Venus Fly Trap

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

Venus Fly Trap
Venus Fly Trap

Common Name: Venus Flytrap[1]

Scientific Name: Dionaea muscipula

Thomas Jefferson, like many others, was fascinated by the plant and, after numerous requests, was able to acquire seeds in 1804.[2] 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.[3]

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 Fly trap is a North American perennial with rosettes of 5-inch leaves and small white flowers.

Primary Source References[4]

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."[5]

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 of the seeds of the Dionaea Muscipula, or Venus fly-trap..."[6]

1787 February 22. (Jefferson to Madame de Tesse). "I have had the pleasure to elarn from Mr. Bernard of Lorient that he has or box of Magnolia & Dionaea safe; that he will send it by the first Diligence..."[7]

1787 August 4. (Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins). "I have to acknowlege [sic] 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 [sic] the most effectual means of conveying them hither will be by the seed."[8]

1789 October 6. (Benjamin Hawkins to Jefferson). "I have never had it in my power, until know, 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..."[9]

1796 March 22. (Jefferson to Benjamin Hawkins). "send me in a letter some seed of the Dionaea muscipulum."[10]

1800 April 22. (Jefferson to William Hamilton). "...I forgot to ask if you had the Dionaea muscipula, & whether it produces a seed with you. If it does, I should be very much disposed to trespass [sic] on your liberality so far as to ask a few seeds of that..."[11]

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..."[12]

1809. "sowed seeds of Dionaea muscipula in a pot. they were several years old."[13]


  1. This section is based on Peggy Cornett, CHP Information Sheet.
  2. 29 January 1804. Betts, Garden Book, 294. 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.
  3. Ann Leighton, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century. (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 416.
  4. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  5. PTJ, 238.
  6. Ibid, 10:240.
  7. Betts, Garden Book, 122.
  8. PTJ, 11:683.
  9. Ibid, 15:506-507.
  10. Ibid, 29:42.
  11. Ibid, 31:535.
  12. Betts, Garden Book, 294.
  13. These are the 1804 seeds. Betts, Garden Book, 385. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Further Sources