The Little Family Grows!

I thought I’d surprised you and let you know that the garden has grown to host 5 different species of carnivorous plant.

Previously, I’ve brought up my progress with the Venus Fly Trap, the Drosera Capensis Alba and lastly, Nepenthes Bloody Mary but now we have 2 additions.

Sarracenia, Velvet


On the left, with the tall shoots, I am particularly fond of this new addition given its size. The wind blows it around in a mental fashion, a bit like those giant inflatable men you see sometimes!

Darlingtonia, Californica


Very young by the looks of it and also very crowded. They’ll be fine as they are for now.

Mostly I’ve seen flies, spiders and even a ladybug visit the plants and most fall victim to one of these carnivores if they hang around long enough. Who can blame them, I’ve essentially put out a deadly buffet for them.

I’m wrapping my head around creating a miniature bog for them all to live in, this will probably have to be done when the plants are dorment during winter so it’s just a planning phase for the time being.

Health and growth seem to be steady for all the plants, it’s been very, very wet this past month or so, so really keeping my fingers crossed for some sun! Here’s the gang all together for a group selfie.

Sarracenia Velvet and Darlingtonia will get their own individual pages wrote up about them as I study them over the next week or so, so expect to see some in depth analysis there. The strawberries I planted haven’t grown at all so I expect the crowns were dead when I brought them. Not to fret, I will be coming into some trims from another strawberry plant so I can continue with that as my little side project soon enough!

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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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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!

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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!

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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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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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