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Insect-Eaters Can Thrive in County if Given Some Care

January 26, 1991|CLARK SHARON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most carnivorous plants are relatively easy to grow. Or so says botanist Leo Song. On the other hand, if you are among the floral-impaired, with a grower's thumb about as green as a sunset, this may be less declaration than outright challenge. From painful experience you know that the only botanical sure bet is weeds, which sprout by remote control. And even weeds need some traces of water and sunlight to fuel their wildness.

Vegetative defeatism aside, Song coolly insists that many insect-eaters do just fine in Orange County.

"A lot of the pitcher plants, as well as the Venus flytrap, survive well here in Southern California, even when grown outside," he says.

(In the case of the flytrap, this local adaptability may be helped by a coincidence of geography: Orange County lies at about the same latitude as the plant's native bogs near Wilmington, N.C.)

Indoors, carnivorous plants are both decorative and entertaining. They are also surprisingly low maintenance. They need no fertilizers, deriving all necessary minerals and nutrients from their insect victims.

While the nuances of cultivation can differ among species, the following growing tips apply to most carnivorous plants:

Containers: A glass terrarium will help your insect-eating pets retain moisture vital to the secretion of digestive juices as well as bug-attracting aromas. Also, make sure there is an opening through which prospective meals can enter.

Planting medium: Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, butterworts and sundews thrive in sphagnum moss. This porous material is good at retaining water while letting plant roots breathe. It can be bought at most nurseries and florists. (Check that no fertilizer has been added to the moss.)

Water: Use water that is essentially free of minerals. Distilled, bottled, pure well and stream water, are fine (but not softened water). Probably the best choice is rainwater. City tap water can be used, but let it sit a few days to allow chlorine and other chemicals to dissipate.

Lighting: Most carnivorous plants like lots of light, but temperatures on the cool side. A few hours in a bright, southern-exposure window can overheat and dry them out. Conditions are often more temperate in eastern or western exposure windows. Artificial-growth lamps can also be used.

Feeding: Any small bugs will do. If your home is lacking in insect intruders, you will have to help fill out your leafy pets' menu by scouting the garden, patio or garage for appropriate morsels. (But don't use spiders; they are beneficial predators important in the control of harmful insects.)

Plant sources: Carnivorous plants (especially Venus flytraps) are available by mail order and, at certain times of the year, from nurseries and discount garden centers. Specific growing information, as well as appropriate planting medium, is usually supplied with the plants.

The International Carnivorous Plant Society does not officially endorse mail-order sources for carnivorous plants, although it does provide a list for its members, as well as interested hobbyists, with a list of mail-order sellers who recognize international and U.S. restrictions for certain carnivorous plant species. For information write to the society in care of the Fullerton Arboretum, Cal State Fullerton, East Yorba Linda Boulevard and Associated Road, Fullerton, Calif. 92634.

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