David Attenborough is mesmerised by meat-eating plants and got close up and personal with the pond-dwelling Bladderworts, when he saw them for the firt time in time-lapse photography, snapping shut their traps in less than a millisecond, which is something that even his keen eye can’t witness without help (Evening Standard)
Some years ago I was lucky enough to meet Sir David Attenborough to interview him about his then new 3-part mini series of SKY 3D, which he filmed at Kew Gardens. As David predicted, plant enthusiasts were mesmerized by the 3D camera work that captured in a more profound way, plants in all their guises and especially the fascinating and sinister meat-eating carnivorous plants.
These plants have always captured David’s imagination, but in the program the plants revealed that they can be every bit as dynamic and aggressive as animals!
He particularly liked seeing the pond-dwelling Bladderworts in time-lapse as they snap shut their traps in less than a millisecond, something the naked eye obviously can’t witness and watching Sundews as they search for and catch their prey with their sticky tentacles, which suck the life blood from the insects.
He is also fascinated by the nasty antics of tropical Pitcher plants, which are native to Madagascar, Southeast Asia, and Australia and especially the ones that are epiphytic and live on the branches of trees high in the treetops. These plants resemble goblets of all shapes and sizes into which insects fall and lose their footing and slip into the trap. As they can’t escape, they are slowly dissolved by a concoction of enzymes and juices and the plant then absorbs, the soup of nutrients that remains.
Curiously we can grow these plants and especially the ever-popular Venus Fly Trap at home. You don’t need any specialist equipment provided they are grown in moist sphagnum moss and watered with clean rainwater and stood on a bright windowsill. You may need to provide the food for them, feeding them with one or two small insects each week, or even every two weeks!
GYO – eco-friendly fly killers!
Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula) – insects are attracted by nectar inside the trap, dangerously close to trigger hairs within the jaws of the trap, which when touched twice cause the trap to snap shut. There are many different forms with traps that grow large enough to catch bluebottles and even wasps in the summer. You’ll find that spiders, slugs and daddy long legs are also regular victims.
Trumpet pitcher (Sarracenia) – have a large appetite and excellent for catching houseflies and wasps, which are attracted by nectar around the lip of the pitcher trap. They eventually lose their footing on the waxy surface and slide down into the pitcher, where they die and are digested by enzymes. As there are eight species with many sub-species and variations that offer plants that are different in trap and flower shape and size and colour, they are a much sought-after collectable.
Bladderworts (Utricularia) – are the largest group of carniverous plants that catch the tiniest insects in their tiny underground bladders. When trigger hairs are touched a trap door opens and the bladder sucks in the prey, ejects the water and resets itself! You need a microscope to see them at work but the plants are still worth growing for their impressive flowers. Grow them on a bright windowsill.
Sundews (Drossera) – produce sticky leaves that are perfect for catching fruit flies in the greenhouse and around the compost bin. It’s important to keep the roots moist, so stand the pot in a saucer of rainwater and always follow the care instructions as some, such as Darlingtonia california can even be grown outside!
Butterworts (Pinguicula) – whiteflies get caught up on the sticky leaves making them perfect for growing in the greenhouse and especially if you are growing tomatoes and fuchsias that are often plagued by whitefly. Butterworts also make excellent houseplants if grown on a north-facing windowsill. Native to the UK is Pincuicula grandiflora, which is best grown outside or in a cold greenhouse.
All carnivorous plants dislike nutrients in the compost but some prefer free drainage while others need boggy conditions. Make your own using one-part perlite, one-part lime-free grit and two-parts fine milled bark. Venus fly traps thrive when grown in five-parts sphagnum moss mixed with 3-parts horticultural sand and 2-parts perlite.