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with Jane Wrigglesworth
Mini Jaws: While the venus flytrap is the most common carnivorous plant to be found
in garden centres, they can be difficult to keep alive, often perishing in their first
Here's the perfect Christmas gift for
inquisitive young minds: a venus flytrap
(Dionaea muscipula). Each year around
Christmas-time these wacky plants
appear in garden centres.
A carnivorous plant, its jaw-like contraptions
close over unsuspecting prey. If you look closely at
the two leaf lobes which make up the jaws, you
will see they are dotted with small hairs. These
are trigger hairs, and it is these that set the ball
''Either the same trigger hair can be touched
twice within approximately 30 seconds,'' says
Brian Quinn of the New Zealand Carnivorous
Plant Society, ''or a separate trigger hair
This protects the trap from closing on a piece of
wind-blown material or raindrop, putting the trap
out of action for up to 24 hours until it reopens.
While the venus flytrap is the most common
carnivorous plant to be found in garden centres,
they can be difficult to keep alive in their first
winter, because they need a dormant period.
''Dionaea has a very restricted natural habitat
confined to a small coastal area of North and
South Carolina in the United States,'' Brian says.
''This area experiences summer and winter
conditions not too dissimilar to those around New
Zealand -- typical highs in summer of 24-30degrees
Celsius and winter lows of 1-8deg. Though the
winter average temperature is above freezing, the
plants can at times experience frosts and
sometimes snow. To survive these conditions,
Dionaea has a period of winter dormancy and it is
this factor that leads to their loss when grown as
''A common mistake is that growers either think
that the plant has died as all the leaves die back or
they try to keep the plant growing without
allowing a period of dormancy, which weakens
the plant and ultimately causes its death,'' he says.
''As the growth slows through autumn and into
winter, the soil should be maintained just damp
rather than moist. Over winter the plant should be
kept in a cool but sheltered position. A porch, back
step or similar is an excellent situation.''
When spring growth begins, gradually increase
watering,'' Brian says.
Established plants produce flowers in early
summer. Remove flower stems as soon as you see
them or they will weaken your plant.
Keep the growing mix constantly moist, but not
soggy, and place plants in full sun.
A sunny windowsill is ideal. A merely bright
room may not be enough. Inadequate sun will
weaken the plant full sun enhances the red colour
on the leaf lobes.
To learn more about carnivorous plants join the
Carnivorous Plant Society at nzcps.co.nz.
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