There are over 500 types of carnivorous plants, but the most common ones include pitcher plants, sundews, Venus flytraps, butterworts, and bladderworts.
If you’re new to the world of carnivorous plants, or if you’ve been an avid gardener for years, it can be hard to know where to start or which type of plant to choose.
There are many different types of carnivorous plants available on the market today. This might leave newbie and expert plant enthusiasts alike feeling a little overwhelmed!
Luckily, this blog post will help clear up some of your questions and provide helpful tips about caring for these unusual plants so that you can get started with your own collection!
There are at least 583 different species that attract, trap, and kill their prey before absorbing the resulting nutrients. While many are threatened with extinction, there are some species that remain relatively common when grown as houseplants.
Below are some of the most common varieties of carnivorous plants that eat flies, bugs and other insects you can grow. Some are members of the same genus, while others are completely unrelated to the rest.
1. Monkey Cups or Tropical Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes)
Species in the Nepenthes genus go by many nicknames, including monkey cups, tropical pitchers, and more. The entire genus houses more than 170 different species, including both natural and cultivated hybrids.
The name for this plant comes from the fact that monkeys were once believed to drink rainwater from the pitchers (though this was later proven to be false).
Nepenthes can be found in both high-elevation and lowland forms. Both require good air circulation and well-draining soil. There are many different cultivars you can grow, including:
- N. × coccinea
- N. × ventrata
- N. × ‘Bloody Mary’
- N. ‘D’amato’
- N. ‘Syurga’
- N. ‘Menarik’
- N. ‘Emmarene’
- N. ‘Judith Finn’
2. Sundew (Drosera)
The genus Drosera, also known as the sundews, is one of the larger genera, with nearly 200 different species.
These species capture and digest insects with glands that cover their leaves. These species can be found all over the world and are native to every continent except Antarctica.
Because of this, there are temperate, subtropical, pygmy, tuberous, and Petiolaris complex sundews. They have lovely flowers that are held high above the leaves, suspended on a long single stem. The roots of this plant can be quite weak so it’s important to be careful when working with any plants in the Drosera genus.
Some of the most common types of sundews that are sold include:
- Cape sundew (D. capensis) – known for its rosette-forming leaves and small size
- Spoon-leaved sundew (D. spatulata) – also a rosette-forming sundew, but with spoon-shaped leaves
- Alice sundew (D. aliciae) – one of the most common sundews with tight rosettes of wedge-shaped leaves
3. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
This is probably the most ubiquitous and well-known species of carnivorous plants. It eats primarily arachnids and insects with a trapping structure formed by the end of each of the plant’s leaves. These trapping mechanisms are triggered by small hairs on the inner surfaces.
Although there are others in the Dionaea genus, the Venus flytrap is the most famous and the only one grown as a houseplant.
There are various cultivars of Venus fly trap plants you can buy, including ‘Akai Ryu’ and ‘South West Giant.’ Other options include:
- ‘Bohemian Garnet’
- ‘Fused Tooth’
- ‘Wacky Traps’
- ‘Viper Trap’
…and many more!
4. Butterworts (Pinguicula)
There are many different types of butterworts you can grow. All, however, have slightly succulent leaves and delicate flowers.
Pinguicula plant has a similar strategy to the sundew for trapping insects, with sticky hairs on its leaves that entrap small insects. The plants can be passive or active but rely on the sticky mucilage on the leaf surface to capture their prey.
Unlike many other types of these plants, butterworts are found all over the United States.
Butterworts can be classified into four groups: heterophyllous tropical species, homophilous tropical species, heterophyllous temperate species, and homophilous temperate species.
The many species of butterworts you can grow include:
- P. moranensis ‘G’
- P. ‘True Blue’
- P. gigantea
- P. grandiflora
- P. laueana
- P. ehlersiae
- P. esseriana
- P. jaumavensis
- P. immaculata
- P. kondoi
5. Bladderworts (Utricularia)
These plants are named for their tiny bladders. They live in the water and trap insects in their bladders, which look much like miniature suction bulbs. The plants have small hair-like sensors at the bladder’s opening. These feelers know when an insect has landed on the bladderwort, causing the bladder to inflate, suck in water, and eat the animal.
