The Venus fly trap (Dionaea Ellis) has made appearances in movies, plays and pop culture because of its ability to devour insects. The plant has spade-shaped leaves that open and close, like large mouths. Because of its looks and behavior, the Venus fly trap has the reputation of being a dangerous plant.
Venus fly traps naturally grow in very poor soil found only in the bogs of North and South Carolina. Because the nutrient-poor soil offers little in the way of nourishment, Venus fly traps pull added nutrients out of the air around them. The meager nutrition offered by soil and air are not enough to feed the plant, however, and the Venus fly trap must gain its nutrients from another source: insects. Venus fly trap leaves open up to display very short, stiff hairs. Each hair acts like a trigger; when something touches one of them with enough force to make them bend, the leaf snaps shut like a trap. After the Venus fly trap manages to trap edible insects, the plant will begin to release digestive juices. Digestion takes five to 12 days to complete. Once the nutrients have been absorbed, the leaf will reopen.
Venus fly traps are dangerous to insects -- they will even eat bees and wasps -- but most birds and rodents are too large for the plant to eat. Venus fly traps are not large enough or strong enough to trap a human hand, for example. Venus fly traps will be activated, and snap shut, if pressure is exerted on the sensitive hairs inside the leaves. The force of the snap may potentially break sticks and other thin objects, but it is not likely to cause damage to human beings. Potentially, the force of the snap may harm tiny rodents, birds and other animals that have the misfortune of landing inside a Venus fly trap leaf. Venus fly traps grow only 8 inches tall at best, and pose no danger to most wildlife.
Venus fly traps are not toxic to dogs or cats, so household pets are perfectly safe around the plants. Human toxicity has not been observed, but there is not enough evidence to safely say the plant is completely non-toxic to humans. Extracts of the Venus fly trap are commercially sold as an herbal supplement and cancer remedy, but there is little evidence proving it is effecting in managing nutrition or illness.
Venus fly traps commonly eat beetles and ants, but they are not particularly picky. Any insect, even those the gardener may consider attractive or beneficial, is fair game to the Venus fly trap. Only very tiny insects have any hope of escaping the trap, which does not close fully at first. Tiny insects have room to escape the trap, while larger insects remain to be digested. Butterflies, ladybugs and insects that eat other insect pests may all fall prey to the Venus fly trap if they are drawn to its nectar, color or scent.
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