Flesh-eating plants? Oh yes, they exist. We've turned them into the subjects of dark tales and horror movies. But the reality of them is far more morbidly fascinating than any Hollywood creation.
In areas where soil nutrients are so low that flora life struggles to survive, such a bogs or rainforest floors, some plants have made amazing adaptations, turning their bodies into wells to lure and drown victims, or topping off tiny hairs with a sweet-smelling sticky substance to trap and digest insects, or even snapping shut and trapping a curious bug.
There are five basic ways that carnivorous plants lure and trap insects and other tiny bits of food:
Pitfall traps (pitcher plants) trap prey in a rolled leaf that contains a pool of digestive enzymes or bacteria.
Flypaper traps use a sticky mucilage.
Snap traps utilize rapid leaf movements.
Bladder traps suck in prey with a bladder that generates an internal vacuum.
Lobster-pot traps force prey to move towards a digestive organ with inward-pointing hairs.
While the act of catching and digesting prey is passive for some plants, for plants where movement helps them capture their prey, the leaves play an active roll. The most well known example is the Venus Fly Trap which snaps shut on its victims as soon as it senses movement.
Sundews are also an active species. According to Wikipedia, the leaves "undergo rapid acid growth, which is an expansion of individual cells as opposed to cell division. The rapid acid growth allows the sundew tentacles to bend, aiding in the retention and digestion of prey."
Carnivorous plants are more prevalent than one might think. There are over a dozen genera of carnivorous plants that include around 630 species. And over 300 more species exhibit some of the traits of carnivorous plants though they are considered "protocarnivorous".
Arguably the most popular carnivorous plant to have in your own home is the Venus Fly Trap. There's something we morbid humans love about seeing a plant -- a brainless, eyeless, noseless, earless, and really mouthless thing -- snap shut of a fly and slowly devour it.
There are dozens of "cultivars" or cultivated varieties of Venus Fly Traps sold in the marketplace. However, while an estimated 3million to 6 million plants exist in cultivation, only around 35,800 plants are found in the wild, making several leading plant conservationists suggest they should be labeled as Vulnerable.