Sunday, July 26, 2009

Because I Can't Just Have an Ordinary Houseplant

During finals of last semester, my mind cleared momentarily and I found myself in the garden section of a local hardware, looking for monarda. I didn't find any, but they did carry a small selection of carnivorous plants, and I suddenly discovered a great curiosity within myself to learn about them. In the next few weeks, I did some extensive research on carnivorous plants in general and venus flytraps in particular, and decided that if I passed a particularly traumatic math class, I would get one.

As most of you know, I passed precalculus. As most of you have probably guessed, this post will be about my flytrap. If you are one of the handful of people to whom I have related the marvels of my little green friend ad nauseam, you needn't read it if you don't like.

Venus flytraps are native only to the vanishing wetlands of eastern North Carolina. Since the soil is poor in nutrients, they have the fascinating ability to capture insects to obtain the nitrogen they would otherwise lack. To simulate the stagnant atmosphere of NC and the soil of the wetlands, it is best to grow flytraps in peat moss in a small terrarium with plenty of sunlight. After satisfying its conditions of habitat, it is relatively easy to care for- water once every week or so, and just let it sit there. My kind of houseplant.

Mine came in a small terrarium. It had two open traps, one of which had the remains of a fruit-fly inside of it, one unopened trap, and seven leaves from which the traps had not yet unfolded. The traps unfold from the tip of each leaf. It is entirely green- the traps, in some cultivars, turn bright red when they have enough sunlight. I'm not sure if mine is one of those- it probably is, but green is nice enough on its own.

From my researches, I understood that flytraps are notoriously difficult to grow and slow-growing in general, so I was surprised when within a few weeks it was cramped within its terrarium. I began the slippery and redolent task of transferring pickles from one large jar to two smaller ones and absconding with the former.

My researches have since indicated that the interior of a pickle jar is the best substitute for the atmosphere of certain parts of North Carolina.

Being a scientist, I scorn the idea of calling a plant by anything but its established name, but being an artist I rather like the idea. This particular specimen got named Milo, after the Venus de, in honor of its common name. One of my brothers and I are also fond enough of The Phantom Tollbooth to rightly appreciate the appellation.

I have fed the flytrap on two separate occasions. The first time I tried, the only trap open was the one with the remains of the fruit-fly, indicating that it had already caught something before. Each trap can only be used so many times before it simply wears out and dies, and since its edges were curled outward, I suspected that it would not close anymore. I was right.

When a new trap opened the next week, I fed it by hand. The traps are about the size of my smallest fingernail, and while they could capture something like a fruit-fly on their own, they are not strong enough to catch any larger live insects by themselves. Even if a trap is able to hold an insect larger than itself, if it is unable to seal itself completely around it, that trap will die. I fed it a pre-killed mosquito. When a live insect brushes against small trigger hairs on the pads of the trap, the trap snaps shut. Since I fed it by hand, I had to be sure and brush the insect against those hairs so that it would close.

I forgot one thing, though- after the trap closed initially, I neglected to keep prodding at it and brushing against it to simulate the action of a live insect trapped inside, and later that evening the trap reopened. The plant does this to prevent expending energy trying to digest inanimate objects such as sticks, rocks, bubblegum, and mathematics professors, which might accidentally fall into its traps. It takes so much energy for the plant to trap something that setting off empty traps just for fun will eventually kill it. When a newly-caught insect within the trap struggles, it causes the trap to seal itself and begin filling with digestive acids.

So far, all three traps that I have fed took three days to finish digesting their insects. When the traps reopen, the indigestible exoskeleton of the insect remains stuck to the leaf-pad. Unless there is a prodigious number of traps on the plant, it's not a good idea to feed more than one at once. This week, there are twelve traps open, with three additional ones unfolded as of yet, and two emerging leaf-buds, so on Wednesday, I fed two traps.

Here is a short video of the process. The voices heard in the background, with the exception of myself begging them not to shake the table, are my two botanical art students and their parents. Sometimes if the two rambunctious boys sit still and draw various plant specimens well enough, I have a flytrap-feeding afterwards.

Isn't that amazing? Watch it again. Isn't that amazing?

Here is a fly's-eye view. Look at it cross-eyed to imagine the way it must look to compound eyes.

I was greatly engrossed, edified, and entertained by Dr. Barry Rice's Carnivorous Plant FAQ, which I would recommend to anyone who was interested in growing or learning about carnivorous plants, or just for fun. Dr. Rice is a leading expert on them, and the FAQs answer everything concerning them imaginable. His book, Growing Carnivorous Plants, is also a great resource and full of lovely photographs of flytraps and other fascinating carnivorous plants, such as pitcher plants, sundews, waterwheels, and bladderworts.

Doesn't God have the most interesting ideas? Just look at what he made. This little plant, perhaps more than any other, shows evolution for the profane mockery that it is.

(Unfortunately, I was unable to exact revenge upon the mosquito that bit my forehead.)


  1. Well really, I had already known about such things. And I was more important than your flytrap. Well really, none of you should be reading this blog. You should be on my blog. I had been more important than this.

  2. My brother and Bryan both had Venus fly traps, but I don't think either of theirs survived. I wonder what they did wrong. Alas.

  3. It may have just been the climate... I can't figure out if I have some amazing inate talent for growing them, or if it's just that they're native to this kind of climate. Either way, I love it... *hugs pickle jar possessively*

  4. Post more! :-P
    And I was wondering what you meant by saying that this plant shows evolution for the profane mockery that it evolution do you mean the idea that all life came about by accident and that humans came from monkeys? Because if that's what you mean, then I agree that it's a profane mockery, but if you mean the idea that over the centuries and millenia animals and plants change to adapt to their environments, then I'd have to disagree. ^_^

    And either way...I don't see how a Venus Flytrap proves anything.

  5. @Andre: This is why I like to add "micro-" and "macro-" rather than just say "evolution." =^..^=

    I want a Spore Spawn! *vainly awaits reference recognition*

  6. I tend to add "micro-" and "macro-" before I say evolution- I didn't in this post because I assumed that most of the people on here knew me well enough to know which one I meant, mon cher ami. ;)

    Ah well. Now I suppose I'll have to put a post up detailing why microevolution is the only evolution, and why macroevolution has so many flaws it doesn't even hold much water as a science fiction story (perhaps as some weird psycho science fantasy story, though- although H.G.Wells makes sense, comparatively).

    As for proving anything- when you see something as perfectly designed and specialized as a fly-trap, how do you begin to explain that it happened by accident? To me it is one of the finest nonhuman examples of intelligent design.