Corkscrew Plant – Genlisea

With its menacing teeth and snapping jaws, it’s no surprise that the Venus flytrap has become the poster-child of carnivorous plants.  This famous plant’s animalistic appearance almost makes it feel as though it is a thinking, calculating predator.  In fact, it even exhibits some fascinating “behaviors” that make it seem like a living beast. For example, when something touches the inside of the plant’s jaws, it can tell whether the object is a bug or merely a piece of debris.  Like other predators, the flytrap is selective about its prey; its teeth are designed to allow tiny insects to escape so that it can save its energy for a heartier bug that will satisfy its appetite.

 

Biology of a Corkscrew Plant

 

The trap

The trap of a Venus flytrap is a highly-evolved leaf structure and one of the most fascinating mechanisms in the plant kingdom. The lifecycle of a trap can be broken down into four major steps:

After a newly formed trap opens, it immediately begins luring insects using sweet nectar secreted within the trap and, in some varieties, bright red coloration. 6-8 small trigger hairs are dispersed within the “mouth,” which function as insect trip-wires.

If one or more of the hairs are touched twice within a 20 second time frame, an electrical impulse shoots along the outer cellular wall of the trap, rapidly expanding these cells, lengthening the lobes, and forcing the trap to snap shut in as fast as one-tenth of a second. With the teeth of the trap now intermeshed, the insect is imprisoned in a digestive cage.

If the insect is small, it will escape between the intermeshed teeth and the flytrap won’t waste energy digesting a tiny insect that won’t provide ample nutrients. Similarly, if a stray leaf were to trigger the trap, the lack of continued movement would allow it to reset without wasting more energy (there are no vegetarian Venus flytraps). However, if the insect is too large to escape, it will continue to struggle inside of the closed trap,  further stimulating the trigger hairs. The plant’s response is to seal the trap, secret digestive enzymes via glands on the inner surface of the trap, and digest soft tissues of the insect over the course of four to ten days.

Once the insect soup is absorbed by the trap, it will reopen to reveal the dried, shriveled exoskeleton of the insect. This husk may attract additional insects which then become a second meal for the plant, and the cycle continues. A trap can catch one to three meals before it will turn black and die. This is normal, and the plant will use the energy gained from that trap’s meals to grow new ones.

Sub-soil

The Venus flytrap is a wonderful addition to any collector’s carnivorous garden.  It never fails to fascinate.  Take good care of a Venus fly trap and you’ll watch it thrive, producing larger traps and vibrant flowers.

If one or more of the hairs are touched twice within a 20 second time frame, an electrical impulse shoots along the outer cellular wall of the trap, rapidly expanding these cells, lengthening the lobes, and forcing the trap to snap shut in as fast as one-tenth of a second. With the teeth of the trap now intermeshed, the insect is imprisoned in a digestive cage.

After a newly formed trap opens, it immediately begins luring insects using sweet nectar secreted within the trap and, in some varieties, bright red coloration. 6-8 small trigger hairs are dispersed within the “mouth,” which function as insect trip-wires.

Flowers

The Venus flytrap is a wonderful addition to any collector’s carnivorous garden.  It never fails to fascinate.  Take good care of a Venus fly trap and you’ll watch it thrive, producing larger traps and vibrant flowers.

Once the insect soup is absorbed by the trap, it will reopen to reveal the dried, shriveled exoskeleton of the insect. This husk may attract additional insects which then become a second meal for the plant, and the cycle continues. A trap can catch one to three meals before it will turn black and die. This is normal, and the plant will use the energy gained from that trap’s meals to grow new ones.

After a newly formed trap opens, it immediately begins luring insects using sweet nectar secreted within the trap and, in some varieties, bright red coloration. 6-8 small trigger hairs are dispersed within the “mouth,” which function as insect trip-wires.

If one or more of the hairs are touched twice within a 20 second time frame, an electrical impulse shoots along the outer cellular wall of the trap, rapidly expanding these cells, lengthening the lobes, and forcing the trap to snap shut in as fast as one-tenth of a second. With the teeth of the trap now intermeshed, the insect is imprisoned in a digestive cage.

If the insect is small, it will escape between the intermeshed teeth and the flytrap won’t waste energy digesting a tiny insect that won’t provide ample nutrients. Similarly, if a stray leaf were to trigger the trap, the lack of continued movement would allow it to reset without wasting more energy (there are no vegetarian Venus flytraps). However, if the insect is too large to escape, it will continue to struggle inside of the closed trap,  further stimulating the trigger hairs. The plant’s response is to seal the trap, secret digestive enzymes via glands on the inner surface of the trap, and digest soft tissues of the insect over the course of four to ten days.

