It’s hard to imagine plants as carnivores, but there are some killer plants that have voracious appetites. Essentially, insects and other very tiny creatures fall into the “trap,” and by various ingenious mechanisms, the creature dies and again by various methods, the plant extracts nutrients it needs. Sometimes carnivorous plants are called insectivorous plants because that’s mainly what they “eat,” so don’t worry, you won’t be reading about any man eating killer plants here; those only exist in the realms of science fiction.
Undoubtedly the A-list celebrity of the world of killer plants, the venus fly trap is one of the plants described as having a snap trap mechanism. There is actually only one other plant in this category – the waterwheel plant. Both these plants are similar. They have a lobed set up that is hinged in the middle. The lobes are covered in tiny hairs which trigger the snap mechanism when they are disturbed by an insect. The trap encases the prey and remains shut until the prey is digested.
This is a genus of plants and so far, 27 different species are known. They are commonly described as corkscrew plants. Found in Africa and Central and South America, they are actually herbs, but not like any herbs you know. Apart from having incredibly small genomes (the DNA molecule with genetic info) – the second smallest in the plant world – they have two types of leaves: one normal for photosynthesis, and one for carnivorous activities. The trapping mechanism is known as a lobster pot trap – it allows prey to enter but not get out again.
This is such a delicate, pretty flower, it’s hard to imagine it’s one of our killer plants. And it might seem even odder when you know it is actually a bladderwort – usually a name we associate with seaweed. This little beauty is native to Australia and New Zealand but it has the same trapping mechanism as all other 232 species in this genus – the bladder trap. It’s a very complicated piece of incredible biological engineering, but in essence it involves osmotic pressure to create a vacuum into which prey is sucked, whereupon it can be attached by digestive juices. This takes place underwater or in very sodden ground – leaving all the prettiness up top in the flowers.
You probably don’t recognize that name, but if I tell you it’s a pitcher plant, you may be more familiar with it. Pitcher plants fall into the category of pitfall trappers. In their simplest form they are vessel/tube-like plants – like pitchers – that contain rainwater in a pool at their bottom. Insects fall in and the plant’s digestive juices in the pool get to work. Pitchers are quite widely spread throughout the world and include some beautiful looking examples with incredible colors – even burgundy/black.
This is actually a type of plant that you could have in your garden and they are among the most common carnivorous plants, appearing on all continents other than Antarctica. Known scientifically as Drosera, there are more than 190 species, and some of them are incredibly beautiful. Their trapping mechanism is sticky dew that immobilizes tiny insects, which asphyxiate in the mucilage and are then “eaten” by the plant’s digestive enzymes. This earns them the category of being a flypaper trap.
This charmer is a sundew also, but it’s a sundew with a difference because as well as being a flypaper trapper, it also has snap trap features. The combination has earned it the special category all of its own – catapult flypaper trapper. Endemic to Australia, it uses tentacles to catch fruit flies.
Let’s end our look at killer plants with this monster – monster as in size, for the Nepenthes Rajah is the world’s biggest carnivorous plant. It is native to a small specific area of the island of Borneo, Mount Kinabalu and Mount Tambuyukon and the immediate area in Sabah, Malaysia. It was discovered in 1858, where it lives at altitudes of around 1500+ meters. Nepenthes Rajah is in fact a pitcher plant and its pitchers are urn shaped. Growing up to 40 cm high and 20 cm wide, this means they can hold up to 3.5 liters of water, and 2.5 liters of digestive fluids. This means they are capable of capturing and eating small mammals, amphibians and birds.
I mentioned that you wouldn’t want these carnivorous plants in your garden but some horticulturists love them; well, some are very beautiful and others simply fascinating, and you can buy plants that have been cultivated for garden purposes. Would you like any of these plants in your garden?
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