The Little Family Grows!

I thought I’d surprised you and let you know that the garden has grown to host 5 different species of carnivorous plant.

Previously, I’ve brought up my progress with the Venus Fly Trap, the Drosera Capensis Alba and lastly, Nepenthes Bloody Mary but now we have 2 additions.

Sarracenia, Velvet


On the left, with the tall shoots, I am particularly fond of this new addition given its size. The wind blows it around in a mental fashion, a bit like those giant inflatable men you see sometimes!

Darlingtonia, Californica


Very young by the looks of it and also very crowded. They’ll be fine as they are for now.

Mostly I’ve seen flies, spiders and even a ladybug visit the plants and most fall victim to one of these carnivores if they hang around long enough. Who can blame them, I’ve essentially put out a deadly buffet for them.

I’m wrapping my head around creating a miniature bog for them all to live in, this will probably have to be done when the plants are dorment during winter so it’s just a planning phase for the time being.

Health and growth seem to be steady for all the plants, it’s been very, very wet this past month or so, so really keeping my fingers crossed for some sun! Here’s the gang all together for a group selfie.

Sarracenia Velvet and Darlingtonia will get their own individual pages wrote up about them as I study them over the next week or so, so expect to see some in depth analysis there. The strawberries I planted haven’t grown at all so I expect the crowns were dead when I brought them. Not to fret, I will be coming into some trims from another strawberry plant so I can continue with that as my little side project soon enough!

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Pardon me for being rude, it was not me it was my food

This week, we look more into thechemistry behind the Venus Fly Trap, and explore how it uses its methods to obtain key nutrients from insects that it catches.
Previously, I wrote that due to the acidity of its soil, the Venus Fly Trap is forced to become carnivorous in order to adapt to its environment. Using its mouths to trap wandering prey as they unknowingly stroll into their impending doom.

This head is beginning to open after a week of digesting a spider.

Slowly, the insect is digested for all its useful nutrients so that to plant may continue to thrive and grow. Although plants don’t have tendons that can grab, chew and swallow their food. This raises a question, how does it get food to its stomach?
Well, the heads are infact both mouth and stomach in one. In truth, we aren’t totally sure how the process all works but the theory goes that cells may be compressed inside the mouth, this tension may actually hold the mouth open and its the insects weight and movement that break this tension and cause it to snap shut. Another hypothesis, mechanical movement in the trigger hairs changes water pressure within the cells, where the cells are expanded by water pressure and the trap closes as the cell tissue relaxes.

So how does the plant break its food down?

Just like our stomachs, the Venus Fly Trap uses acidic digestive fluids that dissolve soft tissues and cell membranes of the insect. Using enzymes it will digest DNA, amino acids and other cellular molecules into smell edible pieces that can be used for energy, growth and development. All that remains afterwards is an eerie exoskeleton of the insect!

Closer look at the recently digested meal.

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Drosera Capensis Alba

Last time I wrote that I would be bringing in a new addition, and here we are…

Drosera Capensis Alba

This beautiful contraption uses a sticky dew to catch its prey – as you see from above it is quite popular amongst the local flies.

It differs from other carnivorous plants in this way so it can take advantage of the dew that sweeps across our gardens each morning, however, I read online that leaving in direct sunlight too long can essentially “dry out” the plant. This is something I’ll have to monitor over the next few days so any advice you may have could prove vital.

It joins both Hector (Venus Fly Trap) and Henrietta (Nepenthes) on my balcony outside, although I may move the Drosera Capensis to another pot to avoid any weight or “overcrowding” issues.

Unlike other Drosera Capensis, the Alba variety is given this name because it keeps its lush green colour. As a result, I feel Jessica can be the only befitting name (there was also Jordi but you may not be familiar with him) for this carnivore.

As an insect becomes trapped in this sticky fluid, the plant will slowly begin to curl and close in on the prey. Above you can see this fly has just landed – in fact, if I could upload a video I would because it’s still alive and moving!

You can see the curvature at the top of the image (which I can just about count 4 flies) as this begins to close. None of the arms are at a fully curved stage so I’ll watch closely and ensure I get greater images for the next blog.

In terms of watering, treat it like other carnivores in the sense of giving it distilled water. I read that eventually Drosera Capensis produces flowers so it will not require too much watering – just keep the soil damp and you should be ok. Budding botanists online have advised that these are some of the easiest carnivores to look after!

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Cycles!

As we reach June the summer weather should be hitting us now here in London, UK. It’s been late and after a wet week our gardens will be after some real sunshine.

Hector has completed a cycle!

All of the heads that were present when I first brought my Venus Fly Trap have now gone and the image above is a fresh batch of leafs and heads that have grown with me. We have a warm week forecast ahead of us so I’m hoping for some real growth now!

Hector and Henrietta in their permanent home

New sacs are forming on my Nepenthes, Bloody Mary, and have even began attracting visitors. I’m just hoping to show you a real catch soon!

As the old from last year have passed, the new life in your garden will be prepared for summer and should be just about ready for long warm nights, make sure you can take full advantage of the late evening sunlight.

