Pardon me for being rude, it was not me it was my food

This week, we look more into thechemistry behind the Venus Fly Trap, and explore how it uses its methods to obtain key nutrients from insects that it catches.
Previously, I wrote that due to the acidity of its soil, the Venus Fly Trap is forced to become carnivorous in order to adapt to its environment. Using its mouths to trap wandering prey as they unknowingly stroll into their impending doom.

This head is beginning to open after a week of digesting a spider.

Slowly, the insect is digested for all its useful nutrients so that to plant may continue to thrive and grow. Although plants don’t have tendons that can grab, chew and swallow their food. This raises a question, how does it get food to its stomach?
Well, the heads are infact both mouth and stomach in one. In truth, we aren’t totally sure how the process all works but the theory goes that cells may be compressed inside the mouth, this tension may actually hold the mouth open and its the insects weight and movement that break this tension and cause it to snap shut. Another hypothesis, mechanical movement in the trigger hairs changes water pressure within the cells, where the cells are expanded by water pressure and the trap closes as the cell tissue relaxes.

So how does the plant break its food down?

Just like our stomachs, the Venus Fly Trap uses acidic digestive fluids that dissolve soft tissues and cell membranes of the insect. Using enzymes it will digest DNA, amino acids and other cellular molecules into smell edible pieces that can be used for energy, growth and development. All that remains afterwards is an eerie exoskeleton of the insect!

Closer look at the recently digested meal.

Advertisements
Standard

Drosera Capensis Alba

Last time I wrote that I would be bringing in a new addition, and here we are…

Drosera Capensis Alba

This beautiful contraption uses a sticky dew to catch its prey – as you see from above it is quite popular amongst the local flies.

It differs from other carnivorous plants in this way so it can take advantage of the dew that sweeps across our gardens each morning, however, I read online that leaving in direct sunlight too long can essentially “dry out” the plant. This is something I’ll have to monitor over the next few days so any advice you may have could prove vital.

It joins both Hector (Venus Fly Trap) and Henrietta (Nepenthes) on my balcony outside, although I may move the Drosera Capensis to another pot to avoid any weight or “overcrowding” issues.

Unlike other Drosera Capensis, the Alba variety is given this name because it keeps its lush green colour. As a result, I feel Jessica can be the only befitting name (there was also Jordi but you may not be familiar with him) for this carnivore.

As an insect becomes trapped in this sticky fluid, the plant will slowly begin to curl and close in on the prey. Above you can see this fly has just landed – in fact, if I could upload a video I would because it’s still alive and moving!

You can see the curvature at the top of the image (which I can just about count 4 flies) as this begins to close. None of the arms are at a fully curved stage so I’ll watch closely and ensure I get greater images for the next blog.

In terms of watering, treat it like other carnivores in the sense of giving it distilled water. I read that eventually Drosera Capensis produces flowers so it will not require too much watering – just keep the soil damp and you should be ok. Budding botanists online have advised that these are some of the easiest carnivores to look after!

Standard

Cycles!

As we reach June the summer weather should be hitting us now here in London, UK. It’s been late and after a wet week our gardens will be after some real sunshine.

Hector has completed a cycle!

All of the heads that were present when I first brought my Venus Fly Trap have now gone and the image above is a fresh batch of leafs and heads that have grown with me. We have a warm week forecast ahead of us so I’m hoping for some real growth now!

Hector and Henrietta in their permanent home

New sacs are forming on my Nepenthes, Bloody Mary, and have even began attracting visitors. I’m just hoping to show you a real catch soon!

As the old from last year have passed, the new life in your garden will be prepared for summer and should be just about ready for long warm nights, make sure you can take full advantage of the late evening sunlight.

This week I cared for my neighbours plants and the cycle of strawberries is going well (not that I can say the same for my own which are still only crowns!)

It’s a time of year that keeps gardeners and botanists at their busiest and I’ll be adding a new addition to my collection very soon. It is important to keep a careful eye out for pests and bugs that will try to eat your precious fruits but with the right care and determination you should be able to have lovely edible fruit at the end of July!

Standard

Nepenthes, Bloody Mary

I couldn’t resist jumping straight in with Nepenthes, Bloody Mary (who I named Henrietta to make things even more complicated) and taking a further in depth look at this beautiful carnivorous plant.

Each leaf is accompanied by a sac/pod of liquid

Nepenthes appears to grow these sacs from each leaf, creating a sort of backwards raindrop affect where the sac reaches for the sky instead of hanging low.

