Creatures from the Black Lagoon

dionaea muscipula, the venus flytrap

Dionaea muscipula, the Venus Fly Trap

Not the Gill-Man, but almost as strange: Carnivorous Plants.

The Horridge Conservatory features a Bog Garden with a unique collection of carnivorous plants. These plants have the specialized ability to trap and digest invertebrates of various kinds, mostly insects ( although some large tropical specimens are said to be capable of digesting frogs, mice, rats, and bats….) These insect-eating beauties evolved in  environments where nutrient concentrations are low but water and sunshine are seasonally abundant, such as bogs and swamps.

Sarracenia purpurea, the Pitcher Plant

 

There are different mechanisms for insect-trapping if you’re a plant. One, used by  the Pitcher Plants, is to have a chamber full of enticing liquid for the poor bug to drown in and then be digested.  Another is to have glandular hairs on stalks with very sticky droplets on them. The Sundews use this method to capture their prey, which is then digested when the glands produce digestive enzymes. A third method is used by Venus Fly Traps, which is possibly most like the Creature: Near the crease where the two leaf  “jaws”  join there is a series of tiny hairs. If an  insect walks across these hairs, touching two or more of them in succession, the leaf will close quickly enough to prevent its escape. The  insect is then slowly digested and absorbed by the leaf.

cape sundew

Drosera capensis, the Cape Sundew

The Bog Garden has both native and exotic carnivorous plants. There are Sarracenias, Pitcher Plants that are native to the Southeastern US, along with many beautiful hybrid Sarracenias, in different colors and sizes. There are also Nepenthes, the tropical Pitcher Plants. Some of these are on loan from a student  here at URI — thanks, CJ! There are Butterworts (Pinguicula species), which trap insects with sticky hairs along the leaves and s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y roll the leaf around the insect and digest it. The Venus Fly Trap, Dionaea muscipula, is the only species of its genus and native to the Southeastern US. It continually flowers and re-seeds in the Bog.

nepenthes, tropical pitcher plant

Nepenthes hybrid 'Judith Finn', the Tropical Pitcher Plant

Some of the carnivorous plants are easy to grow and make interesting houseplants! Yes, you can feed them insects, but it is better not to trigger trapping mechanisms, unless you actually have food for them. Otherwise, they are expending a huge amount of physiological energy for no gain, and that will weaken them.

I enjoy observing the carnivorous plants even when they are not dining. Their unusual forms are intriguing and make them a great subject for photos and drawings. In fact, there are some beautiful botanical drawings of Pitcher Plants in our Hallway Gallery. For more information, the New England Carnivorous Plant Society, which generously donated many plants to the Conservatory Bog, has a great informative website, http://www.necps.org, AND a Carnivorous Plant Show in the fall. Happy Hunting!

pinguicula, butterwort

Pinguicula, the Mexican Butterwort


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One thought on “Creatures from the Black Lagoon

  1. Pingback: Featured Plant: Venus Flytrap | URI Botanical Gardens Blog

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