Venus Fly Trap (unspecified)

Dionaea muscipula  • 

Photo: Venus Fly Trap (unspecified)

Dionaea muscipula aka Venus Fly Trap

Collectors Corner Fact Sheet

General description

Common Name: Venus fly trap
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Droseraceae
Zone: 5 to 8
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Garden Location: Cornelia Sunnen Backyard Garden
Height: 0.5 to 1 feet
Spread: 0.5 to 0.75 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Wet
Maintenance: High
Flowers: Showy Flowers
Uses: Rain Garden, Water Plant

Strict adherence to the cultural needs of this plant is essential. Venus fly trap appears to be winter hardy to USDA Zones 7-10, but with adequate winter protection may also survive winters in USDA Zones 5 and 6. In residential areas where winter hardy, plants are best grown in the consistently moist soils of a bog garden. The bog garden should be prepared in advance of planting. In the St. Louis area, the bog garden should be sited in a protected location with a winter mulch in full sun to part shade. Bog gardens basically need an acidic, humusy, unfertilized, somewhat mucky soil that is constantly damp. Soils must never dry out. Plants flower in spring, produce new leaves (“traps”) in spring-summer and then mostly die back as winter approaches. Winter dormancy is usually triggered in fall when temperatures begin to fall below 50 degrees F as day lengths shorten. Soils should be mulched in winter with pine needles or leaves to protect the rhizomes from cold temperatures. If a bog garden is not available, the next best option may be to grow plants in pots/containers placed outside on a sunny deck or patio areas. Use a mixture of sand and peat moss. Containers should be placed in a tray of water that helps keep the soil constantly moist. It is best to use acidic rain water or distilled water. Containers may be overwintered by inserting them to the rim in soils in protected locations and then covered with mulch. Dig up containers in spring to place back in sunny areas. Containers may also be brought inside in fall for overwintering in a sunny but cool area (southern window) with temperatures of 40-50 degrees F. Plants may also be grown in terrariums where humidity and moisture can be controlled. Plants often do not grow well as houseplants. Propagate by division in spring.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Venus fly trap is perhaps the best known of the carnivorous plants that are native to the southeastern United States. It is native to coastal plain areas in southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina (all within a 100 mile radius of Wilmington, N. C.), where it is typically found in sandy, acidic, boggy sites in marshlands, wet grasslands and savannas. Separate populations have naturalized in Florida and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. From a rhizome, this herbaceous perennial produces a low-growing rosette (to 5” tall and 8” wide) of up to eight bristly, spreading, basal leaves (each to 1-5” long), with each leaf (“trap”) being folded into two hinged lobes with bristly edges. Plant nectar lures insects into the trap. Each lobe has three sensitive trigger hairs. When an insect touches the trigger hairs, the trap slams shut imprisoning the insect until it dies and until subsequent digestion (enzymes are secreted by the leaves) takes place over the next 4-10 days. The trap then opens up in search of new prey. Cup-shaped, white flowers in umbels of 4-10 bloom in spring (May-June) on leafless stems rising well above the foliage to 12” tall. Fruits are egg-shaped capsules. Plants can be grown from seed, but it usually takes several years for them to develop. This is an endangered species which cannot be legally collected from the wild. It is also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).



Dionaea muscipula (common name - Venus Fly Trap) is probably the most commonly known and most intriguing of the carnivorous plants. It is the only species in the genus and has a limited range in the wild;moist to wet peaty and sandy areas in North and South Carolina, USA. Unfortunately, its endangered status does not stop collectors from risking high fines and field collecting them. Insect capture is performed by attracting the insects with nectar to bilobed leaves, which snap shut upon the prey.The speed with which this happens is quite astonishing (in the order of 0.1 second) and is quite spectacular when seen for the first time.The rapid movement of the trap is thought to be caused by a rapid change in water pressure whithin the leaf.The sealing of the leaf and subsequent opening later on is thought to be a growth phenomenon. It's colours attract insects also. The trap has 3-4 (occasionally more) trigger hairs on each side of the "V" shape, and if two or more of the hairs are touched, or a single hair touched more than once, the trap will quickly close - almost.

