Picture of Carnivorous Plant Terrarium
I've always liked carnivorous plants but while I successfully grow other plants, I've been pretty good and not keeping the carnivorous ones alive. So, in the spirit of the Halloween season I thought I'd give it another try and make a nice mad scientist style terrarium. 

This time I played twenty questions with some folks in the know and I think I may have figured out at least a couple things I was doing wrong. Either way I'm hoping my hungry little garden will at least last the season and maybe take out a few pests in the process. 

The difficulty in this was more gathering materials than executing the project but I did at least one fun thing that was ind of interesting and I did learn a bit. 

I also ended up writing a second Instructable after learning a lot about carnivorous plant potting soil.

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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
A large glass jar. Any jar should do. I chose one I can close up to actively manage the humidity. 

Potting soil. There are certainly better blends than others and you can increase the happiness of your plants by using the correct mix. I just grabbed some basic potting soil. Again, this was a bad idea. Please see my carnivorous plant potting soil Instructable for a mix that won't kill your plants. 

The plants. I went with a classic Venus Flytrap and an interesting Sundew. Probably could have used at least one more but I'm hoping they'll grow to fill in the spaces and I'm trying to encourage some moss as well. There's always time to add more if it looks too sparse. 


Animal skull. I used a raccoon skull I picked up at the same shop I got my plants from but I have a growing collection of type specimens I've been collecting since childhood and then used extensively working as an archeologist. Best to not use something unusual. A raccoon was the perfect size and you can get them cheap on the internet if you can't otherwise obtain one.  

Not Optional:

Distilled water. Tap water or even bottled water will kill Venus Fly Traps and other bog plants. I'm told rainwater is OK as well and has been good for my orchids but I haven't tried it on this type of plant. Distilled water is inexpensive so there's no reason not to use it. Bottled drinking water often has salt added for flavor and will kill your plants and while chlorine is very bad for them it's not the only thing in tap water that will kill CP's. So setting it out over night won't help in this case. 

Total cost if you go out and buy everything is probably around $40. 
wtorruella1 year ago
Very beautiful. Do they need direct sunlight. My apartment is pretty dark.
Culturespy (author)  wtorruella1 year ago
That's a great question. Mine did well in a bright window but it was very bright and got sunlight most of the day.

This is a great article on the topic from the International Carnivorous Plant Society.

radagast1 year ago
What did you end up with for your final sol mixture?
The skull was a nice touch!

I recently found out that even filtered tap water will also kill flytraps. I had a thriving outdoor carnivorous bog garden when I lived near Seattle (same climate & water as Vancouver) but have killed every carnivore I brought home since moving to north Texas, where we have very hard water. The filter removes chlorine and sulphur, but leaves salt and calcium carbonate behind. The cats throwing the little pots off the windowsill didn't help, either.

I'm ready to try again, maybe in a terrarium so the winter humidity can be kept high enough to keep the plants happy.

'The Savage Garden' by Peter D'Amato is a good reference.

Final note: the old garden got moved to my MIL & FIL yard and is still thriving.
Lignumvital3 years ago
Nice, Dionaea Dente. Are they very hard to grow, in comparison to Dionaea Muscipula? Im thinking about getting some seeds of them.
Culturespy (author)  Lignumvital3 years ago
I don't have enough experience to compare them. These were pretty happy little plants as long as the lid wasn't closed tight for too long. I ended up giving away all of my plants, carnivorous and non. Looking forward to having more sometime soon.
bajablue3 years ago
Awesome! I fancy skulls, bones and everything rusty. This is GREAT!!!
xXLab_ManXx4 years ago
great instructable, did you know you can save the bone dust since it works as a great fertilizer for the plants! : )
misskali4 years ago
ive got a carnivorous garden growing in a glass bowl on my window sill. ive got a venus fly trap, a pitcher plant, a sundew and a butterwort. i put some big rocks in the bottom, then sprinkled a container of aquarium charcoal, then regular potting soil and finally a thick layer of moss i had collected off some rocks on the side of the highway. transplanting them wasnt easy because of the water content and lack of sturdy roots but i basically just set each one in recess of the moss. that was 2 months ago and its doing awesome. my sundew has grown about 8 inches vertically and i fed my pitcher plant some earth worms that were in a plant my friend gave me which has made it big and strong.
some things ive learned:
~centipedes can crawl OUT of a venus fly trap
~fruit flies are impossible to catch alive (in order to feed them to my lovelies)
~spiders arent dumb enough to become bait (but they're still dumb enough to be vacuumed)
~pitchers need to be full of water in order to live (almost daily misting)
~if you live in vancouver, bc you dont need to buy distilled water because our water is clean and awesome (google it if you dont believe me)
~your carnivorous plants will not call you seymour. no matter how many treats you give them...
Great instructable! AND Great comments! Thanks to all who felt able to pass on knowledge instead of letting us learn the hard way. Kudos. Many of you have slaved over the problems that arose, and found solutions!
I have always wanted to have a few (yah, I got big dreams! lol) terrariums of CP, but having been living in Toronto,Canada and our very cold winters there, I did't have a real chance to try. Now I am in a milder climate (Vancouver) I have a better chance to give those plants the tender lovin' care and uber sunshine they deserve!
Now for my big question, I have one window in my room. It faces north, and is continually open. I do not get much light directly in, of course. first thing in the morning, and last light of day hits the sill but the rest is indirect. I assume that it is insufficient for such southern plants. Are there any CP that will be able to flourish in my poor conditions? I'll guess at needing some supplemental light regardless of CP, but was hoping there would be a strain or two that enjoy shady dayz....
norcalgrrrl4 years ago
i've successfully kept a nepenthes x ventrata alive in an apothecary jar ($16 at Target) for over 2 years now. When I first set the terrarium up, I used:

