Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why Venus Flytraps Make Lousy Science Fair Projects

Author: Jacob Farin

Every year, I receive many phone calls from parents wanting to purchase Venus Flytraps for their kids' science project. I ask them what type of experiment that they are doing, and usually it is about what type of food source will keep the traps closed. I patiently listen to what they have to say, and then I share with them three reasons why Venus Flytraps make lousy test subjects:

1. Venus Flytraps are usually dormant when school is in session.

The school year goes from September through June. Venus Flytraps are often dormant from November through April. During dormancy, Flytraps stop growing and their traps stop working.

For any science projects to work, your young budding scientists will need to use plants that are actively growing. That means the best time to do any science project on Venus Flytraps is during June through September. Not many young budding scientists are willing to do science projects during the summer when there are many trees to climb and ponds to swim in.

2. Traps on a Venus Flytrap will open and close about half a dozen times. After that, they stop working.

Now, how many kids (and adults) out there are disciplined enough to not poke a Flytrap and to leave it alone? If a trap does not close properly, would it be because of the testing stimulus or because the trap was poked and poked and poked and poked and simply stopped working?

3. Traps will live for about 2 months, then it stops working and slowly turns black, regardless if it had been triggered or not.

Again, if a trap does not close properly, would it be because of the testing stimulus or because the trap had come to the end of its life cycle?

Select a Different Plant

For these reasons, I often persuade parents to select a different plant. The ideal plant is one that also moves, like the Venus Flytrap, but is also actively growing throughout the school year.

The plant? The Cape Sundew ( Drosera capensis ).

The Cape Sundew is native to South Africa and is considered a tropical plant. It does not require any dormancy and will grow beautifully throughout the year. They are also readily available by most nurseries that specializes in carnivorous plants.

Like Venus Flytraps, Cape Sundews have leaves that close around an insect. It does so very slowly, however, taking about 15 minutes to witness this amazing behavior.

Just make sure that your plant has been grown in very bright lights and has lots of dew on it. If not, your experiment may not work properly.

So, if your kids want a Venus Flytrap for a science project, use a Cape Sundew instead. But, still get them a Venus Flytrap. Growing it can be a part of their summertime activities.

About the author: Jacob Farin is co-owner of Sarracenia Northwest , a nursery specializing in the cultivation of carnivorous plants. He is also co-author of Secrets to Growing Beautiful Carnivorous Plants for Your Home and Garden. For details on the cultivation of carnivorous plants, visit CarnivorousPlantSec rets.com .

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