Many of them are beautiful — others bizarrely ugly. Some are so tiny you could walk on them and never notice, but others grow quite large. Carnivorous plants are the stuff of horror movies and little boys' dreams.
Floyd Williams has been growing carnivores for over 20 years, and he relishes sharing his passion in talks and classes. He says he started with a Venus fly trap when he was a boy and now he has two greenhouses outside Ashland filled with dozens of varieties.
Ashland nurseryman Floyd Williams likes to share his love of these insectivores.
Common names of carnivorous plants include Venus fly trap, sundews, American and tropical pitcher plants, rainbow plants, sweet trumpets, butterworts, bladderworts and cobra plants.
Most need at least 6 hours of sun a day.
Aphids will attack dormant plants (Dec. - Feb.) and it is best to treat them with neem oil or Azatrol™. Mealy bugs sometimes attack pitcher plants. Treat this by submerging the corm in a bucket of water 7 to 10 days and then spraying with Azatrol.
Plants should be potted in plastic, glass, or glazed ceramics only. Sitting these in another water-filled pot to duplicate bog conditions is best.
Floyd recommends The Savage Garden by Peter d'Amato or Growing Carnivorous Plants by Barry Rice as his two favorite books on the subject.
"Carnivorous plants all feed from the leaves," Floyd explains. "They are foliar feeders, and what they eat is flesh." Specifically, a wide range of crawling and flying bugs.
They are shallow rooted plants and the roots don't like minerals, which includes dirt. As a result, most are grown in mixtures of moss, perlite, sand and vermiculite. They also don't like well water, which is usually high in minerals. Oddly, they can tolerate city water, as well as rainwater, distilled water and Rogue and Applegate river water.
While most people think of carnivores as tropical plants, Floyd specializes in temperate zone carnivores, particularly the dozens that are native to Oregon and Northern California. One advantage to these, is that they can withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees.
Being bog plants, they have to be kept moist. But you don't have to heat them or feed them fertilizer. At most, a plant doing poorly can be given a little bone meal.
Most people think of carnivores as house plants. Floyd explains that the plants work by producing substances that attract various types of bugs — either scents or nectars. So, you guessed it, they attract bugs — which is why Floyd's wife has banished his plants from the house. "If you already have ants or earwigs, by all means put them in the house," Floyd says, "but if you don't already have bugs, you will."
Most carnivores are green with white, yellow or red, the colors most bugs are attracted to. The red coloration can vary from primary to wine to purple. Floyd keeps some plants on his deck where they can pick off wasps, flies, yellow jackets or ants before they make it into the house. Unfortunately, they will also kill bees.
Each type of carnivorous plant attracts and kills bugs in a different manner. Some produce a glue-like substance, so once the bug lands it can't leave. Others produce paralyzing nectar that drugs the bug. Some, like the pitcher plant, drown them. Some liquify their insides with enzymes. Floyd says the variations constantly amaze him.
"Every time we bring [carnivores] in we sell out," says Esther Lee, customer service representative for the South Grange Co-op in Medford. "Kids just love them."
Each leaf is designed to kill and feed between three to five times. That is one reason many carnivores die — little fingers trick the plants into thinking they are getting a meal. When no nutrients arrive, they can die. All hands off the leaves!
All carnivores are slow growers but they can live 20 years. They are designed to be able to live up to three years between meals. But hand-fed plants grow fast — as long as it is not overdone. They can also be grown from seed or leaf cuttings.
While carnivorous plants are delightful for their, ahem, unusual feeding habits, some mature carnivores over five years old will also produce flowers. These can last up to a month when picked and are quite lovely. And the plants are not only interesting to collectors. Scientists have just begun studying some of the chemicals these plants produce, and they are already being used in cough syrups and arthritis medicines.
Somebody should warn the insects.