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What are Carnivorous Plants?

In 1760 Governor Arthur DOBBS of North Carolina wrote to a European friend about a small, bizarre plant found in his colony's southeastern lowlands. The governor described the plant's leaves very accurately as "like a narrow segment of a sphere, consisting of two parts... upon any thing touching... or falling between them, they instantly close like a spring trap, and confine any insect or any thing that falls between them..." DOBBS called the curiosity "Fly Trap Sensitive" and he had not the faintest idea as to how the traps were set off, or of what value any captured insect or animal might be. In 1769 John ELLIS wrote to the famous Swedisch botanist LINNAEUS and he gave a more formal description of the species, adding the Latin name "Dionaea muscipula" better known as the striking "Venus Fly Trap." A century later Charles DARWIN, fascinated by the rapidity of movement by the plant spoke of it as "one of the most wonderful in the world."

Throughout the world, from tropical swamp to upland marsh, some 500 species of carnivorous/insectivorous plants (there are more than 300.000 different plant species!) flourish, utilizing specialized mechanisms to attract, capture and digest small forms of animal life. Some live in trees, some underwater, but typically they grow in soil that is wet and acid, and usualy deficient in the nitrates and phosphates that plant life requires. Probably carnivorous plants survive in poor soil because their prey provides enough basic protein to supplement the sugars and starches produced in their leaves by the process of photosynthesis.

The mechanisms for trapping insects and other small animals vary from strong glue ("fly-paper": Preys get trapped in a sticky secretion. f.e. DROSERA(Sundew), PINGUICULA(Butterwort), BYBLIS(Rainbow plant), DROSOPHYLLUM(Portuguese sundew)) to squeezing ("steel-trap": Preys get squeezed between two leaf halves. f.e. DIONAEA(Venus fly trap), ALDROVANDA(Waterwheel plant)) to pitcher traps ("pitfall": Victims tumble to their death in a cupped pool of water mixed with digestive fluids or they get trapped in large "trumpet"-pitchers where downward-curving spikes prevent them to escape. f.e. HELIAMPHORA(Sun pitcher), SARRACENIA(North American pitcher), DARLINGTONIA(Cobra lily), NEPENTHES(Monkey cup), CEPHALOTUS(Albany pitcher plant) and suction traps. ("mouse-trap": A trigger hair activates a trap door where through suction a prey gets trapped into a bladder. f.e. UTRICULARIA(Bladderwort).

This variety in trapping-mechanisms proves that the carnivorous habit evolved a number of times and is far more than a once-only curiosity. C.P.'s (Carnivorous Plants) are no "dangerous plants" as many think and they're no threat to human kind! No wonder that people get "TRAPPED" by the beauty and the mysterious behaviour of Carnivorous Plants!


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