Plants - Perennials

The truth about carnivorous plants

Only insects need to fear the hungry maw of these fascinating flowers


How do they do it?
While all carnivorous plants use enzymes to digest their prey, they capture unsuspecting insects with a variety of ingenious methods.

  • Suction: Bladderwort (Utricularia), an aquatic plant, can suck prey into its bladder traps in as little as 1/30th of a second.
  • Sticky-glue: Butterwort (Pinguicula), a small, low-growing plant might look like an African violet, but it’s far more sinister. The innocent-looking rosette is covered with miniscule, sticky hairs that grab hold of unwary insects and won’t let go.  Meanwhile, happy-sounding sundews (Drosera) sparkle delightfully in the light, thanks to liquid glue that snares any insect foolish enough to land on its glittering leaves.
  • Seduction: The sweet perfume of nectar lures many insects to their deaths. Once inside the pitcher, expecting to drink its fill, the insect finds itself on the menu.
  • Snap: While Audrey II, might be from another planet, here on Earth the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is native to North Carolina and northern South Carolina. Its clam-shaped pitcher is edged with “teeth” that snap shut when an insect lands for nectar and inadvertently brushes against the two trigger hairs inside. Once activated, the jaws snap shut, trapping the victim. While catching dinner takes only a second, digesting the meal can take up to a week.


Feeling brave?
Feel you’ve got what it takes to tame one of these killers? If you’re new to carnivorous plants, Wootton recommends one of the South African Cape Sundews, which are inexpensive (about $7 compared to some varietals which run more than $40 a plant) and easy to grow. “It does well in a window,” he says.

Dying for an Audrey III? The Venus flytrap is trickier. It likes to be dormant in the winter and can require refrigeration.

For the adventurous, Wootton recommends any one of the spectacular Nepenthes varieties. “Some have downward pointing hooks, some are striped, others have colourful pitchers.” When pressed, he can’t decide which he likes best. “One even has big fangs coming over the rim of the pitcher.”

Charmian Christie is an avid gardener and home cook. When she's not digging in the dirt, she's charting her culinary adventures on her blog, Christie's Corner.

 

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