Carnivorous plants – a taste for flies

Flies aren’t much of a nuisance in the UK at this time of year, but in the summer we seem to get more than our fair share buzzing around here in rural Dorset. And it’s not just houseflies and the bigger, more obvious sorts that pay us a visit; there are the more diminutive plant pest species, such as carrot flies, onion flies, whiteflies, aphids and thrips – to name but a few – as well as the swarms of fungus gnats that float out of my compost bin each time I open it.

We’re lucky to have lots of house martins and swallows swooping over the garden between mid April and late September, which must catch lots more flies than we ever get to see, but I’ve got other allies in the form of my trumpet pitchers, or sarracenias, most of which I bought from Hampshire Carnivorous Plants. These insectivorous plants are past masters at attracting and catching insects. Slice open one of the funnel-shaped pitchers, formed from the base of the leaf, and you’ll find it filled with the corpses of flies and a whole host of other insects.

Hardy carnivorous plants

You often see sarracenias for sale alongside venus fly traps (Dionaea sp.), sundews (Droserasp.) and tropical pitchers (Nepenthes sp.) in the houseplant section at garden centres, and the assumption of many gardeners is that they are all tender and need to be grown indoors. But a large number of sarracenias come from northern parts of the Eastern United States where winters are much more severe than ours, and that means that they can be grown outdoors in the UK.

I have a pair of large wooden barrels, filled with coir compost and each planted with six different sarracenia hybrids. There are lots to choose from, some with 60cm (2ft) tall pitchers, others with short chunky traps; and with foliage flushed, marbled or streaked with cream, yellow, pink or red. All are splendid looking and have the added bonus of producing dramatic flowers. My barrels are positioned in a sheltered, sunny place on the patio where the leaves develop their maximum colour intensity. And they need very little care, apart from topping up the barrels with rain water if the compost dries out in summer, and cutting back the oldest, bleached out pitchers in early April.

In return these greedy plants will get all the food they need from the flies. Handy… and hardy!

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