Carnivorous plants, carnivores

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Origin and way of life

Carnivorous plants (carnivores) are very special plants. Naturalist Charles Darwin in 1876 in his book "Insectivorous Plants" was one of the first scientists to deal with this extraordinary group of plants. Carnivorous plants have evolved to specialize in extremely nutrient-poor soils and hostile environments such as swamps and moors. Nonetheless, like all plants, they depend on growth-related nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphate and potassium. However, they have to eat them by attracting, capturing and "eating" microorganisms such as insects. Incidentally, the naturalist Darwin saw this kind of ecological adaptation as proof of his theory of evolution.

Carnivorous plants can be found all over the world. But not only on distant continents such as Africa, Australia or the entire American continent - in Europe, some carnivores (lat. "Carnivores") native. Thus, in our latitudes various sundew species (Drosera) and butterwort species live, for example Pinguicula vulgaris. Both genera live mainly in moist, nutrient-poor bog areas. The common water hose (Utricularia vulgaris) occurs in nutrient-poor waters.

Different types and catch strategies

Basically, there are three prey-catching strategies for carnivorous plants: There are trappers such as the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), sticky traps such as sundew (Drosera) or butterwort (pinguicula) and pitfalls such as the hose plants (Sarracenia) and pitcher plants (Nepenthes). Their prey attracts the carnivorous plants in different ways: through intense scent, bright colors or sparkling drops of a nectar-scented substance, which serves to numb the prey. Carnivores, such as some sundew species, also carry their catch with tentacles and flaps to the place of digestion. A special fishing method is used by the water hose types: They use suction traps to catch small crabs and water fleas in the water.

Pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea

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Carnivorous plants, carnivores: which

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: carnivorous

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: plants


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Fascinating World of Carnivorous Plants (10)

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: plants

Creeper plants (Sarracenia) develop particularly well in airy and sunny places in the open air. They are robust and tolerate even light frost. Outside, their traps often fill with insects

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: which

For beginners Sarracenia purpurea is particularly suitable with decorative reddish and stocky hose traps

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: carnivores

The glands on the lid of the marsh jug (Heliamphora) spread a strong odor. From smooth walls insects slide in the leaf interior

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: carnivorous

The Taublatt (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) combines an intense honey smell with light reflections. Smaller insects pay for their curiosity with life: they stick to the stems

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: which

The classic among the carnivores is the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Flies and other insects lure them with nectar into their catches, which then close in seconds. It also needs moist soil and high humidity. Lack of light leaves the inside of the traps green

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: which

The fat herb (pinguicula) covers its leaves with a sticky layer. Insects that land on the leaves stick and become "digested". Only a few small black spots remain on the leaves

Carnivorous plants, carnivores: which

The yellow-flowered water hose (Utricularia vulgaris) occurs in stagnant and slightly flowing waters throughout Europe. He is one of the carnivorous plants, because the leaves have formed under the water surface so-called Fangbläschen, can get into the small animals such as water fleas

Pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea

Pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea

Marsh jug Heliamphora

Taublatt drosophyllum lusitanicum

Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula

Buttercup Pinguicula primuliflora

Water hose Utricularia vulgaris

Venus Flytrap

There are many types of carnivores that differ in the way they catch insects and other invertebrates. The most well-known representative, which is also regularly found in DIY stores and garden centers, is the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), which belongs to the family of the Sundew family (Droseraceae). Their method of fishing is quite spectacular, as it forms catches with bristles tapering towards their edges. The inside of the catches is intensely colored red and secretes a lure that attracts mainly flying insects such as hovering or houseflies. Furthermore, there are small release bristles on the inside of the catches which, if touched by an insect, will trigger the rapid closing mechanism of the blade and snap the trap shut. Both halves of the leaf fold within a few milliseconds and the bristles on the leaf edge interlock in such a way that it is no longer possible for the captured prey to come out.
After the trap is closed, the Venus Flytrap uses chemical processes to check whether the digestion of the dead prey is worthwhile. If that is not the case, the catch leaf opens again, the prey falls to the ground and the catch leaf is again "armed". However, if the feedback is positive, the plant seals the edges of the leaf and begins to infuse a digestive secretion. After several days, the prey is completely decomposed and the catch leaf opens again. This process can be repeated up to five times per sheet, after which it dies.

