In a store, as I walk between shelves filled with different plants, tiny containers with Venus Fly Traps (Dionea muscipula) catch my eyes. They are fascinating carnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants have caught the imagination of many minds including Charles Darwin, who wrote Insectivorous Plants book and had extensive correspondence about them with his close friend and colleague Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Carnivorous plants live in situations where their roots cannot get enough nutrients from the soil, so they have gradually evolved mechanisms to trap insects and small animals and then digest the contents of their bodies. There are several groups of carnivorous plants including sundews, Venus Fly Traps, and pitcher plants.
Sundews or sticky-leaved plants have leaves covered with hairs that produce insect-catching fluid. This juice both attracts and digests insects. Drosera species is an example of such plants.
Fly traps are one of the most spectacular carnivores in its action. Dionaea muscipula has heart-shaped leaves that are hinged in the middle. When an insect touches a leaf, its two halves close immediately trapping the insect inside.
There are two types of pitcher plants – lidded and hooded varieties. Darlingtonia californica is a hooded variety. It is also called Cobra plant because of its resemblance to the snake’s head. Nepenthes are lidded species. Nepenthes attenboroughii is one of the plant recently discovered in the central Philippines. It is named after British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough. N. attenboroughii is the largest of all pitchers and among the largest of all carnivorous plant species. It can catch not only insects but also rodents as big as rats. The plant lures its victims with sweet juice, but, when they fall into the liquid, digestive enzymes starts breaking them down.
You can try to grow Venus Fly Traps at home. They sure provide a great conversation piece especially with children. The plants require high humidity environment, so the ideal place for them is a terrarium. Keep the lid slightly ajar for air circulation and do not fertilize the soil. Feed your plant once a month with a couple of flies or a small slug. In a summer time, remove the lid completely and stand your terrarium outdoor in a light shade. Replant Fly Traps in a few years into a new planting medium consisting of sphagnum moss and sand.
Images by: Dave Webb and Dr. Alastair Robinson