In this post, we’re digging into science and evolution a bit. Yeah, the nerdy stuff! As if raising these plants wasn’t nerdy enough already, right? 😀 Part of what’s so fascinating about these plants are the theories on how they evolved, and the relationships they’ve formed with other plants and animals (that don’t involve being eaten!). Read on to learn some fascinating facts on your favorite carnivorous plants!
The earliest known carnivorous plant was called Archaeamphora longicervia, which is now extinct. Fossil material of this plant was found in northeastern China, and is dated to the Early Cretaceous period (about 145 to 101 million years ago) . It was described as a pitcher plant, and may have belonged to Sarraceniaceae family, which includes Sarracenia, Darlingtonia, and Heliamphora. To date, it’s the only fossil evidence of pitcher plants we’re aware of. Archaeamphora is also one of the three oldest flowering plants. (Source)
- The waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda) is a genus of rootless, aquatic carnivorous plants, the only existing species being Aldrovanda vesiculosa. All other species are extinct. Aldrovanda has a trap mechanism very similar to the Venus fly trap, but in fact triggers up to ten times quicker! It’s also the most widely distributed carnivorous plant species, though not due to it’s aquatic nature- it often sticks to the feet of migrating birds! (Source)
- Evolutionary history of most carnivorous plants is widely unknown. They do not form easily fossilizable structures such as bark or wood. Most fossil evidence is based on seeds. With little to no fossil records, it’s difficult to connect modern carnivores to a common ancestor. Current hypotheses propose that Venus fly traps and waterwheel plants are closely related and share a common ancestor with sundews (drosera). (Source)
- Charles Darwin performed some unusual (and cruel?) experiments on the Venus Fly trap, including paralyzing the traps by making certain incisions, and anesthetizing them with ether! (Source: The Savage Garden)
- The purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is the official flower of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Yes, it’s native to that region and is extremely cold-hardy and easy to care for!
A typical dormancy for most plants is in the coldness of winter, while the growing season is in the warmth of spring and summer. However for some carnivores, their dormancy is reversed! Tuberous and pygmy sundews have their dormancy periods during warm, dry summers, and their grow season during cool, wet winters
- The natural range of sundews stretches from Alaska to New Zealand! They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Australia has the highest diversity, and is home to about 50% of all Sundew species. South America and Southern Africa are next up, each home to over 20 different sundew species.
- The Australian pitcher plant (Cephalotus follicularis) is more closely related to apples and oak than other carnivorous plants like Nepenthes! (Source)
Nepenthes pitchers aren’t just for catching food. They also serve as habitats for other animals. For example, in the rain forests of Borneo, Hardwicke’s woolly bats regularly roost inside the pitchers of N. hemslyana for protection from predators. In return, the nitrogen from the bat droppings makes an excellent fertilizer for the plant! The size of the pitcher and the low level of digestive fluid in N. hemslyana in particular makes it a perfect roosting spot for the bat. This species is also not the best bug catcher, so the fertilizer from the bat poo plays a huge role in keeping the plant healthy and ensuring its survival. (Source)
Do you know something interesting, weird, or totally nerdy about carnivorous plants? The rest of us carnivorous plant nerds need to know! Leave a comment and I might include your wisdom in a new post (with credit of course)!