Last week I profiled the Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula). Most folks are familiar with that one, but there are several more insect consuming plants in our locale. We don’t often encounter them since they usually live in wet boggy areas. Some live submerged in water.
The most common insect lover is my favorite, the pitcher plant (Sarracenia sp.). Several species abound locally. They are called pitcher plants because modified leaves form structures that hold water and look like pitchers.
These pitchers possess downward facing hair-like structures that keep insects from escaping. The hollow receptacles contain nectar that lures their prey down into the enzyme containing liquid. Before long the insects are digested. Sometimes even frogs fall prey to these plants.
Not all trespassers are trapped though. A species of parasitic wasp builds its nest inside the pitchers and is not harmed by the environment. Many spiders are also able to enter and exit without consequence. They can even steal some of the goodies.
I enjoy hitting the Maine blueberry bogs every summer. My main goal is obvious, but I also love admiring the pitcher plants. These bug catchers are usually chartreuse trimmed with red, but color can vary greatly. Some types have long narrow pitchers, while others are short and broader.
Another carnivorous plant I see in the blueberry bogs is also a Tar Heel State resident. Sundews (Drosera sp.) have hair-like structures that produce a sticky material. It works like the old-fashioned fly strips. Leaves usually contribute to the capture by enveloping the victim.
Sundews are easily overlooked because of their small size. Often they are confused with Venus flytraps from a distance. Both are reddish and possess leaves with spiny edges. Upon closer scrutiny the difference is obvious.
North Carolina is also host to an aquatic insectivore called a bladderwort (Utricularia sp). They are usually overlooked. Most of the time plants are entirely underwater. However, in late spring and early summer they bloom. Clusters of white yellow or purple flowers resembling pea flowers emerge above the surface.
Many people have seen bladderworts in fish tanks. Plants have no roots. They have hollow structures a little like those of pitcher plants. These hairy edged bladders are touched by aquatic insects and that triggers them to suck in their prey.
All carnivorous plants have two things in common other than trapping insects. First, they all live in relatively infertile environments where most plant life struggles. The terrestrial species all favor acidic soils. Bladderworts are most common in slow moving acidic waters.
Secondly, they all live in areas with subfreezing temperatures. Some dwell as far north as central Alaska and northern Canada. Pollution is a far greater threat than cold temperatures.
Many of these unique plants are also protected from harvest or any other type of molestation. If you would like to use one in your landscape or keep as a houseplant you should research thoroughly. Choosing the wrong species even without ill intent could get you in trouble. It’s best to buy these guys only from reputable nurseries.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.