Carnivorous plants
By Smriti Daniel
Ever thought you could mess around with plants and get off scott free? It's no big deal is it? We just pluck their flowers, break their branches and eat their fruits and there's nothing a tree or plant can do to stop us…or so you think.

Over the years many species of flora have developed ways to protect themselves; some plants grow sharp thorns that prick while others cause a rash if you brush up against them. There are some plants however that manage to be much scarier than the rest - carnivorous plants!

These plants capture, kill and digest small animals and insects. They do this because the soil in which they grow is low in nutrients and they must find some other way to supplement their diets. They get their missing nutrients from the insects that they trap. I bet you're wondering how something so fragile could manage that? Well their leaves are designed differently so that they can lure and trap insects with ease.

There are hundreds of carnivorous plant species, many of which belong in different plant families. Here are some of them :

The Venus Flytrap: Dionaea muscipula, also known as the Venus Flytrap, is probably the most well known of all the carnivorous plants. Insects are lured into the mouth-like leaves by the promise of nectar. As an insect enters the trap, it brushes up against the tiny hair which cover the leaves. This movement sends impulses or messages through the plant that tell the leaves to close tight. The insect is now firmly trapped inside it's leaf prison and has no way of escaping. Glands located in the leaves themselves, release enzymes that digest the poor insect. The nutrients are then absorbed by the leaves and sent to the rest of the plant.

Sundews: Species of plants from the plant family Drosera are called Sundews. These plants are covered with tentacles that produce a sticky dew-like substance that glitters in the sunlight, hence the name Sundew. Many unsuspecting insects are attracted by the shining dew and choose to land on the leaves of the plant. As soon as they land on it, the insects find themselves stuck to the plant. The tentacles then close around the insects and digestive enzymes begin their work - first by breaking down the prey and then by extracting all the nutrients.

Tropical Pitcher plants: Plant species from the plant family Nepenthes are known as Tropical Pitcher plants. The leaves of these plants are brightly coloured and shaped like pitchers. Insects who see these beautiful, bright colours are lured to the plant in search of nectar. Any hungry insect is met with a nasty surprise however when it discovers it can't get out of the Pitcher plant's pitcher. This is because the internal walls of the leaves are covered with waxy scales that make them very slippery. Insects who perch on the pitcher are very likely to slip and fall to the bottom of the pitcher and before they can do a thing they find themselves drenched in the digestive fluids that the plants secretes.

North American Pitcher Plants: Species from the plant family Sarracenia are called North American Pitcher plants. The leaves of these plants are also shaped like pitchers. Insects are lured to the plant by nectar and may slip from the edge of the leaves and fall to the bottom of the pitcher. In some species, the insects die when they drown in water that has accumulated at the bottom of the pitcher. The plant then digests them by releasing it's enzymes into the water.

Bladderworts: Species of Utricularia are known as Bladderworts. The name comes from the tiny sacs, which resemble bladders, that grow on the stems and leaves of this plant. These plants have a "trapdoor" mechanism for capturing prey. The sacs have a small membrane cover that acts as a "door." When tiny insects brush up against the tiny hair that are located all around the door, they are sucked into the oval shaped sacs. The door then shuts, trapping the insects inside the sacs. Digestive enzymes are then released inside the sacs. These enzymes break down the insect, killing it and absorbing any nutrients it has to offer. Some of these plants such as the Swollen bladderwort are aquatic plants. They are free floating, in the sense that they do not have roots.

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