(from bottom to top):
a 2-in. layer of well-rinsed river rocks
a sprinkling of activated carbon over the rocks (helps keep the water clean)
thin layer of spanish moss (NOT the ornamental kind)
soil mix (1/3 peat moss, 1/3 bark , 1/3 coconut husk and a sprinkling of vermiculite)

I bought some epiphytes delight fertilizer and poured about 16 oz (2 cups) worth in there when I first set it up, then poured enough water in right below where the spanish moss meets the rocks. I've fed it about 8 oz. twice (YES, TWICE) since I got it and it's getting to the point where I think I'm gonna need a bigger apothecary jar.

Nepenthes are best in a hanging basket to fully appreciate their pitchers, but unfortunately it's just too dry where I live and the only window I have with enough sun is one that's open all the time (they hate drafts).
Culturespy (author)  norcalgrrrl4 years ago
Wow! That looks great! Thanks for sharing and posting a photo. I'm working on a CP potting soil Instructable right now. Looks like you've had some real success there.
As was already said, the potting soil will kill the plants. Coconut potting products have some nutrition, and coir is not a substitute for sphagnum peat when it comes to carnivorous plants. Many people have problems with perlite in their mixes as well, but I haven't heard a problem with sand.

The plants you chose also need lots and lots of light.  They will take full sun which you can't get indoors.  They also need seasonal change which is very hard to duplicate indoors.  You would do better with a tropical, shade tolerant carnivorous plant such as some nepenthes species, and nepenthes growers will actually overwinter their plants in terrarium-like environments to keep the humidity high.

A closed jar isn't so great, but you could just keep it propped open so meh.  If you keep it near fruit, the gnats will swarm in there and feed the plants.

I've seen terrariums with carnivorous plants like this one, but I'm a bit dubious about how well they work unless it's only a temporary situation such as overwintering.  I have a hard time keeping houseplants thriving, and my houseplants are pretty common houseplants such as pothos.  I move them outside as soon as I can in the year so they can recover from the winter inside the house.  It's much easier to keep plants alive and thriving outdoors generally.  Terrariums are very easy, but it's best to use plants that are well suited to growing in those conditions.

I think you could grow carnivorous plants very easily, but definitely research them.  I lose plants, and when I go to figure out why they died, I get very annoyed with myself and the things I did wrong.  I had some gazanias wilt and die this year, and I thought they weren't getting enough water so I watered them more.  Well...  it turns out they were wilting because of overwatering.  Crap.  I thought they required more water than what they did.

Check out when the best time is to divide your plants.  I suspect the venus fly trap needs to go dormant before division or you might lose both.

For the record, I think it looks nice like a little art piece, and I think you can create a terrarium with carnivorous plants so long as you pick the right container, the right plant, and the right potting mix.  Research some nepenthes and see which one would work well and then select a container.  Nepenthes require slightly different potting mix than other carnivorous plants, so some adjustments would be necessary.
Actually, that Sundew, which looks like drosrea binata dichotoma (sometimes called a "Staghorn Sundew"), is a pretty good match for the Flytrap in terms of growing conditions.  They only need 1-2 months of dormancy, and those particular plants don't need to die off to the surface like some Sarracenias do. 

I've had good luck growing both of those species under plain old twin-tube fluorescent shop light fixtures with plain white tubes.  In this case, I might just curl a sheet of white construction paper into a half-pipe and place it behind the jar to reflect light, then use a circular fluorescent tube overhead to light the whole thing, and use a lighting timer to set the photoperiod: 14-16 hours during the growing season, and down to 8-12 hours during dormancy.  If you want to try to use sunlight, I'd take the top off the jar entirely, or you'll cook 'em.

The best time to divide Flytraps is right as they're coming out of dormancy, but if the environment is stable and correct, they are actually quite resilient little plants.  I've had success during the early and middle parts of the growing season, although I've never tried dividing them when they're thinking about going dormant.
Putting growing lights on a terrarium sorta defeats the purpose of a terrarium, especially one that was put in a bail jar. That's why I suggested something like a nepenthes for a more permanent terrarium that featured a carnivorous plant and wasn't just for overwintering. It would generally just be easier to maintain depending on the species, and terrariums should be about ease and beauty in my opinion.
Culturespy (author)  AngryRedhead4 years ago
The two main reasons I made the terrarium were that I wanted something fun to look at and having had no luck at all with open planters for CP's in the past as well as being told it might solve some past problems I just went with it.

