Venus Flytrap: Life Cycle, Dormancy & Reproduction

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Want to learn more about a plant that is a little like an animal? The Venus flytrap is a fascinating creature, and this lesson will explore its life cycle (including dormancy) as well as how it reproduces.

What Is a Venus Flytrap?

Picture a meat-eating plant that lures prey into its leafy mouth, which it clamps shut, slowly digesting victims in an inescapable prison. Sounds terrifying. It's no wonder this plant is famous. Whether it's the star plant in The Little Shop of Horrors, the plant that tries to eat the Mario Brothers in videogames or the family plant (named Cleopatra) in the Addams Family, the Venus flytrap has quite the reputation.

The plant in the Little Shop of Horrors was, in part, inspired by a Venus flytrap
Little Shop of Horrors

But other than being a movie star, what exactly is this carnivorous plant? A Venus flytrap is a meat-eating plant that has specialized leaves (or traps) that lure, capture and then digest prey. It's native to the wetlands of North and South Carolina, and each plant has several of the hinged insect-trapping leaves as well as ''normal'' leaves. Most people are surprised to learn that the plant can undergo photosynthesis (like a normal plant), which means it makes food, in the form of sugar, from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide gas. It digests insects in order to make up for nutrients that it cannot get from its environment. Let's explore the life cycle of this predatory plant.

Life Cycle

Our Venus flytrap's life story begins as a tiny seed. The seed typically sprouts in March, eventually producing heart-shaped leaves, as well as those hinged trap leaves that we talked about earlier, over its first summer. During the first couple of summers, the trap leaves are really tiny (about the same as the width of a pencil or crayon tip). Even at around a millimeter, these traps are functional (assuming there is anything small enough to fit inside).

That first year, the entire plant is only about the size of a dime or a penny. During the winters, the Venus flytrap will go dormant, meaning the plant quits growing and developing. The winter conditions are too harsh for the flytrap to survive, so by going dormant it can withstand the winter and then grow again when conditions improve. Because it goes dormant and then returns the following spring and summer, the Venus flytrap is considered a perennial plant.

During the plant's second summer, the trap leaves will grow, reaching about 3/8ths of an inch long. The other leaves grow longer, too. It isn't until the third summer that the traps are large enough to capture flies, ants and spiders. Flowers may grow and bloom in late spring and early summer, but it isn't until the fourth summer that the plant is mature and will produce flowers each year. The lifespan, although variable, is somewhere around twenty years.

Note the regular leaves and the trap leaves on this Venus flytrap
Venus Flytrap

Of course, the thing that makes the life cycle of the Venus flytrap unique is its diet. As its name implies, it eats insects (like flies), but I bet you didn't know it could eat other things, too? The entire plant isn't very large, but it will eat whatever lands in its trap, which might include a small frog.

The hinged trap leaves lure prey in a couple of different ways. The exposed leaf surface is red, which attracts insects. The plant also secrets nectar, which (apparently) bugs find irresistible. Once the bug lands on the leaf, tiny hairs are triggered, but the hinged leaf does not clamp down just yet. In order to avoid false alarms (like rain drops or other disturbances), the Venus flytrap waits until it feels two triggers within a certain period of time. Then it slams shut, trapping its prey, which is now freaking out and trying to escape.

Once the plant feels another ''bump'' or two within its closed leaf trap it will become a leaf stomach, secreting digestive juices and making a pouch. After about 5-12 days the insect is digested and the plant opens up again, ready to eat its next victim.

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