Carnivorous Plants
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Carnivorous Plants Introduction

Carnivorousnes is a state that implies for the plant not only the ability to capture animals but also to digest them.

The carnivorous plants comprise more than 500 species growing naturally; they are grouped into 7 families. They are all phanerogams ( plants with flowers).

There is a large morphological diversity in the carnivorous plants. Their size varies according to the species, from a fraction of an inch in the smallest to over 60 ft in the largest, which develop as climbing vines. Depending on the habit, polymorphism may also exist within the same species. This is the case with Nepenthes vieillardii ( Nepenthaceae family), a carnivorous plant found in New Caledonia from sea level, where the minimum temperature is about 16 degree C, to 3500 ft. (1100m), where the thermometer sometimes drops to freezing point.

The flowers are equally variable between genera. They often have a brief life, but stand about the surrounding vegetation on their stalks and prove most efficient at attracting insects. the flowers of carnivorous plants bear no capture mechanism, this function being the sole prerogative of the traps. their raison de'etre, as with the other flowering plants, is multiplication and thus the survival of the species. The traps could be in the form of an active steel trap, active mousetrap, active fly-paper trap and passive pitfall trap.

Why have some plant species, often biologically quite distinct from each other, developed this extraordinary property called carnivorousness. In order to grow and reproduce, plants require certain essential elements - oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, various mineral salts (principally constituents of nitrogen, calcium , potassium and phosphorus)- as well as vitamins and hormones. To satisfy these needs, plants have perfected strategies related to the varied environments that they have been able to colonize.

In particular, we often find carnivorous plants growing in acid soils (peat bogs) or in acid waters that are poor in mineral salts. In order to survive in these impoverished habitats, the carnivorous plants have devised traps that are the result of several thousand years of evolution. The prey captured and assimilated by these traps supply vitamins and proteins that plants living in richer soils take in through their roots in the form of mineral salts. Experiments with carnivorous plants have shown that fertilizers of whatever sort can in no way replace the nutrition contriuted by the captured insects, if one wants to obtain vigorous , flowering plants.

Carnivorous plants have been the source of many legends. If a young bird or small rabbit can be digested in the urn of a Nepenthes, why cannot a carnivorous plant be capable of capturing a man? A number of books , based on the accounts of explorers who cared little for scientific truth, have developed this theme. Thus at the end of the last century, there was talk of the 'man-eating tree of Madagascar', as terrifying as it was mythical.

Ancient botanical treatieses and pharmacopoeias attribute various properties to the sundews, or Drosera, whose red droplets of mucilage do not dry out in the sun. Certain extracts of these plants serve as treatment for corns, verrucas and burns. Infusions and other extracts were used against coughs, respiratory disorders, tuberculosis, arteriousclerosis, inflammations, intestinal illnesses, and syphilis. These preparations were diuretic, soothing and even aphrodisiac. Today extracts of Drosera are still used against coughs and ailments of the respiratory tract. The large-leaved butterwort, or Pinguicula was used to treat wounds. It was, and is, also used in the production of various cheeses - its leaves can, because of their high acidity, curdle milk.. Leaves of these plants feel greasy, hence the name Pinguicula which is derived from Latin, meaning fat and small. The fungal odor of Pinguicula is believed to be a prey attractant. Insects are trapped when they light or crawl on the surface of the leaves which are coated with a sticky mucilage. Only the smallest insects can be captured. The margins of the Pinguicula leaves tend to curl up during and after prey capture to form a shallow bowl which contains the digestive fluids and prevents loss of prey. Often the leaves tend to become distended beneath the spot where larger insects have been trapped.

The natives of certain tropical regions dare not, even today, touch Nepenthes, fearing the evil powers the plants are supposed to possess. Nepenthes are, though, used medicinally in a variety of ways. The liquid contained in the young urns before the operculum opens is an astringent and it seems also to have the property of soothing sore throats, inflammations and disorders of the skin and eyes. Extracts of the boiled roots have been used against dysentery and stomach complaints and the whole plant is used in various homeopathic preparations.

