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Surprising carnivorous plants

By Floro Mercene

A GROUP of 600 or more species of plants has cleverly adapted to live in nutrient-poor soil by getting their nutrients from insects. They are expert meat-eaters. Most carnivorous plants selectively feed on specific prey. This selection is due to the available prey and the type of trap used by the organism.

The Venus Flytrap is one of the most common carnivorous plants in the world. It preys on insects by luring them into its leaves using sweet nectar. Then it traps them with leaves that snap shut as soon as prey touches their ‘trigger’ hairs. Glands found in the leaves release a digestive enzyme that breaks down the insect and the leaves absorb the nutrients. Despite its name, only about 5% of the flytrap’s diet actually consists of flies.

Often described as ‘living flypaper’, the Sundew has tentacle-like leaves which are covered in sticky, glandular hairs. The plant’s tacky secretion gives off a sweet scent, which attracts insects. Once an insect is stuck to its leaf, the Sundew will curl inwards to start digesting its prey.

The Tropical pitcher plant is native to Southeast Asia. The pitcher’s vase-like leaf produces and contains a sweet liquid in which the plant drowns its prey. Ants and flies are attracted to the plant’s colorful appearance and victims often make the lethal mistake of landing on its very slippery lip. Once inside, it’s nearly impossible to escape from the trap’s waxy coating.

Nepenthes truncata is a tropical pitcher plant endemic to the Philippines. Nepenthes truncata is characterized by its heart-shaped leaves and very large pitchers, which can reach up to 40 cm in height. In 2006, at the Botanical Garden in Lyon, France, a Nepenthes truncata was photographed containing the decomposing corpse of a mouse. This incident is the first record of a mammal being successfully trapped in the pitchers of N. truncata.