One of the things that has drawn me into the world of horticulture is the incredible diversity of plants that inhabit our planet. When you consider the range of environments from Death Valley to the frozen tundra of the north and the fact that there are plants adapted to grow under all these various conditions, it is truly mind boggling. For me, carnivorous bog plants are the personification of total weirdness when it comes to the plant world and the really cool part about them is that we can grow them in our gardens very easily.
Probably the most common bog plant is the Pitcher Plant or Sarracenia, which is native from the Southeast US to the Great Lakes. As the name implies, the leaves form a pitcher that lures insects and digests them as a source of nutrients. Venus Fly Traps hail from the Carolinas where it is hot and muggy and while often sold as a novelty house plant, they are a little more difficult to grow in the northwest. There isn’t a kid anywhere that hasn’t been mesmerized by the action of a fly trap closing its “jaws” around a hapless victim. Sundews grow all over the US and are small filamentous plants that exude a sticking fluid that traps insects. Once trapped, the leaf folds around the bug and enzymes are released that turn the bug into a liquid “soup” that is then absorbed by the plant. Cobra lilies are native to northern California and southern Oregon and while a little tender for the northwest, are well worth the effort to establish. Cobra lilies have a hood that protects them from the rain so the liquid that is in them is produced by the plant itself. When an insect enters a cobra lily it becomes disoriented and eventually falls into the pool of liquid where it is digested. (Cool stuff, huh?) One other bonus of pitcher plants and cobra lilies is that they actually have a bloom that sort of looks like a daffodil, this is the time of year to observe them blooming.
What all these plants have in common is that they grow in wet, acidic soils, full sun and don’t need to be fed (that’s what the bugs are for). For the home gardener to grow them, all that is required is a hole in the ground that retains moisture, which can be accomplished by either installing a pond liner or submerging a bathtub or plastic garden pool. Drill a few ¼ inch holes in the bottom or sides to allow excess water to drain out. The perfect soil for these plants is a blend of peat moss and sand, perlite or pumice in a ratio of about two parts peat to one part sand. Soak the mixture down real well before you plant and to monitor the water level, bury an empty nursery pot so the top of the pot is at surface level. You will be able to see the water in the pot, which will help you determine when it is time to add more.
A small bog garden can be a real conversation piece and as an added bonus, these plants will help control unwanted insects like flies and mosquitos. Don’t let yourself get “bogged down” with the intricacies of growing carnivorous plants. Come to our class this coming Saturday at 10 am here at the nursery and find out how simple it really is.