Food for Thought
What’s red and green, eats bugs, and lives at BBG? The carnivorous plant display that curator Cayleb Long has recently placed on Lily Pool Terrace. Four large pots at the corners of the pools and one at the top of the steps all hold a variety of these fascinating plants, not only the well-known Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), but also different species and cultivars of pitcher plant (Sarracenia), a North American native that also gets its nutrients by digesting insects and other creatures. Many people are probably already familiar with the flytrap’s specialized, hinged leaves, which snap shut to trap unlucky insects. Pitcher plants have a different strategy for luring prey. Their leaves have evolved to look and smell like flowers—they’re tube-shaped, often reddish, and they secrete nectar. Hungry insects land on their edges, which have hair-like projections that cause them to loose their balance and fall inside. Some species are also able to catch small fish when the water table rises enough to submerge them. “Other species have even been found with the remains of frogs and rodents inside,” says Long.
Both the flytrap and the pitcher plant developed their carnivorous characteristics in order to adapt to the nutrient-poor ground of bog environments. Long has planted them in a mixture of peat and sand to mimic this habitat. They also like a lot of sun, so they do best outdoors—and of course this is a better place to attract prey. “They’re really fun to grow and easy if you give them the proper media and care,” says Long. “People should try this at home.” says Long.
For more information on how to grow pitcher plants at home, see BBG’s Saraccenia Plant Profile.