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When the word pitcher plant food is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is an insect. But many people feed worms to their pitcher plants, specifically mealworms and bloodworms. Is this a good idea or one you have to avoid? If you are growing these plants for the first time, it is understandable to be concerned over its diet This guide is for you.
Pitcher plants usually prey on insects, but they can eat worms as well. Worms are rich in nutrients which pitcher plants need to make leaves, traps, flowers and fight off infection.
How to Feed Worms to Pitcher Plants
There are two types of worms given to pitcher plants, live or freeze dried. They will eat both types of worms and the feeding process is similar. The following is a general overview but you should always check the instructions on the package for details. There are plenty of products to choose from, but we suggest Aquatic Foods Bloodworms for their high nutritional value.
Freeze Dried Worms
To feed freeze dried mealworms to pitcher plants, take the worms out of the package. Place them in a container full of water. Leave the worms there to thaw for a few minutes. Put some worms in one of the pitchers and the plant will eat it.
Use the same process for freeze dried bloodworms. Drop a few worms into one of the pitchers. That is all you need to do as the plant will handle the rest.
Freeze dried mealworms and bloodworms are staple food for fish, but carnivorous plants like nepenthes and sarracenia benefit from them as well. Their nutritional value is as just as good as live worms and they are easier to find and prepare.
To get high quality freeze dried worms, purchase only from well known companies. Freeze dried worms come in a variety of sizes so take your pick. If you want your pitcher plants to come back after dormancy, feeding the right food is a must.
Take the worms out of the package and rinse in water. Do this for a few minutes then discard the water. Place few worms in one of the plant pitchers.
Live bloodworms should be consumed within 3 days of purchase. Any leftover should be kept in the fridge and consumed by your plant in 48-72 hours.
Live worms can be more nutritious than freeze dried but they could be carrying diseases too. Large worms might also climb out of the pitcher and eat the leaves.
Buying from a well established company is even more important here. Worms can cause all kinds of plant diseases so you have to be careful.
As long as you buy from a reputable brand you should have no problems with live worms. If you are lucky enough, you might actually see the plant use its liquids to dissolve its meal.
How Many Worms Can Pitcher Plants Eat?
If you research online you will find that pitcher plants are fed a different number of times. Some are given food on a monthly basis, others every one or three weeks. The number of pitchers fed varies as well, with some opting to give food to just one pitcher while others feed two or more.
Pitcher plants may eat every month or every 2-3 weeks. They do not need a lot of nutrients and will still grow under the right conditions.
This can be confusing for a beginner so let us keep things simple.
Pitcher plants need small amounts of nutrients. You can feed it a few small worms (live or dead) once a month or every few weeks.
Feed worms to your pitcher plant as described earlier. After a week, check the pitcher to see how many of the worms the plant ate. If most are gone, repeat next week or after every two weeks.
If there are a lot of uneaten worms, reduce the amount and feeding frequency. Pitcher plants that grow in a healthy environment need much less nutrition. A sick plant will not be able to eat either so keep an eye out for that. Pitcher plants that turn black is a sign of an ill nepenthes and must be treated right away.
Outdoor pitcher plants do not have to be given any worms. Chances are a few of those will find their way into the trap. If not worms, other insects will keep your plant happy. Feeding of pitcher plants only applies to those that indoors or grown in a terrarium.
If you do decide to grow nepenthes in a terrarium here are some tips. First, buy one that is suitable for pitcher plants like the Urban Born Glass Terrarium. Second feeding is required because there is no way for the plant to catch bugs. So it is up to you to feed the worms to the plant.
Why Worms are Good For Pitcher Plants
Carnivorous plants require as much nutrition as any plant. While non-carnivorous types get them from rich soil, sarracenia and nepenthes receive nutrients from the animals they prey on.
Insects like gnats, flies, even cockroaches contain the same nutrients found in rich soil. The soil pitcher plants grow in do not have these nutrients. So they have to be creative and get them from insects. Once digested, the meat is processed and turned into nitrogen, calcium, potassium etc.
Worms are rich in nutrients just like insects, so they are good for pitcher plants. It is true that crawling and flying insects make up the bulk of the pitcher plant diet. But worms are just as nutritious as those bugs.
There are many, many types of worms and pitcher plants have no trouble digesting most of them (unless it is very long). The only requirement is the animal must be small enough to fit into the trap. A large, long worm might crawl into the pitcher but once it realizes the trap, it might crawl back up.
Small worms will not be able to escape the viscous pitcher liquids however. Bacteria or small insects like spiders might be hidden in the pitcher and attack it. Pitcher plants will also release additional digestive enzymes to dissolve the worm.
After the worm is broken down and digested, the pitcher plant gets the nutrition it requires. If you feed live worms this is basically what will happen inside the pitcher. With the frozen or freeze dried variety, there will be none of the struggle and only the digestion.
How Pitcher Plants Catch and Digest Worms
Pitcher plants have developed a complex system for sensing, luring and eating prey. Their mechanism is very efficient and works for all kinds of small insects, bugs, spiders and worms.
A pitcher plant secretes nectar around its traps to attract prey. When a worm goes into the pitcher to get the nectar, it falls into a viscous liquid where it is drowned or suffocated. The plant releases digestive enzymes to dissolve the tissues and consumes it.
This only goes to show how important liquids are to pitcher plants. An empty pitcher plant will not be able to digest any animal that falls into its traps.
Both sarracenia and nepenthes need to be in the right environment to produce nectar. 8 hours of sunlight, high humidity and temperature no higher than 85 F is the best for most pitcher plants.
Under these conditions, the plant will produce nectar and scatter it around its leaves, especially the traps. Nectar generates a scent which lures insects and also worms. Sometimes worms are drawn to the leaves and may try to eat it.
When a prey – a worm in this instance – comes into the pitcher, the plant will try to trap it. If the worm is small enough, it will get entangled in the liquids.
Here are some tips for giving food to pitcher plants.
- Do not use fertilizer as food for pitcher plants.
- Some pitcher plants take longer than others to digest food. Be patient.
- If your plant used to eat worms but no longer does, try other foods. If it refuses to eat, look for signs of disease or infestation. A foul smell coming from the plant might mean there is root rot.
- It is all right to mix worms with bugs and other insects. But be careful to not to fill the pitcher with too much food.
Pitcher plants will do fine eating only insects, but adding worms to their diet is a good idea. You bring variety to their meals and also different types of nutritional benefits. Whether you go for mealworms or bloodworms, you can be certain it is safe for pitcher plants.
My fascination with carnivorous plants began many, many years ago with Venus Fly Traps. Now I am more than happy to impart what I know with other enthusiasts and those who are curious about meat eating plants.