Sundew and butterwort


The sundew lures and catches its prey with sticky tentacles

In Germany there are three species of sundew (Drosera): Drosera intermedia, Drosera rotundifolia and Drosera anglica. All wild species are on the red list and therefore should not be taken from nature. The growth habit and the design of the traps varies in shape and size, but the trapping method is very similar. On the leaves of the sundew there are tentacles that are in close proximity to each other, at the tips of which the plant secretes a sugary, sticky catching secretion. This secretion attracts insects and is so sticky that they cling to it. When a prey animal is trapped, the nearby tentacles bend over it as well, reinforcing the grab handle and digesting enzymes that slowly decompose the prey and remove the nutrients it contains. When the prey is completely digested, the tentacles re-erect and the game begins again.
The butterwort (Punguicula) captures its prey much like the sundew. However, it has no tentacles, but excretes glands on the leaves of a sticky Lockse secret to stick to the small insects such as mosquitoes. They are then decomposed on the spot by digestive enzymes and converted into nutrients that the plant can absorb.

Pitcher, pitcher and hose plants

These carnivorous plants carry traps, which, as the name suggests, have a pitcher, pitcher or tube shape. In the lower part of these vessels is a cocktail of various digestive enzymes that dissolve the captured prey. This is tempted by the sweetish smell that exudes this cocktail. If animals now reach the edge of the vessel, which is very smooth thanks to a special liquid, they can no longer hold on and slip into the interior and thus into the digestive tract of the plant, where they are decomposed. This group of carnivorous plants can, with proper care, form tube traps of up to one meter in length and cans several centimeters in size. The plants are correspondingly large and therefore they also require a relatively large amount of space and a high degree of care. Some known types are:

  • Pitcher plants: Nepenthes ventricosa x inermis (hybrid form), N. truncata, N. rafflesiana
  • Pitcher plants: Cephalotus follicularis
  • Tubular plants: Sarracenia flava, S. purpurea, S. psittacina

Pitcher plant

Pitcher plants are a real eye-catcher and can form several centimeters large catching vessels

Maintain carnivorous plants properly

Carnivorous plants are not easy to cultivate and you should know about the requirements of each species. The most important parameters in terms of husbandry and care are humidity, nutrient requirements, light and temperature.


Especially pitcher plants (Nepenthes) need a consistently high humidity. This is due to their natural sites (for example, high altitude cloud forests). An air humidity of 60 percent is the absolute minimum here and depending on the type of air humidity of 80 to 100 percent may be necessary for a successful culture. This is not possible in an open pot attitude, which is why these plants are mostly kept in terrariums. Venus fly traps (Dionaea) and Sundew (Drosera) can be kept at lower humidity, but the minimum should not fall below 40 to 50 percent. This can become a major problem, especially in winter, when the humidity in the air drops to 20 percent and less when the heating air is dry.
To achieve the required values, as already mentioned, the culture in a closed terrarium is a good option. However, the further claims of the plants and their later size must be taken into account. For example, bug plants (Roridula) are unsuitable for terrariums, as they need moving air and without them enter quickly. A filled with expanded clay water bowl, in which the actual plant pot is, by evaporation can also contribute to a higher humidity. Even a fogger that turns water via ultrasound into fine mist, remedies. In principle, the purchase of a hygrometer, with which the humidity in the room or in the closed terrarium can be kept exactly in the eye.


