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Dionaea muscipula - Venus Flytrap
Scientific Name: Dionaea muscipula
Common Name: Venus Flytrap
Thomas Jefferson, like many others, was fascinated by the plant called "Venus flytrap" and, after numerous requests, was able to acquire seeds in 1804.1 He likely was never successful in growing the flytrap, however. This unusual species is native to coastal bogs of the Carolinas and was discovered in 1788 by John and William Bartram.2
Insects touching the leaf's trigger hairs are caught in the trap-like structure, where they are digested, providing the plant with nutrients. The Venus flytrap is a North American perennial with rosettes of 5-inch leaves and small white flowers.
- Peggy Cornett, 2005
Primary Source References
1786 January 27. (Jefferson to David Ramsay). "Since writing my letter of yesterday a person, whom I am very desirous of obliging, has asked me to procure from South Carolina ... some seeds of the Dionaea muscipula."3
1786 August 13. (Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins). "... Your attention to one burthen I laid on you encourages me to remind you of another, which is the sending me some seeds of the Dionaea muscipula, or Venus’s fly-trap ..."4
1787 February 22. (Jefferson to Madame de Tessé). "I have had the pleasure to learn from Mr. Berard of Lorient that he has our box of Magnolia and Dionæas safe; that he will send it by the first Diligence ..."5
1787 August 4. (Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins). "I have to acknowlege the receipt of your favors of Mar. 8. and June. 9. and to give you many thanks for the trouble you have taken with the Dionaea muscipula. I have not yet heard any thing of them, which makes me fear they have perished by the way. I beleive the most effectual means of conveying them hither will be by the seed."6
1789 October 6. (Benjamin Hawkins to Jefferson). "I have never had it in my power, until now, to procure for you the seeds of the Dionaea Muscipula. The gentlemen who had promised to get some for me had been too late both years in their endeavours. This year on my return from Wilmington I discovered it was in bloom on the 6th of June, pointed it out to a farmer who knows it well and at my request he some days past sent the seed which I enclose.
I could not discover any of these plants farther north than about Lat. 35.30. They grow in piny moist lands, and appeared to grow best when some what shaded. I have some plants which I brought with me in a box, having carefully taken up the dirt with the roots; I put them in a part of my garden, exposed to the sun all day, and buried the box level with the surface of the earth."7
1796 March 22. (Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins). "Send me in a letter some seed of the Dionnea mascipula."8
1800 April 22. (Jefferson to William Hamilton). "... I forgot to ask if you had the Dionaea muscipula, and whether it produces a seed with you. if it does, I should be very much disposed to trespass on your liberality so far as to ask a few seeds of that ..."9
1804 January 29. (Jefferson to Timothy Bloodworth). "I thank you for the seed of the fly trap. It is the first I have ever been able to obtain, and shall take great care of it ..."10
1809. "sowed seeds of Dionaea muscipula in a pot. they were several years old."11
- Ellis, John. Directions for Bringing Over Seeds and Plants, from the East-Indies and Other Distant Countries, in a State of Vegetation: Together with a Catalogue of Such Foreign Plants as Are Worthy of Being Encouraged in Our American Colonies, for the Purposes of Medicine, Agriculture, and Commerce: to Which Is Added, the Figure and Botanical Description of a New Sensitive Plant, called Dionaea Muscipula: or, Venus's Fly-trap. London: Printed, and sold by L. Davis, 1770.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
- 1. January 29, 1804. Betts, Garden Book, 294. Manuscript and transcription at the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. See also Edwin M. Betts, Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, and Peter J. Hatch, Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986), 60.
- 2. Ann Leighton, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 416.
- 3. PTJ, 9:238. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. PTJ, 10:240. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. PTJ, 11: 187. Transcription available at Founders Online. See also Betts, Garden Book, 122.
- 6. PTJ, 11:683. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. PTJ, 15:506-07. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 8. PTJ, 29:43. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 9. PTJ, 31:535. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 10. Betts, Garden Book, 294.
- 11. These are the 1804 seeds. Betts, Garden Book, 385.