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Dionaea ‘Wacky Traps’

1st March 2019 – Update 5

The Dionaea ‘Wacky Traps’ has come a long way in growth and establishment in its pot. The plant has put on significant growth and has produced the somewhat standard eight traps per plant.

As the season changes from Summer to Autumn, the plant will slowly but surely start slowing down metabolic processes to prepare for the dormancy during Winter. A health and established plant such as this specimen is an ideal candidate for propagation when Spring comes. By the end of 2019 we aim to have successfully propagated this specimen from leaf pullings.

You can see the healthy ecology of the pot by the living moss which has established itself on top, and the odd Drosera sp. which has invaded too!

7th November 20187 – Update 4

Dionaea 'Wacky Traps'
Dionaea ‘Wacky Traps’

Wacky Traps have now completely broken dormancy, and are in active growth.

The Sphagnum moss media is starting to green up. The plant has been kept completely outside in full weather standing in a tray of water.

The plant is small, 7cm in diameter. One notable feature, the plant has six active traps with one trap developing. This is completely consistent with other Dionaea plants.

25th July 2018 – Update 3

The plants are completely dormant. There is no above ground growth. In this way, Wacky Traps appears to be similar in growth habit to many of the red Dionaea cultivars. I expect the plants to resume active growth again late spring, rather than early spring. The cultivar appears to be that kind of slow performer.

9th April 2018 – Update 2

South Australia is in the midst of an Autumn heat wave. Temperatures in the mid 30’s have persisted for four days. Wacky Traps is still outside on a full sun growing bench. The weather and additional light has made some of the leaves turn light rose red. This is not uncommon. The 85mm pots are standing in 2 – 3 cm of reverse osmosis product water.

There has been some die-back. But that said, there has been much more new growth of new leaves. Previously closed traps have also re-opened, although it may be difficult to tell because Wacky Traps is very small at the moment.

Wacky Traps has been fertilized for the Autumn (along with other Dionaea on the same bench). The fertilizers was 1/4 strength Seasol mixed into pure water, applied as a foliar spray.

31st March 2018 – Update 1

The weather is still conducive to establishment and growth.

Weather forecast

The Wacky Traps are less floppy then on the 28th of March, and both plants are showing signs of stress recovery. New growth is continuing development without browning off. The new growth is small, but not unexpected for a plant growing outside in current environmental conditions this time of year.

28th March 2018 – Wacky Traps arrival

We’ve got some very exciting news. A while back we sourced material of Dionaea muscipula ‘Wacky Traps’ B. Rice.

If you haven’t heard of Dionaea ‘Wacky Traps’ you’re not alone. It’s a cultivar of Dionaea muscipula (Venus Fly-Trap) which isn’t common in Australia. Dionaea muscipula ‘Wacky Traps’ was a clone which came from Cresco Nursery in the Netherlands. The plant is an extremely slow grower. It has abnormally thick traps and petioles, which are probably the reason why ‘Wacky Traps’ has trouble closing its traps quickly. It takes several minutes to stimulate trap closure even with repeated teasing of the trigger hairs.

‘Wacky Traps’ is one of those cultivars which never fails to draw strong opinion. Some people revel in its uniqueness and absurdity while other people outright hate it, convinced its only real contribution to horticulture is in the compost bin.

We are aiming to add ‘Wacky Traps’ to our offerings in the future. Because of it’s slow growing nature, we though it might be an interesting idea to blog our progress in cultivating and propagating this unique cultivar. We will investigate the speed of growth, self division potential, most effective media to grow in and dormancy. Before tissue culture or cuttings can be considered, plants must be healthy and ideally mature.

First steps

Plants can arrive from all kinds of places, having been through all kinds of stresses, in various conditions. The trick to maximizing positive results is to re-hydrate bare rooted plants as quickly as possible. The easiest way to do this is to add pure water to a plastic container. Allow the plants to float in the water. Leave them there from an hour. Always keep them in shade or indoors while re hydration occurs.

Dionaea 'Wacky Traps' arrival

The two plants have since been potted in 85mm square pots. Pot A contains 100% long fiber Sphagnum moss. Pot B contains premium carnivorous plant mix. Part of getting to know a cultivar is to learn it’s growing habits. Some Dionaea (normally the more vigorous growing) do very well in Sphagnum peat moss mixes, while some of the more fragile and slower growing Dionaea find Sphagnum moss much easier for their roots to push through. We will be able to observe the growth difference in the two different media over time.

