From Garden to Vase: Carnivorous Plants

Garden Party

The week leading up to Halloween seems like the perfect time to learn about carnivorous plants. Some varieties of these flesh-eating beauties are surprisingly easy to grow at home, and in cut flower arrangements they're as long-lasting as they are gorgeous.

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In the Garden

There's something strange and otherworldly about carnivorous plants, with their delicate veiny forms and unexpected tendrils. They "feed" on insects by capturing them and absorbing their nutrients. I asked Jared Crawford, the resident carnivore expert at Flora Grubb Gardens, to share some of his wisdom:

Can you offer some tips for growing carnivorous plants at home?

Once you've brought your carnivores home, never use potting soil when re-potting them. Only use a 50/50 peat/sand mix or cactus mix. Soil that is high in nitrogen will kill the plants. If you are growing plants inside and they aren't catching any insects, you can "feed" them by spraying a diluted fertilizer on them once a month (during spring and summer). Feeding during the winter months isn't necessary for most carnivorous plants.

Which varieties are easiest to grow at home?

Sarracenias (sometimes called "pitcher plants"), Venus Flytraps, Pinguiculas, Utricularias and Droseras. Nepenthes can also be easy if given good light indoors and high humidity.

What are the light and water needs for these plants?

Most varieties of carnivorous plants want ample light (full to part sun) and lots of water. If you want to grow them indoors, try them in a sunny window or under grow lights.

When is the best time to plant?

Plant Sarracenias and Venus Flytraps in late winter or early spring. Plants such as Nepenthes, Pinguiculas and Utricularias can be planted (or re-potted) year round. It is normal for Sarracenias, Venus Flytraps, and some Droseras to go dormant in the winter.

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In the Vase

Sarracenia in particular make amazing cut flowers. The pitchers last forever, and their striking red-veined forms add a beautiful sculptural element to any bouquet. They also send up a flower that is just stunning, a kind of ruffly mass in deep red or green (see the flower in the lower right of the photo below, just above the cluster of orchids).

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Do be wary when you're buying carnivorous plants, especially pitcher plants, from florists. Ask where and how they were harvested; in the floral trade, illegal harvesting of wild, endangered sarracenia is common. But they are also often available from growers, so it's possible your florist has a sustainable source. And of course if they're coming from your own garden or pots, you're in the clear!

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Cut sarracenia pitchers close to the base and keep them in a few inches of water. They also dry nicely once the rest of the bouquet is done.

A flesh-eating centerpiece, potted or in bouquet form, might be the perfect final touch for that Halloween party you're planning. Enjoy!

Images: Caitlin Atkinson / Flora Grubb Gardens; Susie Nadler

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