The Perfect Plant for Blokes

If roses and daisies are too girly for your garden maybe a "blokey" plant that can eat frogs, mice and baby rats is more up your alley, botanist Tim Entwisle says.

"I think they are quite a blokey flower," Dr Entwisle, the executive director of the Botanic Gardens Trust, says from his Sydney office.

"For boys, whether they are very young or older ... they probably think (carnivorous plants) are a bit tougher."

And sales of the hungary plants are on the rise, Geoff Mansell, the owner of Australian nursery, Exotica Plants, says.

People are not only attracted to their macabre nature - they can grow in very poor soil, supplementing their nutrient intake by catching and eating insects, small reptiles and rodents, Mansell says from his Queensland based store.

There is a huge variety of carnivorous plants - from small insect-eating sundews to pitcher plants, equipped with big traps that hold water and catch creatures as big as baby rats.

But despite their appetite, carnivorous plants "are not really sold or used as pest control," Mansell says.

"(Although, napenthes, a large climbing pitcher plant) often eat mice in the greenhouse here ... at any time there would be up to a dozen mice in the pitchers. It happens all throughout the year."

Some animals have learnt to outsmart the plants and even steal their food.

"Frogs sometimes sit on the mouth of the pitchers and when the plant attracts something to it the frogs can actually eat the insect before it goes in to the pitcher," Mansell says.

Dr Entwisle and Mansell are among good company in their love of carnivorous plants.

"Famously, Charles Darwin got very fascinated with carnivorous plants and he used to grow them in his nursery and he would feed them things like roast beef and boiled eggs and also vegetables, because he was testing them," Dr Entwisle says.

"He was sort of the first person to find out that they produce these digestive juices, not really unlike an animal."

Dr Entwisle does not suggest force feeding the plants but Mansell says you can hand-feed them, as long as the creature you give them is alive.

"When (the animals or insects) are alive they struggle in the pitcher and that stimulates the digestive process in the pitcher," he says.

The most common carnivorous plant in Australia is the much humbler sundew - of the 170 varieties world wide, 100 of them are native to Australia and grow mostly in the wet heathlands.

For anyone who wants to grow one of the larger pitcher plants, Mansell says they grow almost anywhere, indoors or outdoors, they just need plenty of light and have to avoid frost.

"Some of these plants grow up as high as 3,000 metres where the water freezes on top of the mountains in the tropics. You can grow the plants easily down as far as Melbourne," Mansell says.

"They don't mind the cold, so long as they don't get below freezing."

Dr Entwisle, who owns a couple of carnivorous plants, says he finds their odd ways fascinating.

"I have always liked plants that are a little bit odd and have an interesting story," he says.

Mansell encourages Aussie gardeners to give carnivorous plants a try.

"Give them a go, they are very rewarding.

"The different colours and shapes that are being bred nowadays lend themselves to collecting a variety of these Napenthes plants."
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