AUG 15, 2021 7:24 AM PDT

The Killer Instinct of a Dainty Flower is Finally Exposed

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The exotic Venus flytrap is a famous carnivorous plant that's easy to identify. But it seems that another carnivorous plant has been quietly lurking among the regular flora of the Pacific coast for many years, undetected. Researchers described Triantha occidentalis in the scientific literature for the first time in 1879, but now, its special talent for digesting small insects has been revealed.

Credit: An image of Triantha occidentalis by Danilo Lima

Scientists have reported this totally new lineage of carnivorous plants in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, making it the first to be discovered in two decades. Insect-eating, flowering plants are already unusual, but this new one, the North American flowering plant Triantha occidentalis, uses a sticky-trap mechanism that is unique among plants that capture insect prey. These plants typically use leaves to trap insects, but the stemmy sites where insect prey are captured and killed on Triantha sit adjacent to flowers that must also be pollinated by insects.

Triantha's flowering stems are sticky, and they release an enzyme that can digest small insects it traps. The enzyme, phosphatase, is found in all plant carnivores that digest their prey directly. But Triantha is the only one that has sticky-traps next to its flowers. The insects this plants traps are small, while larger pollinators like bees and butterflies are spared by the carnivore, helping to ensure that it can have the help of its insect friends and eat some insects, too.

Fewer than 1,000 species of plants are carnivorous, and they tend to dwell in places without many resources. Carnivorous plants need nutrients to grow and reproduce, and insects help them achieve that goal even when they live in nutrient-poor habitats.

The researchers noted that since Triantha doesn't live anywhere that's difficult to access, it lives near cities, there may be other plant carnivores waiting to be discovered.

"We had no idea it was carnivorous," botanist Sean Graham of the University of British Columbia told NPR. "This was not found in some exotic tropical location, but really right on our doorstep in Vancouver. You could literally walk out from Vancouver to this field site."

Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NPR

About the Author
BS
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 16, 2022
Cancer
"Pawsitive" Effects of Pet Therapy
MAY 16, 2022
"Pawsitive" Effects of Pet Therapy
  Over the past couple of months, we have explored art and music therapies, two types of alternative therapeutic ap ...
JUN 09, 2022
Plants & Animals
Traditional Indian Medicine Helps Treat and Manage Type 2 Diabetes
JUN 09, 2022
Traditional Indian Medicine Helps Treat and Manage Type 2 Diabetes
Medicine has been practiced for millennia. Despite the dominance of Western medicine, many traditional approaches to tre ...
JUN 30, 2022
Plants & Animals
Ancient Microbes Could Provide Clues to Finding Extraterrestrial Life
JUN 30, 2022
Ancient Microbes Could Provide Clues to Finding Extraterrestrial Life
Scientists have long wondered what Earth was like in its most nascent stage. More importantly, researchers have tried to ...
JUL 12, 2022
Plants & Animals
Gardening Lowers Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
JUL 12, 2022
Gardening Lowers Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
In a new study published in PLOS ONE, a research team from the University of Florida shows how gardening, even for novic ...
JUL 19, 2022
Earth & The Environment
What is the rock cycle and why is it important?
JUL 19, 2022
What is the rock cycle and why is it important?
When we look at a rock, we often just focus on its size and appearance. Is it light or heavy? Dark or shiny? But there i ...
AUG 12, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Humans, not climate, contributed to mammal community similarities 10,000+ years ago
AUG 12, 2022
Humans, not climate, contributed to mammal community similarities 10,000+ years ago
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, an international team of researchers discuss how the increasing ho ...
Loading Comments...