’ve never seen before with any other plant: The dewy pine comes in a biodegradable pot made out of peat that you plant directly into your own 8″ terracotta pot filled in with soil. This is so you don’t disturb the delicate root system — because dewy pines really don’t like being transplanted. The biodegradable pot will eventually break down.

I couldn’t find any unboxing footage from May 2021, but here’s my dewy pine (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) in July 2021. Two months after planting the leaves were significantly longer with plenty of new growth coiled in the middle. You might be able to see the original biodegradable pot it comes in (that you’re supposed to tuck directly in soil).

Tables have turned on the mosquitoes.

Caring for your dewy pine (Drosophyllum lusitanicum):

Soil. Definitely not your flytrap’s boggy conditions. The ideal mix for a Drosophyllum lusitanicum embraces drainage and is equal parts peat, pumice, lava, perlite, and sand. California Carnivores sells premixed bags.

Water. I kept mine consistently moist with distilled water for the first two months or so, because it was so young. Then I was able to let the mix dry out before watering again. So I was watering two or three times a week at the height of summer. Unlike the carnivorous plants you’re used to, dewy pines do not want humidity.

Sun. Full sun, particularly morning sun. These plants excel in the middle of hot dry Mediterranean summers. I kept my dewy pine in the sunniest spot on my patio. Don’t let it fall into shady and damp conditions or else it’ll rot. (Sad story ahead.)

Feeding. A happy dewy pine will be festooned with bugs in no time. And it’ll grow fast. But you can also do a foliar application — i.e. on the leaves, not soil — of MaxSea.

Temperature. This plant can handle temperatures above 100°F and as low as 25°F but you should avoid exposing it to repeated frosts, which will weaken the plant.

Fast forward to November 2021. This plant was in its glorious heyday.

It couldn’t churn out new leaves fast enough.

Dewy pine closeup of bugs on leaves (Drosophyllum lusitanicum)

Studded with bugs! Insects are attracted to the honeyed smell then discover they can’t leave.

My little Drosophyllum lusitanicum took off. It was like the little insect eating engine that could.

In six months it had leveled up in size by at least 10x, and was constantly covered in bugs like gnats and yes, even mosquitoes. It was pretty too — a pert green glistening crown. Tbh I couldn’t smell the “strange honey scent” it was famous for, but visually this plant is a stunner.

I would have gotten 20 more of these plants if (1) they weren’t so pricey and (2) they weren’t so nearly impossible to find.

Then the winter rains came. Sob.

After a glorious six months, my dewy pine hit at fatal rough patch. A combination of relentless rain and overcast days led to rot and eventually it perished. But the sunny mosquito-trapping memories live on.

How I’ll always remember this guy.

In late December, LA was hit by several days of torrential storms. Great for our environment, but not so great for my little dewy pine. The soil didn’t dry or drain fast enough due to lack of sun, and that was the beginning of the end. I tried relocating it to the brightest spot in the triplex but it was too late. Rot set in, and it eventually withered into nothing.

But what a meteoric rise. I’m forever grateful for the bug bites I didn’t get thanks to my Drosophyllum lusitanicum — an odd, unique, wonderful, hungry, but not too thirsty, magnetic plant. And I’ve learned my lessons for my next one. Once I get off the waitlist.

TH