Encyclopedia of Houseplants

The Strange Yet True Story Behind the Venus Flytrap

updated Jun 6, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Venus flytrap has a reputation that precedes it. Even people who can’t name a single one of the most commonly grown houseplants know of the Venus flytrap and its flesh-eating tendencies.

So what’s a plant doing eating animal protein anyway? 

The Venus flytrap and its carnivorous brethren, like pitcher plant and butterwort, grow in mineral-poor bogs where the soil doesn’t provide enough nutrients for plants to survive. So carnivorous plants evolved to capture their own nutrients, in the form of insects and small animals like frogs and mice.

The Venus flytrap is special because it, along with the very rare waterwheel plant, is one of only two carnivorous plant species with a “snap-trap” mechanism for capturing prey, reports Cosmos. When potential prey bumps the trigger hairs on the surface of the snap-trap twice within 20 seconds, the leafy jaws clamp shut, according to The New York Times. Once trapped inside, the prey struggles for freedom, activating the trigger hairs again, signaling to the plant to release digestive enzymes.

Where to purchase a Venus flytrap

You may be able to find a Venus flytrap for sale at a local nursery or botanical garden, and you can order them online from sites like California Carnivores and Meadowview Biological Research Station. You’ll also see them listed on eBay and Etsy, but know that Venus flytrap poaching is a real thing, and the plants are in danger of extinction in the wild, so do your best to ensure that the plant you’re buying was propagated from cuttings, not stolen from the wild. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to grow a Venus flytrap at home

First off, forget everything you know about houseplant care best practices. Carnivorous plants break all of the rules. But it’s still totally possible to grow a Venus flytrap at home—here’s how to get started:

Potting: You’ll need to buy special potting soil for this one—your standard mix contains too much organic matter. Instead, the International Carnivorous Plant Society (ICPS) (an organization of horticulturists, conservationists, and scientists) recommends sphagnum peat moss, dried sphagnum moss, or a 50/50 mixture of sphagnum peat moss and sand. Make sure to stay away from soil additions like perlite and pumice—they add salt to the soil, which carnivorous plants can’t tolerate. 

Note, too, that sphagnum peat moss is a mined, nonrenewable resource that should be used sparingly and only for plants that require it, like the Venus flytrap. It is formed over the span of several millennia beneath the surface of a bog without the presence of air, and mining it releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, per reporting by The Washington Post.

Sun: According to “Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Indoor Gardening” (the granddaddy of all plant care books), Venus flytraps are used to lots of sunlight, so you’ll want to keep yours in your sunniest window. If you don’t have a sunny window, you can use a grow light on a timer for a few hours a day to give it a boost.

Water: Most tap water contains too many minerals and dissolved salts for carnivorous plants to tolerate. That’s why Rodale recommends collecting rainwater or buying distilled water for your Venus flytrap. 

Venus flytraps also like high humidity and for their soil to be wet at all times, though not so soggy that they get mildewy. For this reason, many care guides, including Rodale’s, suggest growing them in closed terrariums to simplify care.

Feeding: This is the fun part! Because Venus flytraps get their nutrients from flesh rather than soil, you’re going to have to feed yours. Sure, it might catch the odd fly indoors, but probably not frequently enough to sustain it long-term. Plus, it will grow much faster if you feed it, according to the ICPS. They recommend giving the plant dried bloodworms (you can usually find them at a pet store in the fish food section) about once per week. When you feed it, you’ll need to stimulate the trigger hairs with a toothpick so that they snap shut shut on the “prey.”


According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Venus flytraps are nontoxic to dogs and cats.