Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) is an unusual houseplant. Many people grow it as a carnivorous specimen that eats flies and insects. This unique feature means that they are popular with children. It also means that these plants are often unfairly considered to be novelty plants. However, there is much more to the Venus fly trap than its ability to digest insects.
Our guide to how to care for a Venus fly trap guide is designed to shine a light on these often overlooked specimens. An attractive and reliable houseplant choice, these low maintenance specimens are ideal for a range of conditions.
What is a Venus Fly Trap?
A small plant that is native to many parts of North America, in particular North and South Carolina, the Venus fly trap is a small specimen. Its foliage forms in a rosette, typically consisting of 4 to 6 leaves.
A perennial plant, the Venus fly trap typically spreads 6 to 9 inches in width and grows just 6 to 12 inches tall. Hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 10 Dionaea muscipula plants are popularly cultivated as houseplants.
The distinctive trap-like leaves of the Venus fly trap.
Before we discuss how to care for the plant, it is important to understand how it works.
The distinctive leaves are actually hinged traps consisting of two lip-like lobes. These are able to close, trapping the plant’s prey. The edges of these hinged leaves are often tinged rosy pink in color. Some cultivars can also produce colorful traps.
Each plant can have up to 8 modified leaf traps. These develop on flat stems, low above the basal rosette. Inside the leaves are trigger hairs known as cilia.
In addition to the cilia, nectar, which acts as bait, also sits inside the trap. The nectar draws insects to the leaves. Once inside, the movement of the insect triggers the cilia and the leaf-trap is sprung, closing shut and trapping the insect inside.
The movement of the insect also allows the digestive enzymes to be released. This enables the plant to absorb the nutrients contained in the insect. The entire digestive process takes around 10 days to complete.
Following digestion the leaf-trap slowly starts to reopen ready for its next meal.
The shape of the leaves evolve throughout the growing season. At the start and end, in spring and fall they tend to be low growing with heart shaped petioles. In the summer, leaves develop higher up on narrow, elongated petioles.
The scientific name of the Venus fly trap, Dionaea muscipula, refers to Dione, the mother of the Roman goddess of love, Venus. This refers to the plant’s small white flowers. The second part of the scientific name, muscipula is derived from the Latin for mousetrap. This refers to the plant’s jaws which, when sprung, are reminiscent of a mousetrap.
Dionaea muscipula is not the only plant with a modified leaf. Other examples include the purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea subspecies purpurea).
Different Types of Venus Fly Trap
In addition to the traditional Venus fly trap, new cultivars are being developed and released on a regular basis. These often have intriguing, descriptive names.
Some of the most attractive cultivars include:
- Dionaea DC All Red has, as the name suggests, distinctive red leaf-traps,
- Dionaea Petitie Dragon is one of the smallest cultivars rarely exceeding half an inch in width,
- Dionaea Ginormous is one of the largest types, capable of growing up to 2.25 inches wide,
- Dionaea Justina Davis is an attractive specimen which remains green even when placed in full sun,
- Dionaea Akai Ryu or Red Dragon produces colorful maroon or burgundy leaf-traps,
- Dionaea Slack’s Giant is another large specimen, reaching almost 2 inches in size,
- Dionaea Purple Haze is popular for its distinctive purple leaf-traps.
Colorful leaves provide further attraction.
Warning, like other native species wild populations of Dionaea muscipula have been drastically reduced thanks to over-collecting and habitat destruction.
Do not take native plants from the wild. Instead source your plants from nurseries that propagate their own plants. These, particularly those from carnivorous plant nurseries, are typically stronger and more robust than those from garden stores. Patronizing your local plant or carnivorous plant store is also a good way to get a lot of useful care and maintenance advice.
Despite its unique appearance, learning how to care for the Venus fly trap is just as easy as learning how to care for other houseplants. While there are a few specific conditions that have to be met for the plants to thrive, these, as well as some other useful tips are explained below in our how to care for a Venus fly trap guide.
How to Feed a Venus Fly Trap
One of the most important parts of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is knowing how and what to feed your specimen.
If cultivating undercover it is likely that there will be no available prey. This means that you have to feed the carnivorous specimen yourself. To sustain a Venus fly trap you need to occasionally feed it live flies, mosquitoes and gnats.
To feed your plant use a pair of Jessie Mae Carnivorous Plant Feeding Tweezers to gently place the insect in the leaf-trap, gently contacting trigger hairs. Once triggered the leaves snap shut and the digestion process begins.
