Carnivorous plants hungry for ants, beetles and flies

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Tap Tapie knows that very soon, the carnivorous plant section of the Wilson Botanical Gardens will be a dangerous place for a bug.

This is the second year for the growing collection of meat-eating plants that thrive on the nutrient-rich insects they are fortunate enough to catch.

“Where they originally grow, it is very nutrient-depleted, so that’s why they get some of their nutrients from the insect,” said Tapie, a member of the Wilson County Master Gardeners, the group whose members tend the Wilson Botanical Gardens. “They will get a little bit from the ground, but very, very little, so they depend on the insects. So it is a highly evolved mechanism.”

There are three types of carnivorous plants in the display — pitcher plants, Sun Dews and Venus flytraps.

Each has a different manner of capturing its prey.

Of the various types of pitcher plants in the garden, each generally relies on the bug to fall into the throat of a tall funnel.

“Some of them have a sweet substance on them that attracts the insects,” Tapie said. “Once they slide down, they can’t get back up. It’s too slippery. Then it’s digested.”

With the Sun Dew, the plant’s filaments are covered in tiny balls of sticky goo. If the insect lands on the sticky substance, it is stuck for good, and the process of digestion begins.

The Venus flytrap actually has a clasper that slams shut on the fly when it steps in the wrong place.

“There are some pollinators that they have not seen caught in the traps of the Venus flytrap, so they are wondering if these pollinators have some special resistance, but others, like the flies ... they are caught very quickly,” Tapie said.

Pitcher plants tend to send their flower blossoms in advance of their pitchers so they can be pollinated without being ensnared.

“The flowers come first so that they can be pollinated. Then comes up the pitchers that will eat the pollinators if they get caught in there,” Tapie said. “The plants don’t want to kill the pollinators before they are fertilized, so they send up the flowers first. Once they are pollinated, then the pitchers will come up.”

Tapie spent a recent morning planting a dozen additional varieties of pitcher plants to fill out the display.

“Once they start, they grow fairly fast,” Tapie said. “I plan on planting some more along the edges. Within about two years I think this is going to look spectacular. They are going to be multiplying and filling up the area, so it will look like one big wave of plants. As they grow and multiply, it is just going to be like what you would see in the movies about prehistoric landscapes. It’s just going to be phenomenal.”

“What we are hoping here is that it fills this area and since we have so many different kinds that you eyes will just go from one section to another,” Tapie said.

“It will not be one plant, but many kinds here. It will be very entertaining.”

People are very interested in these plants all over the world, Tapie said.

“I have always been interested in carnivorous plants because they are meat-eaters like me,” said New Bern resident Ken Haigler as he knelt to photograph a pitcher plant. “Is that allowed to be said in this day and age?”

Haigler came all the way to Wilson with a group of photographers from the New Bern-based Coastal Photo Club.

The Wilson Botanical Gardens offered a great opportunity for the group to see a variety of the flowers and plants.

“This part is fascinating,” said Robbin Haigler, who is Ken’s wife. “We grew up in the Midwest where we don’t have this type of environment for the pitcher plants and the Venus flytraps. We are still trying to catch the Venus flytraps in bloom.”

Tapie said more and more people are attempting to grow carnivorous plants.

“People are pretty successful in growing them in sunrooms,” Tapie said.

“It used to be just dedicated botanists,” Tapie said.

But Tapie warns gardeners not to fertilize the plants.

“That is a mistake people have made when they have bought some,” Tapie said. “They will die because they are evolved to grow in an area of very few nutrients. People are glad to have a plant that they don’t have to fertilize.”

Tapie treats the soil around the display with sphagnum peat moss and vermiculite to lower the nutrients in the soil, and the plants are thriving in it.

“I am just mesmerized at how beautiful they are,” Tapie said. “People are going to be amazed.”

The Wilson Botanical Gardens is free to the public and open from dawn to dusk on every day of the year. The gardens are located around the Wilson Agricultural Center, 1806 Goldsboro St. SW. For more information, call 252-237-0111.