My four-year-old son talks a lot about the carnivorous and the herbivorous. Often this interest relates to dinosaurs – “Tyrannosaurus could eat this whole wall if he wanted to, but he wouldn’t want to, unless it was made out of meat” — but sometimes it goes beyond them. Shortly before my trip to Amsterdam he learned of the existence of venus flytraps, and the idea of meat-eating plants kind of blew his mind. “Meat-eating plants” is also literally what he called them in English, because he was translating from the German fleischfressende Pflanzen.
My first day in Amsterdam I saw a “floating flower market” on a list of tourist attractions; imagining a Southeast Asian sort of scene of small boats brimming with flowers, I dragged my sister and her boyfriend there. The flower market was disappointingly unfloating, just a line of crowded stalls all selling the same tulip bulbs, cannabis seeds and Dutch clog keychains. The whole thing seemed pretty crappy until I saw a display of venus flytraps beneath a sign that read “Carnivore Plants”. A meat-eating plant — the perfect present to bring back to my son!
I also enjoyed the phrase “carnivore plants” — being in the Netherlands reminded me that while odd non-native speaker English annoys me in Germany, where the Sisyphean task of combatting it is my livelihood, it seems much more charming everywhere else.
The venus flytraps were packed in little plastic domes and surrounded by signs that warned “no finger in the plastic” and “keep the finger out of the plant.” I wondered whether the need for these signs related to the prevalence of stoned tourists here, whether coffeeshop casualties were wont to hang around the flower market slowly poking their fingers into carnivorous plants.
The venus flytrap now lives on the kitchen windowsill alongside our sickly basil and mint plants. I dutifully keep it in a half-centimeter of water as directed by intructions that call it a “bogplant”. I’d hoped it might help with our fruitfly problem, but it has yet to catch any prey, fruitfly or otherwise, and I worry about its health.
The meat-eating plant is something in between a houseplant and a pet; you walk past it and wonder what it’s been up to, whether it’s managed to catch anything. J. gets excited whenever a fly enters the kitchen. Look the fly is flying close to the meat-eating plant, he says, the meat-eating plant is going to schnapp the fly up. But it never does. The internet says venus flytraps can scrape by on photosynthesis alone if forced to, but won’t really thrive without meat. The internet also says that when a venus flytrap lives indoors it can’t fend for itself, you have to catch flies and feed them to it, but you shouldn’t just feed it bits of hamburger, that makes it sick. Reading that the plant behaved differently indoors I felt a twinge of zookeeper’s guilt for holding it in captivity on a windowsill with only the weak northern European sun, so far away from its native nitrogen-poor North Carolina bog.