Adventures with houseplants
They sat unassumingly on a shelf in the gardening department. I was on the hunt for fertilizer, but these little potted beauties caught my eye and caused me to pause. Even though I’d never seen anything like them before in real life, I identified them immediately. I figured my boys would be more than interested in the care and feeding of the delicate sprouts.
We had to have one.
When I got home, I set my purchase on the kitchen table and waited. It wasn’t long before one of the boys stumbled on the family’s newest treasure. I heard a whoop and then the announcement.
“Mom got a Venus flytrap!”
If you ever want to see a kid get excited over a plant, make sure it’s a carnivorous one.
Quite simply, the Venus flytrap eats bugs. The plant’s leaves are made up of two hinged lobes lined with spikey teeth. The lobes secrete sweet nectar, which attracts insects. Trigger hairs on the lobes identify the presence of a creepy crawly. When an insect touches two different hairs the trap springs closed, encaging the fly (or ant or spider) and prompting the digestive process. The more an insect struggles within the trap, the more digestive enzymes are released. A small insect struggles less; a large insect struggles more. The Venus flytrap is one efficient carnivore.
No wonder my boys were thrilled.
I didn’t want our plant to perish, so I consumed myself with Googling things like how to care for a Venus flytrap. My boys consumed themselves with catching insects. They weren’t willing to wait for our Venus to catch a bug on her own, the way nature intended. They wanted to jump-start the feeding frenzy.
Ever since they have been killing the plant with kindness. How many flies can one tiny Venus flytrap eat? My boys are putting that question to the test.
So far, she seems to be thriving. Or at least she’s not dead. She’s fully consumed at least one fly and an ant and is sprouting additional lobes to further enhance her killing power.
We transplanted her into a larger pot and used unfertilized peat moss for her bedding. (Flytraps don’t like fertilizer; it can burn their roots.) We have her outside in the sunshine and keep her soil moist, just like she prefers, with distilled water – never from the tap. She’s a perennial and will probably winter in the garage – cold enough to put her in dormant mode, but not so frigid as to kill her.
Our lady Venus has kept us busy, but we are a diversely interested plant family. A few weeks ago, my husband and I visited a bonsai exhibit and the art of tiny trees leapfrogged onto my bucket list. Imagine my excitement when I found the cutest little boxwood trees (bushes really) on an end-of-season clearance at a local nursery. I picked one that looked like it had the most bonsai potential and brought it home. I was thrilled with my bonsai prospects, but didn’t expect anyone else to share my joy.
I was mistaken. All the guys living with me thought the idea of growing a bonsai was an awesome one.
Because of everyone’s interest in tiny trees, we did what any normal family would do; we made it into a contest. Everyone got his or her own clearance bush/ tiny tree and we are now learning how to prune and shape and clip roots. Whoever creates the best bonsai wins. We’ve set a time limit of 10 years, which may seem like a long span but bonsai is an ancient art that takes practice and patience, qualities we are sorely lacking. Perhaps our enthusiasm can make up for inexperience. Fingers crossed, much like the two trunks of my bonsai.
Meanwhile, the boys are hunting bugs.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.