Plants rely on photosynthesis to get their energy. Most of them absorb nutrients from the Earth. However, there are some plants that absorb most of their nutrients from other life forms. These are known as carnivorous plants or insectivorous plants.
Carnivorous plants use some type of trapping mechanism, such as a rolled leaf, a stick surface or rapid leaf movement to attract and trap insects. They then rely on digestive enzymes and bacteria to break down the plant and absorb its nutrients. Here are a few of the most interesting carnivorous plants from around the world.
The Nepenthes rajah(N. rajah), sometimes called the “Giant Pitcher Plant,” is a species of Nepenthes that grows only in Sabah, Malaysia. It is so large that is known to some as the king of Nepenthes plants.
The Nepenthes genus of plants are pitcher plants that trap their prey in large rolled leaves and then digest them using a combination of enzymes and bacteria. The Rajah species of Nepenthes is classified as endangered but has managed to increase in numbers over the past few years.
The N. rajah features a very large urn-shaped trap. Its trap can grow as high as 16 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Their traps can store more than 3 liters of water and 2.5 liters of digestive fluid, which makes them the largest of the Nepenthes genus in terms of sheer volume.
What really makes the N. rajah stand out from the rest is the fact they sometimes consume small mammals and other vertebrates, such as birds and frogs. The only other Nepenthes species documented digesting a mammal is the Nepenthes rafflesiana. The N. rafflesiana can grow nearly the same size as its rajah counterpart.
Easily the most popular carnivorous plant, the venus flytrap is a carnivore that you can easily grow in your own home. It feeds entirely on insects and small spiders. Unlike the Nepenthes, which use a pitcher trap, the Venus flytrap uses rapid leaf movements to actually catch its prey with its large mouth-shaped trap.
The flytrap features a very complex mechanism for catching its prey. In order for the trap to close, a movement must occur along the trap. The insect will move and contact a hair and then contact a second hair, which then causes the trap to close. The trap will not close if it does not contact the second hair within a certain time period. This prevents the trap from needlessly wasting energy attempting to catch prey they cannot consume.
Several flytraps can grow together from the same plant. If more than seven are growing together, then it is referred to as a colony. This usually occurs when their rosettes divide under the ground’s surface.
The “teeth” of the trap create a protective barrier that prevents large insects from escaping. Small insects can still escape because their nutritional value is likely not enough to warrant the use of energy it would require to digest them. If the insect moves around within the trap it will tighten and digest faster. If the insect escapes, then the trap will reopen in several hours.
Also known as sundews, the drosera is another carnivorous genus of plants that digest small insects for nutritional value. They do not rely on leaf movement or pitcher traps. Instead, their surface is covered in many small mucilaginous glands. The glands excrete mucilage that look much like morning dew, hence the name “sundews.”
Some sundew plants can live to be as old as 50 years old. They are known to grow on every continent on the planet aside from Antarctica. Some species have become so dependent on consuming plant life that they no longer poses the enzymes required to take in nitrates from the Earth’s surface.