Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at the progress of my Venus Fly Trap and its growth since I purchased it from the local florist. Now, I want to look at it in depth and understand how the carnivorous plant has grown into such a dynamic wonder of our world.
I’ll admit, I’m no biologist but I want to help give you a basic understanding of what makes a carnivorous plant different from a regular plant. Once a Venus Fly Trap snaps shut on an insect it will digest its body, but why? What evolutionary advantage does this present?
It almost sounds like a cruel science experiment gone wrong, however, billions of years of evolution has formed this intricate and beautiful plant on our American neighbours soil, in North and South Carolina. Although I’m sure many of you reading will be living in the US, lucky you to have such a wonder of life on your doorstep!
Carnivorous plants are nothing new to the short span of life on Earth and have existed for thousands of years, becoming ever more specialised as the years went by. There are over 500 different species and they eat a multitude of insects and aquatic organisms, with the Venus Fly Trap being one of the most famous on our lands due to its unique heads and teeth. We’ve even seen it mentioned amongst television shows or movies like Little Shop of Horrors.
The VFT still uses photosynthesis like a regular plant, turning carbon dioxide into sugars and foods, they have adapted themselves to thrive in their humid environments as their soil is fairly acidic so nutrients are scarce.
Due to this scarcity, they have had to find a unique way to obtain key nutrients such as nitrogen (for amino acids), phosphorus, magnesium, sulphur, calcium and potassium. The insects in their environment provide this vital source of nutrients, thus the evolution of a head that can eat. They can identify by what is edible and what isn’t, by the thrashing around of the insect inside its mouth which will encourage the plant to close tighter but because it has no brain it cannot tell itself when it is hungry.
Instead it will use acidic fluids to digest the bug over a 12 hour period, leaving nothing but a empty shell of an insect which either falls out or is blown out by the wind. This acid breaks up the insect body to extract its key nutrients, so it’s easy to see why the botanists of our time have been so eagerly fascinated.
My own VFT, Hector, is now unique to its environment here in the UK and will depend on me to help it thrive. I’m considering getting another, or perhaps another carnivorous plant to join the ranks.
P.S. The strawberries aren’t growing just yet but there is life in the soil!