Venus Flytrap in the Office?
June 6, 2013 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Any advice on having a carnivorous plant in the office? My understanding is that if it's directly under a fluorescent light it may be okay. Also, any studies on how many flies one might eat?

Our plant (pun intended) is near a dog food factory and a chicken farm. The flies here are awful every year. One of the guys joked that we should get a bunch of venus fly traps. And my boss thinks that might actually be a good idea (he's very excited about any unusual approaches to a problem, and also in bringing greenery into the workplace). But he'd like to see if there are any studies done that would support carnivorous plants as a way to cut down on our fly problem. If so he'd get the company to pay for some. I doubt there are any, but if there were, AskMefi would know.

But even if work doesn't buy a bulk shipment of Audrey II's for us, I might get one for myself, just for the fun of it. I have a little garden under a fluorescent light at my cubicle, and I think having a fly trap or sundew at my desk would be pretty cool. Any advice on how to treat one right indoors?

Thanks very much!
posted by Caravantea to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know how many flies one Venus flytrap eats, but I do know it's possible for them to die from over-feeding (ask me what happened to my mom's back when I was a kid totally fascinated by the thing.....). On the other hand, I'd guess that if it was catching it's own prey, and not being hand-fed extra flies, they should be okay.
posted by easily confused at 6:04 AM on June 6, 2013


I have a terrarium of carnivorous plants in my office - pitcher plants, flytraps and sundews. My office has no windows at all (yay, grad school) and they have been doing fine under fluorescent lights for several years. I keep the lights on a timer that cycles according to season.

My plants eat all the fruit flies escaped from neighboring labs that make it into my office - that's not very many flies, though. My hunch is that unless you have a truly astonishing number of carnivorous plants, they're not going to eradicate all your flies. They just don't eat THAT much. On that note, it's not great for them if you over-feed them by hand (or trigger the traps all the time just for fun) but if you let them catch whatever comes their way they should be just fine. And they're a fun office pet!

The only other thing I'd encourage you to do in terms of care is to water them with a low-mineral water (I use distilled water - our tap water is way too hard). The mineral buildup from tap water isn't good for them. More generally, you can trust these guys on carnivorous plant care.
posted by pemberkins at 6:14 AM on June 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have had one of these. They don't eat many flies at all, they are not animals and it takes them a long time to digest. They are also difficult plants to maintain since they are very sensitive to water quality.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:14 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid I had a little terrarium of carnivorous plants.

I'm pretty sure the venus flytraps died because I kept poking at them to make their little mouths close. (It was cute.) Regardless, they were way too small to catch a fly-fly. I don't know how typical this is, but the ones available to us for purchase (in stores and the like) were all really small. Gnat-eating size.

The pitcher plants lived for years, though. While less cool, they're pretty and were a lot less fussy.

My suggestion would be to mix it up and get a variety of plants. Especially pitcher plants.
posted by phunniemee at 6:14 AM on June 6, 2013


No, venus fly traps are not a reliable way to cut down on flies. In my experience an average plant will end up with a few smallish flies slowly digesting at any one time. Takes just over a week before the trap re-opens.

As a way to control the odd gnat bumping around on the windowsill, they'll work fine. Pitcher plants will catch larger flies (some can even digest small frogs, I believe). But still, it's a highly inefficient form of pest management.
posted by pipeski at 6:17 AM on June 6, 2013


They won't make much of a difference. I've kept venus fly traps on and off over the years and they can only consume one fly per trap - so for the average plant that means 8-10 at best at any given time and they spend a long time digesting. They are delicate too like pemberkins says, they dislike being fed manually and triggering the traps for fun is a sure way to usher them to an early grave. They also need to be kept well watered, and dislike airconditioned, low humidity environments in my experience.

For reference - my fly trap sat in a room that got a lot of flies coming in through the window and it made little difference (I wasn't using it to deal with a fly issue). Compared to things like fly paper, which is cheap and disposable and won't get upset when Bob keeps poking them with his pencil or Carol forgets to water them, venus fly traps are ineffective.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:29 AM on June 6, 2013


Alas! I didn't think they'd be that great for the fly management. But I think I still may get one (or a set) just for myself for the cool factor.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by Caravantea at 6:30 AM on June 6, 2013


If you want to handle flies, get spiders. Seriously.

Also, do what you can to see what the source of the flytrap plant is-- apparently poaching them is a thing.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:41 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest temptation when I had one was to trigger it, to see one of the traps close. But it turns out that's a very bad idea. Each individual trap only can fire a limited number of times, and it takes several days to open again because it has to grow to do it.

They do catch flies, but not very many. Certainly not enough to make any difference. Mine stayed alive under flourescent lights but it never seemed like it was prospering. It looked like a plant that needed more light than it was getting.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2013


I've raised insectivorous plants of all types, and done a bit of research into them. Pretty much everything above is spot on.

Some extra points:

NEVER fertilize. These plants evolved in low-nutrient environs (which is why they resorted to eating meat). Their roots cannot compete with fungus and bacteria in nutrient-rich soils. (A commercial grower decided to test why they die; he grew thousands of cuttings in different soils, and determined it was mostly fungal attack on their roots that killed them in rich soils.)

Venus Flytraps won't trigger on really small insects - in fact, they can be destroyed by them, and mites frequent their kills. If you're trying to kill fruit flies, get honeydews, which catch prey with sticky droplets.

It's almost impossible to overwater most insectivores (incl. VFTs and honeydews). They grow in bogs. Perpetually flooded isn't good, but if you're leaving for vacation, go ahead and leave them with standing water - it won't hurt them for a few weeks. (Low-mineral water, as noted above.)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:59 AM on June 6, 2013


Maybe install a couple of these outside the building? (trigger warning: disgusting heaps of dead flies)
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:22 AM on June 6, 2013


I used sundews to control fruit flies and scarids in my greenhouse and indoors (the pests often come as a free gift in potting mix that you buy).

Venus Fly Traps are certainly able to catch regular flies. I've had a venus fly trap catch and partially digest a medium size snail. They don't catch that many like people are saying. Pitcher plants will catch more but you should also be aware that they actively attract flies so you will probably make your problems worse rather than better.

They require pure peat or close to it for a potting mix as well just in case you grow them well enough to divide. Nthing the need for distilled water. I keep my current indoor carnivores sitting in distilled water - about an inch that I let evaporate/absorb into the potting mix until it is gone and then i add another inch.

For those without a fly population you can feed most carnivorous plants with betta fish food. Mix it with water to make a paste and use a fine paint brush to dab some on the plant's 'mouth'. If it is a fly trap be sure and move the brush around to hit the required hair sensors to trigger a close. Make sure the paste has more water than paste if possible (dry paste blobs don't work). With sundews I will dab more water on the paste blobs if they are not being digested (the leaves haven't curled up around the blob).

There fun to grow and fairly easy. In good light conditions they even have beautiful colouration and can be quite striking.

You might be better of trying to attract purple martins with a bird condo if you are within their habitat range or trying to get your neighbours to use fly parasites to reduce the population (they are not that expensive).
posted by srboisvert at 9:54 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shit. For "honeydews" read "sundews". Apparently I was hungry when I wrote that.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:16 AM on June 7, 2013


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