The other day, my friend Rachel presented me with a gift: a carnivorous plant. In my mind, carnivorous plants could only be found in two places: a primordial soupy rain forest swamp or a sci-fi film (think Little Shop of Horrors or The Day of the Triffids). In all honesty, it’s kind of cool to have a carnivorous plant in the yard. It’s also a little intimidating. Does this mean I have to barbecue steaks for me, Joe, and the plant?
Eric Kunz is the man behind Wowflowers, Long Island’s largest supplier of carnivorous and unique water plants, as well as the only licensed grower of these endangered and protected species in all of New York State. He is passionate about his plants.
According to Mr. Kunz, the plant I own is “Jersey Girl,” a type of Sarracenia purpurea, or purple pitcher plant. The plants are native to North America, and can be found living in bogs throughout New England and along the Canadian border. He also assures me that caring for these other worldly perennials is easy.
For starters, the plants are sold in an environmentally friendly package, including the clear plastic container, which is recyclable. The plant itself comes in a cocoa fiber pot, which is biodegradable.
Upon receiving the plant, Mr. Kunz suggests replanting the Sarracenia (and the cocoa fiber pot) in a 6″ pot. Ideally, it should be a pot without drainage holes because bog plants love water. If your pot has drainage holes, you can line the pot with plastic and then replant. You may also want to drill a weep hole about 1″ from the top of the pot so excess water can run off, although Mr. Kunz says this is not necessary. Potting soil with sphagnum peat moss and without a time-released fertilizer is fine as a planting medium.
The repotted plant should be placed in a sunny location — just remember to keep it watered, but not to the point that you’re drowning the plant. Keeping the pot in a tray of water helps to re-create the plant’s soggy boggy habitat and prevents the sticky substance inside the pitcher from washing away. About the only thing the plant is fussy about is the type of water used. Rainwater or distilled water is best; tap water is deadly because of the chlorine levels.
As for fertilizer, don’t even think about it. All of the plant’s nutrients are gathered from the mosquitoes, gnats, and other bugs that become trapped in the pitcher and then digested. The larger tropical varieties can even handle small birds and rodents! (Note to self: keep an eye on the dog!) The plant will let you know that it’s full when it turns brown, according to Mr. Kunz, who also cautions that brown pitchers should not be cut back.
After the growing season, the plant goes into its natural dormancy. Mr. Kunz says to keep the plant outside for the winter. Even if the soil freezes in the pot, this should not hurt the plant, since it would survive freezing conditions in its native habitat. Then, in the spring, the growing and eating process starts all over again.
Currently, Mr. Kunz says that he is in the process of building a growing facility at Hobbs Farm, in Centereach, NY. Once completed, the public will be treated to educational displays and presentations.
Until then, I’ll make sure to keep it watered and well-fed. That reminds me. It’s dinner time, and I should probably do the same for me and Joe.