Carnivorous Plants

Plants can be killers too, and in Headwaters we have at least three varieties of carnivorous plants that consume small animals.

July 4, 2023 | | Notes from the Wild

Imagine being reduced to the size of a cricket. The world would suddenly become a very dangerous place. You’d cast furtive glances in every direction and be hyper vigilant for sound and movement. The phrase “here be monsters” would be imbued with vital meaning – robins, shrews and toads would be out for your blood. Your diminutive self might take refuge among plants, hiding within their foliage.

Ahh, but plants can be killers, too. In Headwaters we have at least three varieties of plants that consume small animals. One of these is the purple pitcher plant, a species of quirky beauty.

pitcher plant Ontario

Writer and photographer Don Scallen gets up close to the carnivorous pitcher plant

pitcher plant Ontario

View from the top of the pitcher plant

Its beauty has elevated the pitcher plant to the rarified status of provincial flower in Newfoundland and Labrador, where their bog habitat dominates the landscape. They are aptly named. Large pitcher-shaped leaves hold water wells that drown insects and other prey that fall into them. Underlining their macabre appeal are blood-red “veins” networking those leaves.

Not long ago, researchers in Algonquin Park rocked the botanical world by revealing that pitcher plants included vertebrates in their diets. They discovered that 20 percent of the pitcher plants in an Algonquin bog had “swallowed” juvenile spotted salamanders!

The flower of the pitcher plant can even catch salamanders

Where pitcher plants grow, sundews are often found. Also suitably named, these tiny carnivores have leaves festooned with droplet-tipped filaments that sparkle in sunlight, like morning dew. Their allure is dangerous, however. Tiny creatures keen on supping that dew tempt fate – if they touch the sticky dew-capped threads they risk becoming ensnared.

The dewy filaments of the carnivorous sundew

The other vegetable carnivore in Headwaters is bladderwort. These aquatic plants float in quiet ponds and lakes. Their namesake bladders are chambers with little doors that open suddenly to invite insects in, and then, like a horror-movie trope, close quickly. Trapped inside, the prey dies, and is gradually absorbed.

Bladderwort Ontario

Common bladderwort floats silently, awaiting its next victim

The flower of the common bladderwort

The takeaway? Be grateful that you’re big enough to eat plants and not the other way around!

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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