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Complete Care Guide to Keep your Venus Flytrap Alive

John Lewis surprised us all in November 2023 by releasing their Little Shop of Horrors style Christmas ad, featuring a giant Venus flytrap as an alternative Christmas tree. As a result, sales of Venus flytraps have soared to 40% more than their usual number!

Green Venus flytrap with open traps

Though it’s about time a houseplant received such inspiring media coverage, this carnivorous tropical plant has been somewhat misrepresented by the John Lewis Christmas ad. It may not surprise you to hear that real Venus flytraps don’t eat presents or spew out confetti. They don’t get nearly as big as Snapper, either.


So, how do you care for a Venus flytrap? This article will tell you everything you need to know about this unusual carnivorous plant, so that you can keep yours alive throughout 2024. Afterall, plants are not just for Christmas!


Where do Venus flytraps come from?

Unsurprisingly, Venus flytraps don’t come from the planet Venus, though you might find it interesting to hear that this is a commonly asked question on Google! Originating from the coastal bogs of North and South Carolina, Venus flytraps like warm, wet areas and thrive when their roots can detect water. Given the choice, Venus flytraps much prefer the warmer climates of the Southern States of America, to the cool windowsills of our UK homes.


It might sound strange, but Venus flytraps were named after the attractive Roman Goddess of love, Venus. If you squint a bit, you could argue that one of its traps looks like it’s lined with lots of fine eyelashes. Don’t be fooled though, those little spikes are there to detect movement from prey and prevent their escape!


Venus flytraps, or Dionaea muscipula, are a species of plant, but many different types exist. These ‘cultivars’ were created by growers through cross-pollinating plants to make new hybrids, or, by cloning desired specimens in a lab. Different cultivars vary in shape, colour, and other characteristics.


Venus flytrap growing in moss

How does a Venus flytrap catch its prey?

Flies and insects are enticed into the Venus flytrap to feed on the sweet, sticky substance that the plant secretes onto the lobes of its traps. When insects enter the trap, tiny hairs send electrical impulses across the lobes, triggering the trap to close. Enclosed between the two lobes of the trap and barred from escape by the inter-locking spikes at the edges, the insect is imprisoned in the Venus flytrap.


Next, the plant releases enzymatic juices that start to digest the insect, which is possibly still alive. As the insect breaks down, nutrients are absorbed through the lobes of the trap and are transmitted to the parts of the plant that need them. Each trap can feed around four times before it dies and is replaced by a new one.

Insect escapes Venus flytrap AI

Will my Venus flytrap die if it doesn’t eat insects?

Venus flytraps don’t need to digest insects to live. They have actually evolved to survive with only minimal nutrients. Flytraps absorb water and trace minerals through their roots, like most other plants.


It is possible to feed your Venus flytrap insects that are already dead, but you should choose something no more than one third the size of the trap. Once the trap has closed, it’s necessary to trigger the release of the digestive juices by ‘tickling’ the lobes of the trap. Poke a toothpick through the closed spikes to make the plant think it’s caught a living insect! There’s no guarantee that the plant will accept your invertebrate sacrifice though, and there’s every chance your Venus flytrap will re-open again in disgust!


Try not to trigger a Venus flytrap to close unnecessarily. Traps can only close around four times each, and closing frequently without a reward causes the plant to use too much energy. If traps are triggered often with no nutrients received, Venus flytraps can die.

Venus flytrap houseplant in pot

How big does a Venus flytrap grow?

Healthy Venus flytraps can grow to cover the surface of a pot, and plants tend to grow outwards, rather than upwards. Therefore, the size of a Venus flytrap is usually measured by how big its traps are! The largest trap ever recorded was grown by American grower, Jeremiah Harris and was 6.1 centimetres long.


Venus flytraps only need repotting once they have filled out the surface of a pot. You must use special soil for repotting carnivorous plants, as ordinary compost can be too high in nutrients. Alternatively, pot your Venus flytrap in sustainably sourced spaghnum moss and never size up your pot by more than a couple of centimetres at a time.

Close-up of spikes on a Venus flytrap

How do I keep my Venus flytrap alive?

Venus flytraps aren’t really recommended for beginners, as they’re quite difficult to look after and have very specific needs. They’re extremely sensitive to overwatering and underwatering, so they need to be kept at the perfect wetness at all times! Two signs of a healthy Venus flytrap are a fruity smell, which the plant releases to attract insects to its traps, and red-coloured lobes on its traps.


Here’s the top things you should do to care for your Venus flytrap and keep it thriving:


  1. Don’t fertilise it. Venus flytraps thrive in environments with very few nutrients and can’t deal with a mineral overload. They have evolved to catch insects as a way to get additional nutrients they don’t get in the soil.

  2. Place your trap in bright sunlight. Venus flytraps require a high amount of light to give them the energy they need to activate their traps. Traps can only close on prey if the plant has stored enough energy to snap it shut.

  3. Trim dead traps. Once traps have gone completely black, remove them with secateurs or tweezers to ensure that they don’t go mouldy. Some moulds can spread and kill the plant.

  4. Feed with rainwater. Venus flytraps are fussy, so chlorinated tap water can kill them. Make sure you only bottom-water the plant as it is a bog plant.

  5. Keep your plant moist. Venus flytraps like to be kept wet, but not soggy. The most common method of keeping your Venus flytrap perfectly moist is to use a dish beneath the pot and fill it up to a few centimetres high with water. Replenish the water once it has run out.

  6. Venus flytraps go dormant over the winter. Put them in a cool place and don’t give them too much water, as they will absorb it more slowly. If your house is too warm in winter, remove the plant from its soil and store in the fridge for a few months at about 5 degrees centigrade.

Looking for more plant-related content? Head over to @theplantparlourgram on Instagram, to follow my houseplant journey!

2 opmerkingen

The John Lewis ad in 2023 was a brilliantly executed piece of marketing. But ... I can't condone them choosing to use VFT at that time of year, prompting the inevitable spike in sales and popularity.

VFT should be dormant during UK winters, yet JLP supported their marketing campaign by importing thousands of flytraps force-grown in Holland and looking like they should in July. Folk will have purchased them, then taken them home to grow them in conditions unfarourable to their stage of growth - with a good majority losing their plants as a result. This then serves to amplify the rogue opinion that VFT are "difficult" to grow, when actually they're not, provided a few simple guidelines are adhered…


Pretty good right-up, here, but please can we banish the word "tropical" for VFT?! - they're temperate plants, and can survive UK winters in most areas - they don't appreciate being kept as "tropicals"!!!! 😊


Hi, thanks for dropping in to read The Plant Papers!

I'm Gemma and I'm the person behind The Plant Parlour. I have a huge collection of rare plants, that I keep in my home in the South of England.

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