Grow Venus Flytraps from Seed
Flowering & Seed production in Venus Flytraps
Venus Flytraps grow a flowerstalk and produce seed once annually. The flowerstalk emerges from the center of the growing crown beginning in mid to late Spring. The flower buds develop in a cluster at the top of the flowerstalk during a period of several weeks as the flowerstalk itself grows to full height, then bloom one or several at a time, with the petals curling inward and browning after a few days as the seed pod swells with the developing seeds inside, which are tiny (about 1 millimeter in diameter) with a thin, shiny, smooth, black seed coat.
Young, weak or sickly plants, or those that have recently been transplanted, should not be allowed to flower because the flowering and seed-producing process uses up much of the stored food in the Venus Flytrap's rhizome. Such plants can become further weakened or even die as a result, so the emerging flower stalks should be cut from such weak or sick plants shortly after the flowerstalks appear in mid to late Spring. Only mature, healthy Venus Flytraps should be allowed to flower and set seed.
Venus Flytraps in bloom, mid-Spring to early Summer
When Venus Flytraps bloom, a flower begins to be receptive to pollen only 1 to 1.5 days after the flower opens, so older flowers (1-1.5 days old) need to be pollinated with the fresh pollen from a younger flower (preferably one that has just opened). It greatly increases the likelihood and yield of seed production to pollinate the flowers by hand. A small artist's brush or other instrument can be used to transfer the pollen from the anthers of a young flower to the stigma at the center of a slightly older flower (1-1.5 days older).
Once the seed pod has matured, dried and torn open to reveal the tiny, shiny black seeds, the pod can be cut from the flowerstalk and the seeds gently removed. They should be left in an open container to dry for a day or two (to help prevent fungal growth on or in the seeds) before storing the seeds in a small plastic bag or vial in a refrigerator until they are to be sowed. Keep the air around the seeds to a minimum during storage to prevent further drying of the seed which would reduce the germination rate. A small plastic zip-lock bag from which the air can be gently squeezed before sealing is a better storage container than a bottle or rigid plastic container.
The Importance of Seed Quality
Venus Flytraps produce seed only once per year. That means that by the time the new seeds are ready to be collected, the last annual harvest's seeds are already a year old. Older Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) seed has a lower germination rate (fewer of the seeds germinate or sprout) and longer germination time, which means that the first seed to germinate is likely to be delayed by at least several days, and the amount of time between the first and last seed to germinate will probably be several weeks longer than for fresh seed.
Fresh Dionaea Muscipula Seed
Fresh Venus Flytrap seed, only a few weeks to a few months old, will typically begin to germinate in 13-18 days when kept moist and warm, and germination will continue for several weeks (perhaps 2-5 weeks after the first seed germinates) until the majority of seeds have germinated, with a few waiting days or even weeks longer to germinate.
Older Dionaea Muscipula Seed
If stored well, Venus Flytrap seed that is one, two or even three years old can still germinate fairly well (a fairly high percentage of the seed will still germinate) or acceptably, but may require from 15-25 days for the first seeds to germinate, and an additional 3-8 weeks after that for the majority of seed to germinate (of those that actually will germinate). In general, the older the seed, the fewer seeds will germinate, the longer it will take for the first seed to germinate, and the longer the period of time will be for the seeds that will germinate to do so.
If Venus Flytrap seed is not stored well, the germination rate and speed can drop substantially or even drastically. Because the seeds of Venus Flytraps are so tiny with such a thin seed coat (outer surface) it's easier for them to dry than the larger seeds of other plants, and Venus Flytrap seeds that dry out too much won't germinate well or at all. (see "Soak Venus Flytrap Seeds" below).
Buy Seeds from a Knowledgeable, Reputable Source
Many people who sell Venus Flytrap seeds are only dealers, not growers. They merely bought the seed from someone else in order to divide those seeds into smaller lots and sell them at a higher price. Many of these dealers may not even know how to grow Venus Flytraps or how to encourage the germination of the seed they sell. In addition, they may have no idea how to store the seed successfully for maximum germination rate, to keep the seed as fresh as possible for the longest time. The Venus Flytrap seed you buy from these vendors may be several to many years old, and few of them might germinate.
If you can't produce your own Venus Flytrap seed or don't want to do so, fresh seed can be bought from commercial vendors online. For a better chance of success, buy seed from people who actually grow the Venus Flytraps from which the seed is harvested, people who know how to grow and care for Venus Flytraps whether adult or seedling. One source for accurately labeled, well-stored, hand-pollinated Venus Flytrap seed harvested from superior cloned and seed-grown parent plants, direct from the grower and breeder, is FlytrapRanch.com.
How to Prepare Dionaea Muscipula Seed
Stratification can help the seeds of fall-blooming plants to germinate (but not Venus Flytraps). The seeds of many plants that bloom in the Fall are accustomed to wait through a cool or cold winter season before germinating in Spring. When grown in artificial conditions, such seeds are often prepared for germination by stratifying them, which is the process of simulating a winter by placing the seeds in moist and cold conditions, such as folded inside a wet paper towel that is placed inside a plastic bag, and then storing the seeds inside the refrigerator for some weeks (usually 5-10 weeks or more).
