Carnivorous plants offer another extraordinary example of Convergent Evolution.  Most carnivorous species live in nitrogen deficient swamps, making nutrient uptake from soil difficult.  Amazingly, over millions of years, several plant families have developed “meat-eating” strategies in order to survive in their habitats.  Carnivorous plants demonstrate how given similar environmental pressures, evolutionary mechanisms will favor similar morphological and physiological patterns in genetically unrelated species. 

The most well known carnivorous plant is the Dionaea muscipula, or Venus Flytrap (Family Drosercaeae).  Although this species is commonly sold at local nurseries, it is a threatened species that only grows along the coastal swamps of North Carolina and northern South Carolina.

The trap mechanism is actually a modified leaf.  The upper side of the trap is red (resembling meat) in order to attract flies and other insects.  Tiny hair-like protrusions serve as a sensory mechanism to tell the trap when to close.  When three of the inside hairs are stimulated, a weak electrical signal triggers the cells at the base of the trap to swell with water, closing the trap and capturing the insect.  Special enzymes then digest the insect and the plant absorbs essential nutrients.

    • Droseraceae
    • Dionaea muscipula

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Dionaea muscipala

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Droseraceae
    • Dionaea muscipula

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Dionaea muscipala

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Droseraceae
    • Dionaea muscipala

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
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The genus Drosera, or Sundew, is also in the Droseraceae family, however it “hunts” in a very different way.  Mucilage secretions along the plant’s leaves attract insects, trapping them in the highly viscous and sticky liquid.  The plant then digests the insects.  Drosera species can be found on nearly every continent except Antarctica, and grow in nutrient-poor soil, varying from rainforest to desert.


    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera sp.

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera capensis

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera regia

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera binata var. multifida

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera binata var.multifida

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera binata var. multifida

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Droseraceae
    • Drosera sp.

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
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Similar to Drosera is the genus Pinguicula, in the family Lentibulariaceae.  These plants grow in nearly every environment and also use insects to supplement their nutrition.


    • Lentibulariaceae
    • Pinguicula ehlersae x oblongifolia

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Lentibulariaceae
    • Pinguicula ehlersai x

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Lentibulariaceae
    • Pinguicula ehlersai x

    • Photo Credit: Erika Kirsten Reiter
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Another “hunting” method seen in carnivorous plants is the pitcher structure.  This feeding method has developed in mainly two unrelated families – the family Nepenthaceae grows in the eastern tropics (Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Madagascar), while the family Sarraceniaceae grows in southeastern United States and parts of South America.

Although these families of pitcher plants are unrelated, they both grow in similar environments and resemble each other superficially.  Both families secrete insect-attracting fluids along the rim of their pitchers, and have developed a slippery surface inside their traps to prevent prey from escaping.  Enzymes are secreted to digest captured insects, or sometimes small rodents in larger species.

The Nepenthaceae family was one of Carl Linnaeus’ (the father of Botany) favorite species.  The story goes that when he first saw a pitcher plant species, he was so excited that he named the genus Nepenthes after the drug Helen of Troy gave to lift the spirits of the nearly defeated Trojan army.



    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes dyeriana

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes alata

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes dyeriana

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes maxima

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes rafflesiana

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes rafflesiana

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes ventricosa

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Nepenthaceae
    • Nepenthes x dyeriana

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Nepentheaceae
    • Nepenthes x dyeriana

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
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The flowering period Sarraceniaceae also exhibits an incredibly adaptated flowering period.  Each Spring, flowers occur before the growth of new pitchers in order to prevent the plants’ pollinators (mostly insects) from also becoming trapped in the pitchers.  Once pollination is complete, the feast begins! (Make sure to check out pictures of the very strange Sarracenia flowers at the end of the slide show below)



    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia minor

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia leucophylla

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia flava

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia rosea

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia leucophylla

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia purpurea

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia hybrid x

    • Photo Credit: Matthew J. Cicanese
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia hybrid x

    • Photo Credit: Jenny Gordon
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia species

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
    • Sarraceniaceae
    • Sarracenia leucophylla

    • Photo Credit: Jacob Golan
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Page by Jacob Golan 

 
  • Equisetaceae
  • Fabaceae
  • Commeliniaceae
  • Ericaceae
  • Araceae
  • Begoniaceae
  • Araceae
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