Along the edge of each side of the trap is a row of green fingers. When the trap has completed the first rapid movement of closure, there is still a gap between trap halves, and the interlacing fingers are like bars of a gaol cell.This allows very small insects which are not worth the trouble to digest to escape. For economics of trap usage and time, the plant would rather not waste its resources 'processing' a tiny insect, but would prefer to open quickly and attempt to catch larger prey. The plant is able to detect the presence or non-presence of an insect in its partly closed trap.For example if the trap is triggered by plant material falling on to it digestion will not begin.So, if a captured insect cannot squeeze between the 'bars' of its 'death row' cell, the trap will close totally on it - and digestion will commence. Even in smaller plants, the trap can still capture small insects. After the trap fully closes, it squeezes tighter, and digestive acids and enzymes are secreted to 'break down' the insect, so the results can be absorbed. Each single trap will open and close about 4 times in its life, then blacken and die.
Each plant has a bulb just underneath the soil surface, and approximately six traps that grow to about 3cm across.The bulb helps to regulate water to the plant and enables it to withstand some dry periods.The rhizome or bulb grows at one end and dies off at the other.It tends to branch in summer and produce ofshoot plants which can be removed and repotted.This is the fastest way to obtain mature plants,if you need greater numbers then you can use seed which takes longer (several years) to mature under normal conditions.In cultivation old traps should be removed to allow new traps to grow in its place. Flowers
appear in spring, and are white, on a 15-30 cm (6-12") vertical stem. There is a widely-held view among CPers that the production of flowers causes a significant reduction of vigour in these plants. VFT growers usually remove all the flower stems as soon as they are noticed during the whole of spring and early summer. Then, beginning in January (mid-summer in Australia), when the plants have gained substantial size and vigour, and only if the grower wishes to obtain fresh seed, the flower stems are allowed to fully develop and produce seed. Using a stick or your finger to activate the trap will cause the trap to close and re-open after a short time ... BUT BE WARNED!! If you continually poke and prod the traps, the plant will surely die. The plant grows its traps to catch and digest an essential part of its nutritional requirements. Falsely triggering the traps frustrates this process. Imagine how long you might last if your human stomach was gone - or made totally unusable by some meddling outside influence! Yellowing or brown traps and petioles should be removed, using fine-pointed scissors, to assist in the prevention of fungus infection of the plant, and to make room for new growth of traps. Provided the VFT plant's basic requirements of: compost (2:1 mix of peat and coarse sand), moisture (sitting in a water tray, with the level reduced considerably in winter), humidity (should be kept fairly high if possible), and lighting (high lighting, full sun mostly, is beneficial for vigour and red colouring), for growing the plant are met, it is quite easily cultivated. Stanley Rehder, representing The Flytrap Company in Wilmington, North Carolina, is a VCPS member at the time of issue of this publication. The Venus Fly Trap native environment is totally contained within a radius of only 50 miles from Wilmington. It inhabits savannas and bogs where the soil remains moist and poor in nutrients. In a brochure received from Stanley there was a statement that the red colour on the traps develops when the compost is low in nutrients and the plants are in bright light - for the colour forms that can be red coloured. There was also a recommendation that VFTs like bright light - full sun is best - and the best temperature is about 27°C (80°F). These plants prefer a humidity in the range 70 to 90%. The preferred soil is acidic (pH 5-7). Do not use lime, bonemeal, or other similar additives to the compost - they grow naturally where the mineral content is very low. VFT seeds are viable up to one year and very few are viable after that time. Germination takes about 20-40 days at temperatures of 21-27°C (70-80°F). Sow the seed on the surface of the moist compost and place the pots in bright light. Transplant the seedlings after 3 or 4 trap leaves develop. Mature plants propagate by division or by leaf cuttings - place whole leaf onto compost. There are many colours and minor shape variation forms of VFT in various CP collections and available from nurseries for the interest of CP enthusiasts. The petioles can be long and thin, or short and wide. The trap colouring can be plain green, yellow, and varying amounts of bright red. Some of the colourings are seen only when the plants are kept in a warm, humid, high-lighted situation, where there is also a large variation between daytime and night temperatures. The fingers around the edges of the traps can vary in colour and length; and vary in thickness from very thin (hair-like), to the dentate form where they are triangular in appearance. The forms having substantially maroon colouring of their petioles and traps (both inside and outside), are currently subject to Plant Breeder's Rights (PBR) protection in most countries of the world. PBR is granted where the applicant has developed a distinctly different plant by his or her propagation of the genus, or is the first to introduce that form into the general commercial environment - it is just like owning the copyright on the plant form. (The PBR approvals were granted, or are undergoing trial, in Australia in each case.) These plants must not be sold, or propagated with a view to selling, without having a licence from the PBR holder to do so; and a royalty must be paid to the PBR holder for each plant sold. This is enforceable under the PBR Act, and very heavy fines can be levied in default. As at November 1996, D. muscipula "form Royal Red" has been granted full PBR approval; and the two plants D. muscipula "f. Claytons Red Sunset 96/206" and D. muscipula "f. Claytons Volcanic Red 96/207" are under trial for the granting of PBR approval. Why the name 'Venus Fly Trap'? Those hopeful for tabloid headlines have suggested that Venus Fly Traps arrived on meteorites. But for the origin of the botanical and common names we must look to the puritanical, yet bawdy, colonial botanists who explored the new world. A recent historical account has revealed that the form, attractive properties, and amazing behaviour of Dionaea muscipula, reminded them of female genitalia. (Aphrodite's Mousetrap, 1990, Nelson and McKinley). (Dione was the mother of Aphrodite (also known as Venus), the Greek goddess of love.) Sorry, we didn't make this up, you'll have to level all the blame on those early botanists.


Pots - 3 - 5 inch
Compost - A 4:1 mixture of good quality sphagnum peat and washed coarse sand.Never use standard potting mix
Climate - temperate
Light - at best in full sun ,will also grow in bright shade
Water - sit in a tray of soft or rainwater water 1cm deep.
Propagation - Division of clumps,seed can be used to get large numbers but takes longer to get mature plants.
Notes - This plant stops growing in temperatures above approximately 33C so it won't do well in the tropics.Also it needs a winter dormancy (temperatures 0-14C) for long term health so is not a good indoor plant in most cases.The red forms are more suitable for hotter climates.


1 - 10 cm
Soil type
Full sun, Partial shade
Moist but well-drained
Needs protection