Carnivorous plants are distinct for their ability to trap and consume insects and small creatures such as frogs. They live and thrive in nutrient-deficient environments such as bogs and swamps, requiring the capture of organisms. Charles Darwin was the first to state their discovery in 1875 in his book Insectivorous Plants. Insectivorous or carnivorous plants satisfy three attributes. These include the ability to attract and catch prey, produce enzymes used to digest the organism and also have the ability to absorb the nutrients within the insect. Plants that do not satisfy all these attributes are known as semi-carnivorous.
There are five different types of carnivorous plants, arranged according to the type of traps: pitfall traps, flypaper traps, snap traps, suction traps and lobster-pot types. Insect-consuming plants fall under one of four different plant families: Caryophyllales, Ericales, Oxalidales under the Eudicot orders and Bromeliaceae under the Monocot order.
Gardeners interested in cultivating these types of plants must satisfy all of the conditions for growing. Online databases are available for people to know more about these types of plants and how to cultivate them.
Carnivorous Plants – Evolution
Plants that consume insects and small animals exist in environments that are consistently wet with soils that are acidic and lacking in nutrients. Habitats vary as some plants are found in various places all over the globe while others only grow within a specific region. For instance, the Cephalotus is only found in Australia while the Drosera, Pinguicula and Utricularia are found in different regions worldwide.
A number of plants exist in different regions of the United States and North America. The Sarracenia grows in North America, the Dionaea in South Eastern United States while the Darlingtonia is only found in the Western parts of the country. Areas of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean Islands are home to the Nepenthes while the Heliamphora is seen in Northern South America. In regions around Australia and New Guinea, one will find the Byblis.
Scientists believe that the habit of consuming insects in plants has been a result of pressures within the environment. Carnivorous plants thrive in environments that are deficient in nutrients such as nitrogen, forcing absorption of nutrients through other means. Eventually, plants relied on this ability so much that placing them in a nutrient-rich environment would actually kill the plants. In most cases, carnivorous plants derive their nitrogen from the soil. The California pitcher plant is an exception as it takes all of its nitrogen from the consumption and absorption of prey.
Several theories have been presented on how to classify carnivorous plants, each steeped in controversy. The carnivorous plants spread across five angiosperm lineages, five orders and evolved at least six times. Darwin’s book Insectivorous Plants explains the mode and tempo of their evolution through time. Their evolution through time is described by means of finding patterns in structural development and phylogenetic relationships.
Carnivorous Plants – Movement and Traps
Carnivorous plants come in five different forms of traps. Pitcher plants with pitfall traps are the most common. Their design involves a modified pitcher or cup which contains the digestive enzymes and rainwater. Insects are commonly drawn in by a sweet smell emanating from the plant.
Escaping becomes difficult as the walls are slippery. Sundews fall under the category of sticky flypaper traps. These traps consist of buds or glands covered with sticky hairs. Several flies get tangled and suffocated by the sticky liquid released by the plant, digested and absorbed slowly over time. Lobster-pot traps are less common. These types of plants allow the insects to get in but make it difficult to get out. Hairs point towards the area where the digestive process takes place, making it impossible for the insect to retrace its steps.
Unlike other types of traps, snap traps are the most dynamic. The two halves of a leaf quickly close once several hairs are triggered. Its leaves will remain closed until the organism is fully digested. Bladderworts with suction traps make up the last type. This plant has branches with small modified leaves which are submerged underwater. The insides are almost dry when empty but once an organism brushes against it, it releases a powerful vacuum sucking it in.
Cultivation of Carnivorous Plants
Cultivating carnivorous plants can be challenging as they are only found in certain environments.
For kids and beginners, plants that are recommended include Sundews, Butterworts, Temperate Pitcher Plants and Venus Fly Traps. These are readily available in home stores and garden centers. Generally, these types of plants require little maintenance and can grow for years. A few hours of direct sunlight is all that is needed to make them grow. As with other types of carnivorous plants, these plants need to be planted in peat moss and watered with clean water.
One of the more difficult to plant is the Cephalotus follicularis. These grow slowly and do not like to be repotted. The soil used should be damp enough but not wet. Gardeners are advised to use purified water, distilled water or clean rainwater when watering the plant. The leaves of the plant come in two different colors. During summer until autumn, the plant produces small pitchers while it produces green leaves from winter until late spring. Check out additional cultivation techniques before looking for seeds. It is important to note that growing this plant in tropical areas require a different set of conditions.
Individuals that have planted before will find the needs of carnivorous plants to be significantly different. In general, the needs are simple but need to be followed carefully. Carnivorous plants live in bog-like conditions which makes replicating their natural environment more difficult to achieve. Their roots are sensitive to changes in the soil. Chemicals and metal substances such as fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides, lime and the like should be avoided. Water must be clean of salts and minerals and as such, using tap water is never advised. Instead, use clean purified water or have the liquid passed through a water softener before using. Keep the soil damp but not soggy. When it comes to light, the plant must also have direct access to sunlight for several hours a day. Use fluorescent lights if the plant needs to be lit artificially.