Wereham Sign Gary Trouton

Passionate About Plants

August 2010

Paul enlists the help of his friend Alex to discuss fly eating plants!

Fly Catching in Scotland!

Some years ago I met Alex a keen horticulturalist with a love of strange plants particularly those hungry for flies. His amazing knowledge and enthusiasm for carnivorous plants made me want to immediately start growing some. Knowing he has written several articles on the subject I asked him if he would be so kind as to write for the Village Pump this month.

So over to Alex........

Mention carnivorous plants to most people and their immediate thought is of that Venus Flytrap they bought (or were pestered to buy) from the garden centre with poor care label. Two months later the sorry looking specimen having been fed cat food, watered now and then and had every trap closed by perhaps the little person who pestered you to buy it, is confined to the utility room window to pass away unseen. You then see them from time to time on the TV and give that disgruntled noise towards the presenter telling you how easy they are to care for.

Over the past years I have become more intrigued with carnivorous plants, they are a fabulous family made up of many different types of plant with amazing methods of entrapping their prey from sticky to mechanic traps using electricity! It's the North American Pitcher Plant that I would like to introduce you to now and perhaps chat about the others some other time.

The North American Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia is I believe the most versatile and wide ranging of the carnivorous plants. Its patterns and colours are gloriously varied from light green through to burgundy and deep purple with veining and bold frills, and its insect traps ruthlessly efficient. Boy do these things eat flies. They are the ultimate in bluebottle and wasp destruction. Don't tell anyone but I'm quietly working on a special hybrid Sarracenia motherinlawensis.....ssshh!

From late September onwards the pitchers brim with insects carcasses. They are so efficient at absorbing every last piece of insect nutrient that the only thing remaining is the empty exoskeleton. I'll continue but if you're reading this with breakfast ......sorry......maybe you'll catch up later.

Welcome back, once the fly enters the pitcher, it can't climb back out, the downward facing hairs on the inside of the pitcher mean that there is no escape just like when grandma gives you one of those vice like hugs which can only end in death, no I mean ..... You get the picture. There are no nasty decaying flesh smells because of the sarracenia's perfect digestive system. What's wrong with these plants why can't they just have a balanced diet of sunshine water and soil?

Sarracenia grow on the east coast of North America from Florida in the south to up beyond the US-Canadian border, and they grow in ground that is permanently waterlogged and devoid of many nutrients, so these clever plants have evolved to get these nutrients from elsewhere, they still absorb sunlight and photosynthesis and will produce none pitcher type leaves called phyllodia. These are not deformed pitchers caused by wrong feed practices as per the garden centre sales person.....you know who you are!

Sarracenia love water, they have their feet stood in water all summer and like to be moist all winter. They hate hard or alkaline water this is poisonous to them, so check your pH of you tap water or preferably use rain water. Although quite often sold as a houseplant they make a great addition to your garden. Sarracenia will also be happy on the shallow marginal shelf of a pond; they won't eat your fish.

Compost, as with most carnivorous they like a peat mix and make sure it's sphagnum and not sedge peat, 50:50 with perlite. If you are environmentally conscious then dilute the peat with fine composted bark.

I hope that this has given you food for thought and perhaps you'll consider having a go at growing them, what could be better than an herbaceous plant, with marginal tendencies, that produces unique flowers to rival any followed by foliage that, for many insects is to die for?

Alex Reynolds - 'Pretty Ugly Plants'.

Thanks Alex,

More from him in the future.

Happy Gardening.

Quaymount Nurseries,

The Row,


01366 500691.

Paul Markwell,

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.