Most everyone knows about the bug catching capabilities of the exotic Venus Flytrap, but did you know that the only place in the world where Venus flytraps grow is in the United States along the Atlantic coast in North and South Carolina?
What’s even more exciting is that we have bug-eating plants right here in Michigan! Carnivorous plants grow throughout the world in a variety of habitats and elevations but what most of these ecosystems have in common are the low nutrient availability of the soils which is the reason behind the evolution of the plant in order to gather nutrients by other means - they now can get their nutrients from tasty insects buzzing around the swamps and thus are able to thrive in these areas.
In Michigan, we have three different genera of carnivorous plants: Sarracenia spp. or the Pitcher Plants, Drosera spp. or the Sundews, and Utricularia spp. or the Bladderworts. All three live in low nutrient, wet environments such as acidic sphagnum bogs or wet marly fens, and species of all three genera can be found in Oakland County.
The Pitcher Plants consume their prey when they are attracted to the modified leaves or tubes of the plant and fall down into the trap but are unable to escape due to the downward facing hairs on the inside of the pitchers. The tubes are filled with fluid containing digestive enzymes which slowly consume the insect, spider or even the occasional frog in a potent soup providing all the nutrients for the plant to flourish.
Sundews are associates of Pitcher Plants, often growing directly alongside each other, yet they have a completely different trapping mechanism. The leaves of the sundew have several hairs on them each with a drop of sticky “glutinous secretion” or natural glue at the tip. The unfortunate insect that decides to trespass upon these leaves will adhere to the hairs, unable to escape as the leaf slowly closes around the insect. The sundew’s hunting method is slow and methodical; yet extraordinarily effective. A study conducted in England in the late seventies counted insects caught in a bog and estimated over six million insects were trapped in a bog of only two acres! (Heslop-Harrison, 1978)
And, finally our Bladderworts are found in the wetter areas of the bog or fen, aquatic plants that have modified root systems with traps or “bladders” at their base which grab onto and ingest tiny aquatic life as it floats through the water.
All three plant types are not just fascinating to learn of, observe in the wild, and even grow in a container garden; but they also have a true aesthetic beauty and simply gorgeous flowers of red, pink or yellow.
Carnivorous plants are my personal favorite group of plants – is there anything cooler than a plant that eats bugs?!?
Check out this AMAZING BBC video of Venus Flytraps:
Another video to enjoy of a bug being caught by a Sundew:
I enjoy growing a variety of carnivorous plants as houseplants – both temperate and tropical. A great book describing the diversity and growing methods of carnivores is entitled “The Savage Garden” by Peter D’Amato.
Charles Darwin was fascinated by the carnivorous plants and you can read his writings on this group of plants for free!
Free Kindle e-book
“Insectivorous Plants” by Charles Darwin
International Carnivorous Plant Society (ICPS)
Botanical Society of America – Carnivorous and Insectivorous Plants
The above photo was taken at a phenomenal bog right here in Oakland County in Rose Township!