Do Venus fly traps need meat to survive? This and other myths busted by a top plant expert

As searches for Venus fly traps soar following the John Lewis Christmas advert, we look at whether this carnivorous plant makes a good houseplant.

John Lewis has done it again with its Christmas advert, in which we are introduced to Snapper, a giant Venus fly trap.

Since it was aired on November 9, searches on Google have peaked as people look for more information on this mythical plant.

This peculiar house plant holds a special place in my memories. Back in the Seventies, my older sister owned one, and together, we were captivated by its ability to capture and consume flies. We even embarked on adventures, searching for tiny insects to satisfy its carnivorous appetite.

Nostalgia aside, I also recall the demanding care it required. If you’re contemplating gifting one or bringing it into your home, I’ve gathered all the expert advice to help you decide whether this unique plant is the right fit for your home.

Close up of a Venus fly trapCredit: Shutterstock/Sergey Skleznev
Venus fly traps are all the rage now thanks to John Lewis – but how hard are they to keep?

Jane Perrone is a houseplant expert, host of On The Ledge podcast and author of Legends of the Leaf and Houseplant Gardener in a Box. What she doesn’t know about this tiny carnivore is not worth knowing.


1. Do Venus fly traps make good houseplants?

They’re a bit tricky to care for

If you’re used to looking after easy houseplants such as spider plants or Swiss cheese plants, the Venus fly trap – or Dionaea muscipula – might not be for you.

“They’re not the easiest plants to grow indoors,” says Perrone, saying that majority of Venus fly traps purchased in this country don’t survive that long.

“Their needs are rather different from most of the popular houseplants we grow indoors. People think they can treat them like a regular houseplant, but that’s not the case. They need rainwater or distilled water, not tap water, and a special type of potting soil.”

2. Where’s the best place to keep a Venus fly trap?

Humidity and sunlight are their friend

As Venus fly traps originate from the coastal bogs in the States – particularly North and South Carolina – they’re used to having soil that’s constantly moist. They also need nice humid conditions to live in.

“Place them in your sunniest windowsill, or supplement their light with an LED grow light,” says Perrone.

She continues: “Flytraps should be sat in a shallow tray of water around 2cm deep from spring to autumn – keep them moist but not wet in winter.”

She says they need a little winter rest period as well, so during the colder months place them somewhere that’s brightly it, but cool, around 10°C (50°F).

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3. Do you need to feed your plant with flies?

They’re carnivores, but they can feed themselves

While the John Lewis advert show Snapper creating confetti by eating paper and being tempted by the family dog, in real life Venus fly traps don’t need you to be their fly catcher, although they’re a great way to keep flies out of the house.

“They will most likely just catch the occasional fly in your home, which is absolutely fine,” says Perrone, who says they don’t need feeding daily.

“Strangely enough, in the wild, flytraps don’t eat many flies. They mostly live off a diet of ground-dwelling creatures such as beetles and spiders.”

4. What is the one thing you should never do to your plant?

Don’t trigger it…

After chatting to Perrone, I realise this big no-no is probably why our little Venus fly trap didn’t stay alive for long…

“Tempting though it is, never trigger the traps using your finger,” advises Perrone. “The traps only have enough energy to be set off two or three times, and they will die off pretty quickly if forced to close without a meal.”

My sister and I were guilty of putting our finger in the trap to see what would happen a little too often, although we did also scour windowsills for dead flies to feed it!

Perrone also says that while you can feed it with insects or flies, never give it pieces of meat – they might be carnivores, but they like their food to be alive.

She says: “The traps are specially designed to only begin digesting food that is wriggling and struggling in the trap, so anything dead will just end up rotting inside.”


5. How big can a Venus fly trap get?

They’re really quite small

While Perrone says the biggest flytrap on record was 6.1cm (2.4 inches) long, in reality they only reach a few centimetres tall, with perhaps a diameter of around 20cm (just under 8 inches).

“There are loads of accounts in popular culture of huge flytraps,” she says.

“Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story called The American’s Tale about a man in Arizona who got eaten by a giant flytrap – but in reality, they are really tiny.”

Perrone loves the new John Lewis Christmas ad, even if it’s not wholly accurate.

“It’s part of a grand tradition of mythologising the Venus fly trap that dates right back to the mid 1700s, when British botanists first learned about the species, right up to Audrey Jr in the Little Shop of Horrors,” she says.

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5. Can you grow them from seeds?

Fresh seeds needed

While you can grow your own Venus fly trap from seeds, Perrone advises avoiding the ‘grow your own’ kits and instead going to a specialist carnivorous plant nursery, such as South West Carnivorous Plants.

“The seeds need to be fairly fresh to germinate successfully,” she says. “I should also say that a Venus fly trap seed is way tinier than the acorn-sized seed shown in the John Lewis ad!”

You’ll also need to buy specialist compost and as with the fully grown plants, they will need to be kept somewhere warm and humid, and their soil kept constantly moist. Germination takes several weeks, and it can take a few years for a plant to reach its full maturity.

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What do do if your Venus fly trap turns black

Claire Bishop, Senior Houseplant Buyer at Dobbies, says this is a sign that your plant is dying, however, they do regenerate so don’t give up on it just yet.

“These plants go dormant in the winter months, so to aid this and ensure a good dormancy period, you can place your Venus fly trap in a cool and covered space,” she says.

She suggests an outdoor greenhouse or colder room in your home. During these dormant months Bishop says it’s still important to keep the soil damp, watering every couple of weeks. You should also trim off any dead traps during this period.

“When spring arrives, move your Venus fly trap back to its brighter, warmer spot and resume frequent waterings to bring it out of dormancy,” she says.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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