Carnivorous Flowers and Plants

Carnivorous plants are flowering plants that capture and digest prey in order to thrive in nutrient poor environments such as bogs. Carnivorous flowers often attract their prey using bright colors, scent, or nectar. Once there, the prey which can be insects, crustaceans, protozoans, lizards, mice, or any other small living creatures are trapped using pitfall or suction traps made from modified leaves or flypaper type traps from leaves covered with sticky secretions. The body of the prey then becomes flower food as it decomposes and the nutrients are absorbed by the carnivorous flowers. Here is a list that includes some carnivorous plant facts about some of the most fascinating and lesser known carnivorous plants.

Philcoxia minensis looks like a common weed at first glance, but upon further observation it is revealed to be a voracious carnivore. Above ground small purple flowers on short branching inflorescences are seen. The leaves, which are mostly underground, are round and covered with glands that exude a viscous substance that traps, kills and digests tiny nematodes crawling through the sand. This plant is found in the Brazilian cerrado.

Rainbow plant (Byblis gigantea) possesses leaves that are long and slender like grass, and are covered with sticky hairs that lure and trap insects like flypaper. The flowers are small and are a reddish purple color. Insects are tricked into landing on the leaves, thinking that the gooey secretions are an oasis of nectar in the desert. The insects soon become flower food as they are slowly digested where they landed. Byblis gigantea grows in clumps in Australian deserts.

The yellow trumpet pitcher plant, (Sarracenia flava) has three foot, slender fluted trumpets that are actually modified leaves that serve as insect traps. The sunny yellow flowers are up to four inches, umbrella shaped, and nodding. The top "lid" to the trumpet is ruffled and red veined at times and protects the trumpet from gathering too much rain water. The insects are attracted to the nectar and bright colors, then fall into the pitcher which is full of digestive juices. The inside of the trumpet walls are slippery and covered with downward pointing hairs, hindering escape of the victims and they are digested. Sarracenia flava is found along the southeastern coast of the U.S. from New Jersey to Florida in bog like environments.

Bladderwort, (Utricularia fibrosa) is a delicate, rootless plant that lives in bogs, ponds, and damp peaty soil. They have oval shaped bladders, or traps, that are on the underwater and underground structures of the plants. The bladders have a trap door that is triggered when small creatures brush against a trigger hair. The pressure of the surrounding water forces the door open; the animal is sucked in, and digested. Utricularia fibrosa is a branching aquatic bladderwort and sends up tall flower stalks with lots of delicate yellow flowers. They are native to the Eastern United states.

Corkscrew plant, (Genlisea) species are related to Utricularia. There are over 11 species. They grow in wet habitats in tropical South Africa, South America, and Madagascar. Genlisea have traps on the underwater and underground structures just like utricularia. The trap structures of these plants are very complicated and one plant may produce two kinds of traps. In short, the trap is a tube that splits into spiraling branches. Creatures cannot find their way out and continue to the utricle, a digestion chamber. They are small rootless plants that grow in a clump. Leaves are smooth and can be less than an inch in length. They form a dense mat. Flowers can be purple, yellow, pink, or white and look like tiny orchids on long tall stalks.

Cape sundew, (Drosera capensis) is found in the marshes of South Africa. Leaves grow around a central stem and are covered with red fuzzy hairs or tentacles. The hairs glisten with what appears to insects to be dew or nectar but in fact is a sticky weak acid that traps and digests prey. The leaves also may curl around the prey. Flowers are pink with 5 petals arising far above the leaves.

West Australian Pitcher plant, (Cephalotus follicularis) is a unique plant that is only found in southwestern Australia, on the edges of ditches, bogs, and wetlands. The modified leaves form small, red streaked green tubby pitchers around 3 cm that hug the ground in a rosette pattern, although it produces normal leaves as well. Hairy Lids on the pitchers control loss of digestive fluids. Insects are attracted by nectar glands on the outside of the pitcher's lip and body, fall into the pitchers and are digested. Flowers are tiny and white appearing in clusters on tall stalks in late summer. This is one of the rarest carnivorous plants.

Cobra lily, (Darlingtonia californica) is a pitfall trap plant like sarracenia flava. Leaves are modified into tall slender trumpet shaped structures that trap insects, but unlike sarracenias, this plant has two appendages under the "head" that look like fangs. The fangs are red and exude a honey scent. Insects land to feed and eventually get lost, crawl to the pitcher and fall in. The trumpet structure is filled with water, not digestive juices. It relies on bacteria for digestion. They grow along streams and bogs in California and Oregon. The flowers hang upside down and are red and yellow.

Monkey cups, (Nepenthes rajah) is a species of Nepenthes that has some of the largest pitchers in the genus. Leaves form large pitchers that are green with heavy wine red streaking. Monkeys have been known to drink water from these pitchers, thus the common name "monkey cups". Insects or larger creatures are attracted to the nectar produced on the colorful slippery lip surrounding the opening of the pitcher, fall into the pitchers and are digested. Flowers are prolific and are brownish yellow giving off a sweet smell. This plant is native to Borneo.

The primitive pitcher, (Heliamphora nutans) is found in Venezuela. These are similar to Nepenthes species but do not have lids. They are yellow green with reddish pigmentation towards the top. Flowers are a pale white and hang upside down. There is a nectar spoon at the top of each pitcher tube that insects are attracted to; some unlucky victims fall off into the pitcher. Heliamphora nutans do not produce digestive enzymes, but instead rely on water inside their pitchers to drown their captives and bacterial action to break down the bodies.

California Carnivores: Links

Carnivorous Plant Pictures

Introduction to Carnivorous Plants

Cambridge Carnivorous Plants

Scott's Carnivorous Plants

New England Carnivorous Plant Society

Carnivouroys Plants: Plant Info

Carnivorous Plants Online

Colorado Carnivorous Plant Society: Growing Carnivourous Plants

New ZeaLand Carnivorous Plant Society

Southern Illinois University Plant Biology Greenhouse: Carnivorous Plants

UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Greenhouses: Carnivorous Plants Special Collection

The Carnivorous Plant Society

Atlanta Botanical Garden: Wetlands and Pitcher Plants

Victorian Carnivorous Plant Society

Ontario Carnivorous Plant Society

Harvard Forest: Carnivorous plants

United States Botanic Garden: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants

The New York Botanical Garden: Growing Carnivorous Plants

Carnivorous Plants and Their Prey, Pollinators, and Peculiar Partners (PDF)

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