However, Venus Flytraps are not fall-blooming plants and Venus Flytrap seeds do not need to be stratified. Venus Flytraps bloom in Spring and produce their seed in early to mid Summer. The seed is accustomed to germinate within days after it falls from the plant in nature, during the Summer of the same year, without waiting through an intervening cool or cold winter season before sprouting. Stratification therefore is not necessary nor desirable for the seeds of Dionaea muscipula, the Venus Flytrap.
Soak Venus Flytrap Seed
Although very fresh Venus Flytrap seeds need no special preparation and can be sown immediately, seed that is more than a few weeks or months old, or the age of which is unknown, should be soaked first in pure water, which helps to rehydrate the seed and improve its potential for germination. This is especially important for seed that is more than one year old. Simply soak the seed in water for up to several days, until most of the seeds sink when the water is stirred (older, dry seed often floats). The seeds can be removed from the water either by using an eyedropper, or by emptying most of the water, then pouring the seeds and remaining water onto an absorbent surface such as a folded paper towel, or pouring it through a porous material through which the water will pass but the seeds will not (again, a folded paper towel works well for this).
When to Plant Venus Flytrap Seed
Many people ask whether it's alright to plant Venus Flytrap seed during the colder months of the year when most Venus Flytraps are resting in their yearly dormancy, and in artificial conditions of controlled temperature and light (indoors or in a greenhouse). The answer is yes. Venus Flytrap seedlings can wait for eight months to a year and a half before synching with the seasons and expecting or wanting to lapse into their first dormancy, so it's alright and even advantageous, for the plants, to begin to grow Venus Flytrap seedlings in the Fall, Winter or early Spring. Because Venus Flytrap seedlings grow so slowly, sowing and germinating the seed early allows them to grow and develop to a greater extent than they would normally be able to achieve during their first season in their natural environment. So it's alright to sow Venus Flytrap seeds at any time of the year, if conditions can be controlled enough to prevent freezing, keep the seeds and seedlings warm enough to grow well, and provide enough light.
Germination of Venus Flytrap Seeds
Although the seeds of Venus Flytraps are very tiny (about 1 millimeter, less than 1/16 inch in length), Venus Flytraps are easy to germinate and grow from seed. A seed will germinate in as few as 10-13 days (in warm, moist conditions) to as long as 2-4 weeks or more in cooler or more variable conditions. A Venus Flytrap can grow from seed to maturity in 2-4 years. During the first year the plant will be tiny, but although the traps will be typically only 1-4 millimeters in length at that time, they are fully functional, often catching very small insects such as fungus gnats that emerge from the soil.
To germinate Venus Flytrap seeds, there are a few things to consider and remember:
- Stratification or no? — No, not for Venus Flytrap seed. Stratification is the process of keeping seeds cold and damp for several weeks or months, and for Fall-blooming plants stratification can simulate a winter for the seeds, which are used to germinating the following Spring. But Venus Flytraps bloom in the Spring, not the Fall, and their seeds do not need to be stratified. Instead Venus Flytrap seeds are accustomed to germinate within days (usually 13-25 days) after they fall to the ground during the summer, the rate and speed of germination increasing with warm temperatures. Therefore, Venus Flytrap seeds should not be stratifed, although if they are not sowed immediately they can be stored in a small bag or vial in the refrigerator to help them remain fresh longer and increase germination when sowed at a later date.
- Soak the seed — Although fresh seed (no more than a few months old) can be sowed without pre-soaking the seed, the germination rate of older seed can be greatly improved by pre-soaking the seed. Place the seeds in pure water (distilled, rain or reverse-osmosis water, not tap water). Older seed that has become dehydrated (has dried to some extent) will float. Soak the seed until most of the seeds sink rather than float, soaking for up to several days if necessary. The seeds can be separated from the water either by pouring the water onto an absorbent surface (such as a folded paper towel) or through a porous surface (like a folded paper towel). Soaking is especially important if you have doubts about how fresh or old the seed may be, as many sellers don't say. Soaking Venus Flytrap seed is an important first step to produce the best germination possible. Expect seed that is more than a year old to take at least a few more days to germinate than fresh seed would, despite rehydration, but even seed that is two or more years old can have a surprising germination rate if the seed is pre-soaked before sowing.
- What kind of soil? — The "soil" should be a growing medium similar to one used for adult Venus Flytraps: a very low-nutrient mix based on sphagnum peat moss, with other ingredients such as silica sand or perlite optionally added. No "potting soil" (usually has nutrients added) and no Miracle-Gro brand because they enrich their sphagnum peat moss and perlite with plant food. My favorite mix is 50% by volume of sphagnum peat moss (which is dark brown; not light-brown long-fiber sphagnum moss) to 50% silica sand (not beach nor river nor children's sandbox "play sand").
What about coir instead of sphagnum peat moss? Although desalinated coir can be used in a growing mix for reasonably mature or adult Venus Flytraps, using coir for germinating and the initial growing of Venus Flytrap seedlings (instead of a traditional sphagnum peat based medium) can be problematic. Coir is so spongy and springy that after watering, the mass of growing medium heaves upward as it dries, especially near the top surface, and often partially uproots tiny Venus Flytrap seedlings or makes it difficult for them to establish their first roots.