Dionaea 'Wacky Traps' potted up

Being around mid Autumn, our first priority is to get the plants acclimatized to outside conditions by providing sheltered conditions for 72 hours, and then slowly introducing to warm, but not hot sun. We want these plants to be settled in their pots and hardened by the time Autumn is finished. This will ensure survival over winter. If we wrap the plants in cotton wall and greenhouse them now we actually risk setting their development back further.

New plants can sometimes worsen before they improve, depending on the environment they’ve come from, their age, their health and the time of year. This is completely expected, no reflection of their history. If this happens to ‘Wacky Traps’ the season may provide enough time to recover enough to survive winter.

At this point in time it’s unknown how dormancy will manifest with ‘Wacky Traps’. My thoughts are the plant will die back to it’s rosette. Stronger and more vigorous cultivars e.g. ‘Paradisia’ can continue slow and smaller growth during winter. But weaker growing cultivars often die back severely. My feeling is ‘Wacky Traps’ fits into the latter.

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Venus Fly-Trap Dormancy

Dormancy is a state in which metabolic processes including growth all but stop. Dormancy is the plant equivalent of a hibernating animal. Dormancy is a survival strategy which allows plants to endure adverse conditions. Winter dormancy for a Dionaea is about two things, resting to conserve energy and dividing to produce progeny.

So what brings on dormancy? Both a reduction in light and temperature definitely contribute to a plant going into dormancy. Less light means less photosynthesis. With less photosynthesis comes a reduction in sugars for plants to metabolize. Less energy means slower, smaller growth. When energy is in low supply, the plant needs to choose between maintaining large traps for insects which aren’t around or conserving its rhizome and ensuring survival. Lower temperatures mean slower rate of translocation within the plant. When the weather turns conducive to growth, the plant’s systems begin to function again and growth resumes.

It may surprise you to learn the four photos of the four different Dionaea cultivars were all taken on the same day, during winter in South Australia on the 30th of July 2017. All of these plants have identical climatic and environmental conditions. They are outside for winter. All were exposed to the same temperatures and fluctuations. All received the same rainfall All are planted in similar media etc. So how can each look so different? The answer is genetics. Even within one species, the potential for genetic variation is huge, almost unimaginably large.

Dionaea muscipula ‘paradisia’

Dionaea muscipula ‘Red Piranah’

Dionaea muscipula (typical)

Dionaea muscipula ‘Shark’s Teeth’

Dionaea’s, like many other plants, also use winter dormancy to keep their houses in order. For instance, proteins are broken down and re-made and cell membranes are maintained. Without these vital events taking place, a plant will become compost very quickly.

Some growers may suggest to you that a young Dionaea can skip their first year dormancy. This can work, but it’s not without risk. Even if it works the plant will be slow to grow when compared with plants which have just broken their dormancy. The plant may also be more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Let this be a lesson on the importance of dormancy. It may look like Dionaea is doing nothing during winter, but actually it’s in survival mode. Using less energy and conserving what it can in as it waits for the dormancy breaking warmth and light.

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Here’s the four commandments for cultivating happy, healthy Venus Fly-Traps.

Before we begin I should mention the scientific name for a Venus Fly-Trap is Dionaea muscipula. You will come across this name if you pursue learning more about this plant. Venus Fly-Trap’s and Dionaea muscipula are one and the same.

1.   Let there be light, aplenty

Venus Fly-Traps need full sun. Actually it’s fair to say the amount of shade you give them is directly proportional to their likelihood of death. They are not going to survive on your windowsill, kitchen table or under your veranda. They want to see the sun. If you want happy, healthy and colourful plants you had better let them. Besides, outside is where the flying, buzzing, crawling and biting food is.

In the hotter months, where temperatures are in the high 30’s or low 40’s it is a good idea to provide some shaded protection from the scorching afternoon sun.

Now the good news is, lack of light won’t kill a Venus Fly-Trap immediately. There will be warning signs. Long leggy and weak growth, pale and chlorotic colours, mould and fungus on the plant or on the soil are all common indicators light levels are too low. In severe cases the plant may start to rot from the inside out. Look out for these signs to prevent a disaster.

2.   water, water and more water

Venus Fly-Traps need a lot of water. They like conditions akin to bogs. A Venus Fly-Trap who is sitting in a few centimetres of water between spring and autumn is going to be right at home. A daily watering from the top will be warmly received too. Just be aware of the distinction between bog plant and aquatic plant – Venus Fly-Traps can’t swim, or hold their breath.

