Plants on the prowl for prey
EVOLUTION is a wonderful process, enabling plants and animals to adapt to their environment to increase their chance of survival. Carnivorous plants have developed the ability to digest animals to enable them to survive in places where they cannot get the nutrients they need from the soil. They mostly eat insects, but some of the larger ones have been known to consume frogs and small birds and mammals. There are many different types, and they occur throughout the world, except in Antarctica.
I think everybody has at least heard of the Venus fly trap (Dionaea musipula). Occurring naturally as a ground cover in open forest areas of Carolina in the United States, the Venus fly trap produces a short fleshy leaf with a modified tip that forms two sides of the trap. Each side of the trap contains tiny hairs which, when touched a couple of times, cause the two sides to spring shut, thus trapping the insect inside. The digestive process begins as the hairs sense the wriggling insect inside the trap. The plant releases enzymes which dissolve the internal juices of the insect. The digestive process takes a few days, after which the leaf reopens, ready for another feed. If no insect is caught in the trap, the leaf will reopen in a couple of hours and try again.
Venus fly traps need a minimum of four hours direct sunlight each day. They must be kept moist, which is best achieved by sitting them in a tray of water. They may become dormant during winter, but will re-emerge in spring.
Pitcher plants (Sarracenias) use sweet nectar in the mouth of the pitcher to lure insects into the trap. Once an insect enters, it has no chance of escape - the inside of the pitcher is slippery and may have downward pointing hairs, leaving the insect to be consumed by the digestive enzymes. The leaves of the Sarracenias are beautiful; some are short and plump, others tall and majestic. They are available in a range of colours, including green, white, pink and red, and the patterns can be exquisite.
Pitcher plants and Venus fly traps love a wet, sunny position.
Tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes) are climbing plants which produce plump pitchers at the ends of the leaves. Plant colouration, scent and nectar on the plant and around the rim and hood of the pitcher attract a wide range of insects. Thanks to a waxy internal surface and an inward facing, slippery rim, insects fall into the pitchers and can't escape. The largest varieties of Nepenthes can grow several metres and produce pitchers more than 60cm long. They need a humid, semi-shaded position, with protection from the afternoon sun.
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