Why do Insectivorous plants exist?

If you find insectivorous plants strange and fascinating then this blog is for you.

What are insectivorous plants?

Insectivorous plants are those plants that derive some nutrients by trapping and consuming animals, mainly insects.

Categories of being insectivorous

There are essential two things that a plant has to do to be considered insectivorous:-

  1. Ability to take nutrients from dead prey:- a plant should have the ability to trap the prey and absorb nutrients from it. Those prey is usually insects or small vertebrates like, salamanders. It is not enough for the plant just to have defenses that can kill an animal that’s trying to snack on it. It also has to get it’s animal’s nutrients.
  2. At least have one adaption:- the plant need to have one adaption that actively lures in, catches, or digests it’s prey.

Doing at least one of these things and absorbing the nutrients for it’s benefit make it a insectivorous plant.

Plant traps

Over millions of years and across hundreds of species, plants have developed five different types of traps, most of them are from different times. And traps can be passive, if prey just fall into them and can’t escape, or active, if plant actually moves to catch its prey.

  1. Pitcher plant:- pitfall traps are the standard and passive trap used by plants like pitcher plants. Prey lands on the plants slippery surface and slides down into a pool of digestive juices.
  2. Sundews:- these are flypaper traps in which the prey become stuck in a sticky substance that is produced by the plant leaves. These traps can be passive as well as active. Sundews have sticky moving tentacles that react to contract with prey.
  3. Venus fly trap:- these are snap traps which are active, using rapid modified leave
  4. Bladderworts: they have bladder-suction. This creates little negative pressure vacuum inside their traps, which, when triggered by prey, pop open and suck the victim inside before snapping close.
  5. Lobster-pot trap:- they passive traps that force prey to move towards the plant’s digestive organ by having little inward pointing hairs that keep prey from moving backward out of the trap.
Venus fly trap
Lobster-pot trap
Bladderworts
Sundew
Pitcher plant

All of these unrelated plants have not only developed the same kinds of traps but it looks like they have also developed that same molecular mechanism for digesting their prey.

Reason of existence

It goes back to idea of convergent evolution. All these different insectivorous plants are responding to similar environmental pressure:-

  1. Found in open sunny places that have moist but nutrients – poor – acidic soil. Many of them live in bogs and fens.
  2. In these kind of habitat where nitrogen and phosphorus is not present in the soil, the plant tend to developed two kinds of leaves one for normal photosynthesis and one that are modified onto their particular type of trap.
  3. This results them to invest more in modified leaves than normal photosynthesis leaves as they have to live in a place with enough sunlight as well as to trap preys

Insectivorous plants can stop paying carnivorous temporally once they’re put in nutrients rich soil and if they don’t get enough sunlight and water.

Insectivorous plants are pretty rare and they are only found in certain kinds of habitats, they are just less likely to fossilize than other kinds of plants that are more widespread.

Succulents

Succulents are indoor plants which can grow with very little water. They are ornamental plants and are used to decorate spaces for their interesting shapes and colours. If you are in search of house plants which can thrive with little care succulents are for you. Over the last few years succulents have grown very popular. There are hundreds of unique varieties and one doesn’t need gardening skills to care for them, anyone can grow them. They have special water storing tissues which help them to grow even in very dry conditions which is not favorable for most other plants. So, they are ideal for growing in your living room. They are also very easy to find in nurseries and shops.  

In botany, succulent are plants which are thick and fleshy to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning ‘juice’, or ‘sap’. These plants may store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems. The natural habitats of these water preserving plants are in areas where there is high temperatures and low rainfall, like deserts. Having the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, succulents are equipped to survive in an ecosystem with scarce water sources. In horticulture, the term succulent regularly excludes cacti. However in botanical terminology, cacti fall under succulents.  

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Some easy to grow succulent varieties are –  

Burro’s tail – It is a trailing succulent that looks good in a hanging basket or container so it can drape over. The stems can reach up to 3 feet long and have gray-green leaves which looks like the grains of rice. Although it rarely blooms, pink or red flowers might be visible at the end of the stems in summer.  

Christmas Cactus – It has flat segmented stems like crab claws which gives it the nick name crab claw cactus. It also prefers a bit more moisture so you can water it whenever the top inch of soil in the container is dry. Keeping it in bright light near a window, can make it bloom in winter.  

Hens and Chickens – It is a very common type of succulent and is characterised by flower like structures with round edges. They are actually two different plants which look very simmilar. They have star shaped flowers.  

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Aloevera – It has long slender leaves with sharp teeth like edges. It’s well known for its sap which is used to treat skin diseases and heal wounds. Aloevera is a easy to grow houseplant and is tough to kill.  

Snake Plant –  They have thick, stiff and pointed leaves which grow straight up to 3 feet long. Having a patterned marking makes it look like a snake and hence the name. It will multiply and grow leading to filling the whole pot. It might require you to divide it in different pots.  

African Milk Tree – It is capable of growing upto nine feet tall in natural habitat, and it isn’t actually a tree. As a houseplant, this succulent reaches up to three feet tall, producing upright, triangular, branched stems bordered with short sharp thorns. The tips of the green stems have small leaves with a reddish tinge. 

Zebra Haworthia – It has striking stripes and spiky foliage which makes it look like a rare and exotic plant, but it’s often available at plant shops and is very easy-going when it comes to taking care of. It will stay small within 5 inches.  

