carnivorous plants

Carnivorous Plants

Fascinating, bizarre, maybe even a bit creepy but undoubtedly beautiful, carnivorous plants have captured the imagination of naturalists, botanists and even scriptwriters for centuries. Renee Mendelow discovered that she wasn’t immune to their charms either.

Turning a passion into a business

Unusually, Jozi Carnivores was not born out of a passion for carnivorous plants, but rather as a solution to several problems that Renee was facing. “I had no interest in these intriguing plants at all. However, I was by chance exposed to an incredible range of carnivorous plants I had no idea existed, and I saw them as a solution to several problems I was experiencing as a mother of young children,” Renee explains. She has a particular hatred for the imported plastic, disposable gifts that children are invariably given, and also didn’t like it that her children were not spending enough time outdoors and interacting with nature. She saw the almost mystical world of carnivorous plants as a way to fix all of this.

Most interesting plant

“It would have to be the Venus flytrap, because this is the plant that started my wondrous journey into the world of flesh-eating plants,” explains Renee. One day, while walking through a nursery, she spotted a Venus flytrap and decided to buy it for her 11-year-old daughter, Ella. While Ella was delighted with the gift, Renee felt that the plant was lonely and needed some friends, so started hunting for more. Visits to the local nurseries were unproductive, but undeterred, Renee trawled the Internet and found a carnivorous plant grower who was more than happy to help. Other mothers identified with what Renee was doing and wanted carnivorous plants for their own children, and so a small home industry was born. Her instincts proved right as it was not only children who loved carnivorous plants, but adults as well. Soon it was time to expand. “And so my extraordinary journey began and I started growing carnivorous plants as a full-time venture,” says a smiling Renee. “I made a million mistakes in the beginning, and while I may have wanted to give up on occasion, I persevered and soon began to grow like an expert.”

Favourite plant

“It is really hard to choose, but I would have to go with sundews (Drosera spp.), says Renee. “They are visually appealing plants, particularly when the sun shines through their sticky glue traps. South Africa is an important biodiversity centre for carnivorous plants, and we have about 20 species of Drosera.”

“Of all the sundews, I would have to put the Cape sundew (Drosera capensis) at the top of my list,” says a smiling Renee. Native to the south coast from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, this evergreen plant is one of the easiest of all carnivorous plants to grow. It produces pretty pink or white flowers, and because they often self-pollinate it’s easy to end up with a whole bunch of them.

More interesting stories

Carnivorous plants are incredibly interesting and serve as a natural vehicle for educating children on important issues such as conservation, rainwater harvesting, evolution and caring for living things. “It is my hope that we will continue to develop in the area of education, both via the Jozi Carnivores School Programme and potentially also by developing a field school at our Kyalami branch,” says Renee. Jozi Carnivores has grown and evolved over the years. The pandemic has forced them to rethink their business model and they are now placing a greater emphasis on on-line sales.

Renee’s Top Tips for Carnivorous Plants

  • Keep their roots wet at all times. Depending on the species, some prefer to be watered overhead while others like to soak up moisture from their tray.
  • Water with mineral-free water like rainwater or distilled water.
  • Plant in a mineral-free soil mix such as a blend of sphagnum peat and perlite.
  • Understand the light requirements of your plants and whether they need lots of direct sunlight (eg Venus flytraps) or a more diffused, indirect sunlight (e.g. tropical pitcher plants and some species of sundew).
  • Don’t be alarmed if your plants seem to die in late autumn. They are just going dormant for the winter and will spring back to life in the spring.
The Gardener