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.

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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. 

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Urban Issues

It’s been quite a week as I’ve managed to not only solve the distilled water issue, but also brought another addition to the family.

Introducing Nepenthes, Bloody Mary.

The water issue has been solved as I previously thought boiling water would kill chemicals in the water. It appears that I was wrong and this in fact can make the chemicals more concentrated. Yikes!
Instead, I have a tumble dryer at home which collects water vapour from my clothes and deposits this as distilled water, in a plastic compartment in the bottom. Then, I can remove this and pour the water into a small glass/cup for my plants!

A second issue I have is that the windows in my apartment are double glazed and greatly reduce sunlight to the plants – an issue I had not anticipated in the beginning. I’ve now hung up a pot out the front and will need to purchase some more pots for the west side too.

I’ve cut the flower from Hector (Venus Fly Trap) as the plant will spend all its energy trying to produce a flower and I want it to use that energy to thrive into the heads, instead. Even from the above image you can see how much that head on the right hand side is thriving, now I’m hoping it will turn more of a red colour in the coming weeks.

I’d like to look more into the nature of the Nepenthes, whom I shall call Henrietta, and the sacs that it uses to catch prey so I’ll elaborate on that perhaps in the next day or two. I hope these past few weeks have taught you a thing or two, as they have for me, so please do share your own thoughts and experiences if you wish!

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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.

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Heads Up!

Look around your city, town or village and you’ll find life growing in all sorts of places. One interest of mine in particular, is the way in which plants manage to grow on rooftops or even on the side of buildings.

You can spot green leaves just under the lip of my roof

The way this happens is that seeds land and germinate in between cracks of the concrete and brick and as long as they have sunlight, oxygen, warmth and water, they can survive. As a tree or plant goes through its cycle, seedlings are blown around and it is just pure luck that this is where it has landed and thrived.

If seeds make it up so high, they will have the key ingredients which will allow them to grow with plenty of sunlight, rainwater and oxygen getting to them. A healthy plant makes its own food from the sugars in sunlight, using photosynthesis.

This lonely plant is thriving all by itself


Closer view of the plant

Take a look outside your own front door and I can almost guarantee there is life growing around it, particularly if you live in an older house near a park or forest. We’ve used this technique to manipulate our cities and walls to create intricate and attractive patterns, particularly using vines.
Life is stubborn in such a way that it will try and grow wherever it can, which only emulates the beauty of its presence. Even between the cracks in concrete pavement slabs you will find life growing and a tiny little ecosystem will be growing inside, of which is completely unique to our planet.

An old castle almost completely consumed by vines

As common as it appears to us, all of it is so infinitely rare within the Universe – as are we. You can really appreciate life when you understand how determined it is to find a way to grow any way it can. There are many guides online which will teach you how to allow plants to grow in this vine-fashion if you wanted to emulate this look and it can give your walls a very unique touch.

Google search “ivy garden” for similar looks


Large, naturally growing vines on the roadside

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The Next Generation

We’ve come to an important part of my Venus Fly Trap’s life. As you see below there are many new leaves sprouting from within Hector’s roots, meaning that new heads will grow and they will take over the existing grown heads, which will now begin to decay.

New heads compete for the best spot for sunlight

This week I noticed 2 of the heads completely ignore food that wandered into its mouth, indicating that those heads are now decaying. Eventually they will wilt and brown but I shall trim them accordingly to ensure I keep the green leaves around so that they can pull in more sunlight.

You can see decay around the teeth here

The weather has been fantastic of late, it’s either blistering sunshine or intense rain and that helps Hector thrive. Although he is an indoor plant for me, I’ll often place him outside for a few hours if it rains.

It is important to not let the soil become too damp otherwise the heads will grow thin and weak.

Picture taken 8/5/16

Picture taken 12/5/16

As you can see between the images above, the plant is growing steadily and the new heads will take over in the next few weeks.

New heads are still beginning to sprout now

If you look closely you can see several heads under the leaf

Things are beginning to look a little overcrowded so I many need to consider a bigger pot. Any advice you might be able to give on repotting would be vital so please do leave a comment if you can.

From next week, I’m going to look at a more in depth analysis on how and why the Venus Fly Trap grows the way it does. From the intricate biology of the heads, to the benefits of being a carnivorous plant, we shall find out and get to know Hector in all his glory!

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Crowning Glory

We have a new addition to the family (or 2 in fact) as I’ve managed to successfully pot some strawberry plants, although as they’re just crowns for now it may take a while before we see any flowering and perhaps not even till next year that it produces fruits.

Two strawberry crowns in a packet with some bone meal

Strawberries require a lot less specific attention, as apposed to Hector our Venus Fly Trap. They are perfectly happy with tap water (although natural rain water is always best) and don’t require much, probably only a couple of inches of water once or twice a week. As long as the soil is moderately moist this should be ok, stick your finger in the compost a couple of inches deep to ensure the soil is damp below the surface.

Two strawberry crowns with the roots

All the roots should be buried with just the crown showing

Leave the crowns in water for 1 hour to allow moistness to roots

Make holes in the bottom to ensure good drainage

When potting your soil it is important to break up the compost, use a good quality soil designed for fruit and vegetable growing for best results.

Only the crown should be exposed

I would actually recommend filling up your bucket higher than I currently have, about an inch from the top. I do plan to go back and add more soil.

Two potted strawberry plants

That’s it! It is a lot easier than you may think, I will monitor the growth over the next few weeks with some updates on when it begins to sprout.

The biggest problem a lot of people face with strawberries is putting them in a place away from birds or animals so keep that in mind when you plant yours.

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