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Carnivorous plants, a botanical marvel

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Carnivorous plants, the dinosaurs of the plant world — in more way than one – are some of the most interesting plants on Earth. With almost 600 plants displaying the properties of carnivorous plants present around the globe, whilst that may seem like a large number, they are still considered somewhat of a rarity within the world of botany. Originally observed and studied by Charles Darwin in his manuscript Insectivorous Plants in 1875, carnivorous plants have a long history within the scientific community.

Drosera spatulata
Drosera spatulata (sticky and hairy ends capture flies and insects)

Like all plants, it uses photosynthesis to derive energy, but what sets it apart from the rest of the group is how it sources the majority of its’ nutrients. Carnivorous plants are some of the hardiest plants on Earth, as they have for the most part adapted to grow in soil that is nutrient poor within incredibly harsh conditions, and are often found in acidic bogs and rocky outcrops.

Venus flytrap
Venus flytrap (captures insect by trapping)

Their carnivorous properties are an evolutionary trait that they gained to help make up for the tough environment they have adapted to. Since the soils they find themselves in are lacking some of the nutrients integral to plant survival and development, it uses various trapping mechanisms to ensnare insects and digest them. Depending on location, prey and soil types, different species of carnivorous plants have different ways of trapping prey, although they often share the same basic properties.

Pitcher Plant
Pitcher Plant Red (prey falls into a pit filled with digestive enzymes and bacteria)

Carnivorous plants have five different basic trapping mechanisms: pitfall traps, where prey falls into a sac filled with digestive enzymes and bacteria; flypaper traps where they become stuck upon contact ; snap traps that use rapid leaf movement to catch them ; bladder traps using an internal vacuum-like to ingest its prey ; and lobster traps which force insects deeper into the plant.

Pitcher Plant Green
Pitcher Plant Green

Although these mechanisms are as deadly as they are diverse, they are only able to trap small insects as larger prey are often able to escape. There has been a lot of science-fiction depictions of large carnivorous plants eating an adventurer or unsuspecting passer-by, but they have been proven to have been just that, science-fiction. Carnivorous plants are relatively small, and although they are termed “carnivorous”, the more suited term would be insectivorous.

As far as the depictions of human victims, they have never been real outside of sci-fi. However, if you are interested in reading more about a more dangerous trap-like creature that has been shown to cause grievous bodily harm and has even been rumoured to have killed people, I urge you to read up on the giant clam, an unsuspecting offender within the marine realm.

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