It is indeed intriguing to note the sheer diversity of the plant kingdom, with its staggering 250,000 species of flowering plants or Angiosperms, around 25,000 to 30,000 different types of Orchidaceae and hundreds of species of Gymnosperms and Bryophytes. Although fascinating in their own right, the flesh eating plants represent another, quite bizarre, face of nature. First mentioned in Charles Darwin’s book named Insectivorous Plants(1875), these carnivorous plants comprise of over 630 species generally found in places where the soil is nutrient-deficient. Consequently, they depend mostly on insects and arthropods for nutrition and nourishment. Here we have compiled an extensively researched list of the eight most fascinating yet deadly specimens of carnivorous plants.
1) Dionaea muscipula, commonly known as the Venus flytrap
Found mainly in the wetlands on the East Coast of the United States, the Venus flytrap is nature’s masterpiece, with its swift reaction time and complex electrical, mechanical and biochemical processes. It has a small rosette structure of four to seven leaves, which are in turn divided into two parts: a heart-shaped petiole capable of photosynthesis and a pair of hinged lobes.
The prey is trapped by a highly intricate snap trap mechanism exhibited by these terminal lobes, resulting from electrical stimulation of the trigger hairs on the surface of the leaf. While the entire process of digestion takes around 10 days, the closure of the lobes needed capture the prey takes place in about 0.1 seconds, making the Venus flytrap a singularly fascinating member of the plant kingdom. It feeds mostly on insects and arachnids.
2) Nepenthes rajah, also called the Giant Pitcher Plant
Native to Mount Kinabalu and Mount Tambuyukon in Borneo, especially in regions with seeping ground water and loose soil, the Giant Pitcher Plant is an interesting specimen of flesh eating plant. Like all the other members of the genus Nepenthes, it catches its prey by means of the pitfall trap mechanism. Known for its huge traps that can measure up to 41 cm in height and 20 cm in width, the plant lures its victim into its pitchers containing more than 2.5 liters of nectar-like digestive liquid where the prey asphyxiates and drowns. It has been famously recorded to feed on vertebrates and even small sized mammals, like rats. Of the 130 species of Nepenthes found across East and South-East Asia, two plants that closely resemble the aforementioned in structure and functions are Nepenthes attenboroughii and Nepenthes rafflesiana.
3) Drosera regia or the King Sundew
Belonging to one of the largest genera of flesh eating plants called Drosera, the King Sundew, with its regal “dew-covered” beauty, is indeed a marvel of the plant world. Located exclusively in the Bainskloof Range near Wellington in South Africa, it boasts of some very specific features that are absent in the other Drosera species. It employs a complicated flypaper trap mechanism, in which the extremely agile tentacle-covered leaves bend around the prey, thus trapping it. The sticky mucilage covering the tentacles ensures that the victim cannot escape. It is capable of capturing larger varieties of beetles, moths and even butterflies.
Another member of the Drosera genus worth mentioning is Drosera capensis, also called the Cape sundew, that is endemic to the Cape region of South Africa. Similar to the King sundew, it arrests its prey by the bending of its sticky tentacle-covered leaves around the target. It generally feeds on arthropods.
4) Utricularia macrorhiza, also known as the Common Bladderwort
Although quite harmless in its appearance, the Common bladderwort is a cunning killing machine of the aquatic world. Found mainly in North America and East Asia, this marine carnivorous plant uses cleverly engineered bladder traps to catch its victim. Like all the other species of the Utricularia genus, it contains a sealed bladder with partial vacuum inside it.
The sensory hairs on the surface of the trapdoor, when stimulated, cause the door to open. Consequently, the prey gets ensnared into the sack. While it mostly feeds on protozoa, larger varieties of the plant are capable of capturing small crustaceans and even tadpoles.