Carnivorous Plants

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In a world where plants are at the bottom of the food-chain, some individual plant species have evolved ways to reverse the order we expect to find in nature. These insectivorous plants, as they are sometimes called, are the predators , rather than the passive prey. Adaptions such as odiferous lures and trapping mechanisms have made it possible for these photosynthesizers to capture, chemically break-down and digest insect prey (and in some cases even small animals.) There is no reason to fear them though. The majority are herbaceous perennials, usually only 4 to 6 inches high, and nothing like the plant in 'Little Shop of Horrors'.

Almost all carnivorous plants have a basically similar ecology and several different species are often found growing almost side by side. They are most likely to be found in swamps, bogs, damp heaths and muddy or sandy shores.

Drosophyllum lusitanicum from Portugal and Morocco is the one exception, it grows on dry gravelly hills. Like other green plants, carnivorous plants contain the organic pigment chlorophyll. This pigment helps to mediate a chemical process called photosynthesis. This converts light energy into the chemical bond energy of carbohydrate which is utilized as cellular energy, plant growth and development. Water, carbon dioxide, nutrients and minerals are also needed for survival. In wetlands, where stagnate water contains acidic compounds and chemicals from decaying organic matter many plants have a difficult time obtaining necessary nutrients. It is in these nutrient poor conditions that some plants evolved different ways of obtaining nutrients. The ability of carnivorous plants to digest nitrogen -rich animal protein enables these plants to survive in somewhat hostile environments.

The evolution of carnivorous plants is speculative due to the paucity of the fossil record. It is...