Nepenthes ranges into 150 different species coming from all over the globe, such as; China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillippines, Madagascar, Australia, India AND Sri Lanka!

Making its own fluid, the trap creates a syrupy goo that drowns any prey who dares wonder inside. This fluid contacts ‘viscoelastic biopolymers’ that could be vital to trapping insects, especially the flying variety. Much like the Venus Fly Trap, Henrietta will use this carnivorous advantage to obtain crucial nutrients that it is unable to get through the soil around it. The inside of the pod also is walled with a wax coating that makes escape near impossible!

The lip of the plant is a structure called ‘peristome’ which creates a slippery surface that any curious insects could slip on – it appears Henrietta is really keen on ensuring she gets her visitors.

Fully grown mature Nepenthes (image taken from Google search)

They do not require too much or too harsh sunlight, instead I will leave mine on the windowsill where the double glazing on my windows will reduce a lot of the glare. They do however, require damp soil but I have been informed not to let them sit in water.

I believe my species in particular to be of the ‘vieillardii‘ which actually descend from New Caladonia. It will be interesting to see how this plant grows into its intricate design. 

Standard

A Carnivorous Advantage

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.

The remains of a small beetle after a meal

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.

I’m very pleased that not only is the next cycle fully thriving, I am also beginning to see new heads form..

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!

Two tiny leaves have formed from the soil, identity unknown.

Standard

Water Care – Venus Fly Trap

I thought I’d dive straight in with an update of my Venus Fly Trap, or Hector as you may know him if you have seen the previous post on this blog.

This week, I plan on covering the topic of water care. I’ll go into grooming, pest control and other topics as we go further into Hector’s growth and development.

He’s been living with me for roughly a week and is living a steady life. Kept on the west side of the house so he can fully benefit from the evening sunset and photosynthesize late into the day. I will occasionally keep him in my bedroom, facing east, so he can also benefit from the morning sun. As I live on the first floor and there is little around me blocking light, Hector is able to fully benefit from both morning and evening sun.

I have not seen any dramatic changes in growth and the biggest challenge is ensuring your plants are receiving the correct water. Tap water is not the best choice for a Venus Fly Trap as they are quite demanding, despite Britain having one of the highest qualities of water in the world.

Unfortunately, this means that the water is often high in Chlorine (Cl) and Fluorine (F) components which are not beneficial to your plants health. However, this doesn’t mean you have to spend high amounts of money on distilled or bottled water, there are a few tricks to the trade if you don’t wish to part with your hard-earned money.

I did some research and the obvious choice of water for your plant is rain water. North and South Carolina have somewhat similar conditions to Britain but if you have means to pot your Venus outside then do so. Although if there is the occasional dry spell, or your like me and not always around to collect rain water – fear not, tap water can actually turn into drinkable water for your plants.

I’d recommend filling up whatever sized bottle (or means of holding water) and leaving this on the side for 24-48 hours, under room temperature. This will allow time for any chemicals to evaporate and disperse and will prevent bacteria growth. Your Venus should never have dry soil but try not to water them too much, as you see in mine there is a lot of moss so this should soak up and encourage the Venus to thrive but being overzealous here could cause your Venus to grow thin leaves making them more vulnerable to insect or fungal attack.

I noticed the above damage was only slight when I first got Hector but as you can see this has gotten a little worse. This could be due to my over-eagerness of watering the plant admittedly but remember I’m a novice so go lightly on me! If you have recommendations on how often or how much to feed your Venus please do leave a comment, you could save dear Hector!

When watering your Venus it is always best to remember what conditions to keep him in. If you can allow lots of warm, direct sunlight you may only need to water your plant every 2-4 days (depending on how hot the conditions are and how quickly the soil dries). However, in colder more shaded conditions water your Venus every 8-14 days particularly during the freezing winter conditions.

If you’re really unsure of how often to water your Venus, just keep a watchful eye on the soil and when this starts to become dry at the top you can water your Venus and find a suitable pattern.

“So do I water from the top or the bottom?”

This is a question I asked myself in the beginning and thought it best wise to water from the top.

Water from the top will help disperse the feed better and can help wash the soil through of anything foreign that could be potentially harmful if left to sit inside the soil. However, water from the bottom will work and is easier but always remember to occasionally feed from the top too.

As for the head of the leaf that is deteriorating, I will cut this with scissors (see below) gently and allow the green leaf to continue to photosynthesize as there are many health benefits still from this.


If you’re growing a Venus yourself leave a comment, let me know how your growth is going it would be great to see other peoples techniques and share together!

Standard