Plants with big appetite help rid garden of insects
THERE are some really weird plants in the world, but perhaps the weirdest of all are the carnivorous plants.
No, they don't eat small children or the neighbour's dog. They mostly eat insects, but some of the larger ones have been known to consume frogs and small birds and mammals.
These plants evolved in areas where conditions are very harsh, and the plants struggle to get sufficient nutrients from the soil.
So they have developed ingenious methods of getting the nutrients they need by digesting animals.
There are many different types, and they occur throughout the world, except in Antarctica.
Perhaps the most well-known and easily grown of all the carnivorous plants is the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea musipula).
Occurring naturally as a ground cover in open forest areas of Carolina in the United States, the Venus Fly Trap is a truly wonderful thing.
It produces a short fleshy leaf with a modified tip that forms two sides of the trap.
Each side of the trap contains tiny hairs which, when touched a couple of times, cause the two sides to spring shut, thus trapping the insect inside.
Kids of all ages love to watch the leaves snap shut on some poor wriggling fly.
The digestive process begins as the hairs sense the wriggling insect once the trap is shut
The plant releases a series of enzymes which slowly dissolve the internal juices of the insect and convert them to food.
Venus Fly Traps are easy to grow, needing a minimum of four hours direct sunlight each day.
They must be kept moist at all times, which is best achieved by sitting them in a tray of water.
Pitcher plants, or Sarracenias, are another fabulous easy-to-grow bug-eating plant. These have a different, but equally successful, bug catching technique.
Unlike the Venus Fly Trap, whose leaves snap shut on the hapless insect, the pitcher plants are sneaky, using sweet nectar in the mouth of the pitcher to lure the insect into the trap.
Once the insect enters the tube it has no chance of escape - the inside of the tube is slippery and may have downward pointing hairs, leaving the poor insect at the mercy of the super-efficient digestive enzymes.
Sarracenias love a wet, sunny position. Keep the pot sitting in a tray of water, or grow them in a pond, but don't fully submerge the pot.
The leaves of the Sarracenias are beautiful; some are short and plump, others are tall and majestic.
They are available in a range of colours, including green, white, pink and red, and the patterns can be exquisite.
Tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes) are climbing Australasian plants.
Plant colouration, scent and nectar both on the plant and around the rim and hood of the pitcher attract a wide range of insects to the pitchers.
Thanks to a waxy internal surface and an inward facing, slippery rim, insects fall into the pitchers and can't escape.
There are many different varieties of Nepenthes. The largest plants can grow several metres high and produce pitchers over 60cm long.
Nepenthes need a humid, semi-shaded position, with protection from the afternoon sun.
Drosera catch insects in a sticky nectar secreted at the end of very fine tentacles on the branching leaves.
The nectar is so abundant that it gives the plant the appearance of being covered in dew, hence the common name of Sundew.
If you're interested in carnivorous plants, then take a look at the FAQ section of http://www.sarracenia.com, from the International Carnivorous Plant Society.
It contains some great information, including a detailed description of an experiment performed by the author to determine whether Venus Fly Traps can digest human flesh.