A Guide to Carnivorous Plants

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 Photography by Idam Adam

Photography by Idam Adam

Also coined as ‘insectivorous plants’ by Charles Darwin in 1875, the carnivorous plant family is one that makes you feel surprisingly forlorn, or contrarily inspired to plot world domination via mass consumption of humans by maniacal shrubbery. While we are yet to see any bloodthirsty plants plucking humans from botanical gardens and leaving their exsanguinated bodies in limp piles behind a collection of vibrant ferns, there are plenty of arthropods, amphibians and small insects on nature’s missing persons list. 

What you may find a little gloomy about the existence of carnivorous flora is that these natural-born killers have only evolved as such because they tend to grow in horribly desolate soil- in bogs and rocky areas- which leaves them starved of the nutrition that most placid plants can suck up from the rich, wholesome dirt that snuggles against their stems. Even worse, there are some leafy little carnivores (namely pitchers) that don’t even have the ability to successfully capture the insects they desire on their own- they have to solicit a colony of worker ants with promises of free housing in exchange for constant work to keep the lips of the plant slippery, inviting and deadly.

"Lobster Traps have inward facing hairs that force insects to essentially walk the plank- but rather than drown in sea water, they drown in a pool of enzymatic juices."

These generally very colourful and wonderfully scented herbaceous creatures can grow up to 3 feet tall and each of the five subgroups has a different mechanism for catching and trapping prey. Pitfall Traps, for example, are funnel shaped. After being snatched and falling down the shaft, the poor little insect or arthropod reaches the end of the line and is quickly taken to by digestive enzymes. Flypaper Traps, on the other hand, use a glue-like substance to ensnare their prey (like those children that put superglue on your pencil and cackle half to death when you can’t put it down). 

Snap Traps, like the well known Venus Flytrap, wait until they feel their “hairs” being disrupted by something foreign and then snap their leaves shut, thus en-caging their victims, and slowly draining them of their organic matter. These are some of the only plants that can perform rapid movements- but to make sure no energy is expended without realistic cause (like trying to eat raindrops), the Venus Flytrap will only snap its ‘jaws’ shut when two or more hairs have been touched. 

Finally, and most excitingly, Lobster Traps have inward facing hairs that force insects to essentially walk the plank- but rather than drown in sea water, they drown in a pool of enzymatic juices.

Despite the sad necessity behind their murderous behaviourisms, carnivorous plants are still cause for awe and appreciation of a sadistic beauty. I fear the day evolution allows a Snap Trap to grow 10 feet tall and look at mankind as nothing but nutrients; how the tables will turn.