I'm fairly certain my main problem before was not using distilled water.
If it makes you feel better, I lost all my sarracenia because I used perlite infused with Miracle Grow. I hadn't read the package closely enough, and boy did I feel like a dummy. And then I found out that people have problems with perlite generally. Bah.

However, while the plants were alive and living in a peat/sand mix and did so for a year, I had them in a pot-in-pot set up and collected rain water for them.  They were doing really well and were filling up the container which was when I transplanted them and killed them with the perlite...  If the terrarium doesn't work out, there are other things you can try.  I'd send you a nepenthes cutting to try, but I think it might get confiscated by the department of agriculture.  The nepenthes I have would be too large for a jar, but I have it in a hanging basket outside.  It might actually be hardy where you are.
Culturespy (author) 4 years ago
Thanks everyone for such insightful and helpful comments. I got a copy of Peter D'Amato's savage garden, a book that was recommended by more than any other and mentioned independently by several. I also dug out my soil science lab manual and did some web research. I'm going to try to sort out both what people here and elsewhere are having success or failure with and see if I can sus out why from a lab standpoint.

I got peat moss and a chemically inert sand and so far my plants are thriving with visible growth and no apparent issues and seem happy in their jar.

At the very least I'll update this Instructable soon and possibly make another if there seems to be enough material to warrant it.
cyprian9164 years ago
don't know if you know this but bones dust is one of the most dangerous things for you lungs i hope you wore the proper respirator and nit just a dust mask...anyway very cool.
Culturespy (author)  cyprian9164 years ago
Thanks for that. I did wear an actual respirator and made sure to point out the need for it in the Instructable.
im not trying to say you don't know what your is obvious you do. but for the safety of those who would want to do this i wanted to impress upon them the dangers involved in cutting bone and that people have died in this process and have gotten ill with diseases similar to silicosis.
Culturespy (author)  cyprian9164 years ago
No worries.It's really dangerous. Just reassuring you I did wear the right safety gear. It'sa good point to make.
wazzup1054 years ago
Love the skull.. gives it a nice little extra.
jbrecken4 years ago
How do you keep the jar closed enough to maintain humidity but open enough to allow bugs to be eaten by the plants?

Most terrariums I've seen have tiny vent holes, but that kind of arrangement wouldn't allow the pests in.
Culturespy (author)  jbrecken4 years ago
It actually stays open just a bit if the lid is closed but not latched. I'm expecting to have to introduce insects into the jar. There's not a lot of fauna in the lab to wander in there.

bodie4 years ago
Wicked cool ible. As if carnivorous plants aren't cool enough to begin with, you went and upped the awesomeness with a raccoon skull AND power tools! It's like the perfect storm of cool stuff.
Culturespy (author)  bodie4 years ago
It was pretty fun. :)
Culturespy (author) 4 years ago
ONOZ... Those are really helpful suggestions. Just looked at the bag and it says it's mainly coconut pith and sphagnum peat moss with some "forest products" and perlite. They've only been in there a day or so and look OK so I'll see if I can find the right blend locally. It actually looks pretty similar to what the plants came in. Random, but I happen to have a Munsell soil chart laying around and without doing a Ph test the stuff a grabbed seems pretty similar but I'll happily take the advice and change it. The Fly Trap looks like it has divided anyway so it'll be a win win if I haven't killed them off.

Both the plant people and a couple bog plant enthusiasts repeated over and over about the water. The bone fragments are in the very bottom.

I'm not sure about growing the moss. I've been successful with in other things just by keeping it damp.

I'll try to do the soil swap and then post images and add a step dividing the Fly Trap or just make another short Instructable for that.

Thanks very much for the helpful comments!
zennmaster4 years ago
Hello! Very nice instructable, and a cool-looking project!

I wish I didn't have to say this, but I'm afraid your plants are going to die.

In the 16 years that I have been growing carnivorous plants, I have found that there are really only three things that CPs need to live happy, healthy and long lives: Pure water (you got that, good job!), Lots of light (got that too) and totally impoverished, highly acidic, nearly nutrient-free potting soil (this is the problem).

Carnivorous plants adapted to catching and absorbing insects because they live in wet, acidic, impoverished soil. As a result, their root systems are extremely sensitive to nutrients, and planting them in standard potting mixes will often burn the roots right off. (Go ahead, ask me how I know this!)

What you want to use as a potting mix for Sundews and Flytraps is a 50-50 mix of canadian sphagnum peat moss and either silica sand or perlite. All of these are easily available at garden centers

Also, I would try and keep the bone fragments from the skull (Which is an AMAZINGLY cool idea!) off of the surface of the potting mix as well, just to minimize any leeching of calcium into the water/soil, since it is the major mineral that causes water to be hard.
Hi, jep I wanted to write the same thing, don't use basic potting soil! It's going to kill your plants. I don't think the skull will do any harm, but the right soil is very important.
foxy1paco4 years ago
This is a very nice idea and a great Instructable. It's innovative, creative and thought-provoking. I'd love to do something like this, sadly my apartment has 2 windows both facing the rising sun for about 3-5 hours before the hills surrounding the area block out the light that seems to be required for them to flourish and grow happily. However, as far as growing moss, what are the lighting conditions for it?