Miss Venus is sick, Mr Pitcher has died, but Sunny Sundew is positively thriving. Something's not quite right with my trio of carnivorous plants.
Miss Venus (pictured left) is a shadow of her former self. She woke up after her winter rest, sent up a couple of half-hearted traps and one flower and hasn't been right since. It may seem strange to keep her in a mug but that's because I take her outside with me when I go to sit in my garden, or I carry her across the road to sit at my table by the beach. Regular fresh air and access to a variety of flying insects has always stood her in good stead and keeping her in a mug allows me to replicate the boggy soil she would have occupied in the wild.
A few weeks ago, Miss Venus caught a small parasitic wasp and she seems to taking advantage of the nutrients supplied by the wasp to gradually regain her strength but she's got a long way to go before she looks anything like she used to. She and I have been together for three years so I really will be upset if she doesn't make it.
Sadly, there's no hope for Mr. Pitcher. He managed one leaf after his winter rest and then simply died. Mr. Pitcher was the best I've ever seen at catching wasps. During the time at the end of summer when wasps have that annoying habit of flying around your wine glass, he was my best friend. He even came with me to work to protect a group of school kids I was teaching who were particularly bothered by wasps in their garden. They thought he was the 'coolest plant ever' and so did I. I'm gutted he's gone but at least I still have a picture of him in his prime, doing what he did best, protecting me from wasps.
So why were Mr. Pitcher and Miss Venus so affected this year in particular? I have changed nothing about their routine. Now, I know you can keep pitcher plants outdoors but I liked to keep Mr. Pitcher indoors where I could see him, only taking him out occasionally and it never did him any harm, the same for Miss Venus. As they approached winter dormancy, I did all the things I usually do - I cut down on watering, removed dead traps, and let them rest on their usual windowsill. It took me a while to figure it out but I think I know what happened. The answer came from their carnivorous companion, Sunny Sundew.
Sunny Sundew is thriving. He looks twice as good as he did last year and his fabulous sticky traps are stunning. Unlike Venus flytraps and my species of pitcher plant (Sarracenia rubra), he prefers a much warmer climate, coming as he does from the subtropical regions of South Africa.
Just before winter, I had new central heating fitted. For the first time since moving into my current house twelve years ago, I enjoyed a winter without having to wear at least two jumpers indoors. Sunny would have loved this new change to his environment but not the other two. Neither Venus flytraps nor pitcher plants are at all fond of central heating. They really need a good winter dormancy. If they don't get it, like Miss Venus, they won't have enough energy to produce better traps when they wake up. Poor Mr. Pitcher just couldn't cope with this sudden change to his usual climate.
So, this winter, I'll have to find the coldest spot in the house for my pest-controlling plants and keep them well away from my shiny new radiators. Mr. Pitcher has been replaced by Mr. Pitcher the 2nd and I've bought a new species of flytrap (Spider) just in case Miss Venus doesn't make it. On top of that, my lovely HNC students gifted me a hooded pitcher (pictured right) with instructions to call him Andrew, so Andrew he is. Andrew has caught two big bluebottles already so he's already earning his keep and I definitely don't want to lose him.
Mr. Pitcher and Miss Venus couldn't tell me they were in trouble because I just assumed they were in dormancy but Sunny has done all my houseplants a favour by reminding me that the climate inside my house has changed. I'll need to keep an eye on all my indoor plants to ensure they are coping. At the very least, most will need to be misted more regularly to cope with the drying effects of central heating. I've already identified a nice cool windowsill for over-wintering and I've a feeling it's going to be pretty crowded there this year.
Julie Kilpatrick is author of The Plant Listener. She is a lecturer in landscape design and horticulture and editor of online gardening magazine 'Gardenzine'.
The Plant Listener is available in paperback and on kindle at Amazon.