Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.

From 2015 onward, new posts will appear only here: http://www.sierraclub.org/greenlife


The Green Life: Little Bog of Horrors: 4 Types of Deadly Plants

« Emmanuelle Chriqui Takes on Hollywood's Trash | Main | Sowing "Seeds of Hope": An Interview with Jane Goodall »

July 15, 2013

Little Bog of Horrors: 4 Types of Deadly Plants

Venus flytrapIt's not easy being a bug. Not only do they have to avoid being eaten by other insects and animals or being smushed by shoes, they also have to avoid the efficient traps set by carnivorous plants.

Carnivorous plants live in nutrient-poor environments, like bogs, where they survive by capturing invertebrates and digesting them for nutrients. There are several methods of entrapment that these unique species of plants have developed, making them experts at capturing those unlucky little bugs.

Four Ways Carnivorous Plants Trap Prey

Pitcher plant with fly on rim1.) Pitfall Traps 

Pitcher plants (or families Nepenthaceae and Sarraceniaceae) have rolled leaves that form steep, slippery sides leading down to a vat full of digestive enzymes and water full of bacteria, respectively. 

If the deep burgundy coloring (mimicking decaying meat), floral fragrances, or the smell of trapped prey aren't enough to draw a prey item in, these plants also have cells that generate UV light to entice them further.

2.) Snap Traps

A Venus flytrap and the waterwheel plant (the aquatic cousin of the Venus flytrap) are perfect examples of a carnivorous plant with a snap trap. The plants' leaves are hinged at the base and when certain trigger hairs are touched in succession, the leaves shut with their prey inside. Plants with snap traps release digestive enzymes from glands on the leaves and, as the insect decomposes, the leaves absorb the insect. Once a meal is fully absorbed, the trap reopens and waits for its next victim. 


3.) Suction Traps

Only found on bladderworts, suction traps are a unique, highly modified leaf. Bladderworts live in aqueous environments and their name comes from the fact that the leaves are shaped like a bladder. In the same way that the snap traps are activated by trigger hairs, the bladderwort has a hinged door lined with trigger hairs that seals its prey inside of the leaf.

Sticky sundew4.) Flypaper Traps

Carnivorous plants such as sundews and butterworts excrete a sticky, gelatinous-like substance called mucilage from stalked glands that cover the leaves. An unsuspecting insect becomes instantly trapped, unable to break away from the adhesive. Once their prey is captured, these plants slowly roll down their leaves and digest the insect. There are 152 listed species of sundews and 80 species of butterworts.


Bonus: Want to learn more about carnivorous plants? We like Peter D'Amato's book The Savage Garden, Revised: Cultivating Carnivorous Plants (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

-- Image courtesy of iStockphoto/ejkrouse, iStockphoto/CHKnox, and iStockphoto/Argument


Christine_Coester_SMChristine Coester is an editorial intern at Sierra. A fan of flora and fauna, she has a passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. Currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she is studying journalism with the hopes of making the world a better and greener place.



How We Roll: 5 Great Eco-Products for Cars

Pet Provender: 5 Eco-Friendly Dog and Cat Foods

Green Your Bedroom: Our Eco-Sex Guide

User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top