The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 11.5
- courtesy of -
The International Carnivorous Plant Society

Q: What are the best books on carnivorous plants?

A: I will start by saying that I have written a book on carnivorous plants; you can read about it here and even order a signed copy from me. Needless to say, I think it is an excellent book because I decided what should go into it! My book has two strengths. First, every chapter of it was reviewed by experts when the book was in draft. So the book is factually robust. Second, the book has lists of every kind of carnivorous plant. These lists are complete---no species is overlooked. So if you want checklists, you can get them there. Also, the web pages I have associated with the book provide updates. So as new species are described, you can find out about them there. Yes, I am proud of the book---I would be lying if I said otherwise! (Incidentally, even if I did not like my book, if I failed to list it first my publicist at Timber Press or editor at Quintet Publishing would send send hitmen after me.)

One annoying thing about carnivorous plant books is that nearly all have unoriginal titles like "Carnivorous Plants" or "Insect-Eating Plants" (including my own!). Since this leads towards confusion, people tend to use the author's names when discussing such books. If you have recently written a book on carnivorous plants, and I have forgotten to list it here, please e-mail me! For a complete listing of carnivorous plant books, look at Ivo Koudela's (now dated) compendium I store at the FAQ library.

But let us proceed. There are about a bazillion carnivorous plant books, and while many are duds, most have their strengths, and a very few are spectacular. My top few are listed below. While I like a lot of the others, these are the ones I would want restored to me if my house caught fire...

The tiny list

1)If you are starting your carnivorous plant library, without a doubt you should get Peter D'Amato's marvelous book, "The Savage Garden." (It even has an original title!) This funny, quirky contribution is absolutely the best choice for a person who wants to grow carnivorous plants. I refer to it constantly when looking for clues on growing new plants. It is inexpensive, sturdily made, and stuffed full of horticultural gospel. Best of all, it is easily available in most bookstores. I advise you to buy it directly from the author, because he will sign it for you. Look in the list of nurseries to find him (he is at California Carnivores).

2-3)For older, but still excellent cultivation information, both of Adrian Slack's books are widely beloved. Until lately, they were both out of print and were much sought after by growers. Recently, Slack's first book was reissued. It can be obtained from Amazon.com.

4)Don Schnell has written two editions of his book, but while they both have the same title, they are completely different. Both editions are restricted to the several genera of carnivorous plants of the US and Canada. I encourage you to instead buy the second edition, which is much larger at 468 pages long! Schnell's book has some errors when dealing with western species---but most of the book focuses on the eastern part of the continent, so this is not such a problem. You can get this book from Timber Press.

5-6)The two hardcover books written by Charles Clarke are essential books for the fan of Nepenthes.

7-9)Allen Lowrie wrote a three volume set of now-very-hard-to-find books treating many of the carnivorous plants of Australia.

10)Peter Taylor wrote the essential monograph on Utricularia; this is a work of extreme geekiness and is not for the beginner. But it is crucial reading for the Utricularia geek.

11)Carnivorous Plant Newsletter is a small, quarterly journal that has been in print since 1972. It is published by The International Carnivorous Plant Society. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter is filled with topical and accurate information on all aspects of carnivorous plants. Most of the other carnivorous plant societies also have publications.

A bigger list

Listed by author, the prominent carnivorous plant books are as follows:

Gordon Cheers wrote two books (one full-size, the other much smaller) which are filled with good horticultural information.

Charles Clarke has written a marvelous pair of books called "Nepenthes of Borneo," and "Nepenthes of Sumatra" I strongly recommend these. They have a strong ecological perspective.

Peter D'Amato has written an excellent compendium of horticultural information from the perspective of a grower in northern California.

Doug Darnowski has a slim volume on Stylidium, possibly a genus of carnivorous plants. This is an update of Erickson's book on the subject.

Charles Darwin's old volume (1892) is not easy to plow through, but is enjoyable and thorough, as you would expect from this author.

Rica Erickson's books on Australian sundews and trigger plants are pretty but out of date.

Juniper, Robins, & Joel is a fine reference for the chemical workings of carnivorous plants, but it is not a good source of general information. (It has a difficult layout with a great deal of repetition.) I do not recommend buying it without looking at it first. It has, however, an excellent bibliography.

Katsuhiko Kondo's Japanese review is excellent for the photography, even if you don't read Japanese!

Marcel Lecoufle is a disaster of misinformation.

F.E. Lloyd (1942) is very readable. It is still the best place to read about the structure of each genera's capturing mechanisms, especially if you want to know the excrutiatingly minute details.

Allen Lowrie has written the best work on Australian carnivores. A three volume effort, this series covers all the Australian species except for more obscure Utricularia, and of course species described since publication.

Stewart McPherson has written a very pretty book on Darlingtonia, Heliamphora, Sarracenia, and the carnivorous bromeliads (Brocchinia and Catopsis). This is a good review of the plants in the wild, and variants so dear to horticulturists.

Nelson & McKinley is a wonderful work on the history of the Venus flytrap and how botanists responded to its discovery. But like Taylor, there is no general information on carnivorous plants. It is a very specialized work.

Phillipps & Lamb wrote "Pitcher-Plants of Borneo." Compared to Clarke's book, it is a more arty, and less scientific work (that is not a criticism, just an observation).

Pietropaolo (actually, two of them) wrote a book, (actually, two of them) one of which is easily available. Unfortunately, their environmental ethics leaves so much to be desired (they misinterpret ecology weirdly and even declare field collection is desirable!), and their professional nursery practices are so unsatisfying to customers that my good will towards their books has been spoiled (see the compendium of complaints against them in the FAQ library).

Nick Romanowski has written a nice, small book on growing Sarracenia.

Hawkeye Rondeau has written a few spiral-bound volumes on the carnivorous plants of California. These are available only directly from the author.

Bruce Salmon has written a superb volume dealing with the carnivorous flora of New Zealand. A relatively small topic, but marvelously handled in fine detail.

Don Schnell, as described above, has a pair of excellent books on the carnivorous species of USA and Canada.

Miloslav Studnicka has written two books in Czech, and both are considered quite excellent by those who can read them.

Peter Taylor wrote a monumental work on the genus Utricularia. This monograph is a very technical volume useful for those who can tell a bract from a bracteole, and a peduncle from a pedicel. Otherwise it may go over the head of the reader. But if you love this genus, the book is required reading!

There are many children's books on carnivorous plants. I have looked through several and they are all generally ok. They are suprisingly free of errors, and are a nice way to expose kids to the wonders of science. Take a look at Amazon.com to review the various titles.

If you want to buy any of the above books, you should try to order them from the authors. Failing that, try ordering from a local bookstore. Failing that, try large bookstores or of course Amazon.com. If the book is out of print, you will be out of luck. In that event you will have to look in used bookstores.

As you continue your readings, you will probably search for the great classics of carnivorous plant studies that were printed in scientific journals. Particularly useful are works by Darwin, Danser (Nepenthes), Diels (Drosera), Macfarlane (Sarracenia and others), Obermeyer, and so on. For detailed work on Nepenthes, you may have to search for the many small pamphlet-sized books that have been written by authors such as Kurata, Jebb, and others.

Page citations: cited works, personal observations.

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Revised: September 2007
©Barry Rice, 2005