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Carnivorous Plants


Round Leaf Sundew

Round Leaf Sundew

Gary Stolz/USFWS
Carnivorous plants are plants that capture, kill, and digest animal organisms. Since carnivorous plants usually live in areas where the soil quality is poor, they must supplement their diets with nutrients gained from digesting insects. These plants have developed specialized leaves that work to lure and then trap unsuspecting insects.

Carnivorous Plants

There are several genera of carnivorous plants and hundreds of carnivorous plant species. Here are some of my favorite genera of carnivorous plants:

Flytraps - Dionaea muscipula

Dionaea muscipula, also known as the Venus Flytrap, is probably the most well known of the carnivorous plants. Insects are lured into the mouth-like leaves by nectar. Once an insect enters the trap it touches tiny hairs on the leaves. This sends impulses through the plant triggering the leaves to close. Glands located in the leaves release enzymes that digest the prey and the nutrients are absorbed by the leaves.

Sundews - Drosera

Species of plants from the genus Drosera are called Sundews. These plants are covered with tentacles that produce a sticky dew-like substance that glitters in the sunlight. Insects are attracted to the dew and become stuck when they land on the leaves. The tentacles then close around the insects and digestive enzymes break down the prey.

Tropical Pitchers - Nepenthes

Plant species from the genus Nepenthes are known as Tropical Pitcher plants or Monkey Cups. The leaves of these plants are brightly colored and shaped like pitchers. Insects are lured to the plant by the bright colors and nectar. The inside walls of the leaves are covered with waxy scales that make them very slippery. Insects may slip and fall to the bottom of the pitcher where the plant secretes digestive fluids.

North American Pitchers - Sarracenia

Species from the genus Sarracenia are called North American Pitcher plants. The leaves of these plants are also shaped like pitchers. Insects are lured to the plant by nectar and may slip from the edge of the leaves and fall to the bottom of the pitcher. In some species, the insects die when they drown in water that has accumulated at the bottom of the pitcher. They are then digested by enzymes that are released into the water.

Bladderworts - Utricularia

Species of Utricularia are known as Bladderworts. The name comes from the tiny sacs, which resemble bladders, that are located on the stems and leaves. These plants have a "trapdoor" mechanism for capturing prey. The sacs have a small membrane cover that acts as a "door." Their oval shape creates a vacuum that sucks in tiny insects when they trigger hairs that are located around the "door." Digestive enzymes are then released inside the sacs to digest the prey.

For more information about carnivorous plants, take a look at the Carnivorous Plant Database and The Carnivorous Plant FAQ.

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