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How important is it to not use tap water for carnivorous plants? e.g. is it a guideline or a hard rule?

I have seen several answers on here saying not to, but I have had a venus fly trap for 3-4 years so far and have only used tap water and it seems happy and healthy with lots of traps, it produces a flower stalk every year with boring flowers on it and eats lots of flies. I have another three carnivorous plants that I don't know the names of that I have only had 2 years, but they also seem healthy. This seems to contradict the advice.

Also, none of the plant labels or instructions that came with them mention this tap water issue, and this company seems to be the only one supplying any of the garden shops with carnivorous plants (although that is not a guarantee that they know what they are doing).

Should I expect them to keel over sometime soon, or is the fact they have survived this long evidence of the tap water being ok (not all tap water is the same after all, maybe ours is less bad??)

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There are a number of factors that come into play:

  • source of your water (affects the pH and amount of dissolved compounds)
  • treatment applied to the water (likely chlorine or chloramine)
  • ability of the soil to buffer/absorb compounds in the water
  • species of plant - some can tolerate water treatment chemicals more than others

How these factors all work together provides a wide range of experiences for plant lovers. For most people they will have better performance when using rain water or water that has been treated to neutralize the chlorine or chloramine content.

Tap water contains chlorides and fluorides and many hard tap waters contain high levels of calcium making it too alkaline for carnivorous plants. (From Royal Horticultural Society)

See these references to support the "no tap water" idea:

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I personally think the proof is in the pudding. If you're using tap water and it's still alive after several years, then I believe that's your answer. However, as someone getting into carnivorous plants myself, I'll recommend you see if your library has a copy of 'The Savage Garden' by Peter D'Amato. It's proven to be an excellent resource for me. I live in SC and I had a hard time keeping a Venus Flytrap alive here, and this is where a lot of them come from. After purchasing this book, I read an easy way to keep them is to put the pot in a tray of water and always keep about a half an inch in there. I did this and my carnivorous plants did great. It's a really good basic introduction to the stuff.

Also, I wouldn't count on the plant tags to help you out with anything. Most of those places churn out a mess of plants without caring whether they make it. Especially the carnivorous plants. It's more like a novelty item and they just pull the ones that die, so you think they're caring for them. I'd research any plant I buy like you're doing now for any reliable answers.

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