As mentioned, the carnivourous plants are comprised of 7 families namely:


'Carnivorous Plants -Care and Cultivation' by Marcel Lecoufle. 1993 edition Cassell Publishers Limited Villiers House, 41/47 Strand London WC2N5JE, date=1993 , ISBN # 0-304-34330-7.

'Carnivorous Plants of the World' by James & Patricia Pietropaolo 1996 paperback edition. ISBN # 0-88192-356-7

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQ)

Q. How do I take care of my new acquisitions (carnivorous plants)?
A. Generally, Carnivorous plants like to be in a damp mix, not moist , not wet but in between. Humidity has to be high and light half shade.

Q. My house is kind of dry especially in winter due to hot air heating and summer due to the airconditioning. How do I keep my plants in a humid environment ?
A. Most of the hobbyist who do not have any greenhouse keep their collections in a terrarium or indoor greenhouse or wardian case or orchidarium. . I keep some of them in the house covered with a plastic bag with venting on top to keep the humidity high and exhaust the hot air when the plant is exposed to the sun from morning till noon..

Q. How about watering. I hear Carnivorous plants only thrive in high quality water ?.
A. Yes, that was my impression before and it was a pain to filter my tap water and also collect rain water when I was watering them. But I found out later on that Perla watered the plants straight from the tap with no ill-effect when I was out of the country for a month. From then on watering was straight from the tap. A word of caution though. our tap water has a 110~150 uS TDS ( micro-siemen Total Dissolve Solids ) with just a trace of chlorine. If you smell chlorine out of your tap water, collect your water in a bucket, and let it stand for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate before using them.

Q. I am from Florida and most of the time it is warm. What type of Nepenthes should I purchase ?
A. From a cultural standpoint, Nepenthes can be categorized as Highland or Lowland. Highland types which account for two thirds of the species grow at elevations greater than 1000 meters where temperatures range from 50 to 70 F while the lowland varieties grow at elevations below 1000 meters with a temperature range of 70 to 85 F. Since you are located in a warm area, you are better off with the lowland types. It does not necessarily mean that you can not grow the highland varieties since there are ways of cooling the warm air by air-conditioning , evaporative cooling etc.

Q. I noticed that the urns on the Nepenthes species are different and they were still labeled the same species. Is there any mistake in the labeling ?
A. Nepenthes are identified mainly by pitcher characteristics. The pitcher description provided is for the lower pitchers which are always found on cultivated plants ( Upper ones may not form in cultivation.) most likely the other pitcher that was labeled the same species is the upper pitcher. Also, the same species could exhibit some variability as far as color and shape are concerned.

Q. My Venus Fly Trap and Sarracenia are located in a North-East facing window and I occasionally feed them some burgers. I water them with rainwater/distilled water with full strength fertilizer and I keep the mix damp. Any idea why they are not doing well ?
A. Dionea muscipula and Sarracenia like to be exposed to full sun and I would strongly recommend that they be moved outside in the summer to take advantage of the full sun. Re burger feeding, resist doing it. You're feeding the plant with too much protein and it becomes a poison. Since the carnivorous plants evolve from an environment that is devoid of any minerals and proteins, full strength fertilizer is also poison to them. Use 1/4 strength and they should be fine.

Q. I saw a specimen size bushy Nepenthes plant in a big pot and the pot contained about 4 to 5 plants with a lot of pitchers hanging at the tip of the leaves while the plant I have also in a big pot is vine like with only one stem sticking out of the pot. How can I make my plant to grow like the one I saw ?
A. The secret is in the pinching or trimming of the plant. Make a habit of pinching the top leaf right off the base where the leaf came out when the stem has 4 to 5 leaves. Once the top leaf is severed, growth on this plant will stop. However, this will stimulate the mother plant to produce side growths. Soon you'll have 3 to 10 plants in a pot and you're plant will look bushy instead of vine-like.

Q. Once the pitcher in a Nepenthes dries up, would the same leaf produce another pitcher ?
A. No! Once the pitcher dries up, that is the end of it. It is for that reason that the more leaves your Nepenthes have, the more likely you'll have more pitchers.

By the way, most carnivorous plants specially Nepenthes are subject to CITES appendix I & II and severely restricted from importation and exportation .

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