Indoor plants

We all know, how plants are helpful to us, why are they vital. With the rise in carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, the only way to tackle it is by, either reducing the emissions which seem implausible due to industrialization, or the other is by planting more trees, which comes with its problem of land use. But plants can also be planted indoors, which is a pretty efficient way to keep pollution outside the boundary walls of the home. Not only the pollution from outside but, several VOCs like formaldehyde from furnishings, carpets, paints, etc.  With so many people coming to cities for better jobs, a better lifestyle, lands for trees have become sparse. Indoor plants don’t only help in relating pollution inside the house, but also helps to boost the members of the house emotionally and mentally. Plants promote mindfulness, calmness, serenity because plants tend to make you care for the moment instead of the rest of the world. Plants also remind us to keep moving, as different plants have different needs, and caring for them requires learning about their different peculiarities.  Also, they provide “low expectation” companionship, reaching friends or family can’t be feasible all times so a partner whom you can talk whenever you like to, is not bad, they never sound judgy or tell whatever you are feeling is true or not. In totality, indoor plants can’t do any possible harm except for occupying some space of your room and some time, but it could be worth it. The positive outcomes vanquish the negatives by a large difference. Some of the indoor plants that everyone should try on are listed below.

Snake plant (Sansevieria)- Also known as the mother-in-law’s tongue, this gorgeous multi-hued leaved plant is a great health booster and can thrive in low light too and prefers drier conditions. It absorbs carbon dioxide and release oxygen even at night and is also helpful in absorbing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene.

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema)- Its beautiful two-toned leaves are hard to miss and comes in different varieties. This beauty needs a warm and moist climate to prosper, and a moderate temperature year-round.

Lucky bamboo (Dracena Sanderiana)- Popular in Feng shui, can survive in soil or water alone and prefer a moderate amount of indirect sunlight. Good for decorative purposes but its leaves are slightly toxic, thus should be kept away from children and pets.

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)- Also called the Swiss Cheese plant because of its glossy tropical holed leaves. Due to its enormous size, it requires slightly large spaces to thrive. But provided with moderate temperature and low light ensures content plant. The beauty comes with a cost as it is poisonous so it is advised to keep pets and youngsters away.

Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum)- The leaves change shape as they grow and thus provides with great varieties. The vines are often used for indoor hanging baskets but could be trained to grow on poles. Isn’t picky about light but of water, remember never to overwater else you would be left with an unhappy plant.

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)- They prefer to clean the air with high humidity and indirect sunlight, easy to grow and needs watering once a month.

Aloe Vera- The multitasker. While planted helps to clean the environment by absorbing toxins. Also, it’s leaves contain a gel full of vitamins, enzymes, Amino Acids that have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial properties.

A Glare Beyond Ravages of Time: Lupine Arcticus

Lupinus arcticus is a species of flowering plant in the legume family known by the common names Arctic lupine or subalpine lupine. It is native to northwestern North America, where it occurs from Oregon north to Alaska and east to Nunavut. It is a common wildflower in British Columbia.This is a perennial herb growing from a taproot and producing an erect stem up to 50 centimeters tall. The dark green, hairy leaves are borne upon rough, hairy petioles up to 17 centimeters long. The leaves are palmately compound, made up of 3 to 9 leaflets each measuring up to 6 centimeters long. The inflorescence is a raceme up to 15 centimeters long bearing up to 30 flowers. The flowers are usually blue, sometimes purple, and occasionally white. The banners of the pealike flowers may be tinged with pink. The fruit is a hairy, greenish to blackish legume pod 2 or 3 centimeters long. It contains up to 10 white-speckled black seeds each about half a centimeter long. The plant may hybridize with other Lupine species when they grow together.

Lupinus arcticus - Wikipedia

This plant grows in several types of habitat, including fields of sedge and moss, alpine regions, and the hills of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It grows on tundra and in moist and wet substrates. This species has been the topic of some biological research. In 1967 it caused a stir when the seeds of this species were discovered in ancient lemming burrows dating back to the Pleistocene; the seeds were germinated and they produced plants, causing them to be declared the oldest viable seeds ever discovered. In 2009 a follow-up article detailed how radiocarbon dating was used to determine that the seeds were, in fact, just a few years old at the time of their discovery, and had probably fallen into the burrows not long before.

The plant contains a neurotoxin called sparteine, possibly as a deterrent to herbivores such as the snowshoe hare. The levels of sparteine in the leaves cycle, becoming higher at night, when herbivory is more likely to occur. In addition to the hare, species of ground squirrel have been known to feed on the plant.In Science, they described how these burrows, found at Miller Creek within the Yukon territory of western Canada, had been buried deep within frozen silt since the Pleistocene. That made them over 10,000 years old. As well as rodent nests, faecal pellets and seeds, they also contained an ancient lemming skull, further confirming their old age.Crucially, the seeds remained viable, as the scientists managed to germinate and cultivate normal healthy Arctic lupine (Lupinus arcticus) plants from them.”These were considered to be the oldest viable seeds to have ever grown,” says Grant Zazula, a scientist working for the Yukon Palaeontology Program run by the Government of Yukon, based in Whitehorse, Canada. They were found in ancient frozen lemming burrows and the radiocarbon dating did confirm that the lemming skull found alongside the seeds was from the Pleistocene. That validated the original researchers’ claim that they had collected Pleistocene samples from deep within the permafrost.But without their knowledge, the seeds must have fallen into the burrows just years before they were collected. The burrows had likely been exposed by mining activity in the region.More than four decades ago, Canadian scientists published details in one of the world’s foremost scientific journals of how they discovered two dozen seeds of an Arctic lupine plant within ancient lemming burrows and finally these plants survived and thrived as a few of the challengers to the tides and cleansing of that being called time.