Flytraps in Autumn – 1

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are shorter, the light is more diffuse, and the daily temperatures steadily head toward their average low, which means for most temperate carnivorous plants, it’s dormancy season. For American audiences, a good thumbnail for the duration of that dormancy is “from Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day”: for everyone else, generally winter dormancy in the Dallas area is between the last weekend in November to the middle of March. Between that time, flytraps, North American pitcher plants, cobra plants, and temperate sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts slow down, die back, and otherwise settle in for a long winter nap. They don’t completely die back: most at least keep a few leaves in order to photosynthesize all winter, but they’re not bothering to attempt to capture prey because there’s little to no prey for them to capture, and the expenditure of energy on trap growth and digestive enzymes is more than what they’d get from converting water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen.

Because of their slowing growth, winter is an excellent time to get temperate carnivores in order. Snipping off dead leaves to discourage animal pests is an obvious one, and if temperatures dropped early, as they did in Dallas this autumn, repotting and weeding is another. It’s also an excellent time to evaluate how the plant will get through the winter. If it’s in a pot that wouldn’t survive a hard freeze such as with our weeklong blizzard in February, now is a great time to move it out of said pot and into temporary accommodations that can handle a week or more of freeze stress. (Toward the beginning of March, when we’re reasonably sure that we aren’t getting a major storm, it can go back into the pot, with new potting medium, while it’s still dormant.)

Late autumn is also an excellent time to assess summer damage. The 2021 summer in North Texas was relatively mild and mellow until the beginning of September, when we had a combination of temperatures more typical for August and six weeks of strong winds and sunny skies, meaning that local humidity dropped through the floor until nearly Halloween. If we got rain, it was very quick, as in over and done in less than five minutes, so patchy as to be completely unpredictable, and rapidly evaporated in the south wind. Because of all of this, several flats of Venus flytraps intended for next year’s shows were badly burnt in mid-September, and they weren’t expected to live. The plan in November was to go through them all, toss pots where the flytraps were expired, and try to nurse the survivors so they’d get through the winter. Considering the damage, I expected maybe one pot out of every ten might be salvageable.

Well, in a classic example of “don’t throw out your plants until you KNOW they’re dead,” most of those burned flytraps came back. Flytraps and their sundew cousins regularly produce new plants from offshoots from their roots, and while the main plants burned off in September, their roots survived and came back. Fully eight of every ten not only recovered but produced whole clumps of tiny flytraps, happily catching as much light as they could.

The real surprise was the size: most of these could have passed for seedlings. Since they’re already established, though, most of these will reach full size by next summer, and let’s see what happens after that.

As for the greenhouse, it’s now full of a wide variety of Venus flytrap cultivars. I may need to schedule more shows to find homes for them all.

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