History of the Corkscrew Plant

 

With its menacing teeth and snapping jaws, it’s no surprise that the Venus flytrap has become the poster-child of carnivorous plants.  This famous plant’s animalistic appearance almost makes it feel as though it is a thinking, calculating predator.  In fact, it even exhibits some fascinating “behaviors” that make it seem like a living beast. For example, when something touches the inside of the plant’s jaws, it can tell whether the object is a bug or merely a piece of debris.  Like other predators, the flytrap is selective about its prey; its teeth are designed to allow tiny insects to escape so that it can save its energy for a heartier bug that will satisfy its appetite.

Where to find Corkscrew Plants in the wild

 

Venus flytraps are native to subtropical wetlands on the East Coast of the United States in North Carolina and South Carolina. Unfortunately, due to their fascinating nature, they have been illegally poached from native habitats where their conservation status is now “vulnerable.” Preserve these wonderful plants in the wild by purchasing from reputable retailers who cultivate in greenhouses.

 Cultivation, growing techniques & propagation

In nature, flytraps grow in nutrient-poor bogs. To mimic these conditions at home, use one part peat moss to one part washed sand. Both of these can be easily found at garden supply stores, or The Home Depot. Avoid regular potting soil as it will burn the root system and kill the plant.

Four or five inch, drained plastic pots or glazed ceramics are ideal for a single mature plant. You’ll want to set these pots in water saucers to maintain soil moisture. Clusters of plants will do well in 6-to-8 inch pots and can grow into a gnarled sea of bug-eating traps!

Use distilled or reverse osmosis water. This can be inexpensively purchased in most grocery stores, or you can invest in a reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system that hooks up to a sink (bonus – this also provides great drinking water for humans and pets). Keep the plant in a water tray and fill this tray to maintain damp-to-wet soil year round. Avoid overhead watering as you may accidentally trigger traps, and will compact the soil around the root system. Maintain a lower water table by using a shallow water tray (1.5″-3″) as flytraps don’t appreciate persistent waterlogged conditions.

Flytraps enjoy full-to-part sun. Brighter conditions will promote red coloration in the traps, genotype-permitting. I’ve grow them with great success in direct, sunny Southern California light.

Probably the best part about owning a Venus flytrap! They’ll frequently catch their own food if grown outdoors. For indoor plants, and as a great party trick for friends, they’ll happily eat any bug that reasonably fits in a trap – from flies to spiders. If feeding live insects isn’t your thing, you can use moistened, dried insects that can be found at pet food stores (lizard food). Do note that you will have to manually trigger the trap if feeding with deceased or immobile prey.

Avoid fertilizing. Remember, these plants grow naturally in nutrient poor soils – a major reason why they evolved traps to catch insects as their source of nutrients. Fertilizing can burn flytrap roots and easily kill the plant. Some advanced growers use an extremely diluted fertilizer to foliar-feed plants (applying it only to the leaves of the plant), but this is risky for a beginner and not recommended.

Transplant in later winter, during but towards the end of dormancy. A transplanting into fresh soil every one or two years will promote healthy growth.

Flytraps will frequently produce offshoots and develop into a clumping plant. This sea of flytraps looks great, but you’ll promote even more new growth by dividing these clumps and repotting them in late winter towards the tail-end of their dormancy period. Do make sure that each crown of leaves has its own root system before dividing.

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They are warm-temperate plants enjoying warm-to-hot summers and cold winters. Mostly tolerant of light frost and brief freezes.

Flytraps will thrive in temperate, warm-temperate, and Mediterranean-like climates.

They do well in cold houses, cool houses, and warm houses, and in cold frames in warm-temperate climates.

Can be seasonally grown in a greenhouse-style terrarium tank, but are best removed in winter during their dormancy period.

Will thrive in sunny windowsills. Added bonus – flytraps eat those pesky house flies that hover near windows when trapped indoors. Keep the plants cooler during winter dormancy.

Great candidates for bog gardens, flytraps do well in temperate, warm-temperate, and Mediterranean-like climates. Mulch in colder areas to prevent long freezes.

Corkscrew Plant varieties, subspecies & hybrids