Monday, January 28, 2013

Carnivorous Carnival

By Sharon Powell  

In order to understand the world of botany in relation to carnivorous plants, it is important to identify the meaning of the word. Carnivorous simply refers to plants that prey on animals for their survival. Carnivorous plants provide a unique balance of nature within the world and quite often help to reduce crop damage for farmers, and maintain a balance within insect populations.

The colorful shapes of the tropical pitcher can be an interesting edition to anyone’s garden. The total number of carnivorous species is somewhere between six to eight hundred different types.  Pitcher species are located in various regions throughout the world all offering a variety of color and size. The natural order of all carnivores is to trap their prey in order to provide a nutritious meat for digesting while supporting nutritional needs.

Carnivorous plants began to grow in greater numbers once the invention of the greenhouse took shape during the Roman Empire. Pitchers, and other exotic plants experienced increased growth during the 16th and 17th Centuries where elite members of society began cultivating the plants within controlled environments. Nurseries and breeding programs developed several plant species for show. Gardeners and anyone with a “green-thumb” would enter botanical contests in an effort to receive special recognition and monentary awards for their selections.


Carnivorous plant life can be found in various parts of the world. Depending upon the climate, many species can be enjoyed within the privacy of your own home or garden. The most important resource to the “Pitcher plant” is its climate and soil needs. Most pitchers require a certain type of soil which is crucial to its survival.  Soil requirements are often limited according to the geographical region. Soils such as, Pumice, Limestone, Lavarack, Perlite, Sand, and Vermiculite, which is commonly used for insulating much of the world’s consumer products and architectural designs make up the foundation of the Pitcher’s root system. Other “Pitcher” species require “Sphagnum Moss” and climates offering high degrees of humidity. Many pitchers are found growing wild within tropical climates, in addition to “mountainous terrains,” “hills,” and “Bogs” located throughout the world. Wild pitcher plants sprout in early spring, and are considered to be “perennial plants,” or, plants that live for many years.

Pictured above is the Nepenthes Northaiana. Although various species offer a variety of shapes and sizes, the “Northiana” is one of the largest species of pitchers and is in danger of becoming extinct. The magnificent plant grows on limestone covered surfaces where cliffs and tropical conditions are favored. The pitcher can reach heights of up to 14 inches and is uniquely colored with a reddish bronze “trap,” and “crimson colored leaf” surrounding its cornucopia shaped mouth. The lower portion of the plant is referred to as the “trap” and contains a thick and almost syrupy fluid where insects and other prey sink to the bottom and drown. The “trap” is also very important to the plants digestive system, and contain large quantities of “acidity and enzymes” which help dissolve prey. Pitchers are also able to re-absorb nutrition from the syrupy fluid allowing them to sustain life when prey becomes scarce. The Northiana feeds upon large insects including crickets, sow bugs, meal worms, and dried insects throughout the year.

Carnivorous plants are unique and very interesting editions to the world of botany. Their existence provides balance of nature within our environment and forestry resources. To learn more about the world of Carnivorous Botany contact your local library or go to………..S. Powell, 2011

1.) Peter D. Amato The Savage Garden, Cultivating Carnivorous Plants, Berkeley CA, Ten Speed Press, 1998.
2.)Densey Clyne, Plants of Prey, Milwaukee, WI, Gareth Sterns Publishing, 1998.
3.) Elaine Pascoe, Carnivorous Plants, Farmington Hills, MI, New York, NY, London, Munich, Detroit, San Francisco, New Haven, Watery E. Maine. Blackbirtch Press, 2005.

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