Looking to Spice Up Your Plant Shelf? Go Carnivorous

I’ve noticed a trend with my friends in the past year: Bloodsucking creatures are popping up on their windowsills.

But this isn’t some Anne Rice novel brought to life—the “creatures” are pitcher plants, sundews, butterworts, and, of course, Venus flytraps. Carnivorous plants are gaining popularity because they’re the perfect pandemic pets that won’t have you racked with guilt when you return to your office.

“Houseplants are even more of a thing than they were before the pandemic,” says Jena Lee, an art appraiser living in Los Angeles’s Echo Park neighborhood, who grows the pitcher plants known as Sarracenia purpurea, or Carolina Yellow Jacket, as well as Venus flytraps, sourced from Artemisia Nursery. “Plants give people something to focus on and care for while also improving the overall aesthetic and vibe of their home. Carnies [a common nickname for carnivorous plants among fans] require more attention than your average houseplant, but also provide a bit of macabre entertainment.”

For Michael Szesze, a retired science teacher who owns Carnivorous Plant Nursery in Smithsburg, Maryland, the trend toward carnivorous plants has provided a sales bump during the pandemic. “We have had a nice increase in interest and sales of our carnivorous plants,” he says. “Some folks do mention COVID cabin fever, but more express interest in these curious plants. The whole notion of plants with an attitude that actually are adapted to our human sense of the weird drives many hobbyists.”

Michael says that contrary to his expectation that teen boys might be his biggest customer, he has no typical customer—his store draws customers of all ages, genders, vocations, and locations. His online shop offers popular options like Venus flytraps and butterworts, but also some rarer plants like the Brocchinia reducta, a bromeliad native to the mountaintops of Venezuela.

During a stare-at-the-wall pandemic, watching your carnivorous plant lure a tasty bug into its deadly den is not only a source of entertainment but natural pest control as well. “It’s fun to see that your flytrap or sundew has caught something new, and [it’s] such a nice service they provide,” Jena says. “Where I live in L.A., there are lots of fruit trees, which means lots of flies, but after I started growing carnivorous plants, the number of flies and gnats really went down.”

If you’re picturing a “Feed me, Seymour” scenario, be comforted. Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland, Oregon–based writer and the former garden editor at Sunset magazine, says she hasn’t needed to feed insects to any of her carnivorous plants because they naturally attract so many flies, gnats, and bugs. “Resist the urge to overfeed it insects and treat it like an animal, because they’re still plants,” she advises.

Growing carnivorous plants pairs well with another pandemic hobby: cooking. For home cooks whose compost bins, sinks, and trash cans are constantly full of produce scraps, carnivorous plants are a natural choice.

Heather started growing Cape sundews, whose tentacles trap insects in sticky hairs and then wrap tentacles around the bugs to smother them, so she could rid her kitchen compost of fruit flies. She recommends Cape sundews (often called “unkillable”) as easy-care plants that are a great starter for carnivorous newbies, along with Venus flytraps and Sarracenia purpurea, the purple pitcher plant.

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