27 March 2020

Venus flytrap: The creepy carnivorous plant

A flesh-eating plant being poached to the point of extinction.

Grace Brewer

By Grace Brewer

Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula

The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a feisty carnivorous plant with jaw-like leaves that snap shut to trap and gobble-up insects and spiders.

Typically found growing in nutrient-poor soils, Venus flytraps rely on their elaborate snares for food.

Venus flytraps with toothed-leaves that have a bright red centre
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) © Wolfgang Stuppy

Snapping traps

Venus flytraps attract their prey using the reddish lining of their leaves and a sweet nectar.

Their leaves are lined with teeth giving the plant its savage appearance.

There are tiny hairs on these leaves that when touched, trigger the leaves to snap shut on the unsuspecting prey and the interlocking teeth seal the trap shut.

Once trapped, the leaves close tighter to squash the prey and enzymes are released that digest it.

The trap reopens a few days later once the insect has been digested.

Did you know? The Venus flytrap can count; it will only clamp its leaves shut if an insect trips its trigger hairs two times within about 20 seconds.

Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula
Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)

Poached for profit

Venus flytraps are native to subtropical wetlands on the East Coast of the United States in North Carolina and South Carolina.

They are widely cultivated for sale, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling in the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classified the Venus flytrap as vulnerable - this is largely due to poaching.

This unique flesh-eating plant is highly desirable to poachers who steal them from the wild despite being widely available in the horticultural trade.

If poaching continues, Venus flytraps could go extinct.

Kew is helping to monitor and control the international trade of threatened wild plants, such as the Venus flytrap, to protect them from overexploitation.

Painting of North American Carnivorous Plants by Marianne North
North American Carnivorous Plants painting by Marianne North © RBG Kew

The world of flesh-eating plants at Kew

Our weird and wonderful carnivorous plant collection can be found in a dedicated zone in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Our Marianne North Gallery also houses a painting of ‘North American Carnivorous Plants’ by the remarkable botanical artist and plant hunter, Marianne North.

Close-up of Nepenthes in the Princess of Wales Conservatory

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