There are more than 240 species in the Utricularia genus. These plants are found everywhere except Antarctica and the oceanic islands!
Some of the most common Utricularia species include:
- U. reniformis
- U. gibba
- U. leptorhynchus
It is important to note that bladderworts typically aren’t grown as houseplants unless they are grown in aquariums. They are, after all, aquatic plants.
6. California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica)
Also known as the lobster pot plant, the cobra lily, or the cobra plant, this species of carnivorous plant has tubular leaves that look like a cobra rearing back with a forked tongue.
These plants also are said to look just like the pots that fishermen use to capture lobster, hence the name. They catch prey when it goes into the “lobster pot” and can’t find its way out.
7. Catapulting Flypaper Trap (Drosera glanduligera)
This plant has numerous methods that it uses to catch and eat its prey. It has the flypaper method of entrapment (like a butterwort) along with the snap trapping method of entrapment (just as a Venus flytrap does).
It is native to Australia and traps its prey with its tentacles. When the insect pressures the tentacles with its weight, the cells snap underneath it, causing the insect to be thrown back toward the interior of the plant and then eaten.
8. Nicky Dicky Plant (Brocchinia)
The Nicky Dicky Plant belongs to a family of bromeliads, which includes at least two carnivorous species.
These plants have tightly bound leaves that look like organ pipes. The pipes fill with water and insects fall into the tube, just like other pitcher plants.
9. Waterwheel Plant (Aldrovanda)
This is another aquatic type of carnivorous plant. It is free-floating and does not have roots. It can be cultivated in an aquarium. It is closely related to the Venus flytrap and acts just the same way with its flytrap mechanism for catching prey – except it’s underwater!
10. The Powdery Strap Airplant (Catopsis berteroniana)
Another bromeliad that is carnivorous is C. berteroniana. This plant is carnivorous as well as epiphytic, meaning it lives by clinging to the bare branches of trees. It also attracts insects and traps them with its slippery leaves.
11. Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
The purple pitcher plant is known for its vibrant purple leaves that are modified into pitcher-shaped traps for eating small insects.
This is one of the more common types of these species in North America.
The interior of the pitcher is covered with stiff hairs. These pitchers also hold rainwater, meaning insects eventually drown before being eaten by the plant.
Is Growing Carnivorous Plants Right for Me?
There are many types of insect-eating plants, but all have adapted to be able to trap and digest insects in order to survive. If you’re interested in growing any type of carnivorous plant, whether it’s a Venus Flytrap or pitcher plant, consider the following tips.
First, make sure you can provide ample sunlight and that they don’t dry out. Use distilled water for watering to prevent mineral build-up and consider fertilizing every now and then with organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion.
That’s all you need to know to successfully grow carnivorous plants. Happy growing and watch your fingers!
Palomar College: Carnivorous Plants https://www2.palomar.edu/users/warmstrong/carnivor.htm
Southern Illinois University: Carnivorous Plants https://plantbiology.siu.edu/facilities/plant-biology-facilities/greenhouse/topics/carnivorous.php
NC State Cooperative Extension: Carnivorous Plants https://craven.ces.ncsu.edu/carnivorous-plants-with-the-croatan-explorer/
Northern Kentucky University: Plant Adaptations II https://www.nku.edu/~whitsonma/Bio120LSite/Bio120LReviews/Bio120LPlantRev2.html
Geneseo State University: Sarracenia, a carnivorous plant https://milnepublishing.geneseo.edu/botany/chapter/sarracenia/
Yale University Marsh Botanical Garden: Carnivorous Plants https://marshbotanicalgarden.yale.edu/collections/carnivorous-plants
Bell Museum: Carnivorous Plants https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu/blog/carnivorous-plants-2021/