Dry air heating in winter can lower the humidity, which can be problematic for carnivorous plants

nutritional requirements

Carnivores need a nutrient-poor substrate and nutrient-poor (especially low-calcium!) Irrigation water.You should completely do without mineral fertilizer. Normal potting soil and tap water do not tolerate carnivorous plants in general. Use azalea soil or, better still, specialist carnivorous soil. The latter usually consists of an unfertilized mixture of white peat and lime-free sand. Suitable for decalcified tap water or rainwater. In the case of a terrarium planting, the use of expanded clay as drainage is recommended, so that it does not come to waterlogging in the root area. If you've fallen for a plant that has even more specific substrate requirements, you may need further fine tuning - but most carnivores should be able to cultivate successfully with this soil.

Location and light

If it is not specifically bred hybrid forms, but wild carnivorous plants that you want to cultivate, the factor light plays an important role. Most of the species mentioned require a lot of light, which is why it is important to have as light a plant as possible in the house. However, some species do not like direct midday sun. Optionally, an additional electrical light source may be required. The reason for the high light requirement are the natural locations of the plants, which allow with their hostile conditions hardly any other, shadow-throwing vegetation. The factor light is so relevant to the plants that their entire growth can change. Most plants form a larger leaf area when light is too low and become brighter. Some, even in the absence of light, even set up typical traps and instead produce long shoots and leaves to get the light they need. So always pay attention to the individual light requirements of your carnivorous plant and take changes in color and growth seriously.
Species and their lighting needs:

  • Sunny and a lot of light: Drosophyllum and Roridula
  • Sunny and lots of light: Sarracenia, Dionaea, Byblis and Heliamphora
  • Sunny and normal daylight: Darlingtonia, Cephalotus and Drosera
  • Moderately sunny and normal daylight: Highland Nepenthes, Genlisea, Aldrovanda, Dwarf Drosera and some Pinguicula as well as Utricularia
  • Partial shade and normal daylight: lowland Nepenthes, Queensland drosera and some pinguicula species

A south-facing window with plenty of natural light is a good location for most carnivores. If you are cultivating plants that do not hibernate (for example, Nepenthes or Heliamphora), you should provide sufficient light, especially in winter. This is hardly possible naturally, which is why artificial light is often necessary. Set up the light source so that the daylight phase is artificially prolonged. Start the light supply when the sun is already losing strength due to the low level. This is usually the afternoon from about 16 clock the case. Extend the light period until about 19 or 20 o'clock. In principle, all plant lamps with high-pressure sodium vapor lamps or suitable LED lamps, which are available in various power spectrums, are suitable as light sources. If you agree with the purchase of the lamp on the needs of your charges, then there should be no problems with the light supply.

Blooming sundew

The sundew (Drosera) thanks good care with beautiful flowers

Hibernation for carnivorous plants

Some carnivores like the Venus flytrap need a winter break to regenerate. The winter quarters should continue to be bright, but significantly cooler at temperatures between four and ten degrees Celsius. If you do not have a greenhouse or something similar, you can overwinter the carnivorous plant in the unheated staircase or in the attic directly under the skylight. Make sure that none of them are exposed to cold drafts. Irrigation water now also needs less, just make sure the root ball stays moist and avoid waterlogging. Ideally, you have provided for a drainage layer and / or a permeable substrate as well as a pot with a vent hole. In the late spring, the plant can then be used again to warmer temperatures and should drive out quickly and strong again.

Feeding carnivorous plants?

Active feeding is not necessary with carnivorous plants - so you do not have to buy a terrarium for food. In most cases, suitable flying insects, such as fruit flies or mourning gnats, usually live in the home and end up in a trap. Nonetheless, you can also help out here, for example, to be able to watch the catching effect live. The important thing is that you do not overdo it. The plants usually do quite well with a minimum of animal feed. Specifically Venus fly traps can open and close a catch leaf only a maximum of five times before it enters. With larger prey animals, it can even happen that it dies at or immediately after the first decomposition with the same.

Video Board: True Facts : Carnivorous Plants.

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