Overwintering Carnivorous Plants

I once assumed that all carnivorous plants were tropical. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s because they are so bizarre (both in their appearance and behavior), nothing like the plants that I was accustomed to seeing growing up in the Intermountain West. Or maybe it’s because the one carnivorous plant that I was most familiar with, the Venus flytrap, is commonly sold in the houseplant section of department stores. If it’s a houseplant, it must be tropical, right?

Eventually I learned the truth. Much to my surprise, there are numerous carnivorous plants that are native to temperate regions – in fact, carnivorous plants can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Even more surprising, Venus flytraps are temperate plants! It’s true. They are native to a small region in North Carolina, within about a 100-mile radius from Wilmington.

Plant species native to temperate regions require a dormant period. In the winter, the temperature drops, day length decreases, and, in some cases, drought ensues. During this time plants go dormant – they hibernate – and wait for the warmer, brighter days of spring to continue on with their metabolic and reproductive processes. It’s a period of rest.

Carnivorous plants native to temperate regions fall into this category – they require a period of dormancy in order to stay healthy and productive. In his book, The Savage Garden, Peter D’Amato asserts that, “Dormancy in carnivorous plants that require it must be respected and permitted to occur. Otherwise, the plant may die.” He goes on to say that a Venus flytrap grown year-round in a warm environment exposed to grow lights for the majority of the day “will eventually get sickly and die.” In short, these plants need a rest, and so it’s best to grow them outdoors where they will be exposed to the elements, thereby entering a period of dormancy as nature intended.

Venus flytraps (Dionaea spp.), North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.), and serveral species of sundews (Drosera spp.) can all be grown outdoors year-round in temperate climates. In order to ensure their survival, it’s best to give them a little protection during the winter months – especially when temperatures are projected to reach below 20 degrees for several consecutive nights.

Recently, I helped put the carnivorous plant display at Idaho Botanical Garden to bed for the winter. The carnivorous plants are being grown in an old stock water trough. First we cut back the plants, reducing their size by at least a third and being especially careful to remove dead or rotting plant material. Next, we placed several straw bales around the sides of the trough. Then we covered the plants with three layers of material: black plastic, evergreen boughs, and dead leaves. Dave Nelson, of killergarden.com, suggests a similar winterizing treatment: “the plants can be placed on the ground, covered with a tarp, and then covered with six inches or so of dead leaves, pine needles, straw, or other mulch.”

After the threat of freezing temperatures has passed, the plants can be uncovered. As temperatures continue to warm, the plants will awake from their dormant state and prepare themselves for another spectacular season of devouring bugs and looking awesome.

IBG_carnivorous plants_fall

Carnivorous Plant Display at Idaho Botanical Garden

IBG_carnivorous plants_winter

Winterized Carnivorous Plant Display

A final word from Paul D’Amato: “You should never force a carnivorous plant into growth during a season when it should be resting.”

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2 thoughts on “Overwintering Carnivorous Plants

  1. Pingback: Venus Flytrap: A Species of Special Concern | awkward botany

  2. Pingback: How Pitcher Plants Eat Bugs (Frog Optional) | awkward botany

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