- Bury the seed? — No, don't bury the seed, but it's OK push the seed into the surface of the growing medium with a thumb or finger, or to sift a little fine dust of sphagnum peat moss (ground between the fingers, for example) onto the growing medium to settle around the seeds, to help retain moisture and keep the emerging root from drying out and becoming calloused and stunted. This also helps give the seed something to push against as the root emerges and seeks to dig itself into the medium instead of merely pushing itself along the soil surface, but it is not strictly necessary.
- Water — Use only rain water or distilled water (or reverse-osmosis water). To water the seeds, use a spray bottle to gently wet the soil surface or continue to spray to saturate the medium until some water drains out, or water from below, allowing the soil to suck water upward through the drain holes from a tray or bowl of water. While germinating seed the soil should be fairly moist. Later when the plants begin to grow well the water content should be lowered and the plants allowed to have more air and less water in the soil. Venus Flytraps, once they are past the tiny seedling stage, grow very healthy in just moist rather than soggy or saturated soil, although care must be taken so that the soil never completely dries out.
- Heat — Yes, keep the seeds and growing container warm. A temperature above 78 degrees Fahrenheit or fluctuating up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (24-32 or more degrees Celsius/Centigrade) will greatly help to stimulate more rapid germination and early healthy growth.
- Keep moist and avoid direct sunlight — Don't allow the soil surface to dry out completely, and try to keep humidity high during germination, although it can be lowered once the plants are growing. If you live in a dry climate, it helps to germinate Venus Flytraps in a covered container. A disposable plastic food storage container makes a fine germination chamber. Cut or punch holes in the top for heat escape and air circulation, and poke some tiny holes in the bottom of the container to drain excess water. Place some growing medium inside (an inch or two (4-8 centimeters) in depth), sprinkle the seeds on top, and moisten thoroughly. Lift the lid of the container at least once a day and fan the air for a change of fresh air. The germination chamber should not be placed
in direct sunlight because it will overheat both the air and soil inside and may damage or kill the seeds and germinating plants. Bright indirect light is best. Alternatively, the seeds may be sown in any regular pot or planting container, and temporarily covered with a clear plastic bag in indirect light. As with the germination chamber mentioned above, it is important to keep any covered container out of direct sunlight because of the rapid buildup of heat inside or beneath the covering, which can literally bake and kill seeds and seedlings. Once most of the seeds have germinated (within 4-6 weeks) the covering can be permanently removed and the seedlings then placed in direct sunlight.
- How long to wait? — Be patient. The freshest seed, sown only days or a few weeks after harvest, can often begin to germinate in as little as 10-13 days. Older seed usually takes 15-20 days or more before it begins to germinate, and seed that is more than a year old may require 25-days or more, and the germination rate (percentage of seeds that sucessfully germinate) is usually reduced as the seeds age. Soaking the seeds in water for a day or two before sowing, as mentioned above, can help to rehydrate dry, old seed and increase its germination rate. Warmth greatly increases the speed of germination of Venus Flytrap seeds. When the growing medium and air around the seeds are somewhat warmer than most humans find comfortable, seeds often germinate more quickly. Don't give up too soon, and don't let the soil surface dry and kill a newly emerging root from a just-germinated seed!
- Transplant — If grown in a germination container, Flytraps can be transplanted after germination to a more permanent home, uncovered. The best stage to transplant them (this is merely my own preference) is after 2-3 weeks of growth in the germination container, when the cotyledons (the two first leaves, the "seed leaves") are almost fully extended out of the seed and the first tiny true trap leaf is forming. At this stage the plant has a base and tiny root that can be transplanted, which helps to anchor the plant in its new growing medium and helps it to adapt to conditions of lesser humidity and more light. An easy way to transplant is to use a moist wooden toothpick. Poke a tiny hole in the new home of the plant, gently dig the plant with the tip of the toothpick, transfer the plant to the tiny hole in its new growing container and gently orient it properly (leaves up, base and root down) then very gently settle it into the new hole with the toothpick or a very light touch of a finger.
- Storing seeds — To store excess seed for later germination, place them in a small plastic bag or--if very fresh--in a paper envelope inside a plastic bag, and store them in the refrigerator. Keeping them cold helps prevent them from trying to germinate prematurely (warmth stimulates germination) and helps keep them fresh, and keeping them from drying out too much keeps them fresh longer and keeps their germination rate (percentage) higher. Placing them in a plastic bag and squeezing out most of the excess air keeps the seeds from drying out too much, and placing them in a paper envelope helps overly-moist fresh seed to dry just a little and keeps them from developing mold in long term storage. The plastic bag enclosing the paper envelope keeps them from drying out too much. If harvesting your own seed, allow them to dry in a small open container for 2-3 days before storage in the refrigerator.
- Anything else? HAVE FUN! — Venus Flytraps are very interesting to watch grow from seed. Most Venus Flytraps that are available for sale are tissue cultured (micropropagated), but seed grown plants are all different: each is genetically unique, one of a kind, with the potential to be a special plant.