Most healthy specimens require just one or two bugs a month. A good idea is to keep a journal. This helps you to track how often you feed your specimen.
Do not feed your plant during its winter dormancy period.
Do not feed your plant meat like hamburger. This is an important part of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap. The enzymes that the plant releases during the digestion process are only released after movement is detected in the trap. This means that the plant is unable to digest pieces of meat.
Where to Position your Plant
If placed in a favorable position, Dionaea muscipula are pleasingly low maintenance houseplants.
Learning how to care for a Venus fly trap can be made even easier by placing the plants in a terrarium. This helps to encourage moisture retention and keeps humidity levels constant.
Before planting, line the sides of the terrarium with a mixture of two parts sphagnum moss and one part sand. After planting, place the terrarium in an east or west facing window that gets lots of indirect light.
How to Get the Correct Light Levels
One of the most important parts of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is getting the light levels right. These plants need around 12 hours of light every day during the growing season, from spring until fall.
If Dionaea muscipula plants do not receive enough light the foliage can become weak and floppy. The inside of the traps can also lose their red coloration.
These plants are great if placed in a conservatory or sunroom. You can also place your plant in an unheated greenhouse.
If your home doesn’t receive enough natural light, grow lights can be used.
These specimens thrive in a light position.
Temperature and Humidity
Humidity levels should be at least 60%.
During the day, temperatures should average 70 to 75 ℉. At night, do not allow the temperature to fall below 55 ℉.
The Best Type of Soil
Like many plants, learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is made easier if you can replicate their natural growing conditions.
In the wild, the Dionaea muscipula commonly grows in boggy, damp areas. This means that the plants thrive in wet, acidic, nutrient poor soil.
When planting, place your specimen in a well draining potting mix or a peat based potting medium. Sphagnum peat moss either live, dried or mixed with a lime-free horticultural sand or perlite at a ratio of 2:1 is the traditional potting medium for these plants. You can also use a suitable peat based mix such as Carnivorous Plant Repotting Mix.
The negative impact of peat extraction on the environment means many growers are moving away from soil or planting mixes that contain peat. A sustainable peat free mix can be made by combining a fine milled bark, lime free horticultural grit and perlite. Combine these materials to a ratio of 2:1:1.
How to Care for a Venus Fly Trap
A low maintenance plant, learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is pleasingly easy.
When to Water
Knowing when to water your houseplants can be difficult. One thing to remember when learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is to never use tap water to water your plant.
These specimens evolved to grow in damp, low nutrient soil. Using tap or bottled water can cause a build up of minerals in the soil. This can eventually kill the plant.
While distilled water is better for the plants, rainwater is preferred. Collecting rainwater to use on your plants is also a good way to keep your water usage down.
During the growing season stand the pots in 1 cm or a third of an inch or water. Allow the soil and roots to absorb what they need before returning the plant to its usual position.
The soil should be damp or wet but never waterlogged.
An important thing to remember when learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is to never water the plants from above. Wet leaves are a breeding ground for issues such as powdery mildew.
In the winter, when the plants are dormant, they require less frequent watering. During this period, aim to keep the soil evenly damp.
Do I Need to Fertilize My Plants?
One of the easiest plants to learn how to care for, there is no need to fertilize the plants. Dionaea muscipula plants thrive in low nutrient soils that are similar to their natural bog-like environment.
There is no need to fertilize to stimulate new growth.
How to Propagate
Learning how to propagate is an important part of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap.
Mature specimens are easily propagated by division. As the plants develop, below ground a rhizome, or underground stem also known as a rootstalk, forms. This is where the plant stores its energy. In addition to the below ground roots and rhizomes, mature specimens can also set out above ground offshoots. These typically emerge in early spring. Offshoots can be separated from the mother plant and potted on.
Count the leaves on your venus fly trap. If it has more than seven it is likely reproducing or sending off offshoots.
Remove the plant from its pot. Split the plant by firmly pulling an outer leaf downward to peel it away from the rhizome. This is known as “leaf-pulling”. You can also use a pruners or a sharp knife to separate the offshoot from the parent plant. Each offshoot should have some roots of its own.
Repot the mother plant in a large pot. I will explain how you can do this below. The offsets can be planted in individual smaller pots. To do this, fill a 4 to 5 inch wide, 6 inch deep pot with fresh growing medium. Moisten the planting medium before making a hole in the center of the pot.
Aim to plant the offshoot to the same depth as the mature specimen. The lightly colored rhizome should be entirely covered. After planting, firm down the soil and mist. During this period you should try to keep the soil evenly moist.
