Dionaea muscipula, more commonly known as the Venus flytrap, is surely the most famous of the 630 known species of carnivorous plant. It has been held in awe and horror since it was first described by John Ellis in 1768, whilst Carl Linnaeus described its potential carnivory as 'against the order of nature as willed by God'.The Venus flytrap is found naturally on the open grasslands of the USA, and constantly moist, sandy soils of the coastal plains of North and South Carolina. Its habitat with cool winters and long hot summers, receives rainfall all year round. Unfortunately due to pressures from agriculture and housing these wetlands are under constant threat, and the plant's habitat is diminishing. These threats mean Dionaea muscipula in the wild is classed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
Dionaea is named after the goddess Dione, mother of Aphrodite, whilst the specific epithet muscipula is derived from the housefly or house mouse. The Venus flytrap is a small plant, unlike some creative imaginings of the plants as monsters capable of consuming whole humans in a single gulp! The plant has an underground rhizome which is dormant during winter but eventually produces leaves up to 15 cm long. The leaf, with its clearly recognisable midrib and two leaf lobes that are bent upwards, is the trapping mechanism. Each leaf lobe is surrounded by soft spines and has approximately three trigger hairs. When an unsuspecting insect lands on the leaf, attracted by nectar secreted along the leaf margins, it has to trigger the hairs more than once within about 30 seconds for the leaf to snap shut. This means the leaf will not be triggered by falling leaves or other inedible stimuli.
Dionaea is a popular houseplant and is in great demand in the horticultural trade. Although relatively easy to grow given the right conditions, a Venus flytrap demands a few essential conditions to thrive. A peat and sand, acid-based potting compost is the ideal medium for Dionaea, the plant should be positioned on a sunny windowsill with a winter minimum of no less than four degrees centigrade. The most important ingredient is a constant supply of rainwater; sit the plant in a tray with 1-2 cm of water. Given these basic essentials for healthy growth you will be rewarded with what Charles Darwin considered to be 'one of the most wonderful plants in the world'.
Barthlott, W 2008. The curious world of carnivorous plants. A comprehensive guide to their biology and cultivation. Timber Press.
D'Amato, P. 1998. The savage garden: cultivating carnivorous plants. Ten Speed Press.
Slack, A 1985 Carnivorous plants. MIT Press.