You may have experience growing other plants, for example African violets, where over watering can cause imminent death. Venus Fly-Traps have the opposite problem, many growers kill their plants from under watering. They won’t give you a second chance.

The type of water you give really matters. You must only water your plants with rain water or preferably demineralised water. There’s a long and complicated reason for this and if you are interested it is available here. The short reason is Venus Fly-Traps have adapted to environments very low in nutrients. Tap water adds nutrients to your soil, and in time (depending on which and how many dissolved solids are in your water) will kill your plant.

You may think your water is OK, that you will get away with watering with tap water. Maybe you even think we have shares in a water distillery! Let me tell you, it isn’t, you won’t and we don’t. Rain water or demineralised water only.

3.   Soil, hold the nutrients

Every couple of years you will need to divide and repot your Venus Fly-Trap into another plastic pot. You must only ever pot your Venus Fly-Trap up in acidic, low nutrient growing media. There are a few proven and accepted blends. 50% sphagnum peat moss and 50% sharp propagating sand works well. This blend can make the pot heavy, so using perlite instead of propagating sand works too. Other growers use 100% long fibre sphagnum. While some use 1/3 sphagnum moss, 1/3 sphagnum peat moss and 1/3 propagating sand. There’s more information about repotting and media preparation here.

Never stray from the core growing media ingredients. I don’t care how well your tomatoes grow in your home made, manure fortified premium potting mix. It will kill your Venus Fly-Trap. Don’t try to save money and use cheaper substitutes – coconut fibre is not a suitable replacement for sphagnum peat moss. River or beach sand is not a replacement for sharp propagating sand. Also ensure none of your ingredients contain any added fertiliser. This is a trap especially with sphagnum peat moss. Some suppliers add pH neutralizers and fertilisers to their peat. Venus Fly-Traps can’t handle soil conditioners or fertilisers. They will never forgive you until the day they die. You make take some solace in the fact it will be a short grudge.

All parts of your growing media should be independently washed with rain water or demineralised water to remove any excessive nutrient or salt content. The best way to do this is to use a sieve to clean the raw ingredients and allow the water to drain away. Repeat the process at least four or five times with each ingredient. Once you’ve replanted your Venus Fly-Trap give the plant a slow but steady water from the top until at least three times the volume of the pot has been flushed through. Allow the excess water to freely drain away. Don’t collect it or allow your plant to sit in it.

If you have a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter you can check the water coming out the bottom of your pot by collecting it in a clean container. The TDS should be < 50ppm (parts per million). The lower the TDS the better. TDS meters can be picked up at most hydroponic stores for between $30 – $50.

4.   Sleep, better than caffeine

Venus Fly-Traps need to go dormant during winter. Dormant plants will die back and sink into their pots. Traps will be much smaller if they are present at all. Dormancy is not only normal, but also necessary for survival. Dormant Venus Fly-Traps look a miserable shell of their former self. Often inexperienced growers throw their plant away thinking it has died. Don’t make this mistake.

Dormancy allows the plant to rest, divide and protect itself from the winter weather. Venus Fly-Traps need less water during dormancy. Don’t let your plant sit in water during winter. Frosts and occasional brief freezes won’t damage a Venus Fly-Trap. Even during dormancy though, the plant still needs as much light as possible.

You might be thinking of cheating by keeping your Venus Fly-Trap artificially warm and under light? Don’t do it. It will likely work, and you will end up with a weak plant that eventually dies from utter exhaustion. There’s no coming back from that. Always respect a plants life-cycle.

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Should I trigger my Venus Fly-Trap?

One of the great fascinations with children and adults alike is triggering a Venus Fly-Trap and watching it quickly snap shut. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with and learning about your plant as long as you use moderation and care. It costs the plant an incredible amount of energy to snap a trap closed. The plant is expecting a good meal for its efforts. If it doesn’t catch an insect a trap can quickly run out of energy and die. Not the plant, just the trap. A trap is extremely sensitive so being too rough can damage and trap and make it inoperable. Even if a trap is damaged it can still photosynthesise and help the plant produce sugars and energy though.

A trap that has closed with no insect will re-open. Depending on the weather, the age of the trap and the state of the plant the trap may re-open anywhere between a few hours and two days. A day or so is not uncommon.

You may notice a Venus Fly-Trap is slower to close during the cooler months and much faster during late spring and summer. This is a deliberate effort by the plant to be ready and on standby when insects are likely to be around. And much more complacent and restful when insects may be scarce.