As Halloween quickly approaches, it’s the perfect time for a few creepy carnivorous plants. They’re helpful orchid allies, providing superb natural pest control, and they make great green alternatives to toxic pesticides. Bug-eaters come in many forms. Most famous are Venus Fly Traps, but there are also hundreds of varieties of pitcher plants, and many other lesser-known kinds. These predators share similar growing conditions to orchids, requiring high humidity and bright light. Some are native to tropical areas, while others grow in cold climates. Despite any scary stories you’ve heard, Little Shop of Horrors isn’t real — no plant can eat a human.
As bog plants, most need moist soil. Unlike orchids, carnivorous plants like to sit in trays of water. Only use rain water or purified water, since they cannot survive with tap water chemicals. Artificial fertilizer can kill them, too, so be careful not to splash when fertilizing orchids. However, compost is safe for them. Do not feed them meat like hamburger or poultry since they cannot digest it. All they need is pure water, a few bugs, and bright light. Remove old traps that brown and die. Some types go dormant over winter.
Besides Venus Flytraps and pitcher plants, there are many varieties of sundews, whose leaves have sparkly tentacles of deadly glue. Butterworts (a.k.a. Pinguiculas, or Pings for short) don’t appear lethal, but their broad leaves have tiny, sticky hairs, and act like flypaper.
Indoors in my orchid collection, I’ve made room for a small sundew and a Ping. They’ve been efficiently digesting little pests like gnats, aphids, and other inadvertent hitchhikers from the back garden. Our 2 pet cats love to hunt larger insects, so these small-insect eaters round out my pest control team. Creepy carnivorous plants are indispensable for many orchid growers like me.
To learn more and select the best carnivore companions for your orchids, check these resources:
- The Savage Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants by Peter D’Amato
- The International Carnivorous Plant Society
- An online natural history article
- Wikipedia’s carnivorous plant article
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