Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Feed me

I've mentioned before how much I like gardening even though I don't have much time for it. I guess it's an interest I got from my dad. He always kept a beautiful yard (still does), and there were a lot of trips to various nurseries and gardening stores when I was a kid. I remember going places like the annual Home & Garden Show at the old Salt Palace, the County Extension garden in Farmington, and even the Peace Gardens at Jordan Park. I remember my dad listening to the KSL gardening program on Saturday mornings on the radio. I have especially fond memories of Brown Floral (where my mom worked sometimes) and the long greenhouses that stretched behind the storefronts (and their incredible Christmas displays! Actually, I still think of Brown Floral every year at Christmas.). But somewhere in all the gardening-related activity I saw some plants that were amazingly exotic and different from the ordinary houseplants, flowers, and vegetables. They were plants guaranteed to snare the attention and interest of boys because they trapped and ate bugs.

Sure, you've probably seen little Venus Flytraps for sale and maybe you've even bought one. The first one I got as a kid came with a clear plastic cup over the top of it to keep the humidity higher. I assumed something so strange must come from an equally strange place, like maybe the Congo jungle, and I tried to give it the conditions I imagined existed in a hot and steamy jungle. All my efforts probably only hastened its demise. But eventually I found a book that taught me how to grow them, and it turns out that flytraps actually come from North Carolina!

A Flytrap is an amazing plant - a leaf with a trap on the end that can snap shut in less than a second. Look closely at the two halves of that trap and you'll see 3 tiny little hairs on each side. Touch one and nothing happens, but touch it again (or a second hair) and it closes with rows of outside hairs forming a cage, trapping a bug or spider inside. If the bug gets away it'll open again in a day or so, but if it was successful it'll keep closing and form a seal. After a week or so it'll reopen leaving only the dried out shell of the bug.

But why would a plant catch and eat bugs? Carnivorous plants (or CPs, as they're called by people who grow them) are native to boggy areas where the soil is very poor and highly acidic. The nutrients needed to grow and reproduce just aren't available in such wet and swampy areas, so the theory is that they evolved the ability to attract, trap, kill, and digest the most available source of nutrients - insects. (Most of their prey are insects, but some plants are known to occasionally catch worms, frogs, lizards, birds, and even small mammals like mice and rats. But don't worry, man-eating plants are only the stuff of legends and sci-fi movies.)

But there's a lot more than just Flytraps. At one point I had a nice collection of several dozen different kinds of CPs, but it's a hobby that requires more time and attention than I'm able to give right now. Still, it's something I'd like to start up again if I could, so I keep it as a dream in the back of my mind. In the meantime though, I'll have to content myself by writing a little about them here - and maybe I'll make some time to write about the different kinds and maybe how to grow them, and whatever else comes to mind. (And thanks to Barry Rice and his excellent photos.)


  1. Love this post! I remember you having a venus flytrap and thought it was so cool! Funny you mentioned Dad having KSL on the radio Saturday mornings, I went over a few weeks ago on a Saturday morning and yep...it was on! =) I love thinking of memories like that!

    1. A couple months ago Maddie wanted to get a Venus Flytrap, but I was surprised she didn't remember I used to have a whole collection - I guess she'd been too young. She remembered "dad's bug-plants" but didn't really know what that meant. And as for the KSL Greenhouse program, I sometimes listen from here!