'Carnivorous plants' is a convenient term for a group of plants, some closely related and others not, which are linked by a single common character - that of trapping and digesting living organisms in order to supplement the food provided by other means. Although often causing raised eyebrows or feelings of distaste, these peculiar plants have always had a small but enthusiastic following and have indeed enjoyed two periods of wider popularity, first during the late Victorian age and secondly in the 1970s, when a revival of interest began that is still with us.
Despite the numerous myths surrounding them, carnivorous plants are hardly the man-eating fiends so many people seem to have heard of. Even the largest plants generally restrict their diets to insects and other creepy-crawlies; and while the tropical pitcher plants or Nepenthes can grow into long scrambling vines, the vast majority of carnivorous plants will be no more than about 3 ft (1 m) tall.
Common belief also suggests, incorrectly, that all carnivorous plants have traps which snap shut on their unsuspecting prey. The truth is that many of them do not move at all, but instead rely on insects falling into traps which are too slippery to allow escape. The misunderstanding has arisen from the well known Venus fly trap, Dionaea, which closes so dramatically on its victim. However, this is merely one of several types of trap and the pitcher trap, a design found in Sarracenia and Nepenthes, does not make any movement.
Yet another misconception is that carnivorous plants are very difficult to grow and not easily obtained. In fact, their cultivation is generally straightforward and they require less attention than many non-carnivorous plants. For example, there is no need to worry about when and how much fertilizer to apply: carnivorous plants catch their own! There are certainly a few guidelines that will help the gardener produce the best results, but these are simple to remember and follow. Failure is almost always due to incorrect advice or to the purchase of sickly plants through inexperience. Healthy plants are now readily available from specialist nurseries and also from an increasing number of garden centres, both of which supply the popular species and forms at inexpensive prices.
Finally, no introduction to the subject would be complete without mentioning that carnivorous plants can be grown in the
garden. Few people would even consider the possibility of growing them outdoors and yet there are several carnivorous plants that are either fully hardy or half-hardy. These are worthy of a place in any garden where the owner takes a pride in achieving variety and interest.
When the myths are exploded, it can be seen that carnivorous plants present a marvellous opportunity for gardeners to enhance their plant collections, whether they appreciate the beautiful, the bizarre or simply the chance to try something new. This book is intended to give practical advice, which will enable anyone to grow carnivorous plants, and to provide an introduction to the most important and worthwhile genera, together with a selection of recommended plants.
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