This week I cared for my neighbours plants and the cycle of strawberries is going well (not that I can say the same for my own which are still only crowns!)

It’s a time of year that keeps gardeners and botanists at their busiest and I’ll be adding a new addition to my collection very soon. It is important to keep a careful eye out for pests and bugs that will try to eat your precious fruits but with the right care and determination you should be able to have lovely edible fruit at the end of July!

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What Can Plants Do For You?

We’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks, in terms of looking after carnivorous plants anyway, and it’s time to look back and reflect on what this has done for me and why I would encourage all of us to look after all kinds of plant life.

I personally feel that there are 3 key skills which a botanist develops over time and they are:

  • Patience
  • Discipline
  • Humility

Buddhists popularly keep the Bonsai tree, as this helps them on the spiritual path to a higher understanding of our existence – if you believe that sort of thing. They practiced the art of “penjing” or “pun-sai” which means to create a small landscape in a container or pot and in turn, relates to the Chinese philosophical tradition of Taoism.

Google Search: Image of Buddhist and Taoist New Year Display

Taoism is thinking and living in a natural way and less towards the thinking of modern living. Being one with nature, understanding the flow of life and going with the flow are key parts of what Taoism teaches. Even if Taoism and spiritualism isn’t your thing, you can still better shape your own mind as you get to know the world around you.

Google Search: Bonsai Tree

Meeting this with a child like enthusiasm will make your experience invaluable and enjoyable – even if your like me and struggle in the beginning, it will take time but you’ll get there. I will adapt the new found skills I am developing to my own life.

At first it may not sound very useful, or I may not even spot when it is useful but someone who is well humbled and patient will better handle a disruptive colleague at work, or the dissertation paper you are writing will be easier to find its flow. I myself have not got a particular interest in studying Taoism in depth (though now I’ve mentioned it..), however I’m sure harnessing and practicing these skills over time will aid me in many factors throughout life.

Whether it be carnivorous plants, a bonsai, fruits and vegetables or even plain old daffodils, you can find an abundance of pleasure from cultivating the life that has given so much to us throughout the history of our existence and with the increasing worries of human interference on nature – it is vitally important that we all do our bit to give back to our home.

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Nepenthes, Bloody Mary

I couldn’t resist jumping straight in with Nepenthes, Bloody Mary (who I named Henrietta to make things even more complicated) and taking a further in depth look at this beautiful carnivorous plant.

Each leaf is accompanied by a sac/pod of liquid

Nepenthes appears to grow these sacs from each leaf, creating a sort of backwards raindrop affect where the sac reaches for the sky instead of hanging low.

Nepenthes ranges into 150 different species coming from all over the globe, such as; China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillippines, Madagascar, Australia, India AND Sri Lanka!

Making its own fluid, the trap creates a syrupy goo that drowns any prey who dares wonder inside. This fluid contacts ‘viscoelastic biopolymers’ that could be vital to trapping insects, especially the flying variety. Much like the Venus Fly Trap, Henrietta will use this carnivorous advantage to obtain crucial nutrients that it is unable to get through the soil around it. The inside of the pod also is walled with a wax coating that makes escape near impossible!

The lip of the plant is a structure called ‘peristome’ which creates a slippery surface that any curious insects could slip on – it appears Henrietta is really keen on ensuring she gets her visitors.

Fully grown mature Nepenthes (image taken from Google search)

They do not require too much or too harsh sunlight, instead I will leave mine on the windowsill where the double glazing on my windows will reduce a lot of the glare. They do however, require damp soil but I have been informed not to let them sit in water.

I believe my species in particular to be of the ‘vieillardii‘ which actually descend from New Caladonia. It will be interesting to see how this plant grows into its intricate design. 

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Urban Issues

It’s been quite a week as I’ve managed to not only solve the distilled water issue, but also brought another addition to the family.

Introducing Nepenthes, Bloody Mary.

The water issue has been solved as I previously thought boiling water would kill chemicals in the water. It appears that I was wrong and this in fact can make the chemicals more concentrated. Yikes!
Instead, I have a tumble dryer at home which collects water vapour from my clothes and deposits this as distilled water, in a plastic compartment in the bottom. Then, I can remove this and pour the water into a small glass/cup for my plants!

A second issue I have is that the windows in my apartment are double glazed and greatly reduce sunlight to the plants – an issue I had not anticipated in the beginning. I’ve now hung up a pot out the front and will need to purchase some more pots for the west side too.

I’ve cut the flower from Hector (Venus Fly Trap) as the plant will spend all its energy trying to produce a flower and I want it to use that energy to thrive into the heads, instead. Even from the above image you can see how much that head on the right hand side is thriving, now I’m hoping it will turn more of a red colour in the coming weeks.

I’d like to look more into the nature of the Nepenthes, whom I shall call Henrietta, and the sacs that it uses to catch prey so I’ll elaborate on that perhaps in the next day or two. I hope these past few weeks have taught you a thing or two, as they have for me, so please do share your own thoughts and experiences if you wish!

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