Venture: Savage Gardens

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Rising just inches above its mossy bed, the staghorn sundew is dwarfed by the towering atrium at Franklin Park Conservatory. The small green tentacles covered by thousands of red hairs look so pretty and delicate - they couldn't hurt a fly.

Or could they?

Flies find out the hard way.

In reality, the staghorn, spoon leaf and shaggy sundew are among 2,500 carnivorous plants spread throughout the conservatory as part of Savage Gardens, a new exhibit that highlights the green world's truly wild side.

"To most people, carnivorous plants seem exotic. But in fact many, such as the Venus flytrap, are native to North America," conservatory horticulturist Amanda Bettin said in a recent release. "Unfortunately, over 95 percent of their natural habitats have been destroyed, making our job to educate the public about these horticultural wonders even more important."

And they are truly wonderful - a killer addition, literally and figuratively.

Sundews, flytraps, bladderworts and butterworts act a lot like other plants. They grow leaves, use photosynthesis and sprout from soil. Over time, though, they've developed the ability to digest insects, spiders and even small rodents to gain nutrients not provided by the soil where they most often grow.

Some produce sticky leaves to trap small insects such as ghost ants and houseflies, while flytraps use jaw-like appendages to clasp prey. Pitcher plants have perhaps the most unique hunting method: Flies land on a bulbous container, get intoxicated from a narcotic substance secreted on the rim and fall drunkenly into a pit of enzymes.

You can find occasional specimens in Ohio, but they're much easier to enjoy in Franklin Park's reception areas, outdoor gardens and biomes. (They're in pretty much everything except the Pacific Island Water Garden, so they couldn't capture any beloved stragglers from the Blooms & Butterflies exhibit.)

In addition to adding greenery, Franklin Park brings the natural world into the imaginary with numerous interactive displays and four giant sculptural installations of carnivorous plants. Workshops, field trips and special programs are planned through the fall.

To discover more outdoor activities in your own backyard, click to the Ohio Adventure Map at

Through Nov. 14

Franklin Park Conservatory, Near East Side