Weird and Wild Venus Fly-traps

I was about twelve years old when I first saw Little Shop of Horrors, (1986) with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin. I loved it. The remake of the 1960s film featured one of the most famous Venus flytraps—Audrey II (or Audrey Junior). The geeky florist Seymour cross-breeds a special plant using a butterwort and a Venus flytrap. It grows very large and likes the taste of blood—oh wait, it talks! It sings! It kills. Venus flytraps have appeared in cartoons and TV shows, such as Inspector Gadget, The Simpsons and The Addams Family. The lethal allure of the Venus flytrap made the real plant more popular off-screen.

Why so popular? Venus flytraps are a carnivorous plant, not unlike pitcher plants These plants don’t just eat insects; if a frog or mouse blunders into one, the plant will eat it. Wow! They are fun to observe. They break the rules of the animal kingdom. An 18th century naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, said that Venus flytraps, and other plants that feasted on animal flesh, went “against the order of nature as willed by God.” By contrast, the Venus flytrap was a personal favorite of Darwin’s. He wrote in Origin of the Species, “I care more about Drosera than the origin of all the species in the world.”

Wild Venus flytraps are native to the swampy pine savannah in the Carolinas—North and South. This is the only place on earth where these bizarre plants grow wild.  Commercial varieties, or cultivars grown in greenhouses, have the nicknames Big Mouth, the Jaws, the Royal Red and the Red Dragon.  They are available in assorted colors:

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Venus flytrap as a vulnerable species. After it was overharvested in the 1990s, there were attempts to protect the rare plant by improving techniques to cultivate it and discourage people from collecting it in its native habitat. Venus flytraps are included under different categories, depending on the list; the United Plant Savers lists them as “at risk.”

For more information, check out these two blogs on Venus flytraps:

Carnivorous Plants: Artful Deceit

Interesting facts about Venus flytraps

Update: See also The Lure of Carnivorous Plants

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