Seed grown venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) are known as slow growers. They usually take at least a couple of years to reach maturity, which makes growing flytraps from seeds less tempting. If you start feeding the tiny little traps early, you can speed up their growth considerably. First traps are usually way too small to consume whole insects, which means they need to be fed much smaller chunks. I use the same food as with my Drosera capensis seedlings – beta fish food.
What to do about those tiny little traps?
The main problem, when it comes to feeding the young Dionaea seedlings is the size of their traps. They are way too small to eat anything larger than square millimeter. I’m using wet beta fish food, further diluted with distilled water. I grind larger chunks with toothpick, so they can fit into juvenile traps. Toothpick can be a bit too thick to fit ‘jaws’ of small sized traps, so I decided to use a sheath of my bamboo seedling. You can also sharpen the toothpick, it should do the job just as good. I am using bamboo sheath because it has oral setae on the other side, which comes handy when you have to stimulate the trap to close completely. It is hollow and can hold the fish food paste much better than toothpick.
I use scissors to make the pointy end sharper, which enables me to reach small traps easier and successfully deploy the food. Trap usually closes almost completely, but as it needs to be triggered a few more times, I brush it from both sides with the bristles. Traps usually fully close after they capture a living insect that moves inside the trap. If dead insect or in my case, fish food is used, traps need to be stimulated to start the digestion. I make two rounds brushing the traps, sometimes even more, just to be sure the traps will close. I have been quite successful in doing so.
In most cases, traps reopen in 3 to 10 days. The more food you place inside, the longer they need to digest. There are other factors as well, such as seedling’s health, amount of light and temperature. At higher temperature and higher light level, the process speeds up considerably. A week or so after the feeding, seedlings start showing increase in growth speed, putting out numerous new traps that also get larger. The larger they get, the easier it gets to feed them and larger chunks of food they can digest. As they grow larger, their growth speed also increases, considerably!
Each winter, when I keep my sundews inside during the cold part of the year, I try to keep them as strong as possible for the following summer. They are more than capable of catching it’s own meal outside, but when I bring them inside, they don’t get much more than occasional fungus gnat.
Why do I even bother?
Carnivore plants usually require only small amount of nutrients and can easily withstand periods without captured food. They slow down their growth and refuse to start flowering until they get enough nutrients. My goal is, to make them grow as much as possible before the following season, possibly inducing flowering at the time when they come out in the spring. I keep them under grow light, which enables them to start flowering in late winter. They are in their full health when fungus gnats strike in the spring, when I start sowing my vegetables.
In the past, I tried feeding them different kind of food, but I soon realised that giving them fish food is the easiest option by far. I have given my plants live springtails, while they were seedlings. They multiply vigorously and are excellent source of food for tiny Sundews, but they soon outgrow their tiny food. At one point, I have fed the carnivores aphids. In the spring time, they suck on tender cherry tree leaves. I have picked the infested leaves and placed them into a bag and thrown them into a freezer. I ended up with almost unlimited supply of dead aphids which lasted until the next spring. I could not feed them as much as I wanted to, because it was really time consuming. And as I later realized, giving them fish food really makes a difference. They just love it! The food consists 50% of common water fleas (daphnia), a bit of vegetable proteins and fish derivatives. I was afraid the food would be too much for them to handle, but it seems to be perfect for the job. I usually mix it with some distilled water, to make it thinner.
To apply the fish food paste onto the carnivorous leaf, I use a toothpick or a screwdriver. I dip it into the paste and apply it onto the trap. In a couple of hours, leaves usually start folding and start the digestion. When the process of digestion is finished, traps usually die off. Tentacles that were used are damaged and cease mucilage production. Dew appears only on unused tentacles. That’s the reason, why I usually apply the food all over the leaf and I leave some leaves intact. I feed those later. 🙂
Some people feed their young Drosera seedlings dry fish food, since it’s time of the year with abundance of insects outside, I intend to use living food.
I introduced springtails into the soil mix that I used for sundew seedlings by sheer accident. They were happily living in sphagnum moss I gathered and mixed into the soil. I soon discovered that small creatures often ended up being caught in tiny little carnivorous traps. Springtails primarily eat fungus and algae on moist soil and don’t attack even the smallest and most fragile seedlings, so they are safe to use as janitors and easy prey for growing carnivore seedlings. I isolated several springtails and started growing whole colony in separated glass container. I used Agar as moisture and food source and gave them a tiny chunk of potato, which eventually started to decay. Springails enjoyed their new home and started multiplying. In a couple of weeks there were thousands and I was able to blow them from their container into the pot full of Drosera capensis Alba seedlings. When traps get larger, it’s easier to feed small insects, so I started looking for appropriate food for my carnivores. I started with live aphids, but soon realized that they can multiply and some extremely small aphids managed to somehow escape the traps. I caught all the escapees and helped them get caught. Since then, I always put them into the freezer for a couple of days, together with aphid infected leaf. That way I can be sure they are all dead and harmless. When larger leaves appear, they can easily digest a mosquito.
During the summer and fall, there can be a lot of fruit flies around decaying fruit. I found a way to easily feed my sundews during the night by putting a small LED light so it lights up the sundew I’d like to feed. When you force flies or fruit flies into the air, they instinctively follow the light. In only a couple of minutes, you can end up with well fed sundew, completely covered with small flies.
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