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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Carnivorous Plant Edition

I've been in the New Jersey pine barrens a few times recently, at Whitesbog in Browns Mills and at Brendan T. Byrne State Forest. While I was there I saw three kinds of delightful carnivorous plants: pitcher plants, sundews, and floating bladderworts. The picture above is of a group of pitcher plants. Click to enlarge.
The soil in the pine barrens is poor in nutrients. Up to the challenge, these plants supplement their diets, especially with nitrogen, by trapping insects. Those little pitchers contain water and digestive enzymes. When an insect enters a pitcher it is guided down and in by downward facing hairs on the interior surface which prevent its escape. It eventually falls in and its soft parts are dissolved and consumed.
This lovely but dangerous pitcher beckons with insect-attracting red lips. Pitcher plants and sundews grow in acidic conditions near water with lots of sun. You can find them by slowly walking along the shore of a pine barrens pond.
This sundew plant has sticky drops of liquid on its leaves that can trap an unwary insect and hold it while the leaf slowly curls around and then digests. If you search you can sometimes find empty empty insect victims still stuck to sundew leaves.
This is a floating bladderwort. The spoke-like arrangement of leaves at the water surface is inflated and floats the plant.
Underwater leaves have bladders that can trap tiny aquatic creatures using a trapdoor system activated by trigger hairs that respond to the touch of prey. Amazing, no? You will find these floating in still water.
Cranberries grow in the New Jersey pine barrens, and blueberries too; both are cultivated and can be found growing wild. It is worth a trip for the plants alone and the ecology is fascinating. In fact, a pine barrens special edition is coming soon.

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