Look up close at the long "leaves" of the sundew plant! These will curl up and look similar to a fiddlehead fern when an insect is caught.
Adaptations, conservation, Endangered Species, Gardening, Plants, The Art of Ecology

Plants That Eat More than Sunlight!

Compare the two seemingly dissimilar plants. The Sundew has tiny hairs, as does the pitcher plant!
Compare the two seemingly dissimilar plants. The Sundew has tiny hairs, as does the pitcher plant!

As kids, we’re all taught that plants eat sunlight through a complex process called “Photosynthesis.” This is one of the many things that, as humans, make plants a little hard to relate to. If you’re feeling disassociated from plants, here’s something to make you feel better – some plants eat meat! Yum.

Carnivorous plants are rare and fascinating organisms. They have adapted to low nutrient levels in their environment by drawing in insects (some may eat small amphibians and mammals!) and digesting them. Habitats low in nitrogen and phosphorus that still have other environmental requirements, like high moisture and sunlight, are hard to come by and habitat destruction of bogs and wetlands are making these plants exceedingly rare.

If you are lucky enough to come across one in the wild (or a local plant nursery), take a moment and observe them! There are a whole variety (at least 600 species!) of carnivorous plants that have different adaptations to attract and trap insects.

Look deeply into the tubes that the leaves of the pitcher plants form and you can see the liquid! Both the smell of the plant and the coloration (insects like red) will attract prey.
Look deeply into the tubes that the leaves of the pitcher plants form and you can see the liquid! Both the smell of the plant and the coloration (insects like red) will attract prey.

Some, like the pitcher plant, have Pitfall traps. The leaves of this plant are folded to create a deep pool of water and digestive enzymes. When an insect comes to check out the yummy odor that this plant emits, it falls into the pool and can’t get back out. Pitcher plants can either hang or sprout up from the ground. The ones that hang inflate themsevles with air to look like large, oblong balloons. These balloons then fill up with the digestive liquid. The sprouting ones will catch rainwater and secrete their own digestive enzymes to help fill the pool and make it attractive. I can attest to the fact that this plant is great at ensnaring unwitting fruit flies as I have one next to a sunny kitchen window AND my compost bucket.

Others, like the well known Venus Flytrap, have hinged leaves that snap shut when tiny, sensitive hairs on the inside of the trap are touched. The teeth of the trap help prevent the unwitting prey from squeezing out and escaping. Strangely enough, this isn’t an adaptation that the plant can keep doing forever. After 7-10 snaps, even if they’re not closing on prey, the trap will turn black and die back. There are multiple traps per plant system which allows the plant to continue living, but don’t let curiosity get the best of you – NEVER force a trap to close by teasing it just to watch this adaptation. You don’t want to kill it! This is a common houseplant, so click here to learn more about caring for your green friend!

Here you can see how the tips of the leaves of the Sundew plant will curl up. The tiny hairs prevent ANYTHING from escaping.
Here you can see how the tips of the leaves of the Sundew plant will curl up. The tiny hairs prevent ANYTHING from escaping.

Flypaper is another form of trap. This type is common to sundews, the beautiful plant that appears to sparkle in the light. Flypaper traps are just like the white, paper traps that many put in their house or porch to get rid of flies. On a sundew, the “dew” part of the plant is actually sticky, digestive enzymes that cover glands on a stalk. Once prey touches those sticky glands to figure out, again, what that yummy odor is, the plant will curl itself up and those stalks will be similar to the teeth of the Venus Flytrap and ensnare the prey.

If you’re interested in having these fascinating plants in your house, but don’t want to worry about the bizarre and strict plant care, I would recommend getting an 8×10 Triptych (3 photos as a set). Sundews are my favorite as the light does bounce off of the “dew” of the plant. Click here to go to my Products page and use these photo names in your order!

  • Draping Sundew
  • A Hairy Adaptation
  • Sprouting Pitchers
  • Curling sundew

 

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