In time the original leaf dies away. In its place a small Venus fly trap emerges. How quickly this happens depends on various things such as how developed the offset was when it was separated from the mother plant, general care and light levels.
Potting and Repotting
Knowing how to pot or repot a plant is a vital part of knowing how to care for a Venus fly trap.
For the best results, repot your plants annually. This helps to keep the growing medium fresh as well as preventing issues such as compacted roots. If allowed to remain in their pots year after year, the plants can become compacted making root development difficult.
Repotting is also a good time to divide mature specimens. This helps to rejuvenate plants and encourage fresh growth.
It is also recommended that you repot the plants soon after purchase. This ensures that any potential impurities in the soil, caused by plant nurseries using tap water to water the plants, don’t build up to dangerous levels.
Repotting is best done in spring or early summer as the plants emerge from their winter dormancy. Do not repot your plants when they are actively flowering.
Your chosen pot should be at least 4 inches deep. A deep pot enables the roots to develop while keeping the rhizome dry. It should also be at least 2 inches wide. Again this gives the roots lots of room to spread.
If you are able to care for your Venus fly trap outside, a wider pot allows the potting medium to insulate the rhizome from unexpected colder temperatures.
While succulents and cacti are best planted in a terracotta pot, the Venus fly trap is perfectly happy in a plastic container. A Plastic Self Watering Pot helps to further reduce your maintenance time and keeps your plants hydrated.
Fill the new pot with an appropriate potting medium. Moisten the potting medium before making a hole in the center of the pot.
Carefully remove the plant from its old pot. You may need to wiggle it out or even cut away the pot. When handling, take care not to accidentally trigger the traps. Doing so wastes valuable energy. Learning how to hold the plant gently by its root ball is an important part of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap.
Gently break away any remaining old potting medium from the roots with your fingers. At this stage you can make divisions if necessary.
Position your Venus fly trap in the center of the pot. Pat more fresh soil or potting medium into place around the roots. Water until excess water starts to pour from the drainage holes. After watering, as the potting medium settles, you may need to add more potting soil.
After repotting, the plant can take time to re-establish itself before producing new growth.
If done correctly, no further specialist care is necessary. Growth may slow or cease for a week or two but should resume once your plant has settled into its new pot. Sometimes a few traps drop after transplanting but as long as the plant has a healthy root and rhizome system it quickly recovers.
Another important part of learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is knowing how to treat the plant during the dormant winter period. This usually lasts from November to February.
As daylight and sunlight levels decrease the leaves turn black and fall from the plant. While this can look like the plant is unwell or dying, this is not the case. The rhizome is still alive and active.
Do not panic or move the plant to a lighter position in an attempt to save the leaves. Instead, gradually reduce watering and place it in the coolest room in the house. A colder window or even a shed or garage is ideal.
The dying foliage can also be trimmed away from the plant. Water just enough to prevent the soil from drying out. This mimics the conditions found in the plants natural habitat.
In early spring, new growth should start to emerge. At this stage gradually increase the amount of water you apply, aiming to keep the soil consistently moist. You can also return the plant to its usual position. After this, no additional care is necessary.
What to Do if Flowers Emerge?
For many people learning how to care for a Venus fly trap, flowering is not the primary focus. The flowers can be removed as they emerge in May or June. If you do decide to allow flowering, do not allow the flowers to fade on the plant.
Allowing spent flowers to go to seed encourages the plant to focus its energy on seed production. This takes energy away from more important aspects of growth such as leaf production and digestion. Instead, cut away the flowers either as they form or fade.
Distinctive plants, flower production is not the main reason why people choose to learn how to care for the Venus fly trap.
Common Pests and Problems
Despite its reputation as an insect predator, aphid and fungus gnats can sometimes infest a Venus fly trap. Both of these common pests are too small for the plant to eat. A horticultural oil or homemade insecticidal soap can be used to control a severe aphid infestation.
Neem oil can also be gently wiped onto the leaves. Neem oil is also a reliable treatment for fungus gnats. For more on using neem oil, consult our how to use neem oil for plants guide.
Easy to care for the Venus fly trap is non toxic to pets. While you should never stick your finger in the trap, this won’t harm you. But it will sap the plant of its energy.
A reliable way to repel flies and ticks, the Venus fly trap is one of the most distinctive houseplants. It is also a pleasingly low maintenance plant. If you follow the advice in this guide, you will find that learning how to care for a Venus fly trap is a rewardingly simple process.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.