Adventures in a Carnivorous Plant Greenhouse

Even though I am not a bio major, or a botany major, or anything of the sort, I am still allowed into the campus greenhouse maintained in the lab building here at UC Davis.  There are hundreds of different kinds of plants there, but the most fascinating by far are the carnivorous plants.  Venus Flytraps, Sundews, and Pitcher Plants are fascinating, and beautiful organisms that blur the line between plant and predator.

Carnivorous plants evolved in response to their presence in nitrogen and phosphorous deficient environments.  These plants have evolved methods of acquiring these nutrients by capturing animals that contain them.  Each carnivorous plant has a different method of capturing pray.  I will show a few of them here.

VENUS FLYTRAP

(Taken on Canon 40D at 85mm and f2.2.  Photo by Hudson Lofchie)

The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) may be one of the most fascinating plants in existence.  The Flytrap lures pray (flies) by secreting a sweet-smelling nectar inside of their “jaws”.  Inside of the plant, there are 6 tiny hairs, 3 on the top and 3 on the bottom, that act as a sort of electrical circuit.  When a fly is inside the plant eating the nectar, it will inadvertently touch these hairs.  When two of the hairs are touched within a certain time period (20 seconds according to David Attenborough in Life), an electrical impulse causes the plant to snap shut incredibly quickly, trapping the fly inside.  The plant then secretes digestive enzymes that break down the fly.  After the fly is completely digested, the plant re-opens and starts the cycle again.

Pitcher Plant

(Taken on Canon 40D at 85mm and f1.8.  Both photos by Hudson Lofchie)

The Pitcher Plant (top – Sarracenia oreophila) is what is known as a pitfall plant.  Insects are attracted to the plant’s bright colors and nectar bribes.  Once the insect falls in, the slippery sides and sticky fluid at the bottom prevent the insect from escaping.  The fluid also acts as a digestive enzyme, gradually dissolving the insect and absorbing its nutrients.  Unlike the Venus Flytrap, the Pitcher Plant has no moving mechanisms.

Sundew

(Taken with Canon 40D at 85mm and f1.2.  Photo by Hudson Lofchie)

The Thread-Leaved Sundew (Drosera filiformsis) is both beautiful and deadly.  The name Sundew comes from the resemblance to dew drops.  Each little droplet is a sweet-smelling mucus that is incredibly sticky.  Once an insect lands on the plant to eat what it thinks is nectar, it becomes hopelessly stuck in the mucus.  Once the insect has made contact with the plant, a process begins that is similar to that of the Venus Flytrap.  The plant begins to curl up on itself (see next image), wrapping around the insect and ultimately drowning it in the mucus.  The insect is then digested and broken down.  The dark cruelty of this plant is that the more the insect struggles, the more of the tiny droplets it comes in contact with, and the more stuck it becomes.

(Taken on Canon 40D at 85mm and f.2.8.  Photo by Hudson Lofchie)

Orchid. This is NOT a carnivorous plant, I just thought it looked good.

(Taken on Canon 40D at 55mm and f3.5.  Photo by Hudson Lofchie)

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  1. Pingback: The House Always Wins | digitalsnackz

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