We've all heard of the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula), but to many of us, it seems a bit mysterious. Is there really a carnivorous plant that "eats" flies? Well, there is…, but don't throw away your fly swatter just yet.
The Venus Fly Trap has mystified scientists and botanists worldwide. Early scientists believed the plant to be a myth until physical proof was offered. The plant lures its prey with sweet-smelling nectar. When an insect lands in search of this nectar, it may come into contact with one of the many "trigger" hairs located within the jaws of the trap. Once triggered, the two sides spring shut rapidly enough to catch the fly or other insect. The plant then secretes an enzyme that basically dissolves the insect, which supplies the plant with food. After a few days, the plant re-opens, awaiting the next insect.
You would obviously need more than a few plants to handle the average household's flying insect population, as most plants consume only two to three flies each month! They require very bright light! They also need a humid environment. A terrarium is ideal, but then it becomes like having a pet: you will occasionally have to provide the food for the Venus Fly Trap, but it provides some cheap entertainment.
Susan Carlile, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service