Looking for ways to get rid of insects bugging you at home? Carnivorous plants could be an environmentally friendly way to help manage your insect problem.
Most of these plants in nature live in environments that are very different from a home garden setting, which is why there are no common garden plants that are carnivorous.
With that being said, a handful of them can be grown indoors to help get rid of some annoying insects in your home.
Newsweek asked the experts how carnivorous plants work, which species can be grown indoors and how effective they are as an insect repelling solution.
Speaking to Newsweek, author and house plant expert Lisa Eldred Steinkopf explained carnivorous plants grow naturally in an area with a high peat (a surface layer of soil made partially of decomposed organic matter) content soil, so they "don't receive many nutrients from the soil they are living in."
So out in nature, American pitcher plants and sundews (more on both later below) may have their leaves completely dotted with insects. But this happens because in nature, carnivorous plants are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands of insects, every day, Kevin Zhang, the president of the Mid-Atlantic Carnivorous Plant Society (MACPS), told Newsweek.
While carnivorous plants won't solve your insect problem, they can be used as part of a wider bug control solution to help the situation.
Kenny Coogan, Education Director at the International Carnivorous Plant Society (ICPS), told Newsweek to use carnivorous plants for pest control purposes, "you will first need to keep the plants alive," noting while some can be grown indoors, many (or at least the most well known carnivorous plants) would fare better outdoors.
All carnivorous plants require pure water. Rainwater or distilled water are good options, while well, bottled and city water often contain too many contaminants or minerals, Coogan said.
How Do Carnivorous Plants Work?
Coogan explained carnivorous plants lure, trap and digest a variety of organisms ranging from single celled protozoa to the occasional small mammal and many eat a range of insects.
While some carnivorous plants lure their prey with visual markers, most of their prey are lured and trapped due to the sweet nectar they produce, the ICPS Education Director said.
Eldred Steinkopf said when carnivorous plants catch insects, they are "just like fertilizer" for the plants, providing them nutrients. "They are photosynthesizing, so they are actually making their own food from the sun. The insects just give them added nutrients."
She warned carnivorous plants should not be fed hamburger meat or anything similar. They need to be kept moist at all times, as they naturally grow in bogs (a patch of wetland made partially of decayed plant matter) and swamps.
They grow best in medium to bright light with plenty of humidity and are good for growing in terrariums (sealable glass containers, essentially an aquarium but for plants), Eldred Steinkopf advised.
Carnivorous Plants That Can Help With Your Insect Problem
There are around 1,000 species of carnivorous plants around the world. But only around a handful of them can be grown indoors and they require supplemental light and specialized care, Barbara Pleasant, a plant expert and author, told Newsweek.
Venus flytraps (also known as Dionaea) are among the very few carnivorous plants that exhibit motion to actively trap its prey, with its two hinged lobes snapping shut to capture its prey, the U.S. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) explains.
These flowering plants do best outdoors and if they're grown properly (in a sunny location and sitting in pure water), the plant will be well-fed and grow vigorously, Coogan said.
Each trap can take three to 12 days to digest a single bug but Coogan noted that unless you have a herd of them, they will not take care of your pest problem.
While Venus flytraps don't require a terrarium, they are famous for rotting off at the roots and also require supplemental light and feeding. "If there are no insects indoors, you must find some to slip into their jaws from time to time," Pleasant said.
Sundews (Drosera) are known as "flypaper" plants that trap insects in the sticky hairs on their leaves. They form one of the largest groups of carnivorous plants, according to the NWF.
Sundews are also the prettiest of the carnivorous plants and easiest to grow indoors, Pleasant said.
"I could certainly see growing some sundews in a terrarium where high moisture levels could be maintained," she added.
Sundews can help get rid of some of the small bothersome indoor bugs. They're often found trapping and eating fungus gnats, fruit flies and the occasional flea. "I have had many chicken and dog owners purchase Venus flytraps to place near the coop or kennels," Coogan said.
Larger sundews (such as Drosera binata) can also be quite prolific at catching flying insects. When placed next to some fruit, these plants will catch a fair share of any fruit flies that might be around, MACPS president Zhang noted.
It's worth noting that carnivorous plants will typically only capture insects at one life stage and sundews are best for adult/flying stages, Jayme Allgair, a director at the MACPS, told Newsweek.
While sundews won't "solve" an insect problem, they can serve as an early warning system "to let you know things are increasing before they get out of hand," Allgair said.
The MACPS director said: "If you are set on using a carnivorous plant as part of an insect control system, Drosera capensis and Drosera spatulata are readily available, inexpensive, and tolerate a wide variety of conditions."
They like bright light and like to be kept relatively wet (reverse osmosis, distilled or rain water only) and otherwise require very little care. As an added bonus, they flower and reproduce often, which most people also enjoy, Allgair said.
Butterworts (Pinguicula) are hardy perennial plants with greasy leaves that curl into a cup when a bug is trapped and digested by enzymes.
They are only of use during the summer months, as they "must be allowed to die back in winter," Pleasant said. But on the plus side, they produce beautiful flowers in spring.
Butterworts are also good for trapping insects in their adult/flying stages and are often planted for gnat control in greenhouses, the MACPS said.
As with sundews, Mexican butterworts can help trap small indoor bugs (fungus gnats, fruit flies and fleas). Both groups of plants are great for growing on a sunny windowsill, the ICPS' Coogan said.
Bladderworts (Utricularia) feature numerous small "bladders" that are used to capture small organisms. When the hairs at the opening of the bladder are triggered by contact, the trap springs open and organisms get sucked in like a vacuum, the U.S. Forest Service explains.
They are best at capturing underground insects, so they could be useful for catching bugs in their earlier life stages, the MACPS' Allgair explained.
Those looking for some form of mosquito control may find that bladderworts planted in pools of water, such as water trays or ponds, can potentially help keep populations of mosquito larvae at bay, MACPS president Zhang said.
Coogan warned, however, that since mosquitoes want blood, carnivorous plants are not a solution for mosquito control.
Pitcher plants (the Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae species) feature tubular or pitcher-shaped traps. A slippery substance at the rim of the trap causes prey to slip into the base of the trap, which is filled with digestive fluid.
Pitcher plants attract larger prey like wasps and flies. However, they are a lot more challenging to grow indoors.
Pleasant said they can be kept outdoors in an artificial bog or in a heated greenhouse. She warned the fermenting sap and bugs in their reservoirs often smell "quite funky," which is another reason why you would not want to keep pitcher plants inside the house.
North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) are among the easiest carnivorous plants to grow. There are 15 species and subspecies of Sarracenia found naturally only in North America.
Thriving outdoors with full sun exposure, Coogan said Sarracenia can eat a lot of wasps, moths and houseflies if placed on a sunny patio. "But you might not notice their predatory behavior until you do a necropsy on the spent pitchers in the fall."
Tropical highland pitcher plants (Nepenthes) prefer shadier conditions, cool temperatures, moist substrate (growth environment or setting) as well as high humidity.
Coogan said: "My Nepenthes pitcher plants, who grow year round in my Florida backyard, usually have blackened pitchers due to the amount of ants and wasps in them."