Welcome to the creepy world of carnivorous plants.

Luring prey to a grizzly death, they inspire horror stories around the world. Find out more about the creepy world of carnivorous plants, and how to look after them.

Carnivorous plants make a spine-chilling impression: from the human-eating Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors and the pod plants of Jumanji, to the Super Mario Bros. piranha plants. Outside of fiction, carnivorous plants can’t hurt you or me, but some species can eat animals as big as frogs or rodents.

 

Why insects?

Carnivorous plants grow in poor soil, which doesn’t have all the nutrients they need to thrive. They have evolved all over the world, often independently, to digest insects and absorb their nitrogen and other nutrients.

First, plants need to attract their prey. They lure an insect by secreting a sweet-smelling substance. Then the plant catches its victim using a type of trap. Here are some examples.

The sundew acts like flypaper, using a sticky surface to trap their prey.

Pitcher plants use a pitfall trap, where an insect falls in.

The Venus flytrap is a type of snap trap. It closes quickly once something sneaks in.

Lobster-pot traps such as the cobra lily are easy to get in, but very hard to leave.

Bladderworts use a bladder trap, sucking in their prey by creating a vacuum.

Where should I start?

Most people will have heard of the Venus flytrap. The good news is that they are easy to look after and you can often find them at your local garden centre. Pitcher plants and sundews are also recommended for beginners – some places even sell these three as a ‘beginner starter-pack’.

The best place to buy one is usually a specialist shop – there are plenty of UK-based places that will post plants to you if you can’t get to a shop. Some garden centres also sell them, although they may be more limited in range and quality.

 

Are they picky eaters?

They will find their own food, but they need us to water them, and you need to be a bit careful with the water that you use. Steer clear of tap and bottled water, which contains dissolved minerals that are bad for carnivorous plants. Rainwater is ideal – although not if you buy your plant in the middle of a heatwave, like me! Distilled water is another option, which you can either buy or make yourself.

 

What next?

Why not visit your nearest botanic gardens to find out more. For a spooky experience visit Alnwick Garden in Northumberland. Their Poison Garden is full of plants that can intoxicate, send you to sleep, and even kill.