You might have heard of carnivorous plants like the venus flytrap (dionaeia muscipula) or pitcher plant (nepenthes), but you might not have heard of Byblis, the carnivorous rainbow plant.
Byblis is native to Australia, sometimes called the rainbow plant because of the way its sticky, sparkling mucilage-covered leaves and stem can look in the sun. It attracts mosquitos and fruit flies, which die after getting stuck in shimmery glue. They’re then digested by enzymes for nourishment. Byblis also grow pretty purple flowers that close in the evening and last for a few days. 🌸
The Latin name Byblis itself comes from Greek mythology: Byblis was a woman who fell in love with her twin brother Caunus. There are different versions of her story, but Byblis ultimately gets rejected. Her endless tears lead her to be transformed into a fountain.
What I raise in particular are called Byblis guehoi, one of the eight recognized kinds of Byblis. 🌱 Though they look like sundews (drosera), which are another kind of carnivorous plant with similarly sticky leaves, Byblis are unique and more related to butterworts (pinguiculas).
How to take care of Byblis
Byblis plants are generally easy to raise, as long as some simple points are kept in mind. Repotting them isn’t recommended as they have weak roots.
Keep them in a bright, sunny spot
Like most carnivorous plants (and plants in general), Byblis plants need sunlight. Direct sunlight is great, but for Philippine summer heat, it’s best to gauge it. I’ve had success keeping them in full sunlight, but I keep their medium wet.
If you notice the tips of your plant’s leaves turning yellow then brown, it could be sunburn; try moving it to bright shade. If your plant isn’t growing any taller after a week, it likely needs more light.
Most growers eliminate this problem by raising their plants with an indoor setup; they use regular electric lights positioned close to the plants to give them their sunny needs. These actually result in beautifully red venus fly traps and sundews, but personally, I’m not there yet. Byblis will grow longer leaves and more flowers given enough sunlight, but they don’t change color like other carnivorous plants usually do.
Water them regularly
If you’re going to keep your Byblis in full sun, make sure they’re standing in a tray or cup of water. The Philippine heat gets merciless and your rainbow plant may wither due to dehydration. This is actually the reason I keep their potting medium wet; it’s safer for them to stay moist while they’re out in the sun. Otherwise, more mature plants will be fine without water for a day or two, or when the weather isn’t as sunny or in bright shade.
Make sure to change the water in trays to avoid mosquito larvae, since some smarter or luckier mosquitoes just won’t choose to land on the Byblis before laying eggs. If you keep the pots in cups though, like I do, you won’t have this problem. I’d still recommend changing the water once in a while to “flush” the potting medium though.
Unlike other carnivorous plants, I discovered that Byblis guehoi can live for a time on regular tap water. However, I would recommend using rain, distilled, or reverse-osmosis water (RO water, which drips from your airconditioner or pools from the condensation of a cold drink) from the top to “flush” out potential mineral build-up. You can do this every week or so, or when you have this kind of water available.
I keep a water container full of rain water collected from the monsoon season, but I prioritize using this for my other carnivorous plants. They’re not as hardy as the Byblis guehoi and will die faster from bad water.
Use the right potting medium
For potting medium, I use thoroughly rinsed cocopeat mixed with perlite. Some growers use sphagnum moss. Both share the property of being mineral-free while lacking any nutrients; these burn the roots of carnivorous plants, which adapted to nutrient-less soil by consuming insects.
This also means that Byblis and other carnivorous plants do not need and should not be fertilized. The only fertilizer recommended at all is Maxsea, but even then it has to be very heavily diluted (1/4 of a teaspoon to a gallon) and is only lightly misted on a carnivorous plant like Byblis every two weeks.
Like most carnivorous plants, Byblis don’t really need to be fed. Just leave them outside and they’ll catch bugs on their own. However, for faster growth, you can use diluted Maxsea like I mentioned above, or even fish food like flakes, pellets, or blood worms. You can find details on how to do this here.
One plant can be cut as it grows longer to produce more. Byblis grow into long stems that eventually need support through sticks or frames because they’re unable to support their own weight. I prefer to avoid this and trim off the top when they start falling over. Once they do fall over, they start growing in an upright direction.
A cutting should ideally be around 2-3 inches, with the first inch cut free of leaves before being planted. If your Byblis grows several inches like in the above photo, you can make several cuttings (cuttings don’t have to be just from the top).
There are two ways to make cuttings: by rooting them in rain/distilled water first, or by planting them directly in media. For the second method, make sure to thoroughly soak the media and poke a hole into it first; don’t just stick the stem into it or you may risk stressing the plant and cause it to die before it roots. Keep cuttings moist after planting to encourage rooting. If your cuttings have flowers, they’ll still bloom too. The more they eat, the faster they also grow.
Once cut, the main plant will begin growing offshoots from different parts of the stem. These offshoots can be made into new cuttings once they’re long enough, though it’s perfectly all right to simply let them grow out. You can have a bush’s worth of Byblis this way.
If you notice the base of your Byblis growing brown and wood-like, it’s a natural thing that happens over time. If you leave it alone though, your Byblis has a chance of dying. It can easily be saved by cutting it where the weak brown and healthy green part meet and planting the green part as if you were propagating cuttings.
The following links are the best propagation guides I’ve found and used, with pictures on how to make cuttings as well as how to save a woody Byblis:
- Water method – Strawberries in Singapore – this method uses water to root Byblis cuttings. This post also has several pictures that show how to make good cuttings, and provides great references and detailed instructions.
- Media method – The Midnight Gardener – this facebook post also has informative pictures and very clear instructions on how to root Byblis cuttings in sphagnum moss. Take care when buying sphagnum moss though, as general Philippine nurseries will often sell java moss which is synonymous to sphagnum to them. However, java moss will kill carnivorous plants! It’s best to buy sphagnum moss from other carnivorous plant growers or trusted suppliers.
The easiest carnivorous plant
I’ve raised venus flytraps, sundews, pitcher plants and butterworts—but I find that Byblis guehoi is incredibly easy to raise in comparison. It also offers great pest control (but not completely, since between you and a plant, a mosquito will choose you), based on the many mosquitoes that are sometimes still wiggling on its mucus when I check in the morning.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in a comment! You can also follow my Facebook page or Instagram for more plant content, since I post about learnings, experiments, and progress of the plants in my collection.
I also post about plants for sale, like Byblis, droseras and vfts, as well as carnivorous plant gardening items like media (sphagnum moss, rinsed cocopeat mix) and Maxsea fertilizer.
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Additional reading resources
Research is key in raising carnivorous plants! Though growing conditions are slightly different in other parts of the world due to the weather, there’s still plenty to be learned from more experienced growers. 🌱
If you want to read up more on Byblis or on other carnivorous plants, I recommend these pages:
- Carnivorous Plant Care – Byblis – these tips apply to most carnivorous plants too.
- 7 Great tips for growing Byblis – this page has more details on Byblis, along with uprooting tips and seed germination. I personally don’t intend to germinate from seed because Byblis, in their natural habitat, germinate after forest fires. That means you need to recreate that setting for their seeds to start growing.
- Growing Byblis successfully – the ICPS page details growing through cultivation and germination on different kinds of Byblis. It also has lovely pics.