Flytraps

Venus flytraps close their jaws once they detect movement from insects like flies and grasshoppers. The plants release digestive enzymes that absorb the nutrients from the insects, ultimately killing them. After a few days, the jaws open again, displaying the remnants of the plant’s last meal.

As the scent of honey floats through the air and homemade jewelry gleams in the sun, Venus flytraps lie in wait for unsuspecting insects to land between their waxy jaws. The trays of plants and a sign reading “Fayetteville Fly Traps” rest on a tiny table nestled among other vendors at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. Horticulturist Juan Moscoso, 25, stands behind the table, ready to show customers the vast diversity and beauty carnivorous plants have to offer.

Moscoso, a 2019 UA graduate, began selling flytraps at the farmers market in April 2020, and finds customers are drawn to his table by his plants’ uniqueness, he said. Scientists have identified about 630 species of carnivorous plants, making up just .2% of the world’s plant population.

The horticulturist’s passion for carnivorous plants has roots in the time he was 13 and living in Cali, Colombia. Moscoso remembers first experiencing the plants through the glow of a television screen, and soon after gravitated to the sticky tentacles and bright flowers of the sundew, a type of carnivorous plant, at Cali’s botanical gardens.

“I’ve always had a taste for things that are weird and strange,” Moscoso said. “When I first saw those plants, I really loved them.”

Moscoso’s business is not limited to Northwest Arkansas. He recently obtained a license allowing him to ship plants to customers across the U.S. Moscoso’s success has inspired him to take his passion a step beyond simply growing the rare plants, by cross-pollinating them and breeding his own varieties.

Garry McDonald, a UA horticulture clinical assistant professor, said he first noticed Moscoso’s passion for carnivorous plants when Moscoso was a student in his plant propagation class. The two would often meet to talk about methods of breeding carnivorous plants, and it has been satisfying to see Moscoso bring his ideas to fruition, McDonald said.

“He was a student who had a real interest and a real passion in a very small, niche market,” McDonald said. “He thought there was an opportunity there and he seized upon it.”

Young Moscoso began his plant cultivation journey with a wooden board attached to his living room window and a small table holding a cluster of Bonsai trees. Once Moscoso thought his trees were doing well, he tried his hand at growing his own cape sundews, an easier carnivorous plant to grow, and some pitcher plants, whose leaves form a massive pitfall trap for insects.

When Moscoso and his parents immigrated to the U.S. in 2012, he left a piece of himself behind in Colombia: his plants. A single Venus flytrap on his windowsill in New York served as a reminder of his old hobby and a symbol of the growth to come.

When Moscoso moved into his dorm room at the UofA, he bought five different plants and a book about how to grow them. Once he noticed they were growing well, he began selling them via social media to make money for books and supplies.

“It was like a snowball effect where the more plants I sold, the more plants I would buy and then I could sell more,” Moscoso said.

Michelle Wisdom, who was a graduate student when Moscoso was an undergraduate, remembers being intrigued by seeing Moscoso’s business fliers around the Plant Sciences Building long before the two met in the horticulture department. Wisdom decided to share her greenhouse space with Moscoso because she was inspired by his entrepreneurial spirit and initiative to follow his passion, she said.

“I’ve seen this huge growth in him as an undergraduate who was self-taught and just kind of had this interest, to now someone who is probably considered an expert,” Wisdom said.

Before securing the greenhouse space, Moscoso was only able to grow about 50 plants at a time, and now he has the capacity to grow four times that, he said.

In the greenhouse, flies lay dead between the plants’ jagged teeth. A grasshopper wriggles between Moscoso’s fingers as he taps the insect’s body against the plant’s appendages. In a matter of seconds, the grasshopper has disappeared behind a cocoon of green. 

“I was always fascinated by how quickly the Venus flytraps would move and trap and kill and absorb nutrients from living insects, that was pretty cool,” Moscoso said. “Also there’s a lot of different shapes and colors (of carnivorous plants), and the more I learn about them, the more I like them.”

Desk ornaments are a recent addition to Moscoso’s online store, featuring plant parts encased in resin. Moscoso has also given several presentations at local high schools about carnivorous plants. Sharing his passion with the community is a fun and rewarding experience, he said.

Moscoso looks forward to exploring even more ways to expand the niche business he built from the ground up after starting as a bright-eyed boy in front of a television in Colombia.

“I feel like I am on a hill going up,” Moscoso said. “It’s going to take a couple more years to build more customers and more product.”

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