Carnivorous Plants of America
Carnivorous plants are plants that feed on insects or protozoans. Their feeding habits are an adaptation that lets them live in places with nutrient-poor soil. A carnivorous plant is defined as one in which the plant has the means to lure and ensnare prey and to digest the results. Plants that have only some of these traits are sometimes described as “protocarnivorous.” There are 630 species of wholly carnivorous plants and 300 species of protocarnivorous plants. Carnivorous plants can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
American examples of carnivorous plants include the following:
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) lives in bogs in the Carolinas of the United States. It is the only member of its genus and is a member of the sundew family Droseraceae. It owes its name to the modified leaves it uses to trap prey. The trap has hairs inside it that detect the movements of an insect or spider. The trap only closes, however, if the prey touches two hairs. That prevents the flytrap from closing its trap on something it can’t eat.
The round-leaved sundew or common sundew (Drosera rotundifloria) is one of the 194 species in its genus. It can be found in northern Europe, Siberia and parts of Asia. In the Americas, it occurs in much of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, the Appalachian Mountains, and southern Alaska. It also lives on the East Coast where it can be found as far south as Georgia. It lives in wetlands. The common sundew has bright red leaves covered with a sticky, sugary substance. Its color and sugary nectar attract flying insects that the plants traps and eats.
The oblong-leaved sundew or spoonleaf sundew (Drosera intermedia) is another plant with a vast range that includes parts of Europe. It is, however, found mostly in the Americas and can be found in northern South America, Cuba, east of the Mississippi in the US, and southeastern Canada. Like its relatives, it has leaf blades covered with stalked glands that secrete a sticky and sugary nectar that attracts and traps flying insects. It grows in sunny wetlands. Its carnivory enables it to grow in such poor soils as sand or peat.
The California pitcher plant or cobra lily (Darlingtonia californica) belongs to the family Sarraceniaceae which is one the pitcher plant families. It lives in Oregon and northern California and it favors wetlands with cold running water. Its modified leaves form a hood reminiscent of a cobra’s. The hood produces an attractive scent that lures insects, and the transparent parts of the tube confuse the insect which mistakes them for exits. The inside of the plant is smooth and slippery and contains hairs all pointing downward. Eventually the insect falls into the pool of digestive enzymes at the bottom.
Sarracenia is a genus of pitcher plants called the trumpet pitchers. There are 8 to 11 species, and they all occur in North America. Trumpet pitchers have modified leaves shaped like funnels that trap insects. The leaves are also brightly colored and produce an enticing scent that lures the insects to their doom. These pitcher plants have flowers that grow in the early spring. They either accompany the pitchers or grow before them. The flowers are red or yellow and hang upside-down.
Bladderworts all belong to the genus Utricularia. There are over 200 species, and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Some species are aquatic, while others are terrestrial. They are famous for their flowers which have been compared to those of orchids or snapdragons. They have bladder-like traps they use to catch prey which can range from protozoans to small tadpoles.
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