Man eating plants!! Sounds scary, and lucky for us that there are not many plants around that are attacking humans; ‘Day of the Triffids” has long passed us by and all is well between mankind and the plant world for now. Flesh eating carnivorous plants!! Now here is a bit more of a reality. Even though relatively rare compared to the vast plant groupings out there, the flesh eating plant is not only out there, but may find their way into your backyard pond, and they are nothing to be scared of.
Flesh eating plants is such an unsavory name for this group of bog plants and most of us may already know them by their common names of pitcher plants and venus fly traps, amongst others. Yes these unusual, beautiful, and fascinating plants are available for keeping in your pond AND they can thrive!
As a kid I remember purchasing Venus Fly Trap kits from the back of the comic books I read. I’d get the kit and be amazed at how these plants actually eat stuff like flies, etc. Not really knowing how to take care of them it never took long for me to kill my amazing plant friends; but what do you want from a 12 year old boy. Now, many years later, can you imagine my surprise to see that these plants are not only popular again but now other carnivorous plants like pitcher plants can be kept in my water here we go again.
But first a bit about these specialized plants. Carnivorous plants are found around the world, even here in my state of New Jersey, with the majority of them coming from bog or wetland environments. Because the water in those environments typically have low nutrient levels these plants adapted to get additional nutrients by trapping and eating prey like bugs and small animals. But to be truly classified as a carnivorous plant they must exhibit 5 characteristics:

1. The plant must attract prey, usually by offering bright colors and nectar. The venus fly trap and pitcher plants both offer nectar to their prey.
2. The plant must be able to actually capture and hold the prey. These plants have tiny hairs that when disturbed send signals to the plant to close its leaves which will hold the prey. The pitcher plant has a slippery interior that the prey cannot crawl out of, these are called pitfall traps.
3. The prey must be caught alive and die from the plant. The living prey will typically die from the store of liquid digestive enzymes these carnivorous plants produce.
4. The plant must actually digest the prey. The prey cannot just be killed and then rejected or expelled by the plants, the plants will literally digest the prey completely.
5. The plants must be able to utilize the nutrients from the prey. A carnivorous plant must use the nutrients gained from its prey to help grow and live.

Keeping these plants is fun and easy in your water garden and don’t really require that you feed them, but it is fun to offer a meal here and there to observe these amazing plants close up. Venus fly traps and pitcher plants can be found online or at specialty garden centers that sell aquatic plants. Only a few are cold tolerant and most are considered tropical. They should not be submerged but only kept very wet in shallow water. Fertilizing these plants is a no-no, they get their nutrients from the prey they take in. Most like plenty of sun too.
So try something different, bring one home for the kids, or yourself! Add another dimension of fun to your water garden and a great way